Simulation 101—What Is It, and How Can It Benefit You?

Written by: Dave Martin

Read Time: 4 min

Mechanical engineering for product development consists of three main stages: design, simulation, and manufacturing. Do you understand what simulation means? If you don’t, you’re not alone. Simulation can seem abstract and even be a bit intimidating. As a manager or design engineer, increasing your knowledge about simulation and analysis can help your products, your team, and yourself. Read on to better understand the basics of simulation.

What is simulation and how can it benefit you?

Simulation is the process of analyzing Computer Aided Design (CAD) models to validate that your designs will survive the conditions of their operating environments.

Simulation typically uses some variation of Finite Element Analysis (FEA). The geometry created by CAD software for today’s products is too complicated to solve using classical equations, where you plug in numbers for the model dimensions, materials, and load cases, then get a number.

We take advantage of the power of computers because the alternative is simply too expensive and time consuming. Without simulation, design teams would be dependent on manufactured prototypes for real-world testing. The iterative cycle of redesign, building new prototypes, and re-testing is simply too slow for today’s product-development market. With simulation, you can analyze many more test cases, especially edge cases, than you can with real-world testing.

In addition to validating your designs, simulation tools can optimize your models to find the best possible variation over the solution space. This often means minimizing the mass and material costs by making the part just strong enough for requirements.

Types of simulation

There are numerous kinds of simulation possible with CAD. Let’s discuss each briefly here.

  • Basic simulations include structural, thermal, and modal analyses. Structural analyses study the effects of loads and forces to calculate stresses and displacements. Thermal analyses calculate temperatures and heat fluxes for conduction, convection, and radiation conditions. Modal analyses calculate the natural frequencies and mode shapes of an object.
  • Advanced simulations include dynamic, mechanism, and buckling analyses. Dynamic analyses allow you to change loads as a function of time or frequency and includes random vibration simulations. Mechanism analyses allow you to calculate position, velocity, acceleration, forces, reactions, and motion envelopes for assemblies with moving components. Buckling is a special failure mode for thin sections under compression. A buckling analysis calculates the critical Buckling Load Factor (BLF) and buckling shape.
  • Multiphysics simulation allows you to study two or more kinds of physical phenomena in a system at the same time. For example, when thermodynamic and structural loads act at the same time, the stiffness of the model changes. Multiphysics simulation generates more accurate results than if you were to analyze these effects separately and add them together.
  • Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) calculates velocity, pressure, and temperature for fluids (liquids or gases) flowing in and/or around your product.

Creo’s simulation capabilities

PTC offers numerous solutions for performing analysis and simulation on your parts, assemblies, and products. These include:

Creo Simulate. This is Creo’s original offering for simulation, which uses a variation of FEA called Geometric Element Analysis (GEA). This type of solver is more forgiving to less experienced analysts, but still produces accurate results. Creo Simulate supports numerous structural, modal, thermal, dynamics, and fatigue analyses.

Creo Simulation Live (CSL). Using the power of Ansys, CSL enables designers to perform structural, thermal, modal, and CFD studies right within the Creo design environment. Changes to the model update the simulation results in real time.

Creo Ansys Simulation (CAS). To perform more complex Ansys simulations, CAS empowers you to include idealizations, CFD, and multiphysics into your structural and thermal analyses.
Creo Flow Analysis. This Creo module from Simerics includes advanced CFD effects including turbulence, radiation, cavitation, and multiphase (gas and liquid) fluids.

Mechanism Dynamics Option (MDO). Many products contain moving components. MDO allows you to analyze assemblies including force and moment loads, as well as advanced entities like springs, dampers, gravity, and contacts between parts.

Each of these offerings provides a variety of capabilities that can enhance your team’s ability to build better products that meet your customers’ requirements. 

Incorporating simulation into the design process can reduce both costs and time-to-market, providing a key differentiator between you and your competitors. If your organization already employs simulation, increasing your understanding can help you lead your team to use these tools to a strategic advantage.

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Tags: CAD Simulation Creo

About the Author

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a Creo, Windchill, and PTC Mathcad instructor and consultant. He is the author of the books “Top Down Design in Creo Parametric,” “Design Intent in Creo Parametric,” and “Configuring Creo Parametric,” all available at He can be reached at

Dave currently works as the configuration manager for Elroy Air, which develops autonomous aerial vehicles for middle-mile delivery. Previous employers include Blue Origin, Amazon Prime Air, Amazon Lab126, and PTC. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and is a former armor officer in the United States Army Reserves.