Real-Time Simulation Explained

Written by: Cat McClintock

Read Time: 3.5 min.

Real-time simulation is a software technology that provides instant thermal, modal, and structural analysis to designers as they work on their 3D CAD models.

Here’s how it might work. Imagine you’re updating a bike design. Older models of the bike could easily carry 125 kg (275 pounds), but product reviewers complained that it was heavy and slow. Your job is to make a lighter vehicle, without losing too much of the bike’s strength.

What if you used a thinner frame? Or a different material for the fork?

With real-time simulation, you can test ideas like these in seconds to see how your changes will impact the bike’s durability. After a few iterations, you can quickly find exactly which changes bring you the best results, and which go too far.

Why Real-Time Simulation Is a Game Changer

Traditionally (think 2018 and before), analyses took place later in the design process.
Illustration of traditional design cycle in which simulation follows design.

Image. A typical development process places the simulation after the design nears completion.

This discouraged engineers from making unsafe or risky changes to their design because they might not be discovered until simulation. Remember, cost-to-fix escalates exponentially as projects progress. And even in the simulation phase, changes might be expensive or time consuming. Many production costs are determined early in the development process. By the time a design reaches simulation, you may already be committed to decisions such as materials and manufacturing processes.

Real-time simulation compresses the development process so that simulation takes place during concept and design phases—as the design decisions are being made.

Illustration of design cycle with simulation integrated to concept and design phases.

Image. An analysis-led design process includes simulation during the concept and design phases.

That way, you can evaluate changes without waiting. In the case of the bicycle, you can try multiple scenarios to lighten up the bike—aluminum forks, maybe a carbon fiber frame. You can shave a couple millimeters off a bracket here and add it back to a crankset there. At each step, you can apply forces and review stresses--until you find the perfect combination of strength and weight.

“It’s unbelievable to see,” says Randy Soukup, an Engineering Systems Analyst with Daktronics. “Simple, instantaneous with multiple design iterations done in seconds where it could take weeks previously.”



Video. Demonstration of real-time simulation using Creo Simulation Live.

Why Couldn’t We Do This Before?

Product developers long recognized the value of carrying out simulation earlier in the design cycle. An “analysis-led design” approach can lead to higher quality designs, more robust physical prototypes, and more opportunities for innovation.

But existing tools have simply been too difficult for everyday designers to use. In a recent survey of product developers by industry analysts at Tech Clarity, a whopping 97% agreed that more can be done to help engineers conduct simulation. Traditional simulation tools require:

  • Expertise. Every time you wanted to evaluate a model, you needed to simplify, mesh, and apply forces and loads. Get the input wrong and get unreliable results.
  • Time. Speaking of meshing, setup steps may need to be repeated every time you run an analysis. Then, once everything is in place, you can wait hours for your system to solve a complex design.
  • CPUs. Simulation is a resource-intensive activity, requiring enormous processing effort.

For true analysis-led design, engineers need a simulation tool that is faster, easier, and lighter weight than what’s been available.

The Technology Breakthroughs

All that changed recently when PTC, a leader in 3D CAD software, and ANSYS, a leader in engineering simulation software, introduced Creo Simulation Live.
Creo Simulation Live puts fast and easy simulation in the hands of every engineer. Providing real-time feedback directly in the modeling environment, it reacts to changes as you make them, so you can iterate more quickly.

No more back and forth, just model and see the results right there in real time. Now you can use simulation when you need it, where you need it, to guide your design decisions throughout the development process.

How did they do it? The companies realized that design engineers needed speed more than they needed high fidelity for analysis-led design. So, PTC/ANSYS simplified much of the prework. Creo Simulation Live uses proprietary solver technology developed by ANSYS that automates the creation of an optimized mesh that is adaptive to the changing geometry.

This reduces the need for much of the user interaction and refinement. In fact, the user does not even need to see the mesh to solve their analyses. This allows them to produce highly accurate results quickly without any challenges of working with the mesh.

“With real-time simulation, you can do the set up and solving yourself in a very simple way,” says Todd Kraft, Creo Product Manager. “As you make changes, you can just regenerate your design, and the simulation updates for you.”

In addition, Creo Simulation Live draws computational power from your computer’s video card (GPU), rather than the motherboard (CPU).

As a result, Kraft says, “Take a model that took eight hours to mesh and solve in the past; Creo Simulation Live can do it in eight seconds.”

Is This the End of Simulation as We Know It?

In a word. No.

While real-time simulation will guide design engineers as they work, nobody believes it eliminates crucial high-fidelity simulation.

Kraft clarifies: “This doesn’t replace traditional processes but provides guidance for engineers as they design. So that by the time a model goes to the analysts, a lot of the homework has already been done.”

Want to see how Creo Simulation Live will work with your designs? Visit the Creo Simulation Live web page for demos, research, free trial information, and who to contact.

Learn more about Creo Simulation Live.

Tags: CAD Retail and Consumer Products Connected Devices Simulation

About the Author

Cat McClintock

Cat McClintock edits the Creo and Mathcad blogs for PTC.  She has been a writer and editor for 15+ years,  working for CAD, PDM, ERP, and CRM software companies. Prior to that, she edited science journals for an academic publisher and aligned optical assemblies for a medical device manufacturer. She holds degrees in Technical Journalism, Classics, and Electro-Optics. She loves talking to PTC customers and learning about the interesting work they're doing and the innovative ways they use the software.