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Simulation for Success

Simulation for Success | FEA Consulting
August 30, 2016 By: Nick Veikos

Are all factories in the developed world headed towards the one in the picture? In spite of what you may hear in the media, I don’t believe so. However, the way to remain competitive is continuously changing and it is important for manufacturing business leaders to be agile and vigilant.

I recently stumbled upon a Harvard Business Review article describing how some manufacturers in Europe have prospered in highly competitive global industries. Unable to compete on price, and with manufacturing methods and quality in low-cost emerging economies rivaling those in developed countries, Europe’s Industrial Excellence Award winners employed a few distinct strategies to succeed. These include:

  • Leveraging data flows to integrate closely with their supply chain partners.
  • Optimizing value across the whole chain, not just their part of it.
  • Cooperating with suppliers and customers to rapidly improve their manufacturing processes.
  • Harnessing their technical capabilities to offer a high degree of product customization for their customers.

I think this article is a great read for anyone in the manufacturing business, and provides excellent examples of success. Since I’m always trying to relate better business to better simulation (maybe I need more hobbies?), I started thinking about how adoption of engineering simulation can help organizations implement each of these powerful strategies. It did not take long to make the connections.

Simulation and Leveraging Data Flow

The article presents Schmitz Cargobull, an industry-leading German truck body and trailer manufacturer, that uses telematics to monitor the state of any of its trailers, allowing its customers to minimize the breakdown risk. Key information is measured, always available in real time, and compared to a statistical quality control model to help predict problems before they occur. This same approach can be extended to almost any engineered product or system, where the statistical quality control model is derived not from running hundreds of actual experiments, but by automatically performing hundreds of engineering simulations on a  “virtual” system. The added benefit using simulation in this way is that it can pinpoint the exact measurements which should be taken in order to best predict failure modes.

Simulation and Optimizing Value

An example presented is Technip, a French manufacturer of flexible pipes for the oil and gas industry. Its differentiator was to develop intelligent pipes that can monitor and regulate the temperature throughout the pipeline. The steadier temperature provides huge benefits to its customers and has created grow rates of 36% for Technip. The key here is innovation – taking a relatively mundane piece of equipment, perhaps purchased as a commodity, and engineering it to provide differentiated customer value. Engineering simulation is the innovation enabler of our time. Almost any design idea we can come up with can be simulated to determine if it will perform as expected and how it can be improved. There is no need to build prototypes, at least early on. With additive manufacturing reaching a mature stage, the innovative design can be readily manufactured.

Simulation and Manufacturing Process

As product development cycles get shorter and shorter, manufacturing processes need to adapt much more quickly. The successful European manufacturers try to develop manufacturing processes which are optimized for their customers’ rapidly changing needs, partnering together to achieve common goals. The role of simulation can be key and is seemingly obvious to this optimization, but is often overlooked by organizations. Many use engineering simulation to design better products, but forget to use it for developing better ways to manufacture those products. It is common for great designs to be tossed in the trash simply because nobody spent enough time working on better ways to manufacture them.

Simulation and Customization

Some European manufacturers have found success in providing small-batch custom products to their customers. This requires taking product design to the next level, as there is no room or time for error in the process. Admittedly a risky business, but it allows companies to charge a premium for their offerings and helps to differentiate them from the cookie-cutter, commodity provider, allowing them to build closer customer relationships. Under this environment of “get it right the first time or profits and schedule are shot”, engineering simulation integrally embedded in the design process is a basic necessity. There is no time to prototype each customized configuration, no option to test hundreds of components to ensure robustness and quality, and little budget to fix design errors. A perfect storm for the benefits of simulation.

Hopefully, I have been able to illustrate a few scenes of how engineering simulation can be applied as an important component of successful strategies which have helped manufacturers succeed in the global competitive landscape. I’m sure there are countless other examples – do you have any you would like to share?