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'Democratisation' of simulation handing powerful tools to all engineers

Tanya Weaver

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Simulation software, such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis and finite element analysis, are powerful tools to predict how real-world forces will affect the behaviour of parts, assemblies and products.

Testing multiple ‘what if?’ scenarios allows for performance validation and optimisation before products are physically created.

Traditionally, owing to the complexity of the tools, simulation analyses have been performed by a small pool of ‘experts’. While simulation software has become increasingly user-friendly
for expert users, it has also become more accessible for non-experts. Recent trends have seen simulation brought forward in the design process for use by designers and engineers.

“It’s what Mentor Graphics refers to as frontloading simulation. Using simulation to verify whether a design concept is viable or not, or even to optimise that design prior to committing to the detailed design, is an extremely effective application of simulation,” said Robin Bornoff of Mentor.

This accessibility of simulation for use by a wider group of non-expert users is known as democratisation. 

With custom simulation applications, more commonly known as ‘appification,’ simulation experts are able to wrap models in an easy-to-use interface that allows a wider audience to view the model and perform engineering studies by entering a select few parameters without having to understand the underlying engineering of simulation.

An example of a vendor offering such app-building facilities is COMSOL. Its motivation for doing this came from noticing simulation bottlenecks in product development workflows where simulation is in high demand. Its way to democratise its tools among non-experts was to create its Application Builder, which is part of its Multiphysics software.

Frontloading

Another approach to democratisation is by embedding simulation technology inside CAD tools. This is what Mentor Graphics described as frontloading, which moves simulation early into the product development design process where it can enable designers and engineers to understand the behaviour of the design, evaluate options and optimise product performance at the initial stages.

There are many examples of this, including Mentor Graphics’ suite of FloEFD tools, which is a fluid dynamics analysis solution built into all the major CAD systems that allows users to conduct up-front, concurrent CFD analysis using their familiar CAD interface.

Bornoff said: “Providing a CFD simulation technology within an engineer’s natural work environment was a way in which we could reduce the barrier for adoption and provide simulation to a wider audience of users.”

Driving design

There are other approaches to democratising simulation by bringing it earlier into the design process in what is often known as simulation-driven design. Simulations that can be carried out at the initial stages of design and then shared collaboratively among the design team and other stakeholders can help with decision making, and it needn’t be heavy and complex simulations either.

For instance, the consultancy CAE Tech is working with Fluxsys to create a tool to quickly analyse through simple calculations the requirements needed for the electric motors Fluxsys designs for electric vehicles. Peter Harman, director of CAE Tech, explained: “Fluxsys were finding that companies were approaching them to design motors but these companies didn’t know the exact requirements for the motors, but they did know requirements for the target vehicle such as how heavy it is, what performance they want, what range.

“So we worked with them on developing a web-based document that takes users through the process of making these decisions by using simple calculations typically done in Excel that enables them to understand a lot of those trade-offs.”

With funding from the Advanced Propulsion Centre based at Warwick University, this concept EV product is in beta testing with a range of automotive companies and is due out next summer. “It’s like Google Docs but for design of electric vehicles, so anyone can share and edit the document. The more information regarding key parameters and requirements for the vehicle that is inputted, the more data becomes available for the engineer to specify the subsystems such as motors and batteries,” added Harman.

Arguably, the reason for the democratisation of simulation is about speeding up the design process to get products to market faster and so increasing productivity.


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 

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