Pushing Simulation through the Value Pyramid

Simulation pyramid

It’s the perennial question: Who does what?

Let’s say you design industrial machinery, such as the device that shapes a potato chip, or a bottle capper, or, as Geoff Hedges recently profiled, a Wave Machine. A significant part of your job is designing the machine so that it’s efficient, it’s cost-effective to operate, and it produces a high-quality end product. Does simulation also fit into your job description?

Increasingly, the answer is a resounding “yes” as CAD solutions like PTC Creo embed CAE into their core products. As we’ve been discussing, those that take advantage of embedded CAE can do analysis earlier in the design process. They can examine more variants, head off poor design decisions without wasting too much time, and ensure that the design meets its operational objectives. But at some point before the design is declared “done,” it’s quite possible that you’ll need to work with a simulation expert on some of the finer points — and that’s a good thing, because it means you’ve got a well-thought out division of labor.

In the last ten years or so, we’ve seen the emergence of a new class of simulation tool, geared at the generalist or designer user. These tools aren’t dumbed down — not by any means — but they are often simpler to learn and use. They may also bound those types of analyses to common cases so that they can be used quickly and effectively by non-experts.

I refer to this process as “moving tasks down the value pyramid.” The vast majority of simulations are important but routine, and don’t need an expert’s involvement. The designer is doing the digital equivalent of build-and-break, trying out a digital prototype to see what works. He’s looking to optimize the design along the way. Having designers perform these tasks frees the simulation experts to perform more specialized tasks and to do research into new materials or processes that will, ultimately, make for a better product.

Simulation pyramid

That’s not to say that generalist tasks aren’t important — they are. This is where the iterations happen, the grunt work of trying many design alternatives to see what happens. Experts get involved at the edges, when a design is almost ready and the team needs a detailed analysis of one final parameter or an expert’s take on some area of concern.

In a scenario like this, experts carry out the important task of creating workflows and setting procedures that the newer users will follow. Experts are also in charge of bounding the cases they can and should analyze themselves before seeking an expert consultation. They must mentor and train generalists to be confident in the simulations they carry out and customize tools as needed to help them get to that point.

The generalists, then, become critical to the success of the entire pyramid. As their capabilities grow, the level of supervision they need drops. Focusing resources on tiers of tasks from generalist to expert increases productivity and leads to more robust design processes that take less calendar time. It also creates a career path for new designers by adding a new skill to their toolsets, while refreshing experts and helping them avoid burnout.

Don’t have any official experts? No PhDs on staff? No worries. Depending on what you’re simulating, you may not need any. But odds are you have someone on the team who is more experienced and helps others get the hang of simulation. In this context, that’s your expert, and a resource to use carefully.

This division of labor wouldn’t be possible without tools like PTC Creo Simulate, and its tight integration with the CAD world. The fact that you’re using one model in both realms simplifies so many aspects of simulation. Its user interface guides the user through applying material properties and loads, and defining the boundary conditions. PTC Creo Simulate also features automatic mesh generation that speeds simulation tasks and requires less expertise. Results are displayed in CAD context, making it easy to interpret the results. We also can’t underestimate the impact that efficiency improvements within Creo Simulate have had, making many simulations accessible from relatively inexpensive desktop workstations. The advent of robust, easier-to-use tools that can be used on a normal desktop CAD workstation means that the bulk of the simulation tasks should be pushed downward, to the generalist user.

All of this is available today but it’s up to you to determine how to integrate simulation into the mainstream design process. Looking at the design process from the perspective of generalist and specialist lets you carve up the workload and create more design iterations in less time. In this way, simulation can support design at every decision point. Once you’ve got that, you can use your analytical capabilities to build and sustain competitive advantage.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about PTC’s simulation tools? Sign up today to participate in live, 25-minute product demonstrations and Q&A with our simulation experts. And be sure to read this interview with the director of PTC’s simulation partner strategy, Mark Fischer.

About the Author: Monica Schnitger is the founder, president and principal analyst of Schnitger Corporation. She has developed industry forecasts, market models and market statistics for the CAD/CAM, CAE, PLM, GIS, infrastructure and architectural/engineering/ construction and plant design software markets since 1999. Ms. Schnitger has extensively written and spoken on these topics for technology buyers, investors and developers, and has worked with clients both large and small all over the world.

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One Comment

  1. Posted Apr 22, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Great article Monica. This resonates in numerous industries that I work with. In response to that individual that posed the “how shall I deal with these requirements?”, all I can say is study and try new things when possible. Then study more. Whether you are pursuing advanced formal education, or simply pursuing advanced principles in your career, honest study and effort are a valuable key to success.

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