Autonomous optimization: Always better from experience
Simcon celebrates its 30th anniversary: An interview with Dr. Paul F. Filz and Ines Filz
The simulation specialist Simcon is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, an ideal opportunity to speak to its managing directors Dr.-Ing Paul F. Filz and Dipl. Psych. Ines Filz about the early days of simulation and its future.
Question: “Simcon is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. What philosophy has the company pursued in over the last three successful decades?”
Dr. Paul F. Filz: “Simcon entered the market 30 years ago to provide simulation and consulting services to the injection molding industry, helping it to develop faster, develop better, and ultimately to achieve first-class part quality at the lowest possible price, although today the methods used are completely different to those that were used back then. The degree of automation and customer expectations are much higher than back then in the early years.”
Question: “How does a company where employees need to deal with current technical issues and challenges creatively and in a visionary way need to be organized?”
Ines Filz: “We are a dynamic, innovative family-run business. We have flat hierarchies with short communication and decision-making channels. This is how it works: an employee has an idea, presents it to management and then we either say yes or no. This is a relatively quick and uncomplicated process.
What is most important to us is that the team feels comfortable and that we can communicate transparently. We have worked extremely hard to achieve this, especially in recent years. We organize unusual events, ranging from team escapes and lasertag games to excursions to the Eifel hills to cut Christmas trees. We celebrate birthdays together, there’s table soccer in the breaks, and we throw summer festivals for our employees and their families. We are familiar with the personal situation of our employees, allowing us to respond flexibly to particular needs and circumstances, which generates positive feedback from our employees. As a result, we enjoy very low employee turnover, which of course has a great positive impact on the company’s corporate culture.”
Question: “Dr. Filz, which specific product did you take your first step into self-employment with, back in 1988?”
Dr. Paul F. Filz: “We started out with the Cadmould, which was originally developed at the Institute for Plastics Processing (IKV) at RWTH Aachen, where I was responsible for R&D for a few years back then. After that, we collaborated to seek a commercially and technically viable solution to gain access to the market for the product in an industrial environment, as a professional supplier of the product developed at the IKV. Although it provides ideal conditions for developing innovative solutions, but an institute at a university isn’t actually able to sustainably deliver an industrially useful product together with the necessary support. Achieving both of these objectives was thus the idea behind founding Simcon.”
Question: What benefits did the original version offer its users?
Dr. Paul F. Filz: “The original version was already capable of computing mold filling, although it didn’t use such a detailed physical approach as is possible now. The results were considerably less precise by comparison, but you could see the mold filling and it was possible for the user to calculate pressure losses, melt temperatures etc. Not long after it was launched, it was already possible to calculate the influence of the holding-pressure phase in the mold as well as the alignment of the fibers in the part.”
Question: “What was the background to the development of Varimos, your second software product?”
Dr. Paul F. Filz: “I went to a conference where I attended a lecture about the systematic establishment and optimization of the process parameters for injection molding machines. There I noticed that, by setting the process parameters, it is only possible to optimize what the already existing mold permits. Everything else can only be changed subsequently by making expensive tool modifications. That got me thinking that it may be possible to perform systematic and automatic optimization in advance using simulation, giving you significantly more ways of influencing the process: in the simulation the mold geometry and technical options offered by the machine can be modified at the press of a button. In real life that would be incredibly laborious and expensive.
Back then, the engineering company Dr. Gierth Ing.-GmbH had already released the software CQC, with which it was possible to perform systematic setup and optimization of the process parameters for injection molding machines. Our software was able to simulatively perform injection molding production and measurement of sample parts as virtual machines. All we needed to do then was figure out how best we could combine the two software tools. An international research project, funded by the EU named VIM (Virtual Injection Molding), led us to a potential solution, and this research project resulted in the original version of the Varimos software package.”
Question: “You regularly release updates to improve the functionality of Simcon software. How do you go about identifying the needs that are called for in practice, before you release the updates?”
Dr. Paul F. Filz: On the one hand, we consult closely with our customers as well as getting input from our sales department, and on the other hand we talk to our application engineers, who use the software every day. Then there are the aspects that we want to implement ourselves. In addition to this, we receive requests from customers for special applications that they want to solve using simulation almost every day. Our support team can often help right away, but if not, the frequently requested solutions find their way into a subsequent update.
Question: “Does Simcon have an internal ranking of what can be implemented in the relatively near future or what is too specific for it to be a solution for the standard software?”
Ines Filz: “We have developed a very sophisticated system. An internal process is used to rank all of the requests and requirements for each update and divide them into subtasks. Our product manager controls this process in minute detail. Then we implement the improvements and new features, starting with those with the greatest customer benefit, in a release in cooperation with the product manager and the sales department. This is a time-consuming process that we repeat every eight weeks. There is always a certain degree of residual risk, as we don’t exactly know in advance whether the market will accept the new features as originally hoped.”
Question: “How do you see the future of simulation? What is your vision?”
Dr. Paul F. Filz: “We see the focus as being on intelligent automation. No longer will software just be a tool for the user, with which he still has to decide for himself, in the end, whether it would be better to do something in one way or another. In future, software will instead be an intelligent assistant for the user, which can, for example, define operating windows independently, check limits and ultimately find the optimum outcome independently. It is basically like autonomous driving: you enter a destination and the system gets you there.”