Four Ways to Connect Digital Threads with Simulation and Realize the Promise of Industry 4.0

Four Ways to Connect Digital Threads with Simulation and Realize the Promise of Industry 4.0

Data is like the steam power that drove the first Industrial Revolution, the successor to the electrical connections that drove the second one, and the byproduct of the computers that brought about the Digital Revolution.

Ten years after the term Industry 4.0 was coined, manufacturers are awash in data that is both input to and output from the industrial internet of things (IIoT), cyber-physical systems (CPS), and artificial intelligence (AI).

The winners in this new age of manufacturing will be those that can connect the right digital threads of data to get to market faster, avoid downtime, quickly respond to supply-chain disruptions, and address sustainability issues.

Simulation is critical to connecting those threads in a two-way communication network that fully uses Industry 4.0 to achieve four advantages: accelerate time to market, reduce manufacturing downtime, take advantage of just-in-time additive manufacturing, and support sustainability initiatives.

1. Accelerate Time to Market with Simulation

During product design and development, simulation enables engineers to virtually test how different environments and operating requirements will affect parts, subassemblies, or full systems—all digitally, without the time and expense of building and testing multiple physical prototypes. Simulations can show how a product will function in nearly any virtual environment to find and mitigate potential faults early in the design process to lower costs.

Digital prototyping alone is an amazing speed boost to the product-development process, but manufacturers that use design-optimization software can get to market even faster. The software can automatically run through various simulated scenarios using advanced algorithms to suggest the optimal design direction for a given set of parameters, which gives manufacturers a jump on the competition. Even better, when paired with high-performance computing (HPC) via the cloud, complex simulations and optimizations can be completed even faster.

An integrated simulation-led design process can shave months off traditional product design and development time.

Schaeffler Automotive Buehl created an efficient and flexible tool that enables product designers and engineers to use the same optimization workflow for any electric machine concept—and to have results in minutes. “Instead of it taking 50 hours to simulate 100 samples using [finite element analysis], the meta-model–based optimization can simulate 10,000 samples within minutes,” according to Pierre Millithaler, who works in e-machine simulations and method development for the company.

2. Reduce Downtime with Digital Twins

Organizations can connect digital threads by doing simulations early in the design process and leveraging smart manufacturing data generated on the factory floor. IIoT sensors are being used in a variety of industrial applications, generating tremendous amounts of real-time data about products and processes that could affect production. All this intelligence can be fed directly into a digital twin—a virtual representation of a real-world entity or process that is synchronized at a specific frequency and fidelity.

A digital twin is more than a digital version of a physical asset. It is a connected virtual replica of an in-service physical asset in the form of an integrated multidomain system simulation that mirrors the life and experience of the asset.

Manufacturers can use digital twins to build, validate, and deploy complete virtual prototypes of real-world systems that can predict downtime, potentially reducing operating costs associated with lost production capacity, wasted labor, and depleted inventory. Simulation results inform the design of physical assets, and in turn, real-world data from those assets can feed the digital twin to inform further simulations.

Organizations can also use digital twins to optimize manufacturing performance, even in the face of supply-chain disruptions.

In the early days of the pandemic, certain goods were suddenly in low demand, while the demand for others unexpectedly increased, requiring retooling and reconfiguring of production environments.

“Companies can help alleviate some of these downtime challenges by performing ‘what-if’ analyses and simulations to manage load balancing and ramp up with minimal risk,” said Sameer Kher, senior director of research and development at Ansys. “Rockwell Automation and Ansys are partnering to develop digital-twin technology and applications relevant to industrial customers to address these challenges,” he concluded.

3. Innovate with Simulation and Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing provides another means to quickly respond to disruption. Manufacturers can use simulation to enable additive manufacturing when creating temporary replacement parts, making parts on demand to minimize warehousing and shipping, or designing products that would be impractical or impossible via traditional manufacturing.

Predator Cycling recently used simulation software with topology optimization—an algorithmic method that optimizes material layouts based on loading conditions—to help design what the company calls the most efficient, durable, and easy-to-use bottle cage on the market.

“We had this idea for a bottle cage that would be the perfect thing to 3D-print, but we could never figure out how to do it until we found Discovery,” said Aram Goganian, chief design engineer of Predator Cycling. Using Ansys Discovery, Goganian created a water bottle cage that made inserting a water bottle easier while meeting his unique requirements for weight, flexibility, and durability.

Relativity Space, an aerospace manufacturer, also looked to simulation to find new solutions for metal additive manufacturing. “We’re using additive manufacturing to build the world’s largest 3D printer, and we’re using that printer to 3D-print a rocket,” said Jordan Noone, cofounder and founding CTO of Relativity Space. “With Ansys’s streamlined additive manufacturing solutions, we iterate designs 10 times faster and with 100 times fewer parts. We’re innovating in ways that many thought were impossible.”

4. Driving Manufacturing Toward a More Sustainable Future

Connecting the benefits of digitization outside of a company’s walls and throughout the product life cycle is a significant challenge manufacturers face. Climate goals are bringing those challenges to the top of boardroom agendas and the subject of many engineering back-of-napkin sketches.

Simulation is helping manufacturers research and develop new products focused on sustainability, such as carbon-capture technology, tidal energy generators, and better batteries. Organizations are also using simulation to understand how they might redesign existing products to shrink carbon footprints—both in how they make their products and the energy those products consume during their life cycle.

The use of simulation to support sustainability is readily apparent in both the aerospace and automotive sectors, where lighter-weight materials mean less fuel consumption or longer battery range.

To meet weight requirements, thyssenkrupp Presta engineers needed to make a power steering unit lighter without compromising its integrity. Using Ansys simulation software, thyssenkrupp Presta achieved a 50% weight reduction with respect to the original metal part while meeting all mechanical performance and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) requirements.

The innovative lightweight housing also supports thyssenkrupp Presta’s ecological and economical goals while helping it maintain its position as the leading supplier of automotive steering systems.

Using material intelligence software that integrates with simulation and design software, more manufacturers can quickly investigate and act on material choices.

Simulation Makes Connections 

To fully realize the benefits of Industry 4.0, manufacturers need to collect and understand data so they can use it to optimize production via increasingly AI-automated, decentralized processes. Simulation technology unlocks data intelligence by enabling manufacturers to visualize what the data means, share it among CPS, and use it to continually improve.

Integrating simulation into a digital thread that runs throughout all aspects of an organization multiplies its benefits, enabling manufacturers to capitalize on their data by showing them what hasn’t happened yet, and helping them predict what will happen when market conditions inevitably change.


Visit Ansys.com to learn how simulation can help your organization connect digital threads to realize the promise of Industry 4.0.

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