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Construction : Interview | December 2015 | Source : Infrastructure Today

The market is already quite big but not as big as it should be

Dimple Shah, VP, Worldwide Sales, SIMULIA, Dassault Systemes, says, simulation is not commodity software but a very value-added technology offering that enables companies to transform.

Tell us something about simulation in infrastructure, in areas such as roads, ports and rail.
This is all about connectivity and a country needs to have infrastructure in roads, railways, energy, power plants and being able to provide the necessary infrastructure that is needed, in the case of India, to achieve a good degree of success with the Make in India campaign. Here´s where I think we have something to offer to this industry. I understand there is a big initiative right now trying to link places with high speed rail corridors. That´s an area where we have been active in many geographies with many leading companies, like Alstom, for instance, but it´s also an area which is strategic for our future growth. We have made some recent investments with acquisitions. Last year, we acquired a company in Germany which is a leading provider of electronics and simulation software for not only the transportation industry but also the rail and the wind industry. I think these kinds of technologies are very applicable for the transformation that´s about to happen in India with infrastructure.

You can take a look at China over the last 10-15 years; China has gone through that transformation. We have heard about it. We have seen it and I think every six or eight months if you go to China, the cities look different. The pace of transformation is huge and when it comes to infrastructure development, they have actually taken the approach of doing it the smart way, doing it the right way. We have seen simulation used not only in construction of new rail-roads, but also in the construction of new buildings. Doing seismic assessments of all skyscrapers that have come up in Shanghai and Beijing and even in the tier II and tier III cities in China; majority of that work has been done with our products to qualify these buildings. When it comes to power plants or energy sourcing, whether it´s from oil and gas or from nuclear, or whether it is wind and solar, there is a lot of application of simulation today to bring these to market. We see after Fukushima in Japan, the incident happened a few years ago, the nuclear regulatory bodies are creating new standards and new regulations when it comes to ensuring safety elsewhere in the world. But these standards are global. When you are designing new nuclear plants, you have to now simulate.

You are working in many nuclear projects?
Yes, with different companies worldwide. People are looking at assessments of the reliability of these plants to disaster events, whether it is air strikes on nuclear plants or whether it´s a tsunami or a seismic event; what we need to ensure is that these structures are reliable and sustainable. There are a lot of regulations emerging and these things are all being driven by simulation. It´s very difficult to test these things in the real world; you have to be able to be predictive in the virtual world to be able to do that. That´s going quite well for us.

We also see in exploration of oil and gas with traditional methods and new methods, whether it´s offshore oil and gas mining, to shale gas exploration, new technologies and new ways to make extraction processes more efficient to be able to get the most out of the ground, to minimise the geo-technical impact. Through these methods, technologies like simulation can be very helpful and it´s been proven out there with leading companies around the world.

Can you talk of some standards, new global standards that are being applied in nuclear, because obviously, there is a lot of concern, especially on the technology front, for these reactors.
I may not be a complete expert on it. However, yes, reactor designs are changing as well as the focus from creating large reactors to perhaps more smaller reactors that are more containable. We see regulations coming from doing assessments of air strikes where you want to protect the nuclear reactors from terrorist events and be able to build structures that can handle disasters. We see new regulations emerging, even stricter regulations emerging in the way we transport waste and how we handle waste management from the nuclear field; that is a very important aspect.

Simulation is not new; it has been used in this industry for long to validate the right processes. I'd say it's been used for over 30 years now and we only see the trend continuing. With emerging regulations, the need for doing more simulation has increased; the importance has increased because you really need to be able to design structures with an increasing level of confidence with minimum risk. You have to be very predictive in your model.

Can you talk about specific features or enhanced safety standards?
While we can´t talk specific about our customers as it is a very sensitive topic; I can tell you about what technologies are typically used. For instance, you need a very predictive fracture and failure capability to model the damage in power plants. In the areas of welding simulation, for example, which is huge in power plants, with the number of wells, the integrity of those wells, pressure vessels and things of that nature become important. As I mentioned about transportation, managing nuclear waste and transporting it, containability of that nuclear waste, the technologies that we have that can help model and simulate that, and also concrete. Concrete is not a very appealing material, yet it is very core and integral to the integrity of power plants. Being able to model concrete damage and its interaction with soils, with geo technical models, is very important. We have capabilities in that area and you need to get more predictive with more accurate models; you need good, accurate material models, ability to do material, to predict damage and to do large scale simulation. When you have all those ingredients, you have a compelling offering for that particular industry.

Other than nuclear, tell us a little about other clean forms of energy.
Yes, while we can focus on existing energy resources like nuclear, oil and gas, I think it is important to look ahead and see how the energy industry is going to transform itself in the coming years. We've all heard the buzz and how well these have taken off with new forms of energy like wind and solar and even water from the ocean. I think, in all these areas, in order to be able to extract energy with the right price points and bring them to market, you will need to come up with very efficient processes. To get these efficient processes in place, you will need to stimulate it. You will need to explore new materials like composites, or for wind, better, smarter systems that connect the mechanical world with the control systems to make sure that you extract the maximum performance from these new sources of systems. I think that´s where there is a huge play for innovators in this area to use simulation to try and discover new designs. That´s why we see the market as very promising for us, not only to make the existing energy extraction more efficient, but more important, to start thinking about the future with more sustainable ways of extracting energy.

What is the potential in India for using simulation in infrastructure?
In infrastructure, I look at the play to be in transportation infrastructure; rail, for instance, as one of the areas within that. I look at energy and resource management as the second plank which is quite critical for us in order to be successful, and for India to be successful in this initiative of building the right kind of infrastructure. For us, from a global prospective, we have a significant presence in the transportation industry. I am not talking about cars; I am talking about rail and things of that nature. Leading providers like Alstom, for example, use our products to design high speed trains. Our products are used to do the seismic assessment of rail road corridors because you have to ensure that you prevent or minimize derailment in disastrous events. People use our software to do crash simulations, survivability and things of that nature. People use our software in that industry today to do mechatronics and multi-body simulations to do more real time simulation when it comes to building these large, complex systems. With this initiative that´s going on in India, I envision that there is going to be a lot of partnerships with global companies that´s going to make this a reality, and because we have a strong foothold in many of these global companies that are in this area, I do see this work translating into investments in India where people will be skilling up, using simulation, or innovating in India for Make in India. There are going to be a lot of collaborations; a lot of best practices and best methods that have been developed in the rest of the world are going to come here as we bring this to market quicker.

What about simulation in roads, bridges and highways? This is already a big part of infrastructure projects in India today.
I'd say that we are used elsewhere for bridges and tunnels and the biggest example is probably China because there has been so much going on over there. However, we certainly see some play coming from these areas. You have new infra structure that you want to build, but in a way, new is easy. You are starting with something fresh and you know how to do it. But how do you assess something that´s already been in use for 50 years, maybe went through two earthquakes during that time; is it now safe to allow traffic to go on that? That´s a lot more difficult to simulate and understand. This is a very big market in the US and I think people in other parts of the world are waking up to it as well.

When it comes to bridge design, the seismic assessment, the lifespan of those bridges and other factors play a key role and we need to use simulation today and best methods and practices that can translate into what is happening around here in India.

The other area is really in the area of hydro plants, because I think India´s plans to create a lot of hydro plants and the water that could be easily tapped, is tapped today. The next front is to really go into more harsh environments where typically they may be on fault lines or they may be higher up. These require a lot of seismic assessments, new methods and new ways of building dams; so it´s a lot of innovation that is going to come in order to make those kinds of dams a reality in the higher zones. That´s where I think there is a lot of interest and there is a lot of work being done to use simulation to predict the behaviour of these dams in those environments before they proceed with it.

Overall, it´s very exciting and we are all excited to be here in India. We started SIMULIA in India 15 years ago and it was a very small footprint back then. We had a few customers, these were the pioneers; these were the visionaries who had seen what had happened in the rest of the world and said that we needed to bring this here. , So, we have built a team in India, and these are technical experts with enhanced degrees and masters and PhDs who are working with our customers and users hand-in-hand to help them solve very difficult challenges.

Our community is growing by leaps and bounds. We have much further to go and that´s what makes us feel very excited. I have been with the company for 22 years; it still feels young; it still feels that we are just getting started.

Give us an idea of the costs involved for simulating these complex scenarios we are talking about.
Most of our customers look at simulation from a value-added viewpoint, not from a cost viewpoint. Simulation drives a lot of value in their and if you look at the return on investment they get through simulation, it is of an order of magnitude higher than the initial investment of the software. The reason they are investing in simulation is the value they are getting from it. Cost has not been an inhibitor. It is not commodity software. It is a very value-added technology offering which enables companies to transform. In fact, we have seen many times when companies are going through tough times, laying off people owning to bankruptcy and cutting expenses, they have increased their investment in simulation because when you have to do more with less, the only way out is to innovate out of the troubles you are in. So, you are going to do a lot more simulation and a lot more innovation in this situation. We have seen a lot of examples over the years, especially in the 2008 crisis, when the auto industry was in a slump and some of the auto companies were going through tough times, we saw a lot of investments with simulation because they had to do more with less. They had to get more predictive; they had to come up with new ways of doing things.

What about costs for smaller and medium sized companies?
We have product offerings that are applicable from the large OEMs to the medium and small businesses, from expert users and designers to less expert users. Yes, you can always buy lower cost simulation solutions out there, but then they give you less value as well. You want to be predictive; you don´t want to do simulation just for the purpose of checking the box. You want to do it for it to be meaningful, to say that you really have insights into your design and that you were able to drive a design that was differentiated from your competitors, got more value out of your products and delivered more value to your customers. So, this is the line of thinking that companies have today. We are the fastest growing simulation company brand and this is not us saying it; this is from an independent study.

Is there a simulation market size for Asia pacific and the potential?
It all depends on how you slice and dice it. The way I look at it is we have barely scratched the surface and the market is already huge. Today, if you look at the global size, it is in billions of dollars. I look at that promise of where we are going. The market is already quite big but not as big as it should be.

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