What lessons can we learn from the past 20 years of SPDM? How do you get started with an SDM system if you're not on board already? What about the next 20 years of SPDM? I caught up with Mark Norris, of the SDM Consultancy, to talk about these and other topics, as well as his upcoming keynote presentation at the NAFEMS International SPDM Conference, part of the 2021 World Congress.
NAFEMS' first international SPDM conference was held in 2013. Have you seen more organisations look at implementing an SPDM system since then?
Yes, we’ve seen steady stream of new deployments of SDM systems in industrial organisations, we will hear about several new SDM system deployments at the conference. Existing deployments have been expanded to cover most simulation domains and incorporate process automation to eliminate laborious activities. Many of these have been presented at NAFEMS conferences like Rodrigo Britto-Maria’s landmark presentation of his team’s deployment of an SDM system at Embraer at the last World Congress.
That brings us to your keynote presentation at this year’s World Congress, which the SPDM Conference is part of. As your title says, it’s been over 20 years since the first SDM system was used in anger - what lessons have we learnt in that time?
We have learnt a lot which has been summarised in the new NAFEMS publication, How to Get Started with SDM. Perhaps the most important lesson is that the 'SD' in SDM could stand for Simply Different. Successful SDM systems support the specific activities of engineering analysts, who are highly educated and experienced staff, whose time is precious. In particular, the simulation record is more than just files, different to PDM for example. Fit- for-purpose SDM systems capture the process record as a graph, Who what where why when. Engineering simulation is incredibly diverse and fast moving as evidenced by the 500+ papers in the upcoming world congress. Generic information system functionality like content management, PDM and PLM have not proved to be successful for managing diverse, evolving simulation data-sets or processes.
SDM is an area that has always been led by the big automotive companies, notably BMW, but is SPDM just as important for smaller organisations who are involved in simulation?
Good question, companies with large simulation teams can get a better ROI from their increased engineering throughput than small ones. The most extreme example of success of a small company with SPDM is the Abercus engineering consultancy where Steve Howell and a colleague wrote their own SPDM tool, JET, in 2002 to provide traceability and eliminate duplicate data entry. They have been using it successfully ever since and will be speaking at the conference. I would not advocate writing your own SDM from scratch in 2021, but you should certainly expect to have to add functionality to support your specific simulation activities, so agility and openness are key characteristics of any fit-for-purpose SDM solution.
Why do you think companies are so good at storing information on physical tests, but not so good when it comes to storing simulation data?
Engineering analysts have developed manual methods over the years, which worked for the datasets of the 80’s and 90’s, but are no longer sufficient or effective for large granular simulation datasets. There are just a few successful SDM solutions on the market, they have been relatively expensive and simulation departments generally don’t have information systems deployment knowhow. Often IT departments, who don’t understand engineering analysts work, think that generic file management solutions should be sufficient – which unfortunately has been proven to be wrong, but time is wasted testing inappropriate solutions.
What message or advice would you give to someone who is obviously aware of SPDM, but doesn’t know where to start in terms of implementing a system?
First, attend the SPDM track and then read the NAFEMS publication how to get started, or perhaps read the book first to identify questions to ask the presenters. Second is 'Caveat Emptor', let the buyer beware. Look for a solution that is used in production for your simulation domain. It’s near impossible to test an SDM solution without deploying it, so the next best thing is to find someone else who has already deployed it for a similar activity.
This will be at least the 5th NAFEMS World Congress you’ve been part of. What’s the most interesting thing about them?
It’s always interesting to hear of the ground breaking work being done as simulation is applied to new products, like the safety of carbon fibre reinforced plastic hybrid sports car, the i9 from BMW and how inexpensive compute resource allows larger and more sophisticated simulations to be run. It’s great to hear about successful SPDM deployments and sources of value. It’s also great to meet up with fellow practitioners, discuss challenges we’ve run into and brainstorm solutions.
And finally, where do you see SPDM in another 20 years?
Well, I am working on next generation information systems to support simulation-led engineering, initially for a nuclear fusion reactor, which I’m going to talk about at the congress, and developing open SPDM methods for teaching, research and Proofs of Concepts. I hope that SDM, which includes the process record, and SPDM, that is to say Simulation data and process management will have become the universal platform for engineering analysts by 2040. But there is work to do and I’d encourage participation in these efforts in the SDMWG.