Like A Crystal Ball, But for Production Costs

Like A Crystal Ball, But for Production Costs

By Nick Dmitrovich with the Purdue Research Foundation

Making business decisions is hard, especially if you’re a manufacturer in 2020. Lots of company leaders probably wish they had clairvoyance or some kind of magic crystal ball that would let them look ahead at cost estimates and predictive modeling. As impossible as it may seem, new software innovations might actually be able to grant that wish.

A new software tool is being developed that might enable manufacturing companies to take a peek into their own future and model several different “what-if” production scenarios. This is expected to help manufacturers better predict and adjust costs and may even offer numerous benefits to other industries. For example, experts predict the software could one day evolve to assist organizers one day with huge events like as the Olympic Games. There’s an exciting amount of potential.


Not Quite Magic, But Still Quite Surprising

Innovators at the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC) created the new software to help manufacturers better predict overall costs and the costs associated with layout alternatives and adjustments to their manufacturing processes. IN-MaC is a partnership between Purdue University, Ivy Tech Community College, and Vincennes University that aims to support advancement and talent development in the Indiana manufacturing industry.

The technology essentially lets manufacturers play around with different variables would impact their production, from things like launching new products to process changes. This can lead to a much deeper understanding of overhead costs and the eventual market potential of new ideas on the factory floor.

“This software came after I spent 15 years in the composite manufacturing world and saw wonderful products being produced that ended up being too expensive to bring to market,” said Jan-Anders Mansson, a Purdue distinguished professor of chemical and materials engineering who serves as co-executive director of IN-MaC. “This software is a predictive cost-modeling tool aimed to help manufacturers better understand the overall costs of producing a product, and how changes to the manufacturing process can affect those costs.”


How It All Works

The new program lets users create a representation of their assembly or production systems that can be manipulated to include various process changes. The software tool uses a drag-and-drop palette of process steps that allows a user to vary the manufacturing process line with alternate configurations, such as equipment, robots, and employees, to see how changes affect the final cost of the product. Each process step is characterized by cost parameters which can be adjusted to study the effects on overall manufacturing costs.

“This software helps manufacturers strategically plan their operations and then evaluate changes, all within the scope of understanding how everything affects the total cost,” said Ben Haley, the lead network engineer for IN-MaC, who worked with Mansson to develop the technology.


What Comes Next?

The development and implementation of software of this type could be a key element that helps more companies transition to smarter factories, making use of advanced technologies like IoT, monitoring, and artificial intelligence projects. Currently, the development team is working on a web version of the system and are connecting it to real-time data sensors on manufacturing equipment. The team also is exploring ways to integrate machine learning and deep learning into their solution.

The software and its continued development are part of several projects underway at IN-MaC and the Indiana Manufacturing Institute (IMI) focused on the future of manufacturing, as well as proposed future efforts supported by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization filed a registered copyright for the software.

As an interesting side note, developers were able to apply the software’s capabilities to industries beyond manufacturing. In one experiment, the program was reconfigured to share with the International Olympic Committee. Data from the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro was used to demonstrate how the software could help event planners determine costs and configurations when dealing with crowds, security, transportation arrivals, and other parameters.


Powerful Tool for Planning

As more companies begin to consider major changes to their operations in this era of production advancements, a new software tool like this could be a big help. Understandably, many decision makers have a lot of questions about how to proceed into new capacities. IN-MaC’s innovation could enable manufacturers to find a lot of answers to their unique operational questions. If nothing else, this could be a powerful tool for planning.

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