This Company Made Its Customers a Simulation App—You Should Too!

How engineering apps build loyalty.

COMSOL recently announced that the German multinational building materials company Heidelberg Materials launched a new tool, HETT22, to help its customers predict concrete curing times, results and strength. The stand-alone simulation-based tool was built by COMSOL-certified consultant Deflexional. However, Heidelberg’s customers will not need a COMSOL license to use the tool. The tool guides users to input geometry, pour location (to capture local weather data), and target strength and material mixes to predict if the design will meet construction requirements before and after the concrete is poured. Heidelberg notes in a blog post that this application has already been downloaded more than 1,100 times.

A screenshot of HETT22. (Image: COMSOL.)

A screenshot of HETT22. (Image: COMSOL.)

Heidelberg customers, and potential customers, can benefit from HETT22 because it provides a customized, streamlined and simplified way to gain insights into their construction projects. Sure, they can run the same assessments using COMSOL, and many other simulation platforms, but those tools need specialized users to narrow down the near-infinite combination of assessment possibilities toward a specified use case. This app offers that use case within a user interface that Heidelberg’s customers can easily learn.

Effectively, Heidelberg identified a common bottleneck that its customers experienced and is offering an easy tool to help them to continually improve their workflows. If a company’s employees, customers and potential customers run a certain set of calculations and functions repeatedly, doesn’t it make sense to find a way to automate it—like with HETT22? In other words, you should also be making simulation apps for your customers.

The Benefits of Offering Customers a Specialized Simulation App

The big benefit of building an app specifically for your customers to simulate your product—and sometimes even a competitor’s product—is that it fosters customer loyalty. If your company logo pops into your customers’ heads every time a specific use case comes up, then you’ve done something right.

HETT22 shows the results of a concrete casting analysis. (Image: COMSOL.)

HETT22 shows the results of a concrete casting analysis. (Image: COMSOL.)

Once a company like Heidelberg introduces a tool that produces repeatable and trusted results faster than current methods, the only trade-off to not using their product is price. If your tool saves your users enough time that the cost is justified, then it makes good engineering and business sense for the tool to be adopted. If the tool is offered for free, then it just adds to the goodwill and customer service needed to convert a potential customer into a loyal brand advocate.

Custom simulation apps need to help customers understand their processes, products or purchases earlier in the design and development cycle. They need to help customers do more work in the virtual world with fewer physical prototypes in the real world. Such apps need to run calculations fast and create a high degree of trust in the results. They need to run  simulations on common equipment, or the cloud, to reduce the need for hardware and IT upgrades. These requirements might seem challenging, but many simulation tools already offer template/app building, sharing and marketplace functionalities to make this possible.

Can Specialized Simulation Tools Take Away from Simulation Experts?

There are several times in an engineer’s professional life when we get the feeling of “Oh no, I’ve done all that learning for nothing.” After that short panic, we hopefully realize that the knowledge gained and the work done wasn’t a waste at all.

Consider learning the formal definition of a derivative and then a few weeks later learning the easy method to take the derivative of a polynomial. After that, the formal method might feel like a waste of time. However, engineers will eventually learn that it’s another tool in a toolbelt and the easy method is only applicable to specialized use cases.

When simulation experts create a simulation tool for a specific use case, it doesn’t take away from what they can offer. If anything, it gives them more time to focus on the hard stuff as all the easy stuff is handled by the simulation app.

It’s no different than offering a spreadsheet to perform routine calculations. Once the expert sets up a proper template, it takes a short amount of time for nonexperts to recreate the calculations. The builder of this spreadsheet needs to test a few calculations to ensure that it works correctly and the results can be trusted. But after the tool is born, they will have other calculations to perform.

There are benefits of simulations when compared to spreadsheets. Moving from a spreadsheet to a simulation app means a bump in cost, but with the app, engineers will get a high-precision tool that can handle more complicated calculations. Often the simulation tools can create apps and templates that can automatically present results in a common format or standardized report. There is also a jump in respectability when you are using a simulation tool. Telling someone that you’ve checked the math on a spreadsheet doesn’t hold the same weight as saying that you’ve run a simulation using finite element analysis (FEA).

How Do Simulation Apps Help Customers?

Ultimately, the reason companies build specialized apps for their engineering customers is to build a stronger bond with the people who use their products.

However, apps like this aren’t limited to the engineering world, and engineers can learn from what is available in other industries. Mortgage companies have apps on their websites that can tell you how much your monthly payments will be based on a downpayment, the interest rate and the payback period. Right next to the results are several links to incentives for you to click. Home improvement stores can take a deck’s dimensions and print out itemized materials of everything needed to build it, and the cost of purchasing those items from that very store. These examples inform engineering companies how a simulation app can benefit their customers. The app must make their lives easier by quickly and accurately addressing a question they need to answer.

For instance, building a specialized app for a series of calculations that your customers routinely perform is a great way to build a rapport between simulation engineers. Some users will be happy to have a time-saving tool. Other users will poke around, find different ways to add value to the tool or customize it even further to meet their unique needs. These customers can be an excellent resource for learning how the tool is used and what other customers might want from it, as well as provide good beta testers. But once you have this community of power users, chances are that sales have already shown the difference the app has made.