Changing Tack: Moving to Collaborative, Simulation-Led Engineering

Apr 18, 2017 | Hot Topics

Do you ever think about how the products you rely on are created? How you can be sure that the car you drive is safe? Or the laptop, not exploding? Or how that latest gadget turns into an object of must-have, while the one next to it on the shelf is just OK?

I get to see how a lot of that happens. How engineers, designers and other technical types work with stylists, who are in charge of the aesthetic appeal of a product, and with financial types, who are in charge of its cost profile, to create something the market just has to have. I recently wrote a white paper (sponsored by ESTECO, makers of modeFRONTIER and Volta) that explored how leading companies are balancing the tradeoffs between components, materials, manufacturing processes and costs, and customer expectations to create the optimal product for a particular market niche.

Companies like Bombardier have been simulating the physics of a rail engine for decades; now they’re adding in cost optimizations: will it cost more, long-term, to maintain product option A or option B? They’re able to target a very specific customer with each offering: a train that makes frequent stops has a different energy profile than one that has long straight stretches at which it can hit peak speeds. When a customer sees his exact needs reflected in an offering, it becomes much easier to sell.

Cummins is taking simulation in a new direction. Also a long-time user of physics-based CAE, its “Analysis-Led Design” approach has been a catalyst in its engineering department. But it’s not stopping there. Cummins now wants to make optimization available to product managers and other leaders who need to understand the trade-offs engineers have to make between cost, functionality, availability, schedule and other requirements. Eventually, these non-technical, non-simulation users will be able to use modeFRONTIER to examine a response surface and narrow down their objectives, saving time and money by making more of the critical decisions, earlier in the design process.

Of course, physics simulation is still the most frequently used type of optimization. In the case of Americas’s Cup racing. seconds make the difference between being the winner and the … not winner. Fine-tuning a pre-defined boat, one that’s identical across all competitors, isn’t easy but the UK team, Land Rover BAR, uses design space exploration to better understand their boat and to match the boat’s configuration to race day sailing conditions. They’ve developed a simulation plan to make the boat faster and to examine trade-offs across its systems. Interesting factoid: they’re also using simulation to create ‘tuning guides’ that the crew will use during the races –how to trim the wing, when to hydrofoil, etc.– so that the crew isn’t trying to figure it out in real time, in stressful race conditions.

What did I learn in the course of interviewing the companies profiled in the white paper? A lot:

  • The real world is multi-disciplinary and systems-based. Simulating a single component’s performance isn’t enough; we need to understand all aspects of its performance, in may different modes and as it interacts with its world. (Exploding batteries, anyone?)
  • Time and cost matter. In the AEC world, that’s even called 4D and 5D. When we can optimize across physics and 4D/5D, we’re starting to take simulation beyond the engineering world and make it relevant across the enterprise.
  • Simulation isn’t just about computer codes driven by specialists. A solid simulation strategy revolves around people, tools and processes. (That’s straight out of the white paper but it’s so true.) Each of these companies looks to its people, their expertise and collaboration abilities FIRST, and then buys them the tools they need to be successful.

Please navigate over to the ESTECO website to read more, here.

The cover image is courtesy of ESTECO and Xflow.