CAE competence management: are we ready?

AUS1-CFD-cone, courtesy of NASAThere’s an apocryphal story in CAE: A number of years ago, an auto company decided to see how consistently CAE was applied across its organization. Management asked a number of individual analysts to solve the same problem using the same code. Lo and behold, many different approaches and answers emerged. The conclusion: we’re at risk of having CAE give incorrect or contradictory results because expertise and approach vary from person to person. So we’ll have methods departments create protocols and insist that analysts follow them to ensure repeatable outcomes.

That’s a great approach at the company or divisional level, but what about the individuals themselves? How can a company be sure that the analysts they’re hiring are not only academically credentialed but adept at the codes being used? As CAE spreads to more, different types of users, how can a company be sure that the SolidWorks gurus they rely on are also using simulation correctly? Or Inventor or Solid Edge or Creo or, or …?

Effective use of CAE requires understanding the physics of the system being modeled as well as the peculiarities of the software being used. Modern user interfaces and pre-processing can help, but correctly setting up the problem is still the analyst’s responsibility.

In a project funded by the European Union, NAFEMS (the International Association of the Engineering Modelling, Analysis and Simulation), large user enterprises like EADS, Renault and Nokia, and vendors like EnginSoft last year completed a project that created a framework within which individuals could log and track their skills and courses completed — a step on the road to NAFEMS’ Professional Qualification certification.

Creating a directory of qualified CAE professionals would enable enterprises to ensure that they have the correct skill set in place to meet their business objectives while enabling individuals to create training plans and improve their mobility within their existing organization and in the hunt for that next job.

On the downside, such directories are only as good as the most recent entry. My college days are long behind me, yet back then I was a pretty decent analyst. If that’s listed in a directory somewhere, we’d all be in trouble if I were hired on as a CAE jockey. Too, there are degrees of expertise –say basic, capable, expert– and the path from one to another is not easy to define since it’s a combination of certificate-granting training and on-the-job learning. How can we quantify someone’s ability in the face of so many variables?

Many companies maintain a Competence Management Systems (or Competency Management Systems, aka CMS) that may be connected to a Learning Management System that provides access to online courses, perhaps a Wiki, and other resources. Learners are tracked and how they score on tests is entered into the CMS. Periodically, the CMS is interrogated to identify skills gaps and help plan career paths and successions to meet their employer’s projected needs.

CAE vendors, too, are in the game, offering certifications for people who take training classes. MSC Software and its partners, for example, offer in-person and online certification programs that validate analysts’ capabilities in Nastran, Adams and other offerings. Students who pass an exam covering the linear statics, normal modes and buckling analysis covered in the basic MSC Nastran training course earn an MSC Nastran Level I Certification. The company even partnered with UNED, Spain’s largest online university to offer advanced degree in Finite Element Method and CAE Simulation. SolidWorks, as we learned last month, offers users the opportunity to earn the CSWSP-FEA designation after passing an exam that tests “understanding of SolidWorks Simulation tools and simulation in general”. Just about every CAE/FEA/CFD vendor offers similar certifications, though there doesn’t seem to be any sort of standard about how rigorous the classes or tests should be.

What we need is a central directory, along the lines of what NAFEMS is proposing, that incorporates information from companies’ CMSes (only if the individual wants to be included, of course), databases like those maintained by SolidWorks and all of the individual certificates out there that have been earned but aren’t in a formal database. Then we can start getting a handle on the overall level of expertise in CAE across competency types. I doubt we’ll ever get to a standardized-test-type of measurement, since CAE has so many different applications, but a central registry like NAFEMS’ is a good and necessary start.

Let’s talk about this. Does your company maintain a CMS? Is that good or bad, from your perspective? Would you want your expertise to be known by the larger CAE community? Would you apply for a NAFEMS certification or stick with what you’ve got? If you’re a boss, do you look at certifications — and if you do, where do you find out about them?

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  1. Great Post! I’m sorry I found it late. Now we’ll never get a discussion going!

    Simulation is getting very easy to do and I think that has stimulated this discussion again (not that it ever goes away).

    For the bosses reading, a good interview question is not “can you use [someFEATool]?”. A good question is, “Look at this analysis. Tell me how accurate it is and how it could be done more accurately”.

    • Thanks, Mark. I’ve gotten quite a bit of email on this topic — it’s apparently quite sensitive for people!

  2. Hi Monica,
    CAE Competence is a component of overall Simulation Governance (SimGov), a term coined by Rich McFall of CIMdata during a project we were working on for a client at that time. Glad to see you giving some coverage to this component. NAFEMS actually started way back in the 1980s in the area of certifying FEA software and the people who use it (intially for nuclear power plant engineering, due to the obvious downside if something goes wrong)but the idea of “certifying FEA software users” was a tough sell back then, especially in the cowboy community in the U.S.