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The Unfunded Simulation Mandate

Unfunded Mandate | CAE Associates Inc.
March 29, 2017 By: Nick Veikos

In 2016, there were more than 1,250 state mandates in Connecticut, where I live. These are policies which are forced upon the local towns by state government. Many of these requirements are not funded by the state, putting a local municipality on the hook to pay for something that it was not previously doing. The municipality, in turn, has the unwelcome choice of raising property taxes or cutting other services in order to comply with these unfunded mandates.

Before you get concerned that I am going to go off on a political diatribe, don’t worry, as I have already exceeded 140 characters at this point in my story. I really want to talk about a different type of mandate – something I call the “unfunded simulation mandate”. The subject came up during a recent client meeting, and echoed many past conversations with companies that are trying to adopt a strategy of using simulation early in the design process.

The benefits of early simulation have been proven time and time again, and I will not repeat them here. It is the way that best-in-class companies are using simulation today and the way forward-thinking companies that want to survive in a competitive environment are adjusting to. However, the devil is in the details, and introducing simulation into the design process cannot be done in a vacuum, without changing the timeline and expectations for the rest of the process.

If not done holistically, the result may be an “unfunded simulation mandate”. Program management plays the role of the state and the engineering department represents the town. The “unfunded” items are time and money.

Let’s see how this could work. For illustrative purposes, Figure 1 shows a timeline for a simple design process, where simulation is either not used at all, or in an ad-hoc manner as time permits. The vertical axis represents the accumulated cost of the design. For simplicity, let’s assume that cost is linearly related to time. The slope of the curve indicates the cost per unit time for a given stage.

The stages for the “As Is” process are as follows:

A. Concept and Preliminary Design Stage. No simulation performed. At the end of this stage a concept design is approved for go-ahead to production.

B. Detailed Initial Design Stage. Some simulation performed on an ad-hoc basis. Near the end of this stage, tooling drawings are produced.

C. Prototype Testing/Redesign Stage. When the design is far enough along, prototype testing is performed, followed by re-designs, as required. In this stage, changes are expensive, from a time and cost perspective. New tooling drawings may need to be made, pushing the production schedule further out. At the end of this stage, final drawings are released to production.

D. Initial Production, Final Testing and Certification Stage. Design problems identified at this point can be catastrophic because they are really difficult to fix.

E. Full Production Stage. This may be pushed back due to delayed tooling.

Figure 1 – “As Is” Development Process

If early simulation, or “simulation driven product development (SDPD)” is adopted, the process changes a bit. Figure 2 shows the SDPD process, represented by the red solid line, and compares it to the “As Is” process, which is represented by the blue dotted line. The letter symbols correspond to the end of the associated process for each case. Let’s see what some of the differences are:

A. Concept and Preliminary Design Stage. Simulation is used to innovate and develop better concepts.

B. Detailed Initial Design Stage. Simulation is performed as part of a standardized process in order to develop a better design up-front.

Here is where the challenge arises. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for these two stages to be completed at the same time and cost when simulation is used exhaustively, as compared to when it is used sparingly or not at all. Figure 2 shows that these timelines get shifted right, with a commensurate increase in cost. Yes folks, you don’t get something for nothing – not at this point, anyway.

If management does not adjust schedule requirements and resources for these 2 stages, so that the simulation can be properly performed, they will have created an “unfunded simulation mandate”. The engineering manager is faced with the requirement to simulate without the time and resources to do it right. That is a very uncomfortable position to be in, with the outcome usually being an ugly compromise resulting in a longer lead time and increased cost, minus most of the downstream benefits of simulation.

Program management - don’t let this happen! Stages A and B with simulation embedded must be thought of as an investment, which will repay you in spades at the back end of the process. Let’s see how the remaining steps benefit:

C. Prototype Testing/Redesign Stage. Normally the most expensive and time consuming part of the entire process, this stage will be minimized, if not eliminated, when simulation is used up front to account for uncertainties, design tolerances, loading variations, various failure modes, etc. New tooling drawings won’t be needed at this point, further compressing the time to market.

D. Initial Production, Final Testing and Certification Stage. With proper simulation, this should simply be a check box.

E. Full Production Stage. This will occur much earlier, and likely with fewer downstream quality issues. No additional time will be wasted waiting for modified tooling.

Figure 2 – “SDPD” Development Process

Figure 2 clearly shows the cost and time benefits of simulating early. While there is some delay and increased cost at the beginning, the end result is faster time to production, with a much lower overall development cost, as the costliest redesign phase can be all but eliminated. Warranty costs, not discussed here in detail, will also likely drop as a result of a systematic simulation process. So, you still don’t get something for nothing, but the return is going to be well worth the investment.

There are many guidelines for ensuring this process works properly, and I have discussed a few in previous articles. The key point I’m trying to make here is this: it is necessary to allow the extra time for simulation early on. Then, hold your breath and hang on tight as you watch everything fall into place later on.

Don’t allow for unfunded mandates. Engineering teams need the time, training, software tools and well defined processes to reap all the benefits of simulation. I agree that this does take a bit of a leap of faith the first few times but, after a few successes, confidence will increase and a new standard will be established! I welcome comments about your simulation successes and challenges!