A few years ago I gave a seminar on dynamic system simulation at a company working in the heavy machinery industry. Just a few attendees showed up, all of them managers from R&D and all of them with distressed faces. After the seminar, one of the participants came up to me, stating: ”If we had only known earlier”. It turned out that they had received news about site closure earlier that week. The profit was too low. Production was moving to a site in a country with lower production costs, and R&D was being downsized and relocated to another site nearby. 

One of the biggest challenges for them was the high costs associated with development. They used a traditional test-based approach, meaning that prototypes had to be built and verified for all new design proposals. This doesn’t promote innovation in industries where prototypes cost millions. Instead of focusing on improvement of core functionality, like increased fuel efficiency and quality, they were simply forced to only focus on renewing the appearance of the product. For years, the main focus of R&D was the design of the outer casing. They couldn’t afford the cost of a failing prototype. The result was devastating. As their competitors continued to improve their products, they could no longer keep up with competition. The lack of innovation killed their business. 

The situation is not unique. Many companies face similar challenges in one way or another, independent of industry and size. Successful companies tend to forget that the reason for their success often lies in the past rather than in the present. Unsuccessful companies tend to focus on the cost of a change rather than on future benefits. Development of increasingly complex products requires development techniques that allow for advanced engineering. Finding methods that promote innovation and provide insights about the product is key. These methods are missing in many organizations.

Although virtual engineering and digitalization are on everyone’s lips, the awareness of simulation and what is possible is poor in many industries. Simulation is more than structural analysis. System simulation, 3D CAE and CFD, each provides valuable insights on how the product behaves under different boundary conditions. What method, or methods, to use depends on the application. By introducing simulation early in product development, concepts can be evaluated and optimized toward requirements already before the first prototype is built, making the testing of the prototype more of a validation. This allows for innovation, even with budget limitations.

If they had only known earlier… 

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