Engineering and Design 4.0
Exploratory Workshop by RWTH Aachen, FORD and SIEMENS
Which skill-set do the “Engineers of the Future” need? Will they be multidisciplinary jacks-of-all-trades? Or software specialists using every modeling, simulation and construction program on the planet? During an exploratory workshop, experts from Ford, Siemens and RWTH Aachen University sat together to discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie within the work of an engineer and the implications those developments have on the educational system.
This workshop was initiated by Prof. Frank Piller, Head of Institute for Technology and Innovation Management (RWTH), who was charming host as well as sagacious moderator of this gathering and Dr. Karl Siebertz, Head of External Alliances Europe (Ford). Roughly 35 high-profile researchers, managers and professors from the three institutions followed the invitation and contributed to a very interesting discussion revolving around different software concepts related to design and production.
Challenges when using data
Prof. Georg Jacobs, Chair and Institute for Machine Elements and Systems Engineering (RWTH), put his emphasis on the diversity of engineering models that exist at the moment, whilst explaining that those are usually isolated applications without a clear reference to a parent system model. Such system models combining different models and sources of data already exist in climate research which was demonstrated by Prof. Gabriele Gramelsberger, Computational Science Studies Lab and Chair for Theory of Science and Technology (RWTH). This field of research is already one step ahead and is starting to conquer the next challenge: coupling data which very large-scale differences (cm vs km). Dr. Bernd Brinkmeier, Head of Portfolio Development Product and Manufacturing Engineering (Siemens), added to the discussion that one solution to get from data silos and distributed data is to use “Predictive Engineering Analytics” based on the digital twin in a production environment.
Simulation software as pivotal point for engineering
There is a clear vision of how simulation software should be structured and made usable for consumers. According to Dr. Norbert Hosters, Chair for Computational Analysis of Technical Systems (RWTH), the user of simulation software should be given a “toolbox” that will suggest the easiest model for the needed simulation. In this scenario, expert knowledge is included in the system, so that less experienced people can benefit from the half-automated process. Theo Papadopoulos, Engineer for Modeling & Simulation (Siemens), added virtual reality (VR) to the discussion showing Siemens’ democratizing the simulation world approach where the model adapts automatically to changes made in the VR simulation. This is a tool that could potentially be used by less tech-savvy people to execute quick idea tests by using powerful algorithms and graphics processors.
Use cases in Additive Manufacturing
In Additive Manufacturing (AM), there are already some use-cases especially in the design development. Using generative (re-)design approaches in 3D-Manufacturing, there are a lot more options when it comes to the specific structure of materials according to Prof. Johannes Henrich Schleifenbaum, Fraunhofer ILT and Head of Digital Additive Production (RWTH). Copying bionic designs, simulation software and new achievements in AM, even more complex and efficient structures copied from nature are already printable. A similar case was shown by Dr. Christoph Kiener, Principal Key Expert Functional Design for Manufacturing (Siemens), who added the message that those new technologies also add great value to the business and therefore to the customer. Products can be designed leaner, faster and will yield better results because of the more complex structures that can be realized with AM.
Use cases in Automotive
Another real-live example where simulation software plays a key role was presented by Dr. Anselm Hopf, CFD/CAE Research Engineer (Ford), who was involved in a Ford-RWTH Alliance Project using Computational Fluid Dynamics to develop a new simulation model for oil-jet cooling of engine parts. The software was used to determine operational conditions and to show limitations of the component. Dr. Horst Lanzerath, Technical Leader Material, R&A Europe (Ford), showed another application of simulation software: Most crash tests are nowadays performed with the help of CAE tools due to the fact that there are more and more variations and materials involved in a particular car model. This makes it more time- and cost-efficient and is of strategic importance for the automotive industry.
Discussion points and key learnings
All speakers raised awareness that development, design and production processes can be enhanced by using simulation software, artificial intelligence and machine learning. This raises the question again how the engineer will fit into this IT-dominant environment. One possible solution would be to break down the engineering discipline into new categories and to move away from classic branches like electrical, mechanical etc. Engineers will need to have multidisciplinary knowledge to understand all parts of the design and production process. They will need to be experts for simulation parameters and to be able to interpret the results presented. Specialists and experts must be able to describe the production or functional problems and requirements at the start of a process and the engineer will have to understand all available tools and use the appropriate ones. The vision is a systems engineer who defines the interfaces to different experts and is supported by a range of machines and software tools.
During the workshop discussion, the most pressing issue was artificial intelligence and how developments in this area are going to gradually replace and/or support humans in their daily work. Therefore, as a next step, it is planned to organize another workshop with a more focused approach discussing the role of the engineer in the era of AI in production engineering. This workshop will also include the aspects of ethics and intelligent empowerment. All participants agreed that this is a very intense and important subject and a collaboration between industry and university makes sense when creating the vision of the engineer of the future.