Greg Brown, Senior Director of the Worldwide CAD Business Development Team at PTC, is the simulation experts’ expert. He started with PTC more than 20 years ago as a simulation products specialist. Since then, he has worked with product development companies across the world to show how simulation can add value to product design at any company in any vertical.
What has he seen? He says that while design analysis was once the domain of specialized experts and high-powered standalone software tools, the industry has changed significantly in the past couple of decades. Especially as more companies are adopting simulation tools as part of their product development process. We asked him to tell us more:
Q: What kinds of companies use simulation today?
Brown: I think it’s fair to say that all sorts of companies use simulation today. Looking back a couple of decades, it was only the big aerospace and automotive companies that really got the most value out of simulation. But now if you’re a consultant or a small company, the expectation is that you should be using simulation.
Results of a simulation analysis in Creo Simulate
Q: Yet adoption isn’t universal.
Brown: No. And there are still plenty of people out there who could benefit from using it. If you’re doing design work where you’re asked to make proposals about, say, whether to add material to a wall, then you should be doing simulation to back up your recommendations.
In fact, the more design engineers who actually have time in front of FEA (finite element analysis), integrating it into their everyday design process, the better. It shouldn’t be a separate department or outsourced to some third party. Even at a small scale, you can learn a lot about what you’re doing if you’re using simulation as part of the design process.
Q: So are you saying that a design engineer using simulation tools today can skip the expert ANSYS or NASTRAN analyses?
Brown: Depending on the type of product and the type of analyses, you can probably do all you need to do in a tool like Creo Simulate. There may be no reason why you need to have someone else run them again. And note that as a designer, you can use simulation many times. You can start in the concept design stage, and then do a detailed analysis later on. So you can perform early optimization and investigation as well as the verification later on.
German Company Kontec says rework on models is down 30% since it started using simulation tools during design.
Q: Design engineers already have a lot to think about. Couldn’t they argue that much of what simulation finds will be picked up during prototyping anyway?
Brown: Prototyping has been the safety net forever. We all trust that final physical prototype is going to decide whether the product is going to work or not. But that takes a lot of time. And if you find something at the very end of the chain that you should have changed way back when, then it can make it very difficult to undo a lot of those changes—plus it can be very costly. So you really want to have a continual process for simulating. Then when you get to the end you have a higher confidence of passing the final verification test.
Q: What do you think surprises engineers most when they start using simulation?
Brown: How easy it is to do analyses within their 3D CAD software. PTC software uses an approach that was specifically designed to help engineers who want to use analysis and simulation in the design process. Not as a separate branch, not as a sort of perpendicular activity, but as an activity that you do while you’re building geometry and developing your design. It still surprises people as to how useful and how effective that can be.
[Ed. PTC simulation uses an approach called p-element analysis. You can find discussions on p-element analysis versus linear- or h-element analyses on sites throughout the internet. Or check out this recent conversation from our user community.]
Q: Final thoughts?
Brown: Simulation is essential because of the pressure to have high-quality products at lower cost faster than ever before is so high that you can’t afford to make mistakes. You can’t afford to make products that are going to fail. But you can’t afford to over-engineer it either. Something that is too heavy or costs too much can be just as much of a failure as something that breaks on first use. So you really need to understand how the product is going to perform.