Why we use AutoMod

So your company has decided to bring simulation “in house”. This decision to go “DIY” with simulation should not be taken lightly, and will be the topic for a future article. For now let’s assume that you have already made the decision. Your next steps are to acquire a simulation tool and hire or assign a person to be the simulation engineer. Here are a few reasons to consider AutoMod as your simulation tool:

Material Handling

If your business processes include a substantial amount of automation and material handling, then AutoMod is a great fit. The AutoMod developers were material handling experts before they became simulation experts. Many of them worked at a company called Eaton Kenway based in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. Kenway became HK which became part of Dematic, a Kion Group company. Time flies.

Some of the early adopters of AutoMod were the material handling equipment suppliers, companies like Bushman conveyors (now part of Honeywell Intelligrated) and Mannesmann Demag (Kion/Dematic). These companies along with the AutoMod development team created a “virtuous spiral” of user feedback and software development that made AutoMod a leader in material handling modeling. We held yearly user community meetings where customers could list and rank their feedback and discuss ideas with the AutoMod software developers.

In addition to customer feedback, the AutoMod organization created an internal simulation consulting group so we could “eat our own dog food”, so to speak. I joined AutoSimulations as a young engineer in 1988 as part of that consulting group, which numbered as many as ten full time simulation engineers. The AutoMod consulting team created another, even “tighter” feedback loop with the AutoMod development team, as consultants could essentially walk over to the cubical of a development engineer and discuss product enhancement ideas. AutoMod modules like AutoStat and Model Communications are a direct result of the AutoMod consulting group using the technology we were developing. The consulting team also created an early version of AutoSched, one of the first simulation based scheduling tools that is used today in semiconductor manufacturing.

User Community

Over the years, thousands of simulation engineers have been trained to use AutoMod. Many of them are still actively using AutoMod today. Simulation tools deliver better results in the hands of an expert practitioner. If your plan is to hire a new college graduate who is a computer whiz kid, be prepared for it to take months before you get results. In addition to learning your business, this new person has to learn a new technology that combines elements of programming, CAD, and statistics. If you do hire a new college graduate, I recommend approaching professors in departments like Industrial Engineering, where simulation is usually taught. Find the “best and brightest” simulation students. This approach worked for my company as we were hiring new engineers for our consulting team. We also used a simulation “hiring test” to help us identify the blend of skills required to be a successful simulation engineer.

Learning a simulation tool is a small part of becoming a successful simulation engineer. The ability to understand and determine the important system details to include in a model, and to deliver and communicate the results effectively, are even more important. It can take years to develop the skills required to be successful at the practice of simulation. An apprentice program works well for the simulation practice, and some companies with larger simulation teams have an apprentice structure. Our AutoMod consulting team was very much like an apprentice program.

An experienced simulation engineer might require double or triple the salary of a new graduate, and in many cases the additional cost will be worth it. Most of the cost of practicing simulation is in the practitioner and not the tool. An experienced simulation engineer can be orders of magnitude more productive, thus offsetting the additional cost. Leveraging the existing AutoMod user community, whether by hiring an experienced engineer, or a consultant, will shorten the timeline to getting results.

Flexibility

AutoMod is built with flexibility in mind. This capability of AutoMod makes it more challenging to learn initially, but has big benefits. Many simulation tools advertise “drag and drop” functionality. Drag and drop works when the predefined element matches your business processes exactly. But when your business processes are different, model building gets difficult fast.

Animation

AutoMod was the first simulation technology to offer 3-D animation in the 1980s. Providing 3-D animation at that time was no small feat. At that time, the computer graphics world was small. One of the AutoSimulations company founders attended the ACM SIGGRAPH conference and met an executive from Silicon Graphics. It was visionary to see how 3-D animation would help stakeholders better understand the dynamics of complex material handling systems.

The first versions of AutoMod required Silicon Graphics engineering workstations that cost more than $100,000 and were the size of the filing cabinet. AutoMod was used by only the most serious material handling simulation practitioners at large companies like GM and Boeing. Material Handling equipment suppliers were the next to start using AutoMod.

3-D graphics have some a long way since AutoMod was introduced. So has the computing world. AutoMod animation is helping model builders validate their models, and helping engineers visualize complex systems and improve their designs by gaining better insight.