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Creatures of Habit

November 29, 2016 By: Nick Veikos

While clearing out some old papers in my study, I stumbled on my workout routine from 1996. Except for the degree of difficulty, which unfortunately decreased, I was surprised to see that it was basically identical to the one I use today. I believe it came from the timeless classic in this field: “Weight Training for Dummies”. I suppose the good news is that I’m still working out, but do I really believe that the set of exercises that were good for me in 1996 are the most beneficial for me 20 years later? Of course not.

I fully understand that, as we age, we benefit from variety in our exercise regimen. It is well documented that the human body gets very efficient when forced into repetitive motion, thereby significantly reducing the benefit of the same exercise. I know all this, so when I go to the gym, how come I continue to do the same thing? I’m not particularly stubborn (my wife might argue that one), so it’s just because I don’t want to change my habits. The impulse of doing something different occasionally darts through my head, but gets quickly damped out by my cerebrospinal fluid before reaching any motor neurons.

Because I am a creature of habit in this way, I can completely relate to many of our clients who employ engineering simulation today in the same way they did in 1996.

Their use of simulation to help develop better products put them on the leading edge of innovation at that time. The problem in many cases is that once they set up the simulation process, nobody thought to reassess it on any kind of regular basis. Consequently, it may be essentially unchanged from 20 years ago, just like my workout routine.

Don’t get me wrong, their simulation process still works as well, and maybe better than it used to, but it comes nowhere close to reaping the potential benefits of simulation today. I call these companies “Traditionals”.

A typical conversation with one of the Traditionals might go something like this:

Nick: On what percentage of your products do you use simulation?

Traditional: We’ve been using simulation on most new designs since 1992.

Nick: That’s impressive. When do you typically use simulation?

Traditional: After the design is finalized, as verification, or if something breaks during testing or in the field.

Nick: So, what happens if the simulation or test shows the design is faulty?

Traditional: We need to re-design it.

Nick: Wow, that must be really time consuming and expensive after the design is complete.

Traditional: You bet, but that’s factored into our process time and costs.

Nick: What if you did the simulation throughout the design process, so that there would not be any surprises at the end?

Traditional: That’s a great idea and we know all the benefits, but upper management won’t give us time to do it up front.

Nick: But they will give you time and money to redesign it?

Traditional: Sure, that’s part of the standard process.

Nick: Am I re-living “Catch-22”?

These companies, who have been using simulation for decades and were originally pioneers, are now the laggards. Their paradigm has not changed, but remains mired in the past. Their competitors, newer to the simulation game, are adopting best practices and developing better new products faster, cheaper, and with higher quality.

I don’t believe that there is a conscious effort of the Traditionals to ignore new methods. From my many conversations with clients, I think it’s a combination of habit, poor communication, and maybe some high thresholds. Upper management, historically not involved with the details of simulation, assumes middle management is utilizing it at as required. Middle management, suffering under the daily pressure of on-time production, finds it easier to maintain the status quo and not take the risks or fight the battles of changing how simulation is implemented. The result, of course, is to tread water. That’s the “safe” solution – until the sharks show up for dinner.

One way around this problem is to implement regularly scheduled “simulation assessments” in the same way design reviews, budget planning, and strategic planning occur.

The simulation assessment can take several forms. It could be on a component level, assembly level, product level, or engineering department level. The basic steps could be as follows:

  • Lay out the current design process.
  • Understand the challenges, bottlenecks, and risks in the current process.
  • Brainstorm about how use of simulation could alleviate problems:
  • During preliminary research to help come up with novel ideas to address a need.
  • At the conceptual design level to develop potential solutions.
  • During the selection phase to help choose the best candidate solutions.
  • Throughout preliminary and final design.
  • Ensure fulfillment of design criteria.
  • Optimize to minimize weight, material, cost, etc.
  • Ensure robustness of design and quality.
  • Before prototype testing, to help develop a thorough test plan.
  • Identify the costs and benefits of simulation implementation at each phase identified.
  • Decide where simulation makes sense in the process, depending on the resources available and other imposed constraints.
  • Implement the changes.


Simulation Embedded in the Design Process

In our experience, going through this simple exercise has been a tremendous eye-opener for many companies. The cost vs. benefit story becomes very clear. With numbers in hand, it becomes easier to make concrete proposals to upper management which break old habits and move the organization forward. For more information about introducing simulation into the design process, you can download our guide.

So, let’s make a deal. If all of you “Traditionals” go back to assess your simulation plan, I will try to incorporate P90X or Pilates into my workout and we will see how it goes. Let’s get back together in 6 months to compare notes and see who is in better shape. What do you think?