The Value of Simulation in Concept Design

Engineer data capture

Figuring out a reality-based return on investment for technology is never easy. But, unlike other tools that assist product development, the ROI for simulation is pretty solid. As I’ve written before in a post over at the NAFEMS blog, in general, there are Four ROIs of Simulation. However, for the most part, it is about avoiding multiple rounds of prototyping and testing with hard savings behind it.

As I started developing my plans for the 2013 Simulation Driven Design study, I contemplated the same question for simulation in the concept design phase. The findings came as a bit of a surprise to me. The value from simulation in concept design is markedly different from that in detailed design. That’s what I explain in this post.

Activities Driving Value

Before we jump into the ROI or value proposition, it is important to understand what activities lead to value.

In detailed design, simulations can drive design decisions to refine the sizing of a single existing design. But in concept design, the purpose is to compare and contrast many, sometimes radically, different design ideas. The difference is macro versus micro in scope.

A bigger difference, however, lies in the design constraints themselves. In detailed design, you use simulation to conform to existing requirements. But in concept design, you can actually use simulations as a means to define or shape the constraints.

Critical Capabilities

For detailed designs, because the objective is to refine something that already exists, simulation tools that drive parametric changes are a good fit. These include associativity between CAD and CAE applications, where modifications are made to the 3D model and the simulation model is updated. It also includes parametric sensitivities and optimizations.

The applicable capabilities for concept design, are quite different. With the purpose of exploring many different concepts quickly, unstructured modifications such as direct modeling against 2D and 3D geometry is important. In this case, you don’t want to be constrained by parametric features. Furthermore, technology like topology optimization, which suggests design geometry based on simulations, is a great fit.

Differences in Value

So what is the value for simulation in the concept and detailed design phases? The answer, per the 1,005 respondents from the 2013 Simulation Driven Design study, were very clear.

  • The top two business objective for simulation in detailed design was to meet product requirements (76%) and avoid development costs and delays (65%), with everything else below 50%.
  • The top business object if for simulation in concept design was to avoid development costs and delays (71%), with everything else below 50%.

And that’s the part that surprised me. You see, I think these responses should be different. Addressing product requirements should be the tip-top objectives of concept design.

Why? It gets back to design constraints. The job during concept design isn’t to conform to to constraints, it is to define them. Avoiding failures is the purpose of simulation the detailed design phase. Trying to shoehorn concept simulation into that job is a lost opportunity to set the development project up for success. This, in turn, should translate into lower product costs, higher product performance and other desirable product traits.

Recap and Questions

  • In detailed design, simulations are used to refine an existing design. In concept design, it is used to compare different design concepts.
  • Critical capabilities for simulation in detailed design include CAD-CAE associativity and parametric optimizations. Those for simulation in concept design include direct modeling, for 2D and 3D, as well as topology optimization.
  • Respondents to the 2013 Simulation Driven Design study cited that meeting product requirements and avoiding development costs and delays as the business objective for simulation in detailed design. For concept design, they cited avoiding development costs and delays as the top priority.
  • This last finding is where I object. Simulation in concept design is where design constraints can be defined, not conformed to. The focus should, instead, be on shaping those requirements.

I’m said my piece. Now its your turn. What do you think the objective for simulation driven design in the concept phase should be? Sound off and let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

This blog post has been licensed for hosting by PTC. The concepts, ideas and positions of this post have been developed independently by Industry Analyst Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insights. 2013-2014 © LC Insights LLC

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One Comment

  1. Posted Dec 26, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    There is no question that, in our minds at Acorn Product Development, simulation is a required step during both the concept and prototyping phases of new product design. The value proposition in your article looks at only a small subset of the complete rationale, however. Furthermore, the respondents’ business objective “avoiding development costs and delays” is probably a pool of very important criteria.

    During concept development, there are many investigations happening simultaneously. Industrial Design is driving the look/feel equation. Product management and marketing is refining the feature set and establishing a price point. Manufacturing/Operations may, or too often may not, be looking at the supply chain implications. Company executives have internal funding “gates” based on showing feasibility. Calculations and simulations by the engineering department should be providing definitive guidance to all of these departments. Defining design constraints is important but inward looking to the Engineering Department’s role.

    Acorn uses its simulations/analysis culture to give the following feedback:
    • To the ID team: can the internal pieces (pcbs, power, etc) fit in your shape? Can a normal manufacturer fabricate the parts you are rendering?
    • To the Product Management/Marketing team: Can the mechanisms, customer touch points and thermal solutions that we model generate confidence that the product system will meet the market demand for the key features we solve? Is our calculated price of the early concept going to be acceptable?
    • To the Manufacturing/Operations group: What fabrication processes might be new additions? Do current suppliers have the capability to deliver finished units?
    • To the Company Executive: Are the product requirements a stretch (risky) suggesting new investments in R&D or with partners to achieve? Can a good story be made as to how the development will succeed?

    Often, companies use a culture of “hacking” a first demonstration unit or “design-fail-iterate” to drive product development. Those approaches have a place for early investigations or to gather field feedback. Once the business decision is made to commercialize a product based on a set of requirements, the absence of simulation-based analysis driving the process is a costly, time-consuming mistake.

    Mike DiMartino
    EVP, Acorn Product Development

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