"Computer-aided engineering (CAE) has made a major contribution to faster, more cost-effective vehicle development over the last 25 years and thus helped to shape transport today," sums up TECOSIM Member of the Management Board Dr Torben Birker. He also sees this CAE success story as a driving force behind the steady growth of the TECOSIM Group over the last quarter of a century. Virtual development will become even more important according to forecasts about the upcoming, disruptive changes in the automotive industry.
Now a world market leader in numerical calculation and technical computer simulation, TECOSIM was a trailblazer in CAE in Germany 25 years ago and is thus a true pioneer. The nineties marked an important turning point in the global automotive industry: new sales markets needed to be served and products customised more extensively to generate new growth. The sector faced the challenge of developing a large number of innovative vehicle concepts while also taking the different safety rules worldwide into account.
"There was a clear need to speed up complex development steps everywhere," remembers Jürgen Veith, one of TECOSIM's first employees and today a member of the corporate group's Management Board. "However, initial impetus was yet to be received. The sector tried to serve both requirements by developing what are known as world cars, but this strategy quickly failed."
Interacting at interfaces in IT and automotive development
Initial impetus came from a sector which was its infancy at the time, but has redefined personal transport today: information technology. Computer performance and graphics display resolutions began to improve exponentially in the mid-nineties. This brought the first attempts to introduce computer-based calculations - computer-aided engineering (CAE) - into vehicle development, even if its use was limited at first. Initially, development departments still needed to wait up to 150 hours for results from a crash calculation. Today, TECOSIM delivers data for much more complex models overnight. TECOSIM's founders observed the newly created interfaces between automotive and IT development very closely. The team saw a growing market and reacted swiftly. They began their first numerical calculations in 1992 with three computers: two for graphics and one for numerical calculations. The living room in a rented apartment in Rüsselsheim served as an office. The globally active company still has its company headquarters in this city on the River Main.
Integrating CAE into vehicle development
The company achieved its first milestone in 1993: TECOSIM calculated the frontal impact behaviour for a new generation of the successful Fiesta model for Ford. The result impressed the client: the virtual results calculated by TECOSIM were confirmed in real crash tests. An important step had been achieved to ensure CAE's increased integration into major automotive manufacturers' development departments.
"On the whole, CAE was an unfamiliar terrain for vehicle developers which they were sceptical towards," states Veith. "We used our clients' still scant infrastructure to perform impressive pioneering work."
Word quickly spread about both the new possibilities and the valid quality that the TECOSIM calculation team provided. The next, larger contract followed a year later: in 1994, Opel was looking for assistance with crash calculation for a global vehicle platform. TECOSIM calculated the crash properties for this platform based on the European Omega model.
From crash design to the complete vehicle
TECOSIM's work for Opel formed the foundation stone for its current international operational structure. The small team set itself the goal of consistently speeding up vehicle development through virtual simulation. In the mid-nineties, it successfully completed a project in cooperation with Porsche Engineering, which marked another key milestone. This opened doors to clients in the premium segment, enabling the company to diversify its service portfolio.
TECOSIM abandoned its hitherto approach as merely a crash calculation service provider and positioned itself as a CAE provider for complete vehicle development. Logically, this entailed expanding its service portfolio, forming the key steps towards TECOSIM's transformation into a full-service provider for computer-aided engineering. Today, TECOSIM offers its services in the fields of structure, fluid dynamics, multi-body and system simulation to all renowned automotive manufacturers and other industries worldwide.
"Our calculation methods and simulations reveal potential need for optimisation in individual components or entire vehicle design concepts, incorporating aspects such as lightweight design, safety, efficiency or comfort," explains Udo Jankowski, responsible for technology on the TECOSIM Management Board.
Client focus as a basis – establishing a pioneering spirit
Quality has always been a key company value, both in the past and the present. Ford appointed TECOSIM as a first-tier supplier just five years after its founding. This represented much coveted recognition and a master stroke not only for TECOSIM, but also for the entire CAE sector. In 1997, TECOSIM was also awarded ISO 9001 quality management certification.
As a pioneer, TECOSIM also played a part in the further professionalization of the slowly emerging CAE industry. The company had started off by using self-developed 3D ball-and-stick model programs, so it sought dialogue on improvement with software manufacturers. The newly established development and sales cooperative partnerships with IT and software companies plus the products and process solutions based on these partnerships helped to establish the rapidly growing industry, giving TECOSIM the technological advantage that it still enjoys today.
National and international growth
The aim of national and international growth has always been to increase this advantage further. TECOSIM takes a client-oriented approach to its operations. Four years after the official founding of the company in Warstein in North Rhine-Westphalia, the company's headquarters was officially registered in Rüsselsheim. In 1999, management underwent restructuring: current Members of the Management Board Udo Jankowski and Jürgen Veith took over the chairmanship and began further expansion for the company. In the same year, the company opened its first branch in Cologne, headed by the third member of today's Management Board, Dr Torben Birker. Locations then followed in Stuttgart, Munich, Wolfsburg, Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm. In 2000, the first subsidiary outside Germany began operations in the English town of Basildon, which now has a second office in Coventry. A few years later saw market launches in Korea, Japan and India, which led to TECOSIM locations being set up near Tokyo, Bangalore and in Pune. Since April 2016, the engineers have also run an office in the Austrian city of Graz. Today, the company generates half of its turnover outside Germany.
Development unimaginable without CAE
In retrospect, the company's rapid rate of growth can be regarded as a reflection of technological development. The increase in computer performance and graphics display resolutions has improved the capacity for detail and the informational value of vehicle calculations significantly. When TECOSIM started its business activities, its fully networked digital complete crash vehicle featured almost 25,000 finite elements. A few years later, this figure had already multiplied. Today, comparatively simple components such as a headrest consist of about 25,000 finite elements on their own. In comparison, a full model of a complete crash vehicle contains up to six million finite elements.
This meant a significantly increased calculation and forecasting capacity by the end of the nineties. Such an increase has produced and still has wide-reaching effects on automotive development. Development times have been sharply reduced while the variety of models has increased significantly. Both the automotive industry and TECOSIM consider that it would be hard to imagine development without CAE today.
New products create new markets
At the turn of the millennium, company management sought to target and conquer areas which had yet to succumb to the charms of CAE. It began to develop and market its own products. In 2003, TECOSIM made a significant contribution to further automation of complex computational processes with its process manager TEC|PROM and the TEC|ODM software program.
The market launch of TEC|BENCH in 2004 allowed the company to enter a completely new field, where it also showed itself to be a pioneer: this virtual benchmarking process allowed product properties to be measured and compared in simulations for the first time. The approach was and still is unique since clients can further process the actual studies themselves and their results directly in all types of CAE tool chain. TEC|BENCH has thus created a fully-fledged, efficient replacement for conventional hardware benchmarking, during which real components undergo physical tests.
Another newer product is the TEC|CONCEPT potential vehicle method introduced in 2015. This process uses parameters to identify a wide variety of potential optimisations for a vehicle from the very early stages of development. The method also simplifies matching between calculation and design and comprises a further step towards fully digital automotive design.
Expansion to the company's service portfolio and successful marketing of self-developed products are the result of an innovation-driven corporate culture. TECOSIM received Germany's Top Innovator award in 2011 and 2015. The jury reserved particular praise for the company’s in-house SIM|PULS process with its high rate of implementation.
"We are proud of our employees and their ideas. They determine the innovative character of the TECOSIM brand and contribute to our company's success," reports Dr Torben Birker. A great number of innovations and their rapid implementation are the only way to keep competitors at bay and achieve further growth."
Despite the rapid growth – the global workforce has more than doubled from 200 to 460 over the last ten years alone – TECOSIM still maintains a think-tank approach to its work. Continual improvement to ensure modern working conditions also plays a part. Guaranteeing a balance between career and family life is one such improvement. The company has achieved recognition for its efforts in this respect, having received awards as a top employer and outstandingly family-friendly enterprise on several occasions.
Shaping the future of mobility
And what is the CAE pioneer TECOSIM planning for the next 25 years? "As you would expect, we want to build on what we have already achieved and also move into new areas," affirms Veith. The momentous changes in the automotive industry will play a major role in this future. Solutions are required for new transport and drive concepts, a growing variety of models and even faster, increasingly more concurrent development cycles. TECOSIM has prepared itself for these changes with the next 25 years in mind.
"We will provide answers for new issues with a stronger focus on our services in e-mobility, comfort and safety," adds Dr Birker. "Expanding our product portfolio through CAE-driven module development allows us to pursue our goal of offering our clients more services from a single source."
This ensures that the company remains true to its role as a pioneer since reducing complexity is the only way to guarantee faster results and, consequently, fast solutions.