Simulation: A couple of thoughts on barriers to entry and adoption

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The ability to not only define the form of a product digitally, but to also simulate its performance and behaviour is something that’s been playing on my mind over the last few days. This followed a conversation with a couple of people. One felt that the tools out there, which are often integrated into the workhorse design tool, weren’t being used purely because of costs reasons. The other person provided a stark contrast, saying that simulation is absolutely key for many, as it allows you to add context and meaning to the geometry we’re all used to creating.

From my experience across both sides of the pond, there does seem to be a difference in how much simulation tools are adopted whether that’s motion analysis, computational fluid dynamics, finite element analysis or something else. A gut feeling tells me that in Europe, the awareness and background of designers and engineers gives them a better start at using these tools – if you’re experienced with them at university, then you’re more comfortable with diving in and having a go. it’s nothing to do with the actual quality of education, but rather than if you’re exposed to these types of tools as you also learn the principles of design, engineering and manufacturing, then you have a good foundation on which to explore further.

Take a look at this video from Siemens PLM. It shows the Simulation tools within Solid Edge. These are based on Siemens’ NX Nastran platform combined with the experience of the team behind FEMAP, one of the leading pre and post processing tools for FEA users. But what’s key to note is that not only are these tools powerful, but they don’t restrict what can be done, don’t restrict the fine tuning and optimisation of a simulation task.

Taking that idea further, this brings up the question of workflow. If simulation is going to become part of the product development workflow, you need several things to work together. Firstly, the CAD system should provide you with powerful tools for creating the geometry. Secondly, the simulation tools should be integrated with CAD system in a manner that supports rapid iteration. After all there’s no point in being able to model a part, simulate it, but then have to complete rework the part or parts to solve the issues you discover. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying this about integration in the same window (as is shown here) – that’s one of many options – look at the work that Ansys and SpaceClaim are doing as an example of how standalone simulation apps can be integrated with 3D design tools. Rather I’m saying that you need to be able to quickly work through issues and execute design change and rerun simulation. the last is that the design tool needs to be flexible enough to let you carry out those changes. It’s perhaps here that technologies as shown here (Synchronous Technology) can pay a real dividend, allowing quick experimentation.

So. To my point. Has your organisation invested in simulation tools? Are you using them? Is there something that stops you from using them? Is it knowledge, is it time, is it a clunky workflow? I’m curious..

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