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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Simulation and Virtual Reality

Facts and Forecasts: The Success of the "Digirati"

Simulations and Virtual Worlds Are Revolutionizing Manufacturing.

Digitization and the ability to access information from anywhere and at any time are changing the rules in almost all sectors of the economy. These developments range from recording customer behavior in e-business to meeting the needs of always-on users. It also involves the creation of an Internet of things that encompasses permanently networked devices and smart technical products such as smartphones, smart homes, and smart cars. According to Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC), digital technologies are revolutionizing business models, value chains, and organizational structures in almost all industries. “Digital transformation must be given top priority,” says Nicole Dufft, Senior Vice President at PAC. This consulting company forecasts that demand for digital transformation software and IT services will grow by an average of 11.2 percent per year until 2017

Companies that consistently digitize their operations have nine percent more sales and 26 percent more profits than their less tech-savvy competitors.

Even though companies have realized that they need to digitize their manufacturing operations and to develop their digital products, most of them have only just begun their digital transformation. However, a study conducted by the MIT Center for Digital Business and Capgemini in 2012 showed that companies that consistently digitize their operations (so-called digerati) benefit from digital advances. The key figures of such companies are much better than the average results achieved by the almost 400 businesses studied. “Digerati aren’t necessarily companies that have traditionally used a lot of technology. On the contrary, they tend to be businesses that have recognized the opportunities that digital transformation offers and that have begun to radically change their business models. They have built up a lot of digital expertise and are now benefiting from it,” explains Dr. Michael Schulte, CEO of Cap Gemini in Germany. For example, digerati generate nine percent more sales and 26 percent more profits than their less tech-savvy competitors, and the value of their companies is 12 percent higher. The share of companies with a high level of digital development is 38 percent in the high-tech sector, 35 percent in the banking sector, 30 percent in telecommunications, and 24 percent in the consumer goods industry.

Simulation: Radical Reductions in Development Time and Costs

Digital transformation has many meanings. One example of this is the field of simulations, in which developers can create prototypes more economically by using virtual models. Such simulations allow developers to compare and evaluate several different variants within a short period. Companies that can accomplish this are quicker to market than their competitors. Moreover, the resulting production processes and final products are less prone to defects than would otherwise be the case. Besides making development and process planning less expensive, simulation tends to reduce a product's costs across its entire lifecycle.

For example, more than 30 research institutes and companies from Germany, Austria, and Slovenia are currently participating in the European Advanced PartSim project in order to optimize development processes in the plastics industry — from initial product concept all the way to the launch of mass production. Seven case studies have shown that digital development processes and the increased use of die-casting simulations in component development can cut costs by 10 to more than 50 percent. In addition, development times were reduced by over 40 percent.

Large models of machines and factories are increasingly being simulated as well. For example, Siemens’ comprehensive Tecnomatix portfolio of digital manufacturing solutions links all production units with product development. It encompasses everything from process definition and planning to simulation, validation, and actual production. Digital models help companies conduct experiments and what-if scenarios without interfering with existing production systems. The models can therefore be taken into account as early as the planning stage, and thus long before production systems are actually created. The users can detect possible bottlenecks early on and draw up a variety of manufacturing scenarios. The resulting data is crucial for making quick and reliable decisions during the early stages of the production planning process.

In Siemens studies, Tecnomatix has reduced initial investments by three to six percent and cut the cost of new systems by around one fifth. At the same time, it can boost productivity by 20 percent. Moreover, it can reduce throughput times and inventories by up to 60 percent and cut costs by as much as 30 percent through smart remote maintenance concepts. Simulations and virtual models have already become indispensable in the automotive industry, and they are increasingly being used in the aviation industry, the machine and plant production sector, and the medical technology business.

According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF) in Magdeburg, digital engineering is the consistent further development of virtual engineering. The institute’s researchers define it as the use of digital methods and tools to provide integrated support for all industrial processes during a product’s lifecycle. It employs the digital CAD product data models that are generated during development, and it allows the future product and every one of its process steps to be simulated in the computer. The IFF aims to enable machine manufacturers to use digital engineering in their facilities. “We have reversed the usual workflow for the development and creation of products such as special machines,” explains Prof. Ulrich Schmucker, Head of the Virtual Engineering business unit at IFF. “Because everybody works together from the very start, programmers can begin to develop the software before the machines even exist.”

According to an analysis made by Frost & Sullivan in 2013, digital technologies can also help to reduce production costs and throughput times in manufacturing while at the same time accelerating the market launch of new products. The study therefore postulates that the global market volume of digital manufacturing will rise from $704 million in 2012 to $928 million in 2016. The study examined applications in the automotive industry, the transportation sector, the aerospace industry, the defense industry, the high-tech and electronics sectors, and the mechanical engineering industry.

Sylvia Trage