For signs of the manufacturing renaissance that is supposed to be taking shape in the U.S., we tend to spend our time pouring over industry and economic reports or else scouring manufacturing facilities for stories of innovation, improvement or advancements.

To some, however, the surest sign of real change, of real progress, can't be found in any of these places or anywhere else on Earth for that matter. To them, the best evidence of the renaissance is currently blasting away at rocks on the rim of a massive Martian crater -- the Curiosity Rover.

Such was the frame of an executive panel at last month's 2013 ARC Forum, where Siemens Industry, North America, CEO, Helmuth Ludwig joined retired Director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, Doug McCuistion, and executives from GE Intelligent Platforms, Rockwell Automation, Yokagawa Electric and ExxonMobil to discuss the technologies and innovations critical to "Achieving Breakthrough Performance."

7-Minutes of Terror

By now we are all familiar with Curiosity's landing -- the so-called seven-minutes of terror that dropped the mini-cooper sized lab on Mars last August from a speed of 70,000 miles per hour and temperatures over 3,000 degrees, slowed through the complicated arrangement of a supersonic parachute, propulsion thrusters and a unique sky crane deployment technique never attempted anywhere, on Earth or Mars.

However, now almost six months after the landing, descriptions of the challenges it faced, the intricate, impossible engineering puzzle surviving those seven minutes required, is still awe-inspiring enough to pull a hearty ovation from a crowd of seasoned manufacturing executives, as it did at ARC.

The reason for that, Siemens' Ludwig said, is because, "many though that the mission was impossible... there were too many variables, too much that could go wrong. It was too complicated the whole way round."

But of course it did work. And, by touching down a mere 250 meters from the target, it worked far better than anyone had expected.

That success -- that flawless, blind landing on a hostile alien world some 350 million miles away -- has been largely credited to one tool in the digital engineer's kit that is transforming our capabilities both in space and here on Earth: simulation.