Digitalization and Production Optimization – Industrial Application of the Material Flow Simulation

Everybody has his own favourite KPI. Increasing machine utilization? Reducing the WIP level? Output maximization? Production simulation provides assistance in process development.

Czirkó Dávid

  1. Process development in the manufacturing environment

Generally, it can be stated that – should the firm belong to the SME or multi-national category – the permanent development of the processes, the improvement of the key performance indicators (KPIs) and product quality play an important role in every manufacturing company. Reducing the cycle and takt times, balancing the workload of the operators, scheduling the adjustments of the production line, executing complex investments or extending the machine park to meet increasing customer needs; in most of these cases the development, planning, and implementation tasks are assigned to the process engineers who are heavily overloaded.     

The quality and nature of manufacturing determine the options available to adopt by the experts responsible for development. In most cases, they are forced to rely on suggestions of the operators and their own experiences and insights, taking into account the existing material and physical capacities. This has the drawback that the result can be validated exclusively at the subsequent testing. Consequently, if the expectations are not met, this can lead to less productive production, a decrease in the output, not foreseeable errors and downtimes. 

If the process engineers responsible for the developments have some degree of programming skills, the first, theoretical tests may be replaced by excel calculations. This is of great advantage because critical cases may be excluded from the options of variations, thus reducing the negative effects of introducing improper innovations. The disadvantage of these experiments, however, lies in the fact that many factors have to be taken into account in order to attain a calculation of satisfactory accuracy and these factors have to be built into the calculation engine which is a time-consuming exercise and may take away much time from other tasks allocated to these colleagues.  

In our age of high diffusion of digitalization and the expanding acceptance of Industry 4.0, it has become possible to apply state-of-the-art toolsets that combine the advantages of the two methods mentioned above. On the one hand, it is a toolset enabling the analysis and evaluation of various scenarios, and that consists of standardized, extensively parametrizable components for production modelling, and on the other hand, it ensures the quick implementation of the specific development requirements in the given project.        

2.       Material flow simulation and its tools

“Simulation is mapping the system, together with its dynamic processes into a model that allows for experimenting with it. Its goal is to provide results that can be harnessed in real life.”

Projecting this definition onto the manufacturing, logistics and development projects, simulation is when we map virtually a given production unit – should it be the entire plant or a production line – using a suitable tool, validate it whether the operation of the model is identical to that of the real system and finally, determine the direction of process development by testing different “What if?” scenarios.

Simulation may be grouped into 3 main categories:

  1. Analyzing an existing system

We model the actual state of the production unit to be tested, then determine the major interaction points of the possible development options.

  • Testing the behaviour of an existing system on the basis of different predictions

Here, too, we prepare the model of the actual state, but the focus is on the future: how will our system react to the planned changes (new product mixes, customer demands)?

  • Assessing the impact of a system extension

The aim is to validate the necessity and gains of planned investments (expansion of the machine park, increasing the level of automation, duplication of production lines, etc.), check their pay-off.

In summary, process development supported by simulation may help to resolve the following problems:

  • discovering bottlenecks
  • line balancing
  • measuring and optimizing operator workload
  • increasing machine utilization
  • enhancing logistics processes
  • determining the necessary volume and type of resources needed for the given purpose
  • deceasing intra-line stocks.

For the above-mentioned tasks, the solution may be provided by a couple of software tools. Such are for example, FlexSlim, AnyLogic that has been on the market for a few years or the Siemens Tecnomatix Plant Simulation spread well over Europe.

3.       Process development by simulation

Having the benefits of simulation-supported process development in mind, one has to calculate obviously with the necessary resources, times and costs thereof. The basic skill required by the simulation can be acquired easily, although it is time-consuming, thus it is highly recommended to build internally the competent workforce and include external experts simultaneously.

Production optimization by simulation

As a first step, in order to demonstrate the benefit of modelling by simulation, a pilot project should be launched where collection and transfer of the necessary data are performed by the internal experts, the modelling itself by the external ones. Generally, the scope is limited to a smaller focus that yields shorter throughput time.

If the evaluation of the pilot project brings positive results and there is a further need for simulation projects of analysis and development, then in lack of internal competencies, they can be carried out by the inclusion of external resources.

In the case of multiple development projects, an additional objective could be building the internal competencies. This requires training and long term support that helps to foster analytical thinking, get familiar with proper simulation modelling and the usage of the simulation software tools. This can be realized within the frame of one or more training sessions or workshops.    

Afterwards, the engineers having received the training will be able to perform the modelling, the analysis and evaluation of more complex systems. Especially, in the case of the first stand-alone projects, it is recommendable to include the expert team either in joint workshops or consultation sessions. 

Whichever is considered, these services, i.e. holding trainings or building on-site competencies are in the portfolio of InnoLabs, thus we can assist you from the very first steps on, up to the daily routine-wise application, in making your process development practice more effective.