Ford embeds predictive simulation over 40 years

And saves multimillions through improved decision making

Ford embeds predictive simulation over 40 years

Project facts

  • Client
    Ford Motor Company
  • Location
    Essex, UK
  • Challenge
    After recognising the potential of predictive simulation back in the 1980s, Ford wanted to integrate it as a strategic part of planning to boost productivity and validate decisions.
  • Solution
    Leveraging our expertise and Twinn Witness predictive simulation software, Ford developed and refined its own simulation tools – FIRST and FAST – using them to answer key operational and strategic questions.
  • Impact
    Enabling evidence-based decision-making, simulation modelling has increased throughput, boosted operational efficiencies at numerous Ford plants and delivered multi-million-pound savings over the last 4 decades.

The challenge

Defining, implementing and refining a simulation strategy to boost efficiencies and validate decisions

Since the 1980’s, Twinn – previously known as Lanner – has worked with Ford on simulation model development. An early champion of simulation modelling, Simulation Technical Expert John Ladbrook has been responsible for Ford’s PTME simulation strategy since the 1980s. At that time, the emergence of simulation gave engineers new power to influence planning processes. By demonstrating the impact of investments – and allowing a wide variety of options to be tested in a cost-effective, risk-free environment – engineers could present management with evidence to validate decisions.

An early adopter of predictive simulation

Our initial collaboration was so successful that Ford made simulation a prerequisite for all production and manufacturing decisions. As a result, PTME invested further in Twinn Witness predictive simulation software – supporting model development and satisfying Ford’s demand for predictive analysis. Simultaneously, John spearheaded Ford’s sponsorship of multiple engineering projects at UK universities.

As a result of Ford’s commitment to simulation-driven analysis, productivity soared. However, each major study project took around 600 hours to complete, which meant that demand for simulation outstripped supply. John was tasked with eliminating this bottleneck without significantly increasing the headcount.

The solution

Sharing expertise and resources to simplify and speed up simulation

To solve this problem, John launched a collaboration with Twinn experts to develop software that reduced the time required to answer questions – and enabled simulation capability at an accessible skill level. Launched in the 1990s, the Ford Interactive Replacement Simulation Tool (FIRST) leveraged a simple spreadsheet interface that could be populated by an engineer without specialist capabilities. It enabled engineers to run experiments and receive easy-to-understand results.

“Our FIRST system was used across all projects for new and existing machine production lines,” John recalled. “Ford’s simulation capabilities were already widely recognised as world-class. At this stage, 2 full-time engineers were responsible for Ford’s simulation strategy – supplemented by various university-located projects – making such accolades the more impressive!”

Utilising the power of Twinn Witness

In 2007, we collaborated to develop the Ford Assembly Simulation Tool (FAST). Boosting flexibility and access, FAST utilises the open connectivity power provided by Twinn Witness predictive simulation software.

Used across powertrain assembly and engine machining production lines, FAST met Ford’s demand for improved accuracy while reducing the length of each simulation project study to 3 months. This, in turn, increased the demand for simulation. In response, we deployed more Witness nodes across Ford networks, allowing the team to answer more questions with wider experimentation, which led to improved results.

As Kieran Cahill, Director of Manufacturing Powertrain Operations EMEA, put it: “I have witnessed the evolution and success of the simulation tool within PTME and some of our plants. I am more convinced than ever that there is no better tool to undertake engineering work and validate spend prior to commitment.”

A collaborative route to success

By working with local universities, Ford has accessed resources and expertise while providing students with real-world context and experience of a world-class automotive manufacturing engineering team.

Since 2007, Ford’s PTME simulation team has grown from 2 people to 13, 5 of whom started their journey as students working on Ford projects. This collaborative approach remains in place today. “Sharing and effective communication of the simulation results was, and still is, absolutely essential to establishing successful modelling,” added John.

The simulation capability we now have, and the fact that it has driven multi-million-pound savings in production programmes across the world over the years is a testament to the software capability and our methods of use.”

John LadbrookSimulation Technical Expert, Ford UK

The impact

New ways of working and multi-million-pound savings

Working in partnership with Ford’s simulation team and its IT department in North America, our development team has improved Ford’s infrastructure, enabling the utilisation of high- performance computing (HPC) clusters. This has increased experimentation rates and reduced delivery times. In the first full year of using HPC, Ford’s simulation team experimented across approximately 100,000 hours of Twinn Witness simulations. By the end 2016, this figure had quadrupled.

Another factor crucial to the team’s success has been the easy-to-understand analysis the software delivers. From sophisticated tables to charts and calculations, Ford’s simulation experiments generate engineering, manufacturing, execution and performance measurement reports in a format that enhances understanding. This has helped embed simulation in everyday decision-making as stakeholders ask further questions of FAST.

Advances in modelling, enhanced results

In 2015, a collaboration with PTME and the University of East London again reduced the configuration time for each Ford study. Utilising connected data sources and the Twinn Witness API interface, we tapped into live manufacturing systems to connect and control models using interfaces from other systems – thereby generating a digital twin of real-world systems.

“Software underpinned by Twinn Witness predictive simulation software and a talented team have allowed PTME to cover more ground and to develop a bigger and more detailed picture of actions and consequences than ever before,” John explained. “Advanced modelling as well as simulation question-and-answers now work hand-in-hand, allowing significant cost-savings. Twinn Witness provides an investment return of 15 to 1 – as a simulation tool, it always does exactly what I need.”

“What does the simulation say?”

“Success is marked by the growing use of simulation in plants and, most of all, in other departmental meetings where we frequently hear ‘what does the simulation say?’” John added. “It delivers real results, based on real data, that everyone believes in.”

As business complexity and demand grow, the use of predictive simulation – and the scope of questions it answers – also increases. “Our simulation capability supports global operations – from Dagenham and Bridgend to Cologne and Valencia, Romania and South Africa,” John said.

Collaborating with Twinn, John’s team want to introduce more advanced analytics capabilities into Ford’s current tools. Ford aims to allow every plant to run their own simulations on demand. Using FAST, on-site engineers can expect to look back 3 months, get statistically stable data, condition it, run the simulation and obtain results. From there, they will use AI and manual intelligence to guide their actions.

Driving multi-million-pound savings

What advice does John have for other manufacturers looking to boost their simulation capability?

“Model robustly and don’t get drawn into emulation,” John suggested. “And integrate simulation modellers within plant teams. Our simulation team has now been co-located with manufacturing so that communication is direct – and engineers on both sides feel integral to the process.”

40 years after our initial collaboration, Twinn Witness predictive simulation software continues to play a crucial role in effective planning at Ford. “Have we achieved everything we set out to achieve? Absolutely, and more,” John enthused. “I am immensely proud of the simulation capability we now have, and the fact that it has driven multi-million-pound savings in production programmes across the world over the years is a testament to the software capability and our methods of use.”  

Darren Travers - Director of Business Development, Industry


Director of Business Development, Industry