Modern manufacturing systems run on costly, highly complex systems that are equally expensive to alter and maintain. If production is riddled with errors or if operational processes are clunky and inefficient, it’s easy for manufacturing to get derailed. To avoid losses in time and profitability, many companies use simulation projects to identify potential problems before they occur. Problems in the form of wasted materials, product defects, and bottlenecks in the production line become easy to see and address before they actually pose a threat. 

Much like the digital twin, simulations use a digital model to replicate the way certain processes will take place. However, they are more limited as they can typically only examine a single process at a time and they do not apply real-time data funneled in by a company’s IoT devices. For the purpose of optimizing production lines and processes, simulation projects are usually enough. In both scenarios, industrial panel PCs are valuable assets for their ability to process the required data and provide users with a virtual view of the manufacturing floor.

Drawbacks of Traditional Design Testing 

Despite the advantages of digital simulations (which we’ll get into in a moment), traditional design testing is not dead, though it is infrequent. In fact, 95% of best-in-class companies indicate that they implement simulation tools.

To predict how a product will perform, the most widely known method is to build a prototype and subject it to various tests. Because there are so many types of tests and varying conditions under which they can be performed, testing in this way can be extremely time consuming. On top of that, if a flaw is identified, a product design change can restart the entire testing process. Depending on the materials required, creating prototypes can also get very costly, very quickly. 

Another major concern is the potential for error. As products become more complex, more accurate predictions are needed to draw conclusions about their capabilities. The last thing a company wants is to discover too-late that there is a major problem that was overlooked before production. Verification and Validation (V&V) procedures may find such problems that result in expensive recalls, delays, or increased liability. On the other hand, companies who implement simulations experience more successful V&V processes and, consequently, encounter fewer obstacles. 

Advantages of Digital Simulations in Production

Digital simulations have numerous benefits for the production process, some of which can be gleaned by examining the disadvantages of traditional methods. For example they allow for cost-effective testing of numerous product iterations without having to create any physical prototypes. They can also test a company’s manufacturing methods to find and correct latencies. Other major simulation benefits include:

  • Reduced costs
  • Reduced time spent testing
  • The ability to simulate years of operation in a few minutes or less
  • Potentially dangerous systems can be studied without physical or financial risk
  • Different versions of a system can be scaled up or down and studied
  • A single system can be examined in different environments and different systems can be tested within the same environment 
  • Everything in the simulation can be precisely controlled 

Overall, it’s a highly practical way to understand the intricacies of the manufacturing process and to examine the nuances of product design. What’s more, simulations take on many forms to serve the needed purpose. Examples include Virtual Reality (VR), Computer Aided Process Planning (CAPP), Digital Mock Ups (DMUs), Computer Aided Design (CAD), and Augmented Reality (AR). These methods only scratch the surface of simulation in manufacturing but, together, they offer a look into the diverse optimization opportunities that are available.

Integration in Factory Operations

Simulation in Make-To-Order Manufacturing

In make-to-order manufacturing, traditional methods are not fast enough or flexible enough to keep up with changing production capacities. Because each order is customizable, production needs to be able to accommodate changes in batch size or even product components. If this isn’t appropriately planned, bottlenecks can quickly set back several stages of manufacturing at once. This can make resource management a web of complicated tasks and a logistical nightmare. With simulation tools and a graphical HMI computer, users can visualize where bottlenecks are likely to occur and adjust work queues and orders as needed. 

Benefits to Operations Planning

As mentioned earlier, simulations can also be applied to manufacturing operations. The ability to emulate real-time systems can help evaluate whether existing operations can realistically handle new orders, unexpected equipment failures, and other disruptive changes. This essentially eliminates surprises in the workplace because the majority of potential problems have a protocol in place to keep things running smoothly. Work can be allocated appropriately and jobs can be routed around equipment breakdowns with minimal or no interruptions to the workflow. 

Working in tangent with other planning and scheduling systems, simulation models also serve to determine order completion dates and the impact of additional orders on the current processes. These real-time forecasts make way for quick, informed decision-making no matter what requests are coming through. 

Operator Training Applications

Simulation projects are an easy-win for applications like training because their emulative properties are perfect for hands-on teaching. New systems and software can be more easily adopted when users have the opportunity to interface with them early. When it’s time for new systems to be implemented, there is already an established ease-of-use and familiarity with the new process. In the airline industry, for example, flight simulators make it possible for pilots to train for both routine and abnormal situations. These realistic training experiences lend more knowledge and a greater sense of preparedness for real-world scenarios that may be a matter of life or death.

In a similar vein, FertiNitro — a fertilizer company in Venezuela — needed to train employees for improved response time to handle unexpected changes in plant operations. Thanks to training simulators, employees could be thoroughly prepared without interrupting the continuous production process at the plant. The result was a reduction in plant shut-downs that were typically caused by operational mistakes.

Seamless Integration Needs Specific Goals

To make the most out of any simulation project, you must work to identify the major concerns in your current processes and decide which metrics you would like to see improve. 

Common manufacturing KPIs include finance, productivity, time, and quality related targets. While it seems rudimentary, the intent behind formulating a plan this way is to avoid uncontrolled growth in the scope of your project and so its aim is continuously focused on the original set of problems and desired outcomes. Targets are more likely to change if there isn’t a clear plan outlined from the beginning.

From there, it’s just a matter of collecting the needed data. This is the most grueling part of the whole process because your data needs to come from sources all over your factory. You’ll be taking into account everything from employee workstations to machine embedded panel mount PCs. This is the crux of the entire process though so it’s important to be thorough.

After following through with a full simulation, you’ll be able to see which changes need to take place in order to fulfill your initial goals. At this stage, you can rework redundant or wasteful processes and rearrange pieces of your old process to build a better system. 

Great Optimization Starts with Simulation

Thanks to more efficient experimentation, manufacturers are able to replicate the way things are running and locate areas of optimization. Without the time and resource expenditures of testing products and operations the traditional way, companies can more flexibly meet changing demands and adjust to the unexpected with greater preparedness.

As a critical piece of running simulations, industrial PCs and their increasing speed and memory capacities have allowed the simulation technique to be applied to problems of increasing size and complexity. For more information on how you can implement simulation friendly technology in your business, contact a professional from Cybernet’s team today.