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When you design, do you also simulate? If you do simulate, is it at the beginning, halfway through your design, or at the very end when everything is already done and it might be too late to change even the smallest detail? According to the report, “2016 Global CAD Trends” from the Business Advantage resource group, 55% of design users are aware of simulation but only 34% use simulation in their designs. However, according to the report, simulation is ranked 4th out of the 15 most important CAD trends. To understand why simulation is essential, we spoke with three simulation experts about the current and future state of simulation:
Seth Hindman, Senior Product Manager of Simulation from Autodesk.
Nicolas Tillet, Product Manager of Solidworks Simulation from Dassault Systemes.
Valerio Marra, PhD., Marketing Director at COMSOL Inc.
What are the current advances in simulation software?
Hindman: The simulation market is evolving in numerous directions, incorporating new capabilities and predictive models, leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence, reducing barriers to adoption and ease of use as well as expanding its value to larger audiences within an organization through collaboration and data accessibility. A major trend in simulation and a focus of Autodesk is an expansion of access to companies of all sizes. Cost has also been a significant inhibitor to widespread adoption, whether in the form of software, hardware, or maintenance costs. Cloud-based subscription offerings often have the benefit of being reimagined during their development and often target ease of use as a key objective. These solutions also commonly address the cost issues of upfront software purchases, the cost of maintaining hardware, and provide the flexibly of elastic, on-demand compute resources. The result of all of these changes and the shift to cloud-based platforms should be improved simplicity, broadened access, and interconnected and automated capabilities, as well as the inclusion of big data and artificial intelligence to actively take part in the development of revolutionary products.
Marra: Engineers can now build simulation apps with the help of cloud computing and storage. Instead of shifting their focus from current projects, engineers could let their colleagues run an app to perform an analysis on their own, and then suggest a design change based on the app results. The user of a simulation app interacts with a specialized user interface via a client or a web browser, where the parameters that can be changed and their allowed range have been decided by the simulation specialists. The simulation app relies on a detailed model, and complex calculations are happening behind the scenes, meaning the app user does not need to be an expert in the software or in the physics involved to benefit from the simulation through a user-friendly interface. Apps can also automatically integrate COMSOL Multiphysics simulations with all major technical computing and CAD tools on the CAE market: from 3D design to legacy data, to spreadsheets and external code.
Tillet: The Solidworks and the CAD community is getting bigger. It is vibrant and we have 1,000 new users every year, including students using simulation in the Solidworks portfolio. A benefit of this community is we have several users sharing knowledge via user groups, social media, etc. This community is very important to us for simulation. We offer a variety of information on simulation through social media and My Solidworks. We have a lot of content on YouTube that is created by our experts, researchers, and the users themselves. Our goal has always been the same, which is to keep lowering the barrier for adoption: how do we provide and integrate simulation to every designer? Our simulation platform is a built-in feature. Our main focus in the past three years has been quality; providing a fast and reliable solver is our main goal.
Why is simulation important for production of parts and products?
Marra: The benefits are many. Just to name a few, the adoption of numerical simulation at an early stage leads to optimized designs and reduces the number of physical prototypes, all of which points toward a shorter time to market. A high-fidelity simulation can reflect reality closely and serve as an accurate predictor of a design’s performance by including all of the physical phenomena involved and being able to describe the interactions as they happen in the real world. The level of accuracy delivered by a multiphysics analysis has become the norm for many of our customers. An additional value of analysis is in situations where physical testing cannot reveal certain information because measurements are dangerous, expensive, or even impossible. Such scenarios include products that operate in space, harsh environments, or at very large or small scales. Real-world testing cannot be completely discounted, though, and for several reasons. For example, some material properties or parameters might be affected by uncertainties in their measurement, hence physical testing is still important.
Hindman: Companies are under significant pressure to address numerous changes occurring in their markets. These changes have been accelerated by globalization, new manufacturing processes and materials, communications technology, and infrastructure as well as a more informed and demanding consumer base. One of the most common words you hear from manufacturers today is “innovation,” but what that might mean is specific to each one. In any case, innovation is likely a placeholder for a dramatic change in how products function, the process in which they were designed, the materials and/or manufacturing process used in their construction or perhaps the sales model in which consumers access them. Each of these axes of innovation mean that a company has to move away from its comfort zones, areas of experience and instinct that have been used to drive their traditional business. While simulation has always provided significant value to the engineering of products and manufacturing processes, it has often been an exclusive luxury, accessible only by the largest companies. With increased emphasis on performance and integration of new technologies and materials as well as shortened lead times, companies are turning to simulation en masse in order to secure predictive capabilities to drive the success of their companies.
Tillet: We want to bring simulation to earlier in the design process. We are using Simulia, our sister brand, to bring topology optimization to the Solidworks users. The goal is really to help the designer with weight reduction, innovation, generate and guide new designs, and, finally, prepping designs for manufacturing. This initiative to integrate simulation into design is to have users simulate earlier in the design than before. Simulation use to be viewed as a validation tool that would run at the end of a design process. To start simulating, you need to have a geometry concept. You need a basic design to start your iterations early in the design process. We are working toward that starting from scratch. The software can provide design considerations like optimal shape based on your boundary conditions, loads, spaces, and manufacturing constraints. That is how simulation can help the designer earlier in the process.
How exactly can simulation improve upon a production process?
Hindman: Best-in-class examples from companies who are leveraging analysis as an integral and continuous aspect of their product development and manufacturing processes are able to explore a significantly expanded design envelope. Traditional methods for developing products relegate simulation and analysis to a validation stage; this utilization has little chance of influencing the development of a truly great product. Potential benefits are restricted by just emulating or replacing a manual or physical process instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to reimagine the holistic workflow of how products are designed and manufactured.
Analysis-driven design benefits from the ability to begin with the performance objective instead of design precedence or geometric limitations. Simulation enables a cost-effective examination of “what if” scenarios, system interactions, and malleable topologies that traditional design processes would not have time to consider. Analysis-driven design provides these teams with new and potentially radically different perspectives that have the potential of inspiring creative new design approaches.
Marra: Efficient use of simulation can help optimize the entire production process, from design, to prototyping, and to manufacturing. It is of the essence for the success of any product that the implementation of any design or manufacturing iterations happens quickly and efficiently. The use of simulation apps enables collaboration across departments, thus having an important impact on production quality and promoting a streamlined workflow. For example, departments that are not normally utilizing simulation such as manufacturing, sales, and even marketing, can use simulation apps to test the effect of a design change on the production process.
Tillet: Simulation is being used everywhere, not just by single-design usage but in large-scale companies. It could be done on specific projects or used often on entire lines of products. In the past, it was mainly being used for small components but we are starting to see the trend and the desire to solve larger and more complicated problems. The fact that simulation is so easily accessible to them, they want to solve more complicated product problems. Simulation is now being used at every step of the design process mainly due to the increased cost and time savings at the prototyping and production phase.
What does the future hold for simulation?
Tillet: Our customers have requested from us the ability to support more complex physics, to support the higher end of the simulation technology. What we mean by higher end is to support simulations with multiple non-linear affects such as contacts and interactions with materials that have large deformations. We are working with Simulia to develop and provide the Abaqus non-linear analysis technology for the user and by having that integrated within the software, users can simulate more complex physics earlier.
Marra: Cloud-based simulations have existed for some time now in different ways. For many years, something similar to cloud-based simulation technology has been provided by conventional remote desktop technology. Here, the engineer’s work computer serves as “the cloud.” Over the last few years, we have seen web browsers become mature and sufficiently rich in out-of-the box functionality such as 3D graphics, allowing them to be used to run entire simulation software. These advances in browser technology have greatly increased the flexibility in remote and cloud computing, as no installation is required on the client side. Simulation apps can also be run directly in a browser where all the heavy lifting is done on a dedicated computer or server somewhere else in the world and the browser is merely used to present the user with an easy-to-use interface.
Hindman: The simulation market will continue to expand in numerous simultaneous directions: advancing predictive capabilities, improving speed & accuracy, developing smart adaptive systems and overcoming barriers to access and computational power. On one hand, Autodesk aspires to make simulation disappear into the canvas, for it to be a completely integrated aspect of the engineering process where the user focuses on understanding performance insights, potential, and content instead of procedural steps. Advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, optimization, and the accessibility of computational power will enable the simulation system to become and an active participant in the engineering processes, enabling companies to focus on the design and value that they want versus the first product that works. New materials are being developed to address new consumer demands, like performance, customization, personalization, sustainability, and countless more. With these new engineered materials come new manufacturing processes that have an interrelated impact on the material performance. New process aware analysis types will emerge to help manufacturers predict the as-manufactured performance of these new products. Simulation has always been hungry for raw computational power. As computing hardware continues to become more and more cost-effective, simulation will continue to expand the scope and fidelity of its answers. With new cloud-based simulation solutions being developed, companies gain not only unlimited, on-demand computation, they also enable their workforce to more fully explore a design space that simply could not be analyzed before. With design data beginning to reside in the cloud, companies can now start to expand access to this data to provide greater insights across the entire organization and provide greater flexibility in how teams work together.
The future of manufacturing is exciting and new tools will expose new possibilities. The challenge for manufacturers will be to embrace the potential of this disruption and boldly explore how they might change the way they design and manufacture their product. For many, the essential value that their product delivers to their end customers may be changing and they may need to reassess the best way to utilize the creative potential and experience of their workforce.
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