The pursuit of a smart interconnected world is being made possible by the integration of simulation and Digital Twin concepts in traditional business processes. Discrete Event Simulation (DES) is one such concept that falls into this bracket as it can be used to model complex business systems and operations. With DES, developing digital simulations of industrial process and business operations to receive business insights or operational excellence is achievable. In fact, the manufacturing industry currently makes use of DES tools to improve complex systems and process such as supply chain management and production lifecycles.
Although discrete event simulation has secured a place of importance in manufacturing cycles, it is still being overlooked in engineering operations and the wider business community. According to research, the lack of integration of DES in these circles is due to an unhealthy dislike of statistics by engineering students and business students are not far behind. Also, students generally overlook the importance of statistical analysis and its importance in simplifying decision-making processes. These among other personal reasons have hampered the integration of DES in engineering and business cycles.
Despite these challenges, discrete event simulation still has a lot to offer engineering and business students who intend to ply their trade in an increasingly digitalized world. To serve as an encouragement as well as outline the importance of DES, the key reasons why discrete event simulation should be taught at engineering and business schools will be discussed.
At the end of this article, students will understand:
- What discrete event simulation is about and its application in business and engineering industrial niches.
- The importance of teaching and learning about discrete event simulation in schools.
- How DES is being applied using case studies to highlight its application and benefits.
What is Discrete Event Simulation About?
Discrete event simulation is a method for the modelling of complex environments or systems where events occur in sequences. It also models the interactions between objects, and system operations within the system where these interactions are time-dependent. Discrete event simulations can also include the uncertainties, constraints, and interdependencies that occur among different events into the model.
A simplistic example of the application of DES is the modeling of a toll-gate system where vehicles must pay a fee to pass through the gate. In this scenario, the system entities in the model are the workstations with tellers and the vehicle queue. The system event is the vehicle arrival and vehicle departure that occurs after a payment. The system states which changes with each event are the number of vehicles in the queue and the workstation’s status which is either engaged with or has disengaged a vehicle. The random variables or uncertainties modeled into the system will be vehicle inter-arrival times and the workstation-service time.
DES tools or software applications capture the different processes that occur around the toll-gate in discrete events. This makes it easier to analyze even more complex systems and factor in hundreds of variables within a DES model and this is what manufacturers do. In manufacturing, a DES tool is used to create a Digital Twin – a digital model of physical entities – of the entire manufacturing system. The digital model makes analyzing the effects of additional processes such as increased supply or demand to the system. Thus creating a valuable digital environment for evaluating the effects of diverse factors to a manufacturing system before making business decisions.
Understanding the Importance of Teaching Discrete Event Simulation in Industrial Engineering Schools
In 2017, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust Fund released a report that stated the deficiencies in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. The report highlighted the fact that 45% of students who went through engineering schools believe the knowledge they acquired is difficult to apply in the real world. 61% of students that went through STEM institutes also believe that learning technical skills would have better prepared them for the real world.
In the engineering and industrial community, the real world is being dominated by emerging technologies and Industrie 4.0 where digitalization plays important roles. Thus, a more practical approach to preparing students for this world is needed. This is where the importance of teaching discrete event simulation techniques, analysis, and modeling is needed. The 5 reasons why DES should be taught at engineering schools include:
- Prepping Students for an Industry 4.0 World – The world is moving to a smarter, interconnected community of things and this also applies to industrial endeavors. Today, engineering is moving from a world dominated by computers and CAD software to one dominated by cyber physical systems driven and the autonomous transfer of information which is what Industry 4.0 is about. While computer-aided design is still an important process in industrial manufacturing, Industry 4.0 focuses more on modeling complete production systems, facilities, and processes to automate every industrial operation.
In a world dominated by cyber physical systems, knowledge about discrete event simulation and the creation of Digital Twin environments is important. Integrating discrete event simulation and the tools used for DES modeling in industrial engineering curriculums is better preparation for a future defined by Industry 4.0.
- Receiving Business Insights – Statistics from the US. Bureau of Labor shows that industrial engineers who choose to earn a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) earn more than their counterparts who do not. This is because in industrial circles, knowledge about machines or equipment is no longer enough to climb the career ladder. Enterprises now focus on engineers who can handle business analysis and make informed decisions that lead to higher ROIs or enhances efficiency levels.
Discrete event simulation models are renowned for their ability to handle simulations that highlight how events affect specific business operations. This event could be the purchase of new equipment or the introduction of a new material handling system. A DES model can simulate the effects of pending events to entire operations which makes for a more informed decision-making process.
Introducing DES concepts in engineering schools give students the knowledge needed to create models and execute simulations that provide real insight into business operations. This helps students make better decisions and function in diverse industrial niches.
- Generate Quantitative and Qualitative Data to Drive Operations – Discrete event simulations provide exact models that allow the data an enterprise generates work for it. This makes it possible to integrate a data-driven approach to optimizing research and development activities and industrial systems. In the real world, managers always want to know why certain phenomena occur in a real system and an in-depth understanding can be achieved through DES.
DES can be used to model entire industrial systems or process as sequences of operations being performed on passive entities. This provides an environment where discrete events can be analyzed and the data they generate used to determine how that particular event can be optimized. This leads to the generation of approximated data which can be used to enhance productivity and workforce performance. Thus, an engineering student can generate the data and sequence of optimized events that can enhance productivity in industrial settings.
Understanding the Importance of Teaching Discrete Event Simulation in Business Schools
The traditional teaching methods in business schools involves the use of traditional classroom teachings and case studies. These have been the backbone of imparting knowledge in MBA programs and these tools have limited value when it comes to practical testing what has been learnt in the classroom. This is where discrete even simulation can help in bringing active learning to MBA classrooms through the simulation of physical systems. Some of the reasons why it is important to introduce DES to the classroom include:
- Enhancing Business Strategy Sessions – The ability to create digital models that respond to constraints, and interactive relationships creates a platform for making difficult decisions without having to manage the consequences. This is what the integration of discrete event simulation can achieve in MBA programs. With DES managing supply chains, analyzing the effects of new business concepts moves from simple case studies to an actual digital environment where active learning is possible.
Recently, MBA programs in schools such as Harvard have introduced simulation through gamified scenarios to teach students about communication and project management. Although these games are useful in fostering teamwork, they lack the detailed structure DES offers. For example, a DES system can be used to model the exact business operations that occur in an industrial system. The model will contain a digital representation of equipment, the shop floor layout, supply chain, inventory, and even production and relationship variables. Constraints and additional variables can also be added in real-time and their impact analyzed.
With this knowledge business students or professionals will be better prepared to handle the uncertainties and real-time occurrences that can affect business operations in the real world.
- Enhance Predictive Analytics – The ability to accurately predict how future events will affect complex systems provides businesses with the competitive edge needed to carve a market share in a competitive industrial space. Discrete event simulations create models that can be used to drive predictive analysis in complex systems. This is like the use of CAD simulations to conduct stress analytics on prototypes but at the systematic level. What this means is DES models can be used to create Digital Twins of very complex operations and accurately include every parameter or constraint that defines the complex system.
An accurate DES model is a powerful tool for business development professionals and project managers. The professional gets a digital representation of sequenced events and the ability to introduce even more events to determine their impact on the overall system. Thus, business insights can be received on the best facility layout that guarantees just-in-time delivery, the percentage increase in supply chain speed to meet set deadlines can also be calculated among other things. To take advantage of the predictive analytical powers of DES, it must first be understood. MBA programs can kick start the process of elevating students understanding of predictive analytics and its implementation by utilizing discrete event simulation tools.
- Testing and Integrating New Business Policies – The responsibility of developing new policies that can lead to a high-performing system lies squarely on the shoulders of the business developer or analyst. In many MBA programs, the creation and experimentation phase attached to developing business policies is done through case studies and understanding older standards. This means new business policies or concepts are generally created on paper without having any means of determining their impact on existing systems.
Introducing discrete event simulation in MBA programs can change the rather limited methods of teaching policy developments using simplified business simulation tools. With a DES tool, facilities and business operational systems can be modeled for the introduction of policies in real-time. An example, can be the management of the move from a traditional shop floor to an automated factory using limited resources. In this scenario, a DES tool can be used to model the existing system operations and analyze the effects of introducing automated equipment or maintenance procedures to the system. The end result will be the development of an Industry 4.0 business model that highlights the business operations to automate for the best returns.
- Preparing Students for a Changing Business Landscape – The business developer or administrator is expected to be able to function in every industry where business operations take place. This could be in the automotive industry or the healthcare industry. The purpose of business school is training students to apply business strategies, management, statistics, and economics to increase ROI. Therefore, the student must acquire the required knowledge needed to use available tools to grow business operations.
Discrete event simulation tools are examples of some of the tools that can be applied in any business operation regardless of its industrial niche. This is because DES can be used to model both simple and complex systems for simulation purposes. Thus introducing it to MBA programs is an excellent way to prepare MBA students for the career changes that will occur throughout their professional lives.
Discrete event simulation is set to play a starring role in the digital transformation taking place in every industry. The reasons stated above highlight the importance of integrating it in STEM and business schools. According to academic research, students learn best through active learning using technological tools. Thus, integrating DES tools in classrooms is a great option for analyzing complex systems through digitalization and 3D visualizations.