# Introducing simulation models

Simulation uses abstract models built to replicate the characteristics of a system. The operation of a system is simulated using probability distributions to randomly generate system events, and statistical observations are obtained from the simulated system. It plays a very important role, especially in the design of a stochastic system and in the definition of its operating procedures.

By not working directly on the real system, many scenarios can be simulated simply by changing the input parameters, thus limiting the costs that would occur if this solution were not used and, ultimately, reducing the time it would take. In this way, it is possible to quickly try alternative policies and design choices and model systems of great complexity by studying their behavior and evolution over time.

Important Note

Simulation is used when working on real systems is not convenient due to high costs, technical impossibility, and the non-existence of a real system. Simulation allows you to predict what happens to the real system if certain inputs are used. Changing these input parameters simulates different scenarios that allow us to identify the most convenient one from various points of view.

## Decision-making workflow

In a decision-making process, the starting point is identifying the problematic context that requires a change and therefore a decision. The context that's identified is then analyzed in order to highlight what needs to be studied for the decisions that need to be made; that is, those elements that seem the most relevant are chosen, the relationships that connect them are highlighted, and the objectives to be achieved are defined. At this point, a formal model is constructed, which allows us to simulate the identified system in order to understand its behavior and to arrive at identifying the decisions to be made. The following diagram describes the workflow that allows us to make a decision, starting from observing the problematic context:

This represents a way of spreading knowledge and involves various actors. Constructing a model is a two-way process:

In addition, learning also has a participatory characteristic: it proceeds through the involvement of different actors. The models also allow you to analyze and propose organized actions so that you can modify the current situation and produce the desired solution.

## Comparing modeling and simulation

To start, we will clarify the differences between modeling and simulation. A model is a representation of a physical system, while simulation is the process of seeing how a model-based system would work under certain conditions.

Modeling is a design methodology that is based on producing a model that implements a system and represents its functionality. In this way, it is possible to predict the behavior of a system and the effects of the variations or modifications that are made on it. Even if the model is a simplified representation of the system, it must still be close enough to the functional nature of the real system, but without becoming too complex and difficult to handle.

Important Note

Simulation is the process that puts the model into operation and allows you to evaluate its behavior under certain conditions. Simulation is a fundamental tool for modeling because, without necessarily resorting to physical prototyping, the developer can verify the functionality of the modeled system with the project specifications.

Simulation allows us to study the system through a wide spectrum of conditions so that we can understand how representative the model is of the system that it refers to.

## Pros and cons of simulation modeling

Simulation is a tool that's widely used in a variety of fields, from operational research to the application industry. This technique can be made successful by it overcoming the difficulties that each complex procedure contains. The following are the pros and cons of simulation modeling. Let's start with the concrete advantages that can be obtained from the use of simulation models (**pros**):

- It reproduces the behavior of a system in reference to situations that cannot be directly experienced.
- It represents real systems, even complex ones, while also considering the sources of uncertainty.
- It requires limited resources in terms of data.
- It allows experimentation in limited time frames.
- The models that are obtained are easily demonstrable.

As anticipated, since it is a technique capable of reproducing complex scenarios, it has some limitations (**cons**):

- The simulation provides indications of the behavior of the system, but not exact results.
- The analysis of the output of a simulation could be complex and it could be difficult to identify which may be the best configuration.
- The implementation of a simulation model could be laborious and, moreover, it may take long calculation times to carry out a significant simulation.
- The results that are returned by the simulation depend on the quality of the input data: it cannot provide accurate results in the case of inaccurate input data.
- The complexity of the simulation model depends on the complexity of the system it intends to reproduce.

Nevertheless, simulation models represent the best solution for the analysis of complex scenarios.

## Simulation modeling terminology

In this section, we will analyze the elements that make up a model and those that characterize a simulation process. We will give a brief description of each so that you understand their meaning and the role they play in the numerical simulation process.

### System

The context of an investigation is represented through a system; that is, the set of elements that interact with each other. The main problem linked to this element concerns the system boundaries, that is, which elements of reality must be inserted in the system that represents it and which are left out and the relationships that exist between them.

### State variables

A system is described in each instant of time by a set of variables. These are called state variables. For example, in the case of a weather system, the temperature is a state variable. In discrete systems, the variables change instantly at precise moments of time that are finite. In continuous systems, the variables vary in terms of continuity with respect to time.

### Events

An event is defined as any instantaneous event that causes the value of at least one of the status variables to change. The arrival of a blizzard for a weather system is an event, as it causes the temperature to drop suddenly. There are both external events and internal events.

### Parameters

Parameters represent essential terms when building a model. They are adjusted during the model simulation process to ensure that the results are brought into the necessary convergence margins. They can be modified iteratively through sensitivity analysis or in the model calibration phase.

### Calibration

Calibration represents the process by which the parameters of the model are adjusted in order to adapt the results to the data observed in the best possible way. When calibrating the model, we try to obtain the best possible accuracy. A good calibration requires eliminating, or minimizing, errors in data collection and choosing a theoretical model that is the best possible description of reality. The choice of model parameters is decisive and must be done in such a way as to minimize the deviation of its results when applied to historical data.

### Accuracy

Accuracy is the degree of correspondence of the simulation result that can be inferred from a series of calculated values with the actual data, that is, the difference between the average modeled value and the true or reference value. Accuracy, when calculated, provides a quantitative estimate of the quality expected from a forecast. Several indicators are available to measure accuracy. The most used are **mean absolute error** (**MAE**), **mean absolute percentage error** (**MAPE**), and **mean squared error** (**MSE**).

### Sensitivity

The sensitivity of a model indicates the degree to which the model's outputs are affected by changes in the selected input parameters. A sensitivity analysis identifies the sensitive parameters for the output of the model. It allows us to determine which parameters require further investigation so that we have a more realistic evaluation of the model's output values. Furthermore, it allows us to identify which parameters are not significant for the generation of a certain output and therefore can possibly be eliminated from the model. Finally, it tells us which parameters should be considered in a possible and subsequent analysis of the uncertainty of the output values provided by the model.

### Validation

This is the process that verifies the accuracy of the proposed model. The model must be validated to be used as a tool to support decisions. It aims to verify whether the model that's being analyzed corresponds conceptually to our intentions. The validation of a model is based on the various techniques of multivariate analysis, which, from time to time, study the variability and interdependence of attributes within a class of objects.