Revolutionizing business culture through engineered innovation
Businesses today are extremely competitive for a variety of reasons. Global players look to capture the existent market share. The quality of the products manufactured is no longer a differentiator; it is a given. Every company must produce the highest quality to stay in business. Consumer Preference has also taken on a new meaning where mass customization is the trend observed today.
An in-depth analysis of profit margins indicates that there is a direct correlation between the age of the product portfolio and the business profitability. Models that stayed in the market for 12 years with one or two facelifts are no longer the norm. In some industries like electronics, product life is nowadays measured in months and not years. Cost pressures are also forcing manufacturers to become better at leveraging existing designs. From an engineer s perspective, this means anticipating a wider range of operating conditions to accommodate more variations of each basic design. For instance, Toyota uses the Camry platform to derive the Highlander SUV, the Avalon, the Sienna minivan and a number of specialty vehicles.
ADDRESSING THESE BUSINESS CHALLENGES
With the multitude of product choices, differentiation and brand identity have become extremely important. Engineered attributes such as the unique Harley Davidson sound, or the Whirlpool Quiet Partner Dishwasher help differentiate otherwise comparable products. Engineers are also faced with the challenge of meeting regulations while keeping operating costs low. In such situations, it becomes imperative to empower engineers and research teams with new technology to add value to engineering and address these criticalities.
NEW WAYS OF PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
There are many things that engineers can do to increase product value and hence profitability. A recent survey concluded that there is a strong correlation between companies rated as most innovative, and their market value. Simulation has, and will continue to be a major player in product and process innovation.
Thirty years ago, FEA was very expensive and only the largest companies could afford computer hardware and dedicated staff. IT has progressed to where simulation is now accessible to every engineer. Simulation is a control feedback loop that will lower the cost of innovation and increase opportunity for growth. The following are good guidelines to increase innovation and thus benefit business, by making better use of CAE tools :
a) First, you have to develop the ability to run simulations quickly Historically, simulation has often been out of step with the design schedule and results come out too late to be useful. To speed things up, simulation processes must be aligned. Models with details commensurate with the desired accuracy must be available. The organization must be ready to deal with all the information generated, which might mean re-alignment of processes and attitudes towards technology.
Engineering for crash safety can illustrate this. Computer simulations have replaced all but final prototype tests. A design iteration that took months to evaluate by tests can now be done in a couple of days with simulation. But, to affect this change, engineers had to work with less-than-final data. This supported a more rapid process to adopt a change in design early in the cycle.
b) Do not be afraid to fail would be the second guideline for increasing innovation Try some out-of-the-box thinking. If the simulation process is fast enough, even absurd ideas will reveal useful information and increase insight into a design. Early in the cycle, there is a phenomenon called positive failure . Here again, the attitude of the organization is critical. Engineers might tend to become very conservative if there is a stigma associated with designs that fail. Their reluctance to explore alternative designs might also spill into other departments, and ultimately lead to thwarting innovation.
c) Put as much effort as you can into a project as early as you can This is called front-loaded development. 80% of a product s cost is design in by decisions taken in during the first few % of effort. It costs millions to fix problems after a design is released for production. In addition to hard money loss, there is value of lost time to market . As the useful life of designs decrease, there is lesser time to recover costs.
Here again, it is unrealistic to expect all of the required information early to make a decision before the forecast. Putting emphasis on simulation early helps in deciding which parameters are important, and what can be approximated. This allows rapid progress and a better finished product. For instance, Toyota identified 80% of problems on a new design before the first prototype which helped eliminate the need for a second prototype altogether. Adding to this, early simulation can help in keeping better touch with customers and assures a positive product reception in the market.
d) Look for ways to combine new methods and thinking with established ways. Studies from Harvard have shown that it is often how new technologies are introduced into an existing process that determines their success.
New methods can usually approach the same level of performance as traditional methods faster and for lesser cost. The downside is that new methods are not usually as robust as long-established methods that they replace. By combining new methods with old ways, it is possible to avoid the gaps that new methods alone will introduce, and still enjoy their cost and speed benefits. This is represented graphically by the green line in Fig 1.
Traditional methods (shown in the red line) are robust and reliable, but they can be expensive; they obviously require physical prototypes to test, and they can take an appreciable time of precious development. Physical tests also are not as flexible as desired and can be very difficult to explore alternative designs.
A virtual prediction would capture 70-80% of the need, and a final physical prototype to validate and make final adjustments would be an ideal solution to give extremely reliable solutions at a distinct cost advantage. This dramatically increases the potential for innovation, and hence the profitability of a business.
ROADMAP TO SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION
Newer methods are often greeted with skepticism even after 30 years of existence. However, companies that make most progress are the ones that remove the choice to get started. They replace choice with a necessity. GM, for instance, began to insist that any design scheduled for test should first be subjected to analysis. The justification was to improve utilization of expensive test rigs, but the consequence has been an acceleration in acceptance of virtual prototyping.
The net result is that companies that find ways to combine traditional mindset with new technologies stand the best chance of increasing innovation and remaining competitive. In this era of heightened competition, the quest for killer products will become the focus of business again. The most sustainable, most difficult-to-duplicate competitive advantage comes from innovative products and more companies are finally beginning to realize this. The product is the difference.
We can accelerate the process by challenging our organizations to prove the gains from alternative investments and by being aggressive about the contributions we can make with simulation. A new day is dawning for the business role of CAE and simulation, and a company that integrates it will be a proud part of this revolution.
1. This article is an edited extract from the paper presented by Tom Curry, Executive Vice President, LMS Intl., at NAFEMS world congress, May 2003
2. Enlightened Experimentation, the New Imperative for Innovation , Stefan Thomke, Harvard Business Review, February 2001
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