- Will improved performance earn a price premium or even increase market share?
- If a less expensive material is used, will warranty exposure go up?
- What's the ideal maintenance schedule for lowest cost and greatest efficiency?
Manufacturers cannot quickly and efficiently answer these questions today. Some of the answers eventually trickle out after physical product testing, and in-service use trial and error, but the process is slow, and the costs are high. Yet the global marketplace demands that new products perform more consistently, be produced more efficiently, and with greater sustainability. The following examples portray how VEXTEC’s software technology is delivering solutions to industrial equipment, aerospace, medical devices, automotive and electronics’ clients.
The earlier a Virtual Twin is built, the sooner a manufacturer can begin reaping the benefits it offers. And since a Virtual Twin can be built even before the physical product – in effect, functioning as a Virtual Prototype – manufacturers can perform “what if” scenarios to determine the most efficient, most durable product right from the start. As that product evolves, so does its Virtual Twin. As more and more is understood about the way the product is used by thousands of customers, that collected information can be incorporated into the Virtual Twin, resulting in a faithful rendition of the actual product state. Updating the Virtual Twin in this way can produce a true profile of fleet life.
Engine fleet failure forecastingQualifying incoming supplier parts can be a tricky proposition. Suppliers, of course, maintain that the parts are produced to specifications. But without extensive testing, the manufacturer cannot make that determination with any certainty. Not to mention there is always a mandate to meet the production schedule. This all too real scenario was the reason VEXTEC was engaged to evaluate and predict the durability of a new power generation system component.
Prior to VEXTEC’s engagement, the component in question had already passed supplier testing as well as the OEM’s own internal qualification testing. But, the component was only tested to 250 in-service hours. The simulation predicted the fleet failure rate would be less than 5% up to 400 in-service hours. However, the Virtual Twin predicted that 80 percent of the units will fail by the 1000 hour warranty period, and identified the root cause as a substandard heat treatment in the manufacturing process.
Identifying this substandard component before the system went into production not only averted a $10 million dollar warranty outlay, but prevented incalculable damage to the manufacturers brand image.
For all its improvements, product development remains a process of trial-and-error. Up to now, manufacturers produce a new design, run it through as many physical tests as can be afforded and send it into the marketplace. It could be years later before the full extent of product liability is realized. But computer cycles are much faster than product cycles. That’s why it’s far easier, faster and cheaper to experiment with the digital rendition of a product, before it’s built, and before it goes to market.
Turbine wheel material substitutionA Fortune 500 manufacturer of turbine wheels had a very reliable forged product that was expensive. They wanted to find a way to develop a cheaper, cast material with the same durability as the forging, without the cost. They had already embarked on a conventional prototyping and testing regimen, and they engaged VEXTEC to build a Virtual Twin simulation to accelerate development.
The Virtual Twin simulation showed that the selected cast material would not perform as expected. Since this was contrary to their own findings, the manufacturer began an extensive investigation of the simulator results versus their own production runs. They found that the material they tested in the lab was not the same material coming off their manufacturing assembly lines. Furthermore, the Virtual Twin identified the reason why; the heat-treating was being applied improperly. The result was a product of acceptable durability and lower cost, whose development had been accelerated by nearly two years.
Future “green” diesel engine
Recent EPA mandates - that future diesel engines operate at higher pressures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - are sending engine manufacturers back to the drawing board. But one nationally recognized manufacturer decided to shortcut the traditional redesign process, and asked VEXTEC to simulate whether it’s already fielded fleet of more than 200,000 cylinder blocks could be operated at 20 percent higher pressure. The Virtual Twin simulations showed that the current casting specifications allowed for engine blocks to be produced with too much quality variation, and that the new EPA operating requirements would cause nearly all the engine blocks to fail, putting the manufacturer at severe financial risk. As a result, the manufacturer is now working with the casting supplier to tighten specifications.
There are lots of different supply chain management tools. However, their life-cycle forecasting is based on bill-of-goods statistical trending, and consequently none of them are able to make aftermarket forecasts based on the actual physics of the product. The Virtual Twin is changing the way maintenance and repair decisions are made, as well as, which parts actually represent the better buy.
Better supply chain management
VEXTEC was engaged to conduct a “best-value” purchasing assessment of a supplied part. Two nationally renowned automotive engine manufacturers each supplied similar components to an even larger original equipment manufacturer. The low price supplier supplied twice as many parts as the higher price supplier. In spite of this, the OEM was not seeing the cost reductions that should have been the result of using a large quantity of lower cost parts. Virtual Twin analysis of the physics of the two parts showed the OEM there was another, more important difference between the parts than just price: the lower cost part performed poorly, and was costing the OEM far more in aftermarket repair costs than it was saving on the front end. Comparing total life cycle cost, the Virtual Twin simulator clearly showed that even though the higher price parts required a greater initial outlay, they were a better value in the long run – saving more than $20 million dollars over the life of the OEM’s product.
Certain manufacturing sectors demand more physical testing. In particular, safety-critical products like aircraft parts and medical equipment leave no room for error, which inevitably increases time-to-market as well as product costs. In other markets such as consumer products, competitive pressures mandate short time-to-market, minimal physical testing and therefore shorter product life expectations – counter to sustainability principles of operational efficiency and minimal stockpiling of waste. In both cases, the Virtual Twin simulators can reduce the reliance on physical testing using computer-generated predictions of performance, cost and durability, at a fraction of the time and cost.
FAA aircraft engine blade repair certification
Companies that repair turbine engine blades must have their methods certified by the FAA. The FAA has historically relied on physical testing as the only means to prove that a new repair process meets durability standards. This physical testing, the critical path in FAA approval, takes 12 to 24 months to complete.
VEXTEC has shown that Virtual Twin simulations can shorten this process by as much as 80%. Simulating the durability of a blade’s leading edge repair, the Virtual Twin showed statistical proof that the welding process induced enough heat at the bond-line to create a mix of grain structures that made the repaired blades as strong as new blades.
Sometimes traditional analysis methods just can’t explain why failures are occurring. And if they can’t be explained, they can’t be fixed. Virtual Twin simulators combine stress engineering, material science and probability theory to isolate the root causes of failure where and when they originate. As such, VEXTEC is increasingly being tasked to resolve industry’s most complex durability issues.
Industrial equipment durability issue
An industrial manufacturing company was producing a construction industry product that consisted of a material being compressed and cut after being formed by a combination of breast and forming rollers. These two rollers were periodically operated above their pressure rating, and this caused the forming roller to fail prematurely. The manufacturer asked VEXTEC to conduct a durability simulation of its production line equipment and recommend a solution
The Virtual Twin simulator of the forming roller predicted the probability of failure over time based on changes in operating conditions, including specifically where and when cracks in the structural components would occur. The Virtual Twin also showed that redesigning critical structural features and changing welding methods would nearly double the roller’s life. (Click here to see an expanded version of this and other case studies.)
Whether it’s miniaturization or lowering cost and weight, developing a new material is the only way to gain a competitive advantage in some industries. But in the medical world, for instance, developing a new material can take 10 years or more. Furthermore, when the material is fundamental and has numerous application possibilities, traditional testing regimens simply cannot deliver the required results in a reasonable time or at an affordable cost. Here’s where computational simulation can deliver real value and ROI – the only practical and affordable way to accelerate new materials engineering.
Electronic Implant Product
Medical device manufacturers use extensive physical testing to improve product durability. Even so, the number of factors that have to be isolated, controlled and tested in combination makes the regimen expensive, slow and yet in many cases, largely inconclusive. Computational simulation technology accelerates the process by quickly identifying the material processing factors that most significantly impact durability.
For example, pacing device lead wires are made out of a high-grade alloy and manufactured to exacting tolerances. But they’re never implanted exactly the same way twice; surgeons bend, loop and kink the cables to get them to fit a particular patient’s body. Once they’re in, they need to stay in and work for as long as possible, preferably a decade at least or more. Premature product failure, of course, is not an option. Medical manufacturers know that there’s an ideal formulation of that alloy that will fit these requirements; they’re just not sure exactly what that formulation is, or what such a material might cost. But using a Virtual Twin of the wire, the manufacturer is now able to conduct virtual testing and get actionable answers in a fraction of the time it would take to conduct physical wire testing.
The Virtual Twin wire simulation showed that durability can be increased from three to as much as ten times by adjusting three parameters in combination. After quantifying alternatives in this manner, the manufacturer was able to perform a simple cost-benefit analysis to determine which alternative combination met all the criteria for an improved product. Duplicating these results in the test lab would have been impossible, since it would have taken years and required tens of thousands of tests. The Virtual Twin simulation produced these findings in just 60 days. (Click here to see an expanded version of this and other case studies.)