Traditional ways of work simply aren't sustainable and effective because the still-ongoing technological revolution is reshaping all products and services that have been made before, creating new products/services, concepts and work titles.
What hasn't changed is that small-to-medium-sized manufacturers (SMEs) still play an important role in the world economy. SMEs represent 90% of businesses, including the manufacturing industry in the U.S. and other places. Of 250,000 manufacturers in the U.S., 240,000 are SMEs.
Fundamentally speaking, Industry 4.0 includes many concepts mostly consisting of the fruits of the technology revolution, such as:
- Additive manufacturing
- Machine learning
- Simulation systems
- Digital twins
- Big data and predictive analytics
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Augmented reality
- The Cloud
Why are SMEs slower on implementing Industry 4.0?
These technology upgrades open opportunities for large and small enterprises, but one is dependent on the other. Large manufacturers are actively moving toward digital transformation and Industry 4.0, but the SMEs are slower on taking and implementing the decision to do the same. When large manufacturers push expensive and complicated simulation solution integration in supply chains, SMEs become a bottleneck in innovation because there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding change. But once SMEs implement tech innovations in their business, they boost innovation and product quality; save energy, material and time; and can even offer faster production time and a wider variety of products.
Before SMEs go all-in to implement tech innovations or before large enterprises enforce change on their supply chain, however, process analysis should be conducted for a step-by-step upgrade approach for a smooth transition. Otherwise, the “upgrade process” may turn out to be painful or even impossible to perform.
Case Example: Large Aircraft Supply Chain
At the ASM Heat Treat show in October 2019, Jack Harris (chairman of IMS International) stated that adoption of advanced manufacturing technology is essential for SMEs to remain competitive and relevant to global supply chains. SMEs may lack the understanding regarding what technologies will benefit their processes and the necessary resources for implementation or have the right skilled workers for operation.
In his keynote, “Technology Risks for Small to Medium Sized Manufacturers,” he gave an example of a large aerospace manufacturer that tried to push down enterprise-grade technology adoption in an SME’s supply chain, which became harmful to the SME’s survival. In return, it harmed the SME and froze operations for some time since the technology was an expensive investment for many smaller suppliers and they were not even able to use the software properly due to lack of trained staff.
The moral of this story is industrial revolution needs SME-tailored tools to succeed in the fourth Industrial revolution. How do you find the right tools that yield the best benefits? And what are some of the misconceptions about the simulation systems as an important part of Industry 4.0 transformation in manufacturing?
Simulation Software Adoption is Growing
The global simulation software market size is expected to reach $19.4 billion by 2025, rising at a market growth of 15.3% CAGR during the forecast period of 2019-2025. If simulation software wouldn't give an impactful benefit to business growth, why would enterprises invest so much in it?
For instance, General Electric uses the digital environment to inform the configuration of each wind turbine prior to construction and generates 20% gains in efficiency by analyzing the data from each turbine that is fed to its virtual equivalent. In other cases, computer simulations are replacing expensive car aerodynamics tests in wind tunnels and impact tests. This shows that the benefits are undeniable, but the change in the process is complicated and requires time.
What's holding SMEs back from simulation adoption?
There are a couple of valid reasons and misconceptions that can make engineers hesitate before trying or implementing simulation systems (see Figures 1 and 2).
Breaking Down the Misconceptions
As CENOS survey (Figure 2) shows, price, time to learn, lack of educated simulation engineers, software complexity and other reasons are important decision points, but these are based on outdated misconceptions. On the contrary, today's software is being built to remove these barriers and enable on-site simulation capabilities for SMEs.
A common misconception is that engineering software is too expensive for SMEs. Large vendor solutions cost many tens of thousands of dollars per year, which is a very high expense for a regular SME, but open-source based-software or intelligent fit-for-purpose apps can make simulation much more affordable. To offer a more affordable price, CENOS Platform solution is being built with open-source algorithms and tools that are made by open-source communities and experts of the academic world.
In the long run, simulation software helps to reduce the number of design iterations down to one and save up to 80% of design time and costs. Investing in simulation software, in any case, will give an overhead to manufacturing SMEs.
Another common misconception is that simulation software training takes months. Training to work with large vendor multi-purpose software may take over three months, but this is not true with software and apps focused on specific tasks. If you’re an SME engineer who works with induction heating, then software like CENOS Platform would be enough because it has a thought-through user experience design focused just on induction simulation.
Yet another misconception is that simulation systems are hard to learn. Engineering simulation software is still typically used only by simulation engineers, and it’s important to expand the usage to a broader audience beyond expert analysts. SMEs need a solution that has a little overhead infrastructure, is simple to use and can be adapted to changing customer usage and requirements. That's where “appification” comes in and makes work easier with industry-focused apps. The engineer using a focused simulation app doesn't have to have a simulation engineer degree. There are a lot of tutorials that help engineers with a base knowledge to understand simulations.
As KBV Research states: “Demand for simulation software grew due to increased R&D investment in different industries, including the aerospace and defense industries, automotive and healthcare. Furthermore, the growth of this market is driven by the rise in demand for reduced product development times and reduced costs. Due to new trends including digital twin support, additive manufacturing, real-time simulation, and successful use of IoT and data analytics for simulation, the simulation software market is expected to grow exponentially.”
In fact, IDC forecasts that 40% of IoT platform vendors and 70% of manufacturers will be making use of digital twin technology by 2022. A digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical product or service. When a digital twin is made, it allows engineers to analyze more data faster, test and build equipment in a virtual environment, make stronger and longer-lasting materials, prevent downtime, innovate new designs and products, and even plan for the future by using simulations.
Finally, as many respectable research institutions show, automotive, aerospace, oil, medical, additive manufacturing and many other industry leaders are all moving toward using predictive technologies, which involve big data, simulations and artificial intelligence. So, implementing simulation systems in metal component manufacturing is not a question of “whether” but “when.” Enterprise-grade software is costly and complex for SMEs and there is rarely a need to get it, but the market has simpler solutions available. That's what SMEs should look for.