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New simulators built from pieces

Do you need a simulator to learn how to fly a JAS 39 Gripen? Possibly not, yet should you need one, Henric Andersson’s configurator can put it together just the way you want it.

Today even the smallest child learns about simulation through games like SimCity, the Sims, or SimFarm; computer games based on getting people, or animals, to prosper and thrive while the player has to deal with a number of catastrophes.

Simulation is obviously also used in industry:

  • to reduce the number of expensive prototypes
  • test different construction solutions
  • check load limits of various types
  • especially for training.


Over the past few years, technical development has spurred further development; software has become easier to use, cheaper, and more standardised while the calculating capacity of computers has increased drastically.

This means that more and more simulators have become economically defensible, even those requiring major calculations.
In order for a simulation to be useful, the model used for the calculations is required to be as close to reality as possible. In industry, major resources are now put into building models that are also authenticated down to the last detail.
Models are produced, and simulations run, in various places in the development process: early on in the concept phase, during construction work, for set-up, during testing, and perhaps even with the customer; and last but not least, simulations are used for training and instruction of operators or pilots. The more common simulation becomes, the more properly functioning models will be placed in the company’s database. Perhaps they could be recycled?

Henric Andersson

This is the background to Henric Andersson, industry doctoral student from Saab, setting about to construct a configurator for simulators, which manages both hardware and software.

One example explained:
A customer orders a simulator for ground crew to train in servicing a certain model of aircraft quickly and efficiently. At Saab, they tell the configurator which type of aircraft they’re dealing with and the simulator’s task.

Information is plentiful for all aircraft types, simulation models (software) and also the simulators used (hardware) in the database. The configurator goes through the database and combines hardware and software modules to construct the simulator exactly to the customer’s needs.

The outcome is a so called ‘Bill of Material’, a list of which hardware is needed for the simulator, and a configuration list, which describes the software.

If all the modules for this are in the database, they need only put together the new simulator according to the configurator’s instructions. If a piece is missing, they are informed and can develop the missing part without having to spend time developing the entire simulator from scratch.

“Simulators produced this way can be used internally for development, verification, tests performed by pilots and also externally for instruction and training,” Andersson says.

For example, for the service technicians above, or for training new pilots.

In his thesis he developed a prototype configurator for Saab, showed that it works, and even conducted a survey among the users to identify strengths and weaknesses. Gradually, as his article was published and he took part in scientific conferences, other aircraft manufacturers and representatives for other heavy manufacturing industries showed interest.

“All companies that make use of advanced simulation should draw benefit from this. I haven’t tested the method anywhere else, but I see no reason it shouldn’t work,” he says.

Hasn’t Saab’s interests clashed with your need to publish?
“No, most companies, even Saab, want to keep the technology secret, but they distribute the methods willingly; this thesis deals with methods. There have never been any problems,” he says.

Following his thesis defence, he’ll return to working full-time at Saab after having worked seven years on his thesis and on developing Saab’s simulators in parallel. An important part of the job deals with the introduction of the configurator into Saab’s operations.

“Technologically, we’re well ahead of the game. It’s not a question of if the configurator will be used in this field, but when we’ll start using it,” he states.

Thesis: Variability and Customization of Simulator Products : A Product Line Approach in Model Based Systems Engineering, by Henric Andersson, Division of Machine Design, Department of Management and Engineering, Linköping University, 2012.

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Configurators, software that picks things out from the crowd

Configurators are often used as sales support; a salesperson can pick out products suited to the customer by letting an intelligent configurator pick out the pieces the company’s products consist of. Simple configurators can also be found as add-ons to common CAD software.

Tacton, a Swedish company, developed the intelligent configurator used by Henric Andersson. One of the early applications, which attracted the most attention, is from GE Healthcare where the sales staff, with no construction experience, can let the computer build machines for cleaning proteins, for example, tailored entirely to the customer’s desires regarding capacity, footprint, service capacity, and so on.

The configurator also contributes cost calculations, and lists of included components are sent automatically to the manufacturer. Pressure is taken off the constructors, who have more time for new constructions.

Related Links

Simulatorbilden: Henric Andersson

Monica Westman Svenselius Tue Mar 13 08:55:00 CET 2012

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