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Meet sustainability criteria

Virtual production processes - How companies produce sustainably and cost-efficiently

In the past, production and manufacturing processes were designed to maximize profits and minimize costs. Today, companies must also take sustainability aspects into account. The responsible handling of environmental, social, and governance issues (known in the financial world as the ESG criteria), is becoming a competitive factor. The integration of simulation methods in production processes makes a significant - albeit previously underestimated - contribution to bringing ecology and sales targets into harmony.

Sustainability will be a make or break issue

Sustainability has been pushed to the top of the agenda for German companies over the past two years. Politicians continue to take action in the form of new legal requirements. Customers and investors increasingly expect companies to use resources in a climate-friendly way and to ensure fair working conditions along the entire supply chain. However, it’s not only external factors that play a role. Sustainability is in companies’ own interest, and more than 2,000 studies have shown that compliance with ESG criteria correlates with financial corporate success. Considering dwindling raw materials and long supply chains, it minimizes costs and risks, and allows companies to reposition themselves in a sustainable manner.

According to the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Sustainability Management Monitor, three-quarters of those responsible for sustainability said that the issue has become much more important. Despite its increase in importance, only a small number of respondents reported that sustainability was fully embedded in all areas of the company. Green energy at company sites, e-bikes and e-cars, and online meetings instead of business trips are examples of what’s being done to make sustainability a priority. However, sustainability has hardly been taken into account in cost- and resource-intensive production. In the future, it will be more important than ever to reduce the use of materials and to use a higher proportion of recyclable raw materials without compromising the quality of processes and products. More and more companies are turning to digital prototyping in product development. Not only are machines and systems being designed virtually, but developers are also digitally optimizing production processes in a much more cost- and resource-efficient way.

This allows us to bring the process simulation models into a single, integrated and highly productive workflow so that faster simulations can be performed in much less time

Elias Taye, Leiter Engineering bei Mars Wrigley

Virtual reality is making its way into process engineering

With the help of simulation software, development teams can reproduce machines and components in great detail and measure the physical behavior of liquids and particles in the production process as precisely as with physical prototypes - without any material consumption.

The once time-consuming process of product and process development has been reduced to a few clicks and a few minutes of work at your monitor. In addition to sustainability benefits, the simulation of system, product and process development is also far superior to the previous method in terms of cost efficiency, speed and quality.

With this in mind, confectionery manufacturer Mars decided early on to use simulation to optimize the coating process for products such as Skittles and M&Ms. This process is extremely complex, and adjustments are costly; to achieve the optimal coating, the exact shape of the candy, the interaction of candy with spray and drying streams, and the crystallization growth must all be taken into account. Mars combined two applications: Rocky DEM for particle simulation and ANSYS CFD for flow simulation. Elias Taye, head of engineering at Mars Wrigley explains, “The software uses liquid bridge, heat and mass transfer models. This allows us to bring the process simulation models into a single, integrated and highly productive workflow so that faster simulations can be performed in much less time”.

Simulation software and service lead to a competitive advantage

Unlike in product development, comparatively few companies so far have used simulation technology in process optimization. There is a lot of untapped potential to optimize all basic process engineering operations and to make the entire life cycle of products more sustainable.

One reason for the reluctance is the lack of experience in the use of simulation technology. Which software is the right one for your own use case? What needs to be considered when integrating it into the IT infrastructure? Experienced implementation partners like Cadfem help to answer these questions in a well-founded manner by quickly introducing the technology in a targeted manner.

When choosing an external partner, key questions can help narrow down the selection in a structured manner. Does the partner have proven industry expertise? What support is provided for configuration and implementation? What duration of support can be guaranteed?

Partners like Cadfem support companies in configuring software, developing test scenarios and adapting workflows. They also ensure knowledge transfer so that companies are independent after the project ends and can establish their own know-how.

The initial project effort almost always pays off quickly. Mining company Vale, for example, managed to minimize maintenance downtime at a Brazilian iron ore mine with the right simulation software. Various roller grid designs were tested for this purpose. The result: Instead of the 12-month design phase planned with the conventional approach, the system design was completed within 3 months and a return on investment of around 125,000 euros was achieved in the first year of operation.

Conclusion: Early adopters have a clear advantage

The technology is now spreading in product development departments just as rapidly as 3D simulation technology has developed in recent years. It can play a key role in meeting increasing regulatory, environmental and efficiency requirements in production and manufacturing.

Return on investment after 3-month design phase

The sooner companies implement the new digital tools of simulation and familiarize themselves with their potential, the greater their competitive edge will be. Sooner or later, competitors will also follow suit, and it will no longer be a question of if companies can transform simulation into added value and sustainable processes, but rather how effectively they can do so.

Author: Paul Henkel
(Freelance journalist and B2B copywriter)
Images: © CADFEM
Published: October, 2022

Initial release:
Digital Engineering Magazin (05/2022) 


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Product Area Manager ROCKY
Dr. sc. techn. Jorge Carregal-Ferreira