Getting Down to Business With SImulation

Simulation is key to the engineering toolbox. However, in order to consistently achieve goals, one expert argues that efforts have to be strategic and run like a high-profitable, repeatable business.

Simulation is key to the engineering toolbox. However, in order to consistently achieve goals, one expert argues that efforts have to be strategic and run like a high-profitable, repeatable business.

There’s no doubt that expert use of simulation can work magic on the design process, helping engineers optimize products and reduce materials costs. Yet most initiatives fall to live up to their key objectives, and one long-time simulation expert believes he knows why: Because engineering organizations get caught up in tactics and technology while missing the boat on strategy and business processes.

Mark Zebrowski, a consultant and former technical CAE manager and durability engineer at Ford Motor Co., made the case during at the CAASE20 virtual conference with a presentation focused on simulation governance. Entitled “How Simulation Can Act Like a Vehicle Loan from Tony Soprano’s Jersey State Credit Union,” Zebrowski’s presentation was centered around the fact that most organizations, and specifically most engineering teams, are not realistic about where they are or what they can achieve with simulation, which often leads to disappointment and incomplete results.

Zebrowski cited research that shows 87% of people are tactical thinkers and when translated to the area of simulation, means they get hung up on tools and features to bring value to initiatives instead of trying to refine and improve the organizational, cultural, and people side of things to stoke innovation. The key shift to enable success, Zebrowski argues, is treating simulation as a successful, profitable, high-quality and repeatable business, which means adopting business constructs to guide and manage simulation efforts.

“Most of us think tactically and look for silver bullets, but unfortunately you hardly ever find silver bullets,” he says. “It’s not the things [tools and technology] that will deliver radical improvements to simulation, people and ideas will.”

Zebrowski outlined three so called “eureka moments” that changed his view of how simulation should be deployed. The first is that the rework cycle isn’t judiciously factored into organizations’ simulation timelines and roll out plans and must be in order to have a realistic picture of what can and can’t be accomplished, he says. In addition, too many organizations shy away from strategy and double down on tactics and operations surrounding simulation efforts, which hampers what can be accomplished. Finally, he says not enough firms take a lean approach to simulation.

The way simulation works in most companies is engineers create a model of a product concept, run it through the computer, post process results, display a shape, and assess the geometry to make a design recommendation. “It’s a three- to five-step process and it’s linear and simple, but it’s wrong in practice,” he says. “The world of simulation is highly non-linear and there are feedback loops everywhere.”

Zebrowski advises companies to adopt a Simulation Balanced Scorecard (BSC), what he touts as a strategic planning and management system based on 13 attributes that can be used to communicate what they are trying to accomplish, align day-to-day strategy work, and to prioritize projects, products, and services. The Simulation Balanced Scorecard also helps engineering organizations measure and monitor progress towards strategic business targets, providing a way to “connect the dots,” he says, between the various components of strategic planning and management. Specifically, the Simulation BSC connects the people and projects being worked on to the measurements used to track success and the strategic objectives of the organization. In the end, the Simulation BSC can serve as a way to evaluate proposals from simulation vendors so organizations are assured of the best tool and the best approach.

You can access to full CAASE20 program by registering here.

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About the Author

Beth Stackpole's avatar
Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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