The Importance of Simulation in Industry 4.0

We are living the 4th Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0), which is once again changing the industrial environment. By using technology tools like system integration, big data, augmented reality, internet of things and simulation, industries are much more efficient and productive, to the point of improving their processes, product quality and customer service.

In that sense, using simulations is one of the strategies used to achieve better results, and in this article you will understand how this pillar of Industry 4.0 can be very strategic and bring benefits to industries.

What is simulation?

Simulation in industries is related to virtually reproducing environments and processes that happen inside the factories. In this way, it is possible to bring the physical world closer to the virtual world to analyze data, monitor results, and improve any processes that may fail.

All of it happens without causing problems to the production goals, nor causing waste in industries, after all everything happens within computer systems.

In many cases, when making important business decisions, industry managers end up delaying or even canceling projects because of lack of understanding about the required investments, the proposed optimizations, or the financial return that has been calculated.

The Importance of Testing

Because of that, the use of simulation software has grown and is a great tool for learning and performing experiments. In these environments it is easy to analyze data and errors are allowed, different from what happens in the real production process, in which small problems or errors can cause great damage or cause quality issues in the products.

Thus, from the analysis performed by the software and the employees involved in the project, it is possible to identify where the most important bottlenecks are, and what actions should be taken to solve them.

Similar to other pillars of Industry 4.0, data is essential for a successful simulation. This is why it is important that basic aspects such as processes, data organization, reliable storage of information and constant updating are working well.

Otherwise, it will not be possible to create a copy of the process to be simulated, which can generate errors in the reports.

The similarities of Simulation and Lean Manufacturing

In an industrial environment that uses Lean Manufacturing, the objectives are to achieve greater efficiency in the following aspects:

• Stocks;

• Deadlines;

• Customer Service;

• Quality.

In order to achieve these goals, the use of simulation is very interesting. This is because when performing simulations in complex systems associated with the other pillars of Industry 4.0, managers can understand better about the processes, bottlenecks and important aspects of Lean Manufacturing like lead time and takt time.

As part of Lean methodology, factories have maps of its internal flows and efficiently use available resources. Having these processes already in progress makes it much easier to use simulations to further improve aspects such as people, time and money in the factory.

Just like in Lean projects, simulations take place following the same steps: definition, testing, evaluation, improvement, implementation and monitoring.

Understanding more about each step:

1. DEFINITION: The first step is to define the problem to be solved and the desired result. For this to happen, variables, people involved and requirements are also defined.

2. EVALUATION: Then it is time to start using the simulation tool, always paying attention to the use of reliable data so that the generated reports are also valid.

3. IMPROVEMENT: The processes identified for the simulation can always be improved, from internal feedbacks or inputs that come from studies or conversations with external stakeholders of your industry.

4. IMPLEMENTATION: This is the time to use the developed model and check if the results are being confirmed according to the simulation.

5. MONITORING: Monitoring the results is essential, because as simulations happen based on data, it is important to observe the reports as well.

Thus, when combining simulation with Lean Manufacturing, there is growth and sustainability in industries, improving the key performance indicators.

Benefits of simulation in Industry 4.0

Simulation is one of the main pillars of Industry 4.0 and is related to other aspects such as artificial intelligence, system integration and use of data to evaluate problems and find solutions for the business.

In addition, in order to better understand this trend, Gartner Consulting has showed that the use of simulations (called Digital Twins) is one of the top 10 trends to be used and improved in the following years, in a survey in 2018.

Considering that Industry 4.0 counts on increasingly automated processes and without flexibility for stops and tests, using Digital Twins in systems becomes very interesting. By doing this it is possible for managers to make their decisions based on reliable results without the need for routine implementation.

The main benefits observed by companies when using the simulation are:

1. Communication between systems

When using the Internet of Things (IoT), cross-system processing and communication between systems become a reality, and it is used in simulations as well.

Thus, different sectors of a company that are affected by a problem can be evaluated at the same time, resulting in an easier process for decision making.

2. Reliable information

From the creation of a Digital Twin (that is, an exact copy), all the systems and processes involved in the industrial plant are involved.

With this, it is possible to gather high quality information so that it is evaluated as if a real time test was being performed.

3. Decentralization of decisions

While in non-technological industrial plants people are the only responsible for strategic decisions, in Industry 4.0 it is possible for computer systems to make certain decisions.

When caring out a simulation the same happens, because according to the data and limits defined before executing the simulation, the systems can identify failures or problems and use the reports to outline possible solutions to solve them.

4. Comparison of different solutions

When tests are done in an industry, the variables need to be checked individually, making these tests time-consuming or incomplete of not all the possibilities as assessed.

Thus, one of the great advantages of the simulation is to quickly compare different variables and solutions proposed by the system, in order to follow the best path at that moment.

5. Assistance for employees

During a simulation it is common that repetitive or dangerous processes are identified.

By understanding which are the bottlenecks, managers can change the organization or order of tasks so that they happen more quickly and productively, while improving the working conditions of the people involved.

In the same way, it is possible to use autonomous robots that can perform these tasks with greater ergonomics and lower risks, thus freeing operators of certain jobs.

Conclusion

Considering all this, Industry 4.0 and its pillars present great innovations, increasing productivity, and reducing wastes in the industries.

As a consequence, the simulation pillar is essential to have evaluations and tests in factory’s production routines without causing problems to it. In addition, by simulating new or improved processes, risk of loss is avoided and better decisions can be made.

Do you already use computer simulations in your industry? Do you agree that this is one of the most important pillars in Industry 4.0?

Leave your comment below and share your experience.

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