Better designs result when chances are taken, mistakes made, and many different avenues are explored. Innovation results when designers and engineers are allowed the luxury and time to explore many different design options. It’s only when all these various directions are explored that a clear path to innovation emerges. Despite this, production schedules, budgets, and ship dates often hinder the ability to explore many options. After all, time to market in today’s brutally competitive, increasingly global markets remains of paramount importance.
Analysis and simulation tools put the power of innovation in the hands of designers without sacrificing crucial time to market by enabling them to ensure the quality and performance of their designs by testing them digitally for valuable technical insight early in the design process. Competitive pressures have lead to engineering simulation being adopted more and more across all industries as a strategic tool for driving innovation and reducing development costs.
With effective and accurate use, simulation software can help engineers predict product performance, gain insight, reduce the risk of failure, lower production costs, cut down on use of raw materials, and reduce over-design. Not only does this process produce better and higher-quality products but can also reduce warranty claim costs due to product failure.
There are several different types of simulation tools, though the ones most used by design engineers are finite-element analysis (FEA), computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and multi-physics software. FEA software enables engineers to understand the affects of forces and stresses between parts by applying bearing loads, pressures and torques to model geometry. CFD software enables designers to study conduction, convection, and radiation heat transfer to better understand the effects of temperature changes on parts and assemblies.
Multi-physics simulation, an offshoot of traditional FEA, enables engineers and designers to create virtual prototypes of their designs operating under real-world multi-physics conditions, or where multiple types of coupled physics interact. Multi-physics simulation tools simulate the interaction between structural mechanics, heat transfer, fluid flow, and electromagnetics within a single environment, making them ideal for mechatronic design.
Not just for experts. Simulation tools were once used only by white-cost-wearing “specialists,” which made it difficult for the analysis results to be fed back into the design loop. Collaboration between analysts and engineers is often complicated due to different domain knowledge, special techniques, and the use of different languages. Analysts think in terms of material properties, load cases, stress and strains. Engineers, though well-trained, do not have the familiarity with the finer points of nonlinear mechanics, fracture, creep, yield, and phase transformations, all important to FEA.
CAD integration. Vendors have worked hard to develop simulation tools that can be used by design engineers by closely integrating their tools with CAD software, improving the user interface, and using jargon common to engineers. Engineers can import their CAD models directly from their CAD software to test for strength, to show motion, and to explore fluid dynamics and heat flow around and through products.
Anticipate the unexpected. Simulation tools enable engineers to optimize the performance of their products and design them to be immune to variations in parameters, such as material properties, dimensions, and environmental conditions, even unanticipated customer usage. By digitally optimizing the product by taking into account any possible problem or accidental variation in use, engineers can ensure optimal product performance.
Better meshing. Meshing—the breaking down of a computer model into small pieces suitable for computer simulation—is critically important to gaining accurate results. The more dense the mesh, the more accurate the solution will be. Analyzing large models, however, is a very compute-intensive task so simplifying the geometry by removing features, etc., has become the industry standard method of dealing with this problem. Simulation tools now offer at least partially automated meshing, which greatly simplifies the process of preparing geometric data for analysis.
Go direct. Models created with traditional, parametric history-based CAD tools can be difficult to use with simulation tools. Direct modeling tools make it easier for users to incorporate simulation into their design process because they can edit geometry directly, without regard of its history. Direct modeling tools also make it much easier to remove features from models to prepare them for simulation.
Real-time results. It wasn’t that long ago analysts would set up their simulations, go home, and come back the next day to see the results. Thanks to more powerful, yet inexpensive workstations and more advanced simulation codes, those days are long gone. Today there are products on the market that perform simulations in real time, so engineers get answers to “what if” queries instantaneously.