Simulation offers an early view of plant effectiveness

3D modeling can create a view of an optimized plant before it goes online.

03/19/2012


As the manufacturing industry continues to regain its foothold in a ‘design anywhere, manufacture anywhere’ world, industrial engineers and plant managers need to find solutions to support the global manufacturing and new product development strategies, while keeping an eye on operational efficiencies.

Today, time allotted for any activity is shrinking at a crazy pace. More often than not, you are approached by an internal customer and asked to do something for which the deadlines are impractical and cost budgets are barely there. In this kind of a high pressure environment, mistakes and rework are anathema. Progressive companies are increasingly looking at simulation to virtually evaluate the product design, plant layout, process flow, robotics, etc.

Simulation helps address most engineering problems without taking the risk or incurring the cost of real life experimentation; thereby, ensuring that you are all set to go, while cutting down the planning time considerably.

An area where simulation is commonly used is for developing new systems or improving the current system. It is also very useful for developing logics and process rules for Industrial Automation. With multiple product variants, frequent changes are being made to factory layouts as more machinery needs to fit into tighter spaces.

At the same time, all work areas, production lines, material storage facilities, etc. should be designed to perform to the highest rate and correspondingly the shortest cycle time. When designing a plant layout, manufacturers need to take into account all these issues, and ensure that an optimized facility layout is achieved in the design phase as they build new manufacturing sites or update existing ones. Doing this in a virtual environment allows manufacturers to explore different options without disrupting their current product lines, and identifying the most optimal layout.

Moreover, the new generation simulation tools give users the flexibility of writing programs to control the simulation model. Software opened up a new arena to mimic the behavior of real systems.

Simulation can also be used to test and improve the current systems through:

  • Identification of bottle necks in the system, and events, which cause bottle necks
  • Dependency effects analysis
  • Failure mode analysis
  • ‘What If’ analysis
  • Resource capacity and distribution analysis
  • Resource utilization analysis
  • Complex system rules analysis (ASRS storage, Conveyor/P+F Merging, Buffer allocation and storage, etc.)
  • Task allocation rules analysis
  • AGV request rules analysis
  • Resource swapping effect analysis
  • Shift change analysis

Clearly the benefits from simulation are multifold; as it not only helps optimize your current factory layout processes, but also ensures that you are future-ready and have the flexibility to add new variants to your existing production lines.

One of the challenges manufacturers face for gaining the maximum advantage from plant simulations is the in-time availability of subject experts. For effective simulations, manufacturers not only need simulation software experts but also a team of cross-functional experts with the understanding of manufacturing processes, ergonomics, regulatory compliances, logistics, warehousing, etc.

Maintaining an internal team, with this depth of cross-functional knowledge for a short period of time, can be expensive, forcing manufacturers to either simulate with limited understanding or leverage third-party service providers. Third-party specialists not only understand the manufacturer’s needs, but also bring industry best practices into the manufacturer’s shop-floor, making them the best option for short-term needs.

Simulation of a plant with 3D visualization enables rich graphic review of the layout and process flows for quicker decision making, thereby allowing manufacturers to quickly deploy a new variant on an existing production line or building a future ready plant. Vivek Kotru is director of marketing at Geometric.