|Simulation software, such as the Simufact. forming suite, can help forgers quantify production costs in relation to their commercial goals. |
Responses to FORGING’s 2009 Census of the North American Operations indicate only 27% of domestic forgers are using simulation of any sort. Of the non-users, the most commonly cited reasons for their hesitations are the cost of software and the lack of skilled personnel to make it perform for them.
We wonder: Is that what the developers of simulation software are hearing, too? Generally, yes, according to a contact with Simufact-Americas L.L.C. (www.simufact-americas. com), which offers software and services for modeling metal- forming processes. He finds forgers wondering whether the software will “really work” for their processes.
Their questions are both general, and specific: “How do I decide what software package and what options to chose? Can my engineers operate the software? What is the ROI of my investment? What is the total cost of ownership, including hardware? How knowledgeable is the supplier with my forging process?”
We wondered again: Can the 27% of forgers who have adopted simulation software answer these doubts?
The selection process
We contacted Aichi Forge USA Inc,, a manufacturer of impression-die steel forgings for automotive, aerospace, and other markets that has operated a simulation program for several years. Our source there revealed that his organization’s initial goal in adopting simulation was to reduce production scrap.
A second source at Cornell Forge — which supplies forged components to builders of heavy equipment, among other markets, and is a more recent adoptee of simulation software — explained that their goal is to improve productivity. For both forgers, the goals have been met by accelerating the route from design to product.
Both companies did their “due diligence” in selecting the software and provider that was right for them, and neither company made the selection quickly: one source said the selection process took six months, while another revealed that three years went by before it made its choice. For forgers who have passed on adopting simulation software because of time & cost concerns, these points merit consideration. For some, adopting simulation through outsourcing/ consulting services is the best choice, at least initially.
Our Simufact-Americas contact reveals that companies choosing to adopt software typically have several motivations. They may want to reduce costs (less material waste, longer tool life, shorter design cycle time, etc.), but they also hope to expand their output to a new range of products, and want to gain experience. Others may want to update their 2D simulation, or to expand it to a wider range of products. They may want help improving their handling of a particular product, or of a particular machine. There are other common reasons, too, e.g., improving production performance for a specific forged part, or expanding simulation to more of their production capabilities.
Prior to their selection, what concerns did our software users have about adopting simulation? One of them told us his major concern had been the authenticity of the results. Another had questioned the accuracy of the results, but also listed that ease-of-use, and the availability of compatible computer hardware to run the programs, were critical factors in their decision matrix
Our Simufact expert confirms these indicators. He tells us the typical concerns of forgers considering simulation software are the compatibility of the product with their existing equipment, and/or hardware requirements; the ability to master the application; the acquisition cost and ROI; the difficulty of choosing among different programs platforms; and the availability of product support and training.
In almost every case, convincing a forger to adopt simulation means demonstrating the value. Typically, the demonstration goes well beyond a discussion of potential process benefits: it will cover the user’s ROI and TCO for the product; and it will review any and all existing simulations, demonstrations of all existing (or similar) simulations, and trial runs involving a real part.
If the “placement” is made, the next step will be training the plant’s design engineers to work with the new package. Then, a product evaluation period will follow.
There can be difficulties from the seller’s point of view, too. Our supplier source says potential customers frequently claim they’re too busy to evaluate the product, or that they’re already settled with a different simulation platform. Other common “defenses” are that past simulation trials have been unsatisfactory; that their operation is too small to afford simulation software; or that they don’t have enough new or different designs to make the product effective.
The developer’s aim is to do more than “place” the software product. It wants to advance the forger’s production capabilities by making the design process more functional. So, Simufact will assist with IT issues, train operators, and support the placement with remote and/or personal assistance. It will “continuously enhance the software products for users’ benefit,” our source explains.
How influential are the software developers to the selection process? Our source at Aichi Forge USA explains that the supplier “ran the simulation at our facility on one of our workstations (and) walked our personnel through the setup to show what was required from beginning to end.”
Our Cornell Forge contact advises software shoppers to compare the benchmark results presented by the supplier with real-world results before making any decisions about a product.
Here is an opportunity for the software developer to demonstrate its expertise. Simufact-Americas explains that running the new software for the forger is a point at which the ‘rubber meets the road,’ and a buyer’s support will only be met if the simulated results match the actual forged part. Aichi Forge USA recalled that early demonstrations revealed the importance of using stress/ strain data that closely matched the properties of its steel at high temperature, and getting a close match on the coefficient of friction to capture the effects of lubrication. Once the simulation software was up and running, our contact continued, they were surprised to learn that “some values or variables affect” the production process significantly, while others only very little. This understanding was not there before they applied the simulation.
All forgers — simulation software users and non-users— are likely to question their ability to use simulation technology to their advantage. “In our experience” the supplier confides, “mostly every forger has the in-house design/engineering capabilities to operate our simulation software. The pre-requisite is that the forging-design sequence can be expressed in a CAD format. If a company has this ability, either via internal or through external services, they can perform the simulations.”
And, he adds, “It is most efficient if a company can do CAD design variations internally. This will enable them to completely move the trial-and- error phase onto the computer.”
Beyond the sale
Adopting simulation capability is not a one-time proposition. Buyers expect a definable return on the investment (ROI), and our software expert points out that one of his tasks is to become the customer’s advocate in promoting the value of the simulation product to forging buyers. Simufact- Americas defines the value of the software (i.e., ROI) by linking it to the forgers’ commercial goals.
For example, for one or more parts currently in production, ROI is established by determining the time of the “design cycle” needed to go from part drawing to successful production run. The costs of the design cycle are factored in labor, engineering, tooling, and production line shutdown time, just for example.
Then, for the same part(s), a simulation can be run to estimate the savings that would have been possible. “For instance,” our source details, “it can be shown that a company can reduce design cycle time by two weeks, avoid one tooling iteration, reduce production line shutdown with three days, and save 15% in material costs due to an optimized design. From these savings, ROI and IRR can be calculated.”
He also mentions other ways his firm assists prospective customers to overcome their hesitations. On a regular basis, it offers one-day workshops, open to anyone, presenting attendees with a good understanding of what simulation can do.
Also, Simufact-Americas has teamed with experienced, hot-forging, and cold-forming designers to offer a complete, simulation-based, design package. This enables companies that are not yet able to bring the simulation software in house, to perform simulation-based forging sequence design on a project-by-project basis. Currently, with order books less than full and new orders unpredictable, this is an especially attractive proposition. After a few projects, the forging companies find out by practice what the true ROI and TCO would be for them, which helps with deciding the right time to bring the simulation capability in house.
Typically, ROI for simulation software is calculated at less than six months. The other standard measurement of value is Total Cost of Ownership, or TCO. For forging simulation software, the TCO includes the software purchase price or lease cost, and the costs of hardware, training, and engineering.
So, to return to those questions in the minds of forgers still contemplating simulation software: Can simulation capabilities be related to financial results? There is no direct correlation, our Aichi Forge USA correspondent tells us, “but we do have specific jobs for which it has ‘headed off’ some very big problems. It has also given us insight into just how delicate some parts of the process can be.”
A more recognizable relationship can be drawn between production quality and performance. “With the help of simulation one can determine the number of impressions required to achieve the final shape (of the forging),” the Cornell Forge source explains, “and thus die life can be improved, which in turn provides a forged part within close tolerances.”
And, there are more improvements to be achieved as operations like Aichi Forge USA and Cornell Forge continue to use simulation. The latter identifies the potential for monitoring metallurgical and structural developments (e.g., grain flow) during production.
“We are testing some other ways in using the current simulation software we have,” Aichi Forge USA tells us. We are hoping to use some of the new functionality. We have talked to the software vendor about other possible functionalities that we could benefit from,” he indicates.
Customers’ always right
The connection between the software developer and forger may be ongoing and rewarding, but the contribution of simulation software to the commercial success of the operation is also critical. Our sources confirm that forgers may use simulation during a bidding process, to optimize for lowest cost, so they can impress the customer with the savings or demonstrate their complete understanding of the part.
“In our experience, all customer segments have similar and equal influence with the forging companies’ choices,” observes our Simufact contact. “Contrary to CAD partdesign, the simulations for the forging sequence designs are done mostly, and solely, by the forging companies themselves, and not by their customers.” This means, he continues, that very often the forgers’ customers don’t have the necessary experience to influence the choice or selection of simulation software. It gives the forgers some autonomy over this critical production decision — an observation that’s confirmed by the forgers’ points of view.
Our Aichi Forge USA source called simulation software “a good sales tool. It lets the customer know that we put in more time upfront to give them the best part possible in the end.” At the time of delivery, Cornell Forge concludes, its customers showed more confidence in their forging supplier because their sample delivery date had been met.