Not Your Father’s Simulation Strategy

Alternative materials and all sorts of streamlined parts have become common practice in car designs as manufacturers push to add lighter weight, more fuel-efficient vehicles to their fleets. Electronic device makers are packing gobs more technology into ever-tighter spaces, and aerospace engineers are constantly raising the bar on engine design and integrated control systems to create efficient and economical aircraft.

Whatever the product, wherever the industry, engineers are facing tough design problems today. In order to successfully navigate the complexity of today’s product design challenges, engineering organizations must leverage simulation in the development process, but not necessarily in the traditional way.

Computer-aided Engineering (CAE) software has been a mainstay of organizations for years, some heavily reliant on Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to help solve structural challenges, others using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for aerodynamics problems, and many taking a multidisciplinary approach, combining those and other, specialized simulation tools.

Although in widespread use, simulation tools are typically cast in a narrow role in the design process. The usual drill is to tap the tools mid-stream as a way to test and validate a small number of well-developed designs. Not only does the simulation work happen later in the cycle, it’s usually handled by dedicated CAE experts who are trained in the tools and science behind simulation, but are removed from many of the critical design processes like requirements planning and early-stage concepts. Also, in most companies, there are only so-many CAE experts to go around, which means simulation studies back up as jobs are kept in cue and handled at the discretion of the individual analyst.

Rather than siloed and parallel processes, today’s complex products demand integrated design and simulation. It is no longer efficient or effective for a design team to evolve a concept to a near-finished design then toss it over the wall to CAE specialists for validation. Given current time-to-market pressures across industries, no development team can afford to sit around and wait until CAE specialists are available for simulation work nor can they risk running into design problems at a late stage when it’s expensive and time consuming to initiate changes.

Soup-to-Nuts Simulation

The better approach is to integrate simulation throughout the design process, allowing problems to be caught early when they are easily addressed while allowing for in-depth design studies, which inevitably leads to better products. To accomplish this means CAE experts can’t be the only ones performing simulation. Mainstream design engineers need to get in on the action and incorporate simulation as a core part of their design workflows.

Making simulation a mainstream design task is not as difficult as one might think. While dedicated CAE packages are flush with capabilities that might be too rich for the average design engineer’s palette, most CAD packages have built-in and complementary simulation technology that is easily accessible to anyone familiar with running CAD.

For example, PTC Creo Simulate has the same user interface, workflow, and productivity as the rest of the PTC Creo family and it’s available as an extension of the CAD environment or as a separate tool. Because of the tool’s strong associativity, designers get an easy-to-understand graphical representation of simulation results and can go directly back into the design environment to seamlessly make changes and optimize designs.

PTC Creo Simulate helps designers get early insight into product behavior before resorting to costly, time-consuming physical prototypes. Image by PTC

Many of the leading, dedicated simulation environments have also revamped their products so they’re directly accessible from a CAD environment—again, allowing design engineers to initiate design studies from within the comfort of their familiar working environment. Multiphysics CAE tools like COMSOL, Mentor Graphics, ANSYS, and others offer a range of solutions, from direct access to CAE capabilities from the CAD menu bar to integration interfaces for working with native geometry as opposed to having to do translations into intermediate formats like IGES.

No one is arguing that design engineers perform their own simulation, supplanting the work of CAE experts. Rather, the best practice should be for design engineers to embrace basic simulation work as part of their standard workflow, fully leveraging the discipline to explore a greater number of possibilities. CAE specialists come in later and work their magic by validating the best of these ideas. The end result is an integrated design team that can zero in optimal designs quicker, at far less cost, and with much less risk of going back to the drawing board when it’s painfully late in the game to make changes. I call that smart use of simulation and smart business.

Enhancing Your Product Design with Simulation

[Ed. Would you ever walk out on stage without rehearsing or show up to an exam without studying? So, why would you launch a product without testing and analyzing it first? Join us for a webcast featuring Jon Excel, Editor/Content Director at the Engineer.

  • Learn why simulation needs to be part of the product design process
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This post has was previously published. It has been updated with webcast information.]