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The Department of Manufacturing Systems and Automation at the Technical University of Liberec, Czech Republic, is a long-time advocate of Lanner’s predictive simulation technology, WITNESS, using it for both its academic teaching and its collaborations with manufacturing partners.

The Technical University of Liberec and WITNESS

The use of predictive simulation is versatile, it adds great value across a variety of industries and applications, from the design or analysis of a production line to maintenance planning or business case justification. Due to its versatility, it is naturally a crucial part of the  academic curriculum for those studying a manufacturing focused degree.

Predictive Simulation is a key topic taught at the Department of Manufacturing Systems and Automation at the Technical University (TU) of Liberec, which works closely with various manufacturing partners. The Department has license agreements, for both academic and consulting use, giving students the opportunity to immerse themselves in theoretical and real world projects.

How is simulation used for teaching?

The motto "Innovate or Die" did not escape higher education. Tough market conditions require the educational sector to respond and remain at the forefront of the latest technology, providing graduates with a full skill set that will enable them to add value as soon as they begin work. To teach the latest concepts and provide students with the skills they need, universities have turned to simulation.

At TU, Lanner's predictive simulation software, WITNESS, is used to demonstrate these concepts and teach students how to approach common manufacturing demands. Throughout the course of their studies, the students are taught:

  • the basic principles of a manufacturing process
  • the different methods that can be applied to a manufacturing processes
  • how to design a simulation model
  • how to design a simulation game
  • how simulation modelling forms part of a comprehensive project

Teaching the basic principles of a manufacturing process

To introduce students to simulation and WITNESS, TU begins with the simplest models that help to explain the basic principles and steps within a manufacturing processes. Using a pre-defined demonstration model, students are shown:

  • the stochastic parameters that effect production
  • how a manufacturing process is reliant on all operations working
  • how distribution channels can impact production
  • the advantages and disadvantages of pooling resources and reorganising labour
  • issues arising from bottlenecks in the production process
  • the difference between the push and-pull control

As an example, the model shown in Figure 1 helps to explain the Theory of Constrains (TOC) and the issues that can arise when there are bottlenecks within the production process. In the first example, bottlenecks are forming within the Assembly line. Additional resources are made available to clear the bottleneck, however this then causes another bottleneck lower down the production process, at the Workstation.


Fig. 1. Shifting bottleneck problem

Methodology to influence a manufacturing processes

Once the basic concepts of a manufacturing process are taught, another set of WITNESS simulation training models are used to demonstrate different methods of designing and influencing manufacturing processes. From the close work carried out between TU and its manufacturing partners, there is a wealth of real world experiences for students to draw from. The advantages and disadvantages of various methodologies are discussed. These include:

  • Just in Time (JIT) strategy – where demand must be forecast accurately to ensure only the required inventory is available
  • Kanban Methodology – uncovering process problems to create a more consistent output and collaborative workforce
  • Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) – where processes react to change, creating a more efficient production line
  • Cellular manufacturing – where the production of several similar products moves at a rapid pace to achieve efficiency and little waste
  • U shaped production line – where the start and finish of the production line are close to each other which allows for easier collaboration between the various operations along the line

Designing a simulation model

An integral part of the learning process is when the students start to build and interact with their own WITNESS models. Learning to analyse a given problem and designing appropriate solutions, while mastering the basics of simulation, are fundamental requirements for students.

During the semester, the students are given an assignment to create a manufacturing production line. To achieve the objectives, they must determine the size of the production line, the appropriate number of workplaces, operators and staff, and prepare a simple simulation model which achieves the customer’s objectives. At the same time, the students must try to keep costs down.

The role of simulation games

At TU, simulation is also used in a non-traditional area, with the creation of a simulation game, which is then combined with video for a realistic representation of the process.

By using gaming as a method of teaching, students are introduced to a specific process and the short video sequences built into the model illustrate the point further. Different scenarios make it possible to practice responsiveness and creative thinking, preparing students for unexpected events in a real-world environment.

The following picture shows the simulation game "Production of KVS steamers" in which WITNESS is used to present the production process on the one hand, and the Kanban system on the other.


Simulation game in WITNESS environment

Demonstrating the use of simulation

The educational system at TU complements the "traditional" teaching of specialized subjects in the field of manufacturing and significantly enriches it. Students within the TU system are required to take part in a comprehensive project where they must design and build a full production line from start to finish, to demonstrate their understanding of what they have been taught.

They must design a prototype in CAD, create the required workshop layout, schedule the production of parts using the enterprise management information system, physically manufacture the product on the CNC machines, and then verify the accuracy of production. Students work together in a team during this project.

WITNESS simulation is used to examine the proposed layouts and solutions, ensuring the production line design can meet the demands of the process set out.

This project pulls together everything the students have been taught, and ensures they understand how to apply simulation and the value it can bring to any manufacturing process.

The value of simulation in education

Predictive simulation is a crucial skill to teach students today. The theoretical and hands on experience they gain during their studies, prepares them to become valuable assets to any company they join upon graduation. As students continue their studies at TU, with Diplomas and the Doctoral thesis, the application of simulation and its capabilities are explored further.

In an ever-changing world, where the need for efficient processes is critical to ensure profitability and success, universities must ensure students are entering the working world with the tools to be successful.

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