Highlights From ESI Live 2021

A Global Digital Event Talking Mission Zero and How to Get Sustainability Right, Digitally

by Denise Börner
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Sustainability has become a priority across industries and takes a holistic view of the planet, shifting towards human-friendly products, processes, operations, and services. OEMs and suppliers are committed to pursuing key activities across the entire value chain. According to recent Capgemini research, these activities range from R&D, product usage with lower emissions, and manufacturing operations through to the supply chain.1

We are all aware that sustainability is more than a fleeting trend. Looking at long-term success, any sustainability strategy’s failure or success hinges on two aspects: 1) speed and 2) authenticity. Only those who act fast – quickly and consistently presenting tangible progress on sustainability – will be the ones who appear credible and authentic and from which consumers will buy.2

Our goal with every ESI Live is to showcase these pioneers, make sense of the role and value of Virtual Prototyping, inspire the community with practical success cases, give actionable advice on how to get started, and create new partnerships by connecting engineers and product developers with virtual prototyping natives around the globe.

As each speaker shared the progress their companies are making on their own “mission zero” journeys, the pride they felt was palpable. We saw ways of applying digital technologies that we never imagined before and witnessed tangible results that clearly showcase how our customers are working on implementing sustainable practices (moving towards 100% digital) in product development, manufacturing, and operations – they increasingly rely on numerical reference results from virtual prototypes as opposed to physical testing and real prototypes.

So, what were the key takeaways from ESI Live 2021?

1. Sustainable Products and Operations Go Hand in Hand

Why can Virtual Prototyping be seen as the backbone of sustainable R&D and product development?

  • Lionel Yapi from Collins Aerospace emphasized the need to integrate workflows and tools seamlessly, to build one single source of truth that offers engineers the ability to efficiently assess the full picture of new electrified aircraft systems virtually – as it would be in reality – and make informed decisions about their performance early.
  • Susanne Hellwig shared a new mobility project and presented how Alstom relies on advanced virtual reality to bring engineering, operations, and service departments together on one virtual prototype. With immersive reality, they get it right; from ergonomics, pre-production, and assembly planning as well as maintainability of new designs – they are able to do it all virtually and intuitively (non-experts can join in too). Amazingly, they even use immersive technologies to figure out whether a part is in stock – what a unique use of this tool!
  • Driven by strict stage IV diesel emission targets in India and encouraged by promising results from initial virtual tests, CNH Industrial also follows the road towards absolving their complete test cycle for their construction equipment of physical tests, moving towards a fully virtual process. Rajesh Malik explained how CNH exploits the multi-domain simulation capabilities of their virtual machine prototypes to achieve performant loader operations with new fuel-efficient models.
  • Designers want futuristic styles; engineers make it happen – and the key is virtual development processes! Markus Sandford from Audi sees powerful virtual development processes, digital twins, and consistent data – across the entire process from pre-to post-processing – being mission-critical for getting this done without neglecting safety.

Sustainable manufacturing and operations are additional key areas in achieving ‘mission zero’ for automakers, aircraft, and machine builders. Naran from Tata highlights this reality by sharing cross-industry insights from a recent study on changing environments, attitudes, and practices. The study mentions several activities such as virtual plant and line simulation, tool design and layout engineering, and virtual build and manufacturing engineering, which should be conducted upfront virtually in the development cycle to make sure that production becomes more environmentally friendly. How can you make the right trade-offs between environmentally friendly and performance vs cost and weight savings of new lightweight materials early with confidence? I noted the following examples for how Virtual Prototyping directly addresses this challenge:

  • Kenneth Karlsson from Saab Aerospace Systems illustrated how they got a new composite cargo door right by experimenting with virtual prototypes to define leaner manufacturing and assembly processes. This helped them bounce back leaner and greener after the market disruption.
  • Automakers like Ford Motor Company are investigating how automotive structures can be manufactured economically and to scale. Alan Banks shared insights into how Ford is using Virtual Prototyping to effectively balance new, lightweight materials and vehicle safety as they see lightweight technologies as an “enabler for electrification and zero-emission vehicles as well as for connected autonomous vehicles.” 
  • Electric and autonomous driving changes the way we style and layout a vehicle, how the customer interacts with it, and how automakers manufacture it. General Motors meets these challenges head-on. Engineers and designers have started to work differently because they know they can only meet their targets when they are able to “feel” what it is like to build the new vehicle and when they experience new technologies like what it feels from a customer perspective.

2. Sustainability Can Be Profitable

The journey towards electrified machinery is well underway with OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers reinforcing their R&D efforts and investigating changes in their go-to-market models. However, according to a study from McKinsey, there is a lesson to be learned from executives in the automotive space who are concerned about achieving profitability with electric vehicles. With ROI uncertain, reducing cost and time to market undoubtedly remains a priority. However, what they discovered is that to be profitable, they need to apply additional measures. One specific focus area is R&D excellence, for which Virtual Prototyping is a key enabler to increase efficiency by 15 to 20 percent.3

  • A growing number of automakers and machine builders plan to phase out combustion engines completely by the mid-2030s. Even though it’s a multi-year plan it implies immense efforts now to fundamentally transform industry practice. Immediately, elimination of real tests and prototypes will increase alignment and efficiency: For Volvo Trucks, the digital model is now the prime reference, whereas the physical asset is the copy! Jesper Linder shares how they use virtual prototyping to ensure early, confident decisions are made to safeguard operator safety, economic targets, and social ambitions.

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  • David Dolenga from General Motors pointed out that virtual engineering is mission-critical for achieving and maintaining the consistency and accuracy of new designs on a  global level. Being able to collaborate on one product from anywhere in the world translates directly into major time and cost savings, particularly with regards to physical builds and travel.
  • Manufacturing aircraft engines with minimal carbon footprint and successfully shifting towards electric and hybrid models in a sustainable, zero defects, and rework fashion is a professed goal for Rolls-Royce. Nick Calcutt showed how virtual prototypes help Rolls-Royce and its suppliers “locate 97% of potential casting issues associated with the design” at early development stages. This is how the company delivers complex, large structural castings “with improved yield for a sustainable future”.
  • Another example is SEAT. The automaker sets new benchmarks on the digital transformation journey within VW Group by uniting all design and engineering activities for future SEAT vehicles into one virtual car prototype. Xavier Castillo shared with us how they accelerated technological innovation while unlocking significant efficiency gains in new car development and reducing material costs – all while achieving a 5-star safety rating.

3. Overcome fragmentation to create sustainable value

During the automotive track, we heard an insightful talk from our partners at Deloitte about the seven biggest trends in sustainability in the race to net zero. Automakers need to obtain a better understanding of the carbon footprint by looking at the emissions of the value chain. Process digitalization embracing Digital Reality, the Internet of things, big data and analytics, and artificial intelligence are key to establishing sustainable, data-driven business decisions in the manufacturing and across the supply chain. ESI Live’s moderator, Monica Schnitger from Schnitger Corporation connected to this by emphasizing that “the idea that you can feed all sorts of different data in and use that as a collaboration mechanism is very important.” 

This is exactly our focus here at ESI: Empowering our customers to evolve from single-point digital initiatives running at individual sites towards creating a truly chained, digitalized, predictive engineering and manufacturing process across the entire value chain. Particularly for industries that require extensive testing and certification prior to market launch, there is no other efficient and truly sustainable way except to progressively shift towards virtual engineering and prototyping technologies.

ESI Live 2021 has shown once again that all this is not about us being right but rather about our customers getting it right. We thank all our speakers for sharing their amazing stories with us and our extended community of innovators.

In case you missed it, click here to watch ESI Live 2021 On Demand.


[1] https://www.capgemini.com/gb-en/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/03/Report-The-Automotive-Industry-in-the-Era-of-Sustainability.pdf page 7

[2] https://www.capgemini.com/de-de/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2021/05/Experten-Interview-Die-Marke-neu-aufladen.pdf page 10/11

[3] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/improving-battery-electric-vehicle-profitability-through-reduced-structural-costs