According to experts, simulation technology helps reducing costs, improving quality, and shortening the timeto- market for manufactured goods. Potential simulation impact areas are closely intertwined with strategic manufacturing. Yet, a number of factors currently inhibit the deployment of simulation technology in the industry today.
However, the development of new simulation interface standards could help increase the deployment of simulation technology. Interface standards could improve the accessibility of this technology by helping to reduce the expenses associated with acquisition and deployment, minimise model development time & costs, and provide new types of simulation functionality that are not available today. Suggesting benefits to industry, resulting from the widespread & pervasive implementation of manufacturing simulation technology are Rajneesh Shinde, Senior Director.Marketing, Altair India; Rafiq Somani, Country Manager.India, Ansys; Vineet Seth, Managing Director.South Asia & Middle East, Mastercam and Gautam Dutta, Senior Director.Marketing, Siemens Industry Software.
Re-engineering manufacturing processes
Today, simulation modeling tools are used to effectively re-engineer manufacturing processes and discover possibilities to increase the throughput of the system. According to Shinde, boundaries of simulation tools for analysing & optimising manufacturing processes are getting developed at a faster rate and many leading OEMs, suppliers & toolrooms have been using simulation tools for manufacturing processes for an equally long time. “The challenges here include machine tool parameters, material consistency & post processing techniques used in the production process,” he opines.
As per Seth, simulation modeling tools are indispensable. “Existing manufacturing processes can be virtually defined in a digital manufacturing environment by specifying constraints, kinematic models, layouts, process models, what-ifs and options amongst other parameters, thereby, allowing the planning department to make changes to the system dynamically or by evaluating virtual manufacturing data”, he says. He also believes that this allows systematic virtual iterations to the process without disrupting physical manufacturing. Since this is a parallel process, the system throughput will eventually reach the optimal point through discrete changes to the virtual process.
It goes without saying that shifting business factors such as demand for smarter environment-friendly products, more sustainable production and increasingly competitive global markets require companies to constantly adapt & improve their business strategies. In this context, Dutta highlights, “Launching faster, getting more from their capital investments and delivering quality products are always at the core of growth & prosperity, even in demanding economic times. Therefore, it is no surprise that leading manufacturers around the world are turning to digital manufacturing to help them deal with these challenges.”
Strategic manufacturing target areas
Strategic manufacturing is a buzzword today, and manufacturing simulation is treated as a key component of strategic manufacturing. Speaking on various strategic manufacturing target areas that simulation can support, Shinde suggests that it can be used for stamping, extrusion, casting, plastic injection, forging, composite design & manufacturing, factory floor simulation—design virtual factory & digital mock-ups—immersive virtual reality technologies and 3D printing.
According to Somani, today’s products are more complex and deliver more sophisticated functionality. “To meet tomorrow’s time-to-market goals, more strategic deployments of simulation focus on compressing, eliminating and parallelising. While there are many factors that drive the success of a product, a key factor is the time-to market,” he suggests. Moving on, Seth believes that few areas of strategic manufacturing where simulation is important are CAM (NC), material flow, plant/factory layout & planning, FMS cells & lines and robots.
When it comes to digital manufacturing, Dutta believes that it encompasses several areas like factory layout planning, assembly simulation and validation, robotics simulation and programming, logistics & material flow simulation as well as human simulation & ergonomics.
Important tool in workforce development
In workforce development, simulation is becoming an important tool, more so in the high-risk environments. When asked how does it accelerate the speed of learning, Shinde suggests that it produces robust products in lesser time & cost by reducing trial & errors. He explains, “From a stamping perspective, numerous case studies are available highlighting how customers reduced number of stages for dies or providing insight to help reduce part count and, hence, impacting manufacturing process/cost substantially or transfer die simulation to capture manufacture sequence process and intermediate interference issues as panels move between different stations. It also helps identify and give insight into how manufacturing process behaves and this is a great learning tool, which mimics on-the-job training at lower cost and faster pace.”
Often, owing to various constraints like not being able to stop production, expensive equipment, hazardous or highrisk environments, it may not be possible to provide extensive training to an ever-growing workforce. Emphasising simulation in such cases, Seth avers that training becomes important for helping trainees get a clear understanding of the actual physical process in a virtual environment. “Since virtual environment is a point-to-point replica of physical environment, new users will get the feel of working in a real environment without putting themselves (or others) in risk, especially in the case of high-risk environments.” When asked about inhibiters, he suggests that cost, cross-framework applications, multi-level integrations and complexity models are a few of them.
With product lifecycles shrinking, product designs and manufacturing processes changing rapidly, Dutta averred, “Workforce involved in manufacturing needs to adapt to these changes rapidly. There is no room for failure. To be able to be first-time-right and deliver products on time, within cost and as per requirement, digital simulation is the way for validating engineering decisions. Therefore, simulation training is very important for manufacturers.”
Human factor: an essential key
Since training & competency management are important for an organisation, human factor is an essential key for immersive training system that uses high-fidelity 3D process simulation & a virtual walkthrough of the plant. According to Seth, it is imperative that training & competency management, especially in virtual manufacturing simulation is defined & validated by a team of people who have hands-on experience of the physical systems; particularly in the areas of cross-interaction of man, machine, material and methods. “This allows for an all-round programme that will help the system designers as well as the users in developing analytical skills. Training/availability of skilled manpower is a big inhibiter,” he adds.
Citing an example, Dutta explained, “One of our clients in India faced issues that they had not foreseen every time they set-up a new plant. This led to a lot of re-work as well as time & cost overruns, which they could ill-afford. They then started using digital manufacturing tools to build a complete 3D plant model and virtually validate the plant design to identify structural and utility interferences with plant facilities like conveyors at an earlier stage. This ensured that problems were resolved before they made the final construction drawings.”
According to Shinde, it is not only manufacturing teams who use manufacturing simulation; vendor development teams at OEMs are also using it for effective part cost estimations today. He says that usage of 1-step feasibility simulation by product designers to evaluate impact of design based on a manufacturing perspective – viz cast, stamp, forge or injection mould components provide valuable insights to help reduced iterative changes & issues in downstream manufacturing process.
It also leads to manufacturing optimisation and process & productivity improvements, workforce as well as machine productivity. “On the workforce side, repetitive use of simulation methods will enable users to get habituated or expertise in handling specific sub-processes. All of these will have a positive impact on the overall productivity, including that of machines, methods and man,” says Seth.
With human simulation and ergonomics tools, one can improve the safety, efficiency & comfort of the workplace environment using human modeling in a virtual environment. Emplacing this, Dutta says, “Human-driven operations can be analysed with lifelike models that can be scaled to match different population characteristics. One can test design and operational aspects of a wide variety of human factors, including injury risk, timing, user comfort, reachability, lineof- sight, energy expenditure, fatigue limits and other important parameters. This helps to ensure compliance with ergonomic standards during planning and to avoid the discovery of human performance and feasibility issues during production.”
He further states that assembly simulation and validation tools use virtual assembly to simulate and validate assembly sequences, including all required human and machine interaction. “With assembly planning tools to digitally validate production systems, one can reduce tool installation time and minimise system try-out costs. This ability to digitally optimise assembly processes and validate assembly feasibility can also significantly increase productivity,” he adds.
Is simulation technology underutilised?
Whether simulation is still largely underutilised today is a dilemma. Answering this, Shinde says, “Not quite for large OEMs and suppliers, but yes for SMEs. “That’s because of the combination of availability & retention of trained manpower and perceived cost of ownership issues,” he explains. Seth too agrees and suggests that demand for quick changes to production lines, manufacturing systems, etc will make it a necessity in the near future for manufacturers to adopt this technology.
Today’s OEMs are becoming more of system integrators, and innovation has also shifted to suppliers and SMEs. As per Somani, SMEs are visionaries and are investing in simulation technology. “They are extremely conscious of this pressure and partner role and about the ROI as it is a huge investment for them. In such cases, our company makes them aware of how this technology can help them grow. The key benefit for businesses in including simulation early in the design cycle is that they don’t have to build physical prototypes to test their products on different parameters. The virtual prototypes are sufficient and can be repetitively tested to meet any condition. This helps in making improvements to the final design of the product.”
Replacing physical prototyping
The application of virtual prototyping in the product development process is not fantasy. It is used today, and with further developments, the number and breadth of applications will increase. Shinde believes that simulation in certain cases already has replaced physical prototyping and testing in some industries or substantial reduced dependence on physical prototyping and will continue to help improve this. As per Somani, the old practice of developing a design, building a physical prototype, testing, redesigning, and, then building a new prototype is no longer sustainable. “This is especially true as product architectures become more complex by using mechanical, electrical and embedded software subsystems. Manufacturers need to know not only how individual subsystems will perform, but how the complete product will perform in the real world — long before physical verification,” he says.
According to Dutta, there are a few factors that sometimes hold manufacturers back from implementing digital manufacturing. “First, there is a mistaken belief that these solutions are meant for larger manufacturers. To be globally competitive, digital manufacturing is equally relevant for SMEs. Then, there is lack of trained manpower. We are working to address this technical skill gap, in partnership with vocational training institutes and universities across the country. Next, there is a perception among manufacturers that these tools are useful only when setting up a new facility. However, digital manufacturing can help in unearthing potential areas for improvement even in existing plants and, therefore, achieve productivity improvements even in day-to-day operations,” he concludes. ☐