Simulation—an Underutilised Business Tool

I was reading one of our regular newsletters we get from SIMUL8© containing a blog about process improvement culture. The article outlines the benefits of using simulation modelling to analyse and improve business and manufacturing processes. I guess you could say I was both surprised and unsurprised in equal measure.

Unsurprised by the approach and conclusions, as you would probably expect from someone who has been using simulation for many [many] years; surprised though because the article starts out by saying that changing the mind-set of how an organisation approaches process improvement isn’t easy. I took this to mean (given the context) that although many organisations embrace the use of simulation as part of their Continuous Improvement culture [they get it], it seems that many still don’t. Why is that?

Maybe the problem lies in the definition or the understanding and how that fits into the business world. If you said ‘simulation’ to ten people you might very well get ten different thought bubbles ranging from flight simulators through computer gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and ending up with animation and 3D modelling. Yes, and what has any of that got to do with increasing my productivity? If I said ‘discrete event simulation’, that might very well prompt the same question and be accompanied by a glazed expression. I’ll save the definition therefore for another blog.

Experimenting in the real world, as an approach to problem solving, is an alternative to simulation. Reality however presents a higher risk, tends to be impractical, expensive, time consuming and inconclusive. If you want to run the line for a week to evaluate one small change then it’s going to take, a week. If you want to know what happens to the overall line efficiency if you replace Machine A, then you’re going to have to replace Machine A. One might call this ‘trial and error’ but probably more like ‘trial and disaster’.

A computer-based simulation model can be an accurate representation of all the key elements of a manufacturing process e.g. machines, conveyors, material supply, resources, etc.; variability is expressed by using numerical distributions. One of the major advantages of a simulation model is that it can be easily updated, changed or added to at any time. Simulated production runs take seconds or minutes (not days or weeks). Many scenarios can be trialled, analysed and assessed with no production, financial or business risk. The model is consistent, impartial and objective, making this an engaging approach for team members and a valuable decision making tool for stakeholders alike.

Would you use simulation as a tool for process improvement?

So this is why I'm surprised, why would anyone say no>

Here’s a link to the blog, an engaging read:

How Can Simulation Help Embed a Process Improvement Culture

Is this really about changing mind-sets or more to do with, shall we say, enlightenment? Sound familiar? Welcome any thoughts on the subject and glad to help if we can.