A silent revolution is underway in the manufacturing industry. More and more manufacturers are transitioning towards simulation driven-design, in which simulations are part of the product development from the very beginning. This integrated modelling and simulation (MODSIM) boosts innovation and enables a shorter time-to-market. Is your company ready for the future of product engineering?
Product design and simulations are still separate worlds for a lot of manufacturing companies. The design department models the product and sends the design on to the simulation department. This department verifies the design on aspects, such as structural integrity, aerodynamics, acoustics, energy consumption, and CO2 emissions. This is basically a technical check of someone else’s work. The simulation department subsequently reports to the design department that the design is, for example, 99 percent compliant with specifications.
Product designers and simulation experts hence tend to operate in silos, which is not very effective. First there is a lead time when the simulation experts report back the results after weeks or months. After that, the designers in some cases only receive feedback if they have done their job properly. They barely have time to test multiple variables and scenarios, with less freedom to innovate. Stuck in a rigid system in which others check their work. This ultimately leads to products that are “good enough,” but not the best they could be.
What is simulation-driven design? Simulation-driven design is a fundamentally different approach to product development in which simulations are brought forward to those doing the modelling. Product designers therefore no longer have to wait for (brief) feedback until the design is finished. They can have their hypotheses, ideas, and design choices intermittently tested, and learn from them. This provides immediate insight into a modification’s impact on properties such as weight and energy consumption.
In practice, simulation-driven design offers several concrete advantages, including:
- Shorter time-to-market Design cycles are quicker than before, and fewer test runs and prototypes are required.
- Higher product quality Constant feedback from simulations helps to optimise product designs.
- More innovative products Product designers are given more room to experiment, which stimulates innovation, and the engineers learn from the simulation.
Change process with challenges Increasingly more manufacturing companies want to reap the benefits of simulation-driven design. But not every company is ready for this. The transition to this new way of working has a considerable impact on employees and the organizational structure. Some of the challenges in this change process include:
- Employees with a different skillset The transition to simulation-driven design is in many ways dependent on people and organization. Employees in modelling and simulation departments must have a basic knowledge of each other’s skills and tools. This skillset is still fairly scarce, partly because this new MODSIM job profile is relatively new. Retraining programmes can help here, but there is also a task for colleges and universities, as they have to train this new generation of professionals in new holistic processes.
- New role for experienced experts Tasks change, which can evoke resistance. Simulation experts are often very well educated and enjoy great prestige within the organisation. They are not always enthusiastic about ‘simple’ simulations. Companies face the challenge of creating a role in which they feel comfortable. Perhaps experienced experts can play a kind of mentor role, configuring the simulation tools and guiding the junior modelling professionals.
- High-level driving force The rigid separation between product design and simulations maintains the status quo. The head of engineering and the head of simulations are both judged by the effectiveness of their own people. Also, they cannot simply decide to transfer someone. So it is not enough for one department head to embrace the change. There should also be a driving force at a higher level, such as the head of R&D or the chief marketing officer.
- Accessible simulation tools Ample modern simulation tools are extremely complex. But modelling experts should also be able to simulate with these tools. This requires a simpler user interface for entering assumptions and rules. Ideally, all tools and information come together on one platform that everyone can access, providing democratization of data. The designer can see exactly which simulations have been performed in the 3D model (traceability), and the simulation shows which models were used as input.
Three levels of maturity The transition to simulation-driven design hence requires a well thought-out personnel policy, support from the boardroom, and the right technical solutions. Once these conditions have been met, the change can be initiated. But what does such a change process look like? I like to distinguish three levels of maturity:
- Linking modelling and simulation The 3D modelling tools and simulation tools can communicate with each other, for example through a universal data format.
- Overarching platform All tools work via one platform, so that all people have access to the same applications and data. The development process is now fully traceable and transparent, with a single source of truth.
- Close collaboration Silos are fading. Now, simulation experts and product developers work closely together on modelling and on faster simulations. One manager oversees the entire process.
Simulation-driven design is the future This holistic approach to product development is not yet the norm in the manufacturing industry. But I predict this will change in the coming years, if only because products are becoming increasingly complex. An electric car, for example, consists of mechanical components, electrical systems, sensors, and software. Everything is intertwined. A small change in the shape of the car, the battery or air conditioning can have an impact on for example range and driving comfort. In an ideal situation, all systems are simulated integrally.
From airplanes and electric trains to smart lawnmowers and white goods; one big simulation in retrospect no longer suffices. Early and frequent simulations ensure a constant feedback loop. Your product designers can in the virtual world experiment to their heart’s content with new materials and other manufacturing methods. Even more advanced is the experience simulation where the end user is invited to the virtual twin to participate in the virtual experience of the product. This leads to better and more innovative products, which go to the market faster. So you are always one step ahead of the competition.
Would you like more information? Are you interested in what simulation-driven design can do for you? Our experts will gladly tell you more about modelling and simulation (MODSIM).