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  • By Steve Hemsley
  • In Blog
  • Posted 03/09/2015

Steve Hemsley from Lanner discusses why automotive is the sector to watch when it comes to world class simulation. 

Automotive is the jewel in the UK manufacturing crown, with a reported recent seven-year high in production highlighting that the sector is showing no signs of losing its sparkle. This is, in part, due to the sector’s willingness to innovate, as well as its continued investment in efficient, high-tech manufacturing, even when faced with a less than favourable global economic environment.

The automotive sector has always been one of the first to the table when it comes to new technologies or ideas, and nowhere does this prove more true than in its use of simulation. Simulation’s roots lie in automotive. And, albeit not quite as far back as the days of Henry and the Model T, Ford has used simulation in its various guises since the early 1980s. Simulation is now viewed as an integral part of its strategy to deliver operational excellence and competitive edge, with the organisation using simulation to contextualise a wealth of variables, mapping, analysing and modelling to enhance decision making at every step of the way.

Ford originally used simulation as part of a wider Six Sigma project at its Dagenham plant several decades ago, and was able to identify the specific processes that would yield a 10% increase in jobs per hour achieved, an increase that was valued at a $4 million saving. A further $2 million in productivity savings were identified based on simulation that evaluated alternative methods of production. Such is the success rate of projects in which simulation has played a key role, that its popularity throughout the organisation has soared. There’s now an ever-increasing demand for simulations to support continuous evaluation of plant design, manufacturing line operations and to identify risks to future performance. In order to meet this demand Ford is driving the use of high performance computing (HPC), essentially a means of aggregating computing power to deliver greater performance than would be available through using a typical desktop computer. This has supported a dramatic reduction in the time taken to build and run simulation models. In fact today, Ford can model 4500 hours of machine running time in just 45 minutes.

In turn this allows the company to be more agile and capitalise on demand quickly and easily. The simulation team is now able to run many more alternatives, and so what was taking a week to run, now takes less than a day. This agility and rapid response capability has only served to increase demand further still and Ford plans to increase its use of HPC for simulation, something that we’re only really seeing in the automotive sector at the moment.

It’s not just Ford that’s using simulation to blaze an automotive trail. When it came to planning and building a UK manufacturing plant for batteries to power the Nissan Leaf car, Nissan’s Sunderland-based engineering team turned to simulation to demonstrate that its proposed facility could deliver the same throughput volumes that were being achieved at the pilot plant in Japan.

Battery production for the Leaf is very complex but, having observed the pilot plant in Japan, the UK team felt confident the proposed plant could achieve the 60,000 demand at a lower cost base. Merely articulating assumptions anecdotally wasn’t enough, they needed to present a scientific, risk-free business case to optimise layout of the plant and identify the most efficient and productive layout for battery production

If automotive is to maintain its position as the leading sector in UK manufacturing, not to mention retain its competitive edge on a global stage, it needs to do what it has always done best, and continue to be at the forefront of innovation. By using tried and tested tools, such as simulation, in new and exciting ways, automotive will go from strength to strength, lighting the way for other sectors to follow.

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