Consumer Goods: Unsung Champions of Modeling and Simulation
When we think of high-end simulations, expensive, high-tech machines like jet engines or sports cars often come to mind. But as Tom Lange, director of modeling and simulation at consumer goods giant, Procter & Gamble, explained at the launch of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences’ Grid Cell Innovation Center on Wednesday, these low-cost commodities require a mecca of digital manufacturing tools.
Although Procter & Gamble is one of the country’s oldest manufacturers, you would be hard-pressed to find vestiges of its old age from its design and engineering teams. Each year, the company turns out over 150,000 simulations to test everything about their products, from the best way to dispense toothpaste to creating drop-proof laundry detergent bottles.
“People naturally assume that this business must be low-tech,” Lange explained, asking how high-tech something like toilet paper could possible be. “Turns out, [the machines that manufacture toilet paper are] the most expensive piece of equipment we build and manage and maintain. In fact, there’s an absolute inverse relationship, I would argue, in manufacturing between the cost per use of a consumer product and the technology and equipment that makes it.”
The difference, Lange explained, comes down to manpower. Whereas human labor plays a significant role throughout the manufacturing process for these state-of-the-art machines, low-cost consumer goods such as diapers have an average of 40 milliseconds of human handling from raw materials handling until it hits the shelves of your local Target.
But Lange said that while engineering for consumer goods can be a tough sell for recent graduates entering the talent pool, (after all, who wants to work on Tampax when you could help design a jet fighter?), Lange sees the market as one with the most potential for high performance computing adoption for modeling and simulation, particularly if more companies were to shift to a more proactive approach.
“When modeling and simulation doesn’t replace an experiment, you’re a pathologist,” Lange said, pointing to times when modeling and simulation is used not to help plan a product’s design and manufacture, but instead to explain problems that have already arisen during the manufacturing itself. “So we create a dynamic where modeling and simulation is talked to first, not second.”