Article originally published on engineering.com
Engineers are feeling the crunch as numerous industries shrink development design cycles. Every year, they must release a new iteration of their product just to compete. And due to consumer demand, products are becoming more complex making them more difficult to design. Simulation is the best way to reduce risks and failure while shrinking development cycles and costs.
“It wouldn’t be feasible to develop these complex products quickly with physical prototypes,” says Mathieu Lussier, founder and managing director of Optimec Consultants. “Simulations let you test things that aren’t easy to assess in real life. You can dig into the details, gather more information and even stop time.”
He argues that the only way to compete in this market is to rely on advanced simulations. They enable engineers to produce accurate models of the product to better assess how it will perform before anything is manufactured. Lussier then pointed to three reasons why this is important, and how it can boost your engineering team’s success.
1. It Makes Validated Simulation Methods Accessible to the Team
Traditional simulation tools are not easy to use; a company might have one, maybe two, experts on staff at any time that fully understand the software. Lussier argues that with advanced simulation software, companies can democratize simulation methods and processes, so they are approachable.
“For this you need to capture your simulation methods into templates,” says Lussier. “This makes them available and usable by more people. So, you use simulation more and get more benefits from it.”
Consolidating simulation knowledge and knowhow into a few experts isn’t an optimal strategy when those individuals eventually leave the company. So, to capture that knowledge, organizations need to transfer that intellectual property into a tool that is usable and standardized for others. Template and automated workflow creation tools in advanced simulation platforms make this possible.
“If you have a template to take you through the simulation steps, then you will be more efficient,” says Lussier**.** “Everyone executes the work the same way. You use the template; it guides you through it and it’s automated. This helps you train more employees in a shorter time, improves the quality of work and accelerates the simulation workload.”
2. Using Advanced Simulation Earlier in Design Drives Product Innovation
Companies tend to underutilize simulation tools. A lot of this is because of tradition. Typically, products were designed and then tested via physical prototyping to see if they worked. As organizations have adopted simulation technologies, many have copied this workflow within a digital landscape.
In the best example of this, one person creates a 3D model, another runs simulations, and the two engineers share their findings to iterate on a design. But this can take months. In the worst-case scenario, digital simulations are held back until the product design is nearly completed and the simulation acts as a final prototype—making it expensive and difficult to about-face if anything goes wrong.
By adding simulations into the early development cycle, many iterations can be done before any decisions are made. This early in development there is no harm if something doesn’t work, you just move onto the next design. And by parameterizing this process, many advanced simulation tools can automate the optimization process. This enables organizations to shortcut design processes, make more researched decisions and develop more creative solutions.
“It’s very powerful,” says Lussier. “You can parameterize dozens of variables in the part design and simulation and run hundreds of analyses. It speeds up design processes a lot … Design of experiments (DOE) should be used early on. Many companies use simulation at the end to validate, but DOE is an example of early design optimization.”
Lussier recounts a story of a customer that asked Optimec to assess five different geometries for a mirror support system on a satellite. Instead, his team parameterized a bunch of dimensions and ran 100 versions.
“The customer was shocked,” says Lussier. “We used DOE and optimization algorithms to vary the dimensions. Through these analyses we assessed the design space to find which ones are the best.”
3. Simulations Don’t Just Improve Products, They Improves Processes and People
The DOE example above shows how advanced simulation techniques can be used to not just optimize products but also the people and processes that design them. Another reason simulation has been relegated to the end of the design process is that it can take a lot of time to learn, set up and implement.
“People say they don’t have the time to do simulation early,” agreed Lussier. “But if you do it in the start you gain so much time by getting the new, better design faster.”
For instance, Lussier explains that while using simulation-based DOE, optimization or generative design algorithms, the engineer can usually get away with producing a simplified design. Then the algorithms search the design space to automatically get to a nearly optimal result. This process is much faster than iterating designs manually or trying to make the perfect design, from scratch, the first time.
But process optimizations aren’t limited to the design cycle. Engineers can also use simulations to model manufacturing, use cases, assembly and many other processes to optimize each one.
As for training people to use simulations, recall the previous discussion about advanced simulation tools capturing IP within templates or automated workflows. Once the engineering expert produces the template and sets its limits, it becomes easier to train people to use simulation. From there, more simulations can be run earlier in the development process by more people.
Lussier explains that you can make these templates simple enough to use that an engineering co-op or recent graduate, without simulation experience, can use it. “We have experience building large and complex simulation models of industrial battery storage enclosures. We made a template of how to make the models in the 3DEXPERIENCE. Today, interns or new hires leverage this and are quickly able to contribute to building models they wouldn’t have been able to realize alone.”
Lussier agrees that this brings a lot of the effort up front, but he argues that the return on investment is well worth it. “Simulation software is a blank sheet. You can do a lot, but they don’t tell you how to do it. Templates are a good way to accelerate adoption while ensuring best practices.”
How to Get Started with Advanced Simulations
Lussier says to use more advanced simulations, “adequate software is obviously the first step.” Software must be able to:
- Assess multiphysics using validated solvers,
- Contain whole assemblies,
- Incorporate more details (i.e.: non linearities such as contacts), and
- Implement realistic material models.
But the software itself is not enough. As mentioned above, people and processes shall be equally considered when implementing modern advanced simulation practices.
Optimec is a Quebec-based company that specializes in engineering software consultation and services— like implementing advanced simulation workflows. It offers tools like CAE and PLM from Dassault Systèmes, Hexagon and more. Optimec combines its expertise, knowledge of simulation tools and partnerships with software vendors to consult companies on how to make the right advanced simulation setups for any given use cases.
“We are power users, not just resellers,” says Lussier. “We can go to a customer, look at how they do things today, look at the customer’s objectives and recommend new technologies to implement … [We then] use our expertise to train them and develop methods and templates so they can use it on their side.”
To discuss how to successfully implement advanced simulation methods and technology to drive your innovations more efficiently, contact us.