The secret's out.
Simulation used to be the sole domain of expert "black belts," who used vast supercomputers to virtually test finished products.
But thanks to the rapid growth of computing power, today's engineer has more power in his desktop PC than last decade's high-end workstations. That allows average engineers to use simulation as part of the design process, running virtual tests on every iteration of their new products.
Lumeo's Control Interface lets analysts control virtual machines with real-world controls.
CAE developers are fanning the flames of this trend, providing software tools with easy-to-use interfaces and libraries full of pre-tested parts. Products like Mechanical Dynamics' Adams R12, LMS' Virtual.Lab, and Lumeo's Motion 2.0.
And they're not the only ones to notice the trend. In these uncertain economic times, manufacturing companies are venturing slowly into new software purchases. But two areas that could see explosive growth in 2002-2003 are digital prototyping and digital manufacturing, says Charles Foundyller, president of the Cambridge, MA analyst firm Daratech. He spoke at his company's conference Feb. 25.
Instead of just accelerating an outdated product development cycle—what he calls a "cow-path process chain"—they could punch through previous methods, giving an immediate boost to design quality and speed.
Mechanical Dynamics (Ann Arbor, MI) says its Adams R12 product helps to reach this goal by offering a collection of 40 niche applications, as opposed to a complex, generic tester. For instance, the tire library alone features eight collections, such as motorcycles and aircraft applications. The data comes from TNO, a Dutch tire manufacturer.
By specifying such data ahead of time, Mechanical Dynamics makes the tools more available to non-specialists, says Michael Young, VP of marketing and customer satisfaction. "We're going into vertical markets, getting simulation out of the back room."
Providing those details up-front means that downstream users have fewer decisions to make. They can rely on the simulation results since the libraries contain test data from physical parts: "We're blurring the line between virtual and actual testing, because we're integrating that background data with physical test data," Young says.
"We've been dealing almost exclusively with hard-core analysts. But now we're becoming more a part of the engineering process." And when it's run on a cluster of computers, Adams can track hundreds of simulations and show the trends. That way an engineer can run variations of parameters, and find the best point on the curve.
"It's always a tradeoff; you want better handling, so you use a stiffer suspension, but then you get lots of vibration," he says. With the Adams Insight tool, designers can tackle such a problem with "real-time, what-if iterations."
LMS' (Troy, MI) Virtual.Lab, released in January, also offers vertical niche applications. Its four parts are: acoustics, NVH, durability, and motion.
Like Mechanical Dynamics, it automates the analysis process by populating those vertical applications with real-life data. "We don't differentiate between test and CAE data; it's just a source," says LMS Senior Technical Specialist Mark Kop.
Its new interface provides templates, so users can easily swap part iterations, testing for the best results in multi-disciplinary optimization. And it's associative with CAD and CAE tools, to minimize file transfers.
The Finnish company Lumeo (with North American offices in Toronto) released Lumeo Motion 2.0 in November. As a Pro/Engineer plug-in, it allows engineers to run simulation testing in the same CAD window they use for design, says company president Jari Strandman. Look for a similar agreement for Autodesk Inventor this spring.
"Ease of use is a main design goal," Strandman says. "Our market is less experts in CAE and more designers." So it offers real-time simulation of rigid body dynamics. The program can perform the calculations on a normal workstation, so designers can test earlier in the design process. A demonstration proved the ease of use—the user doesn't even have to predefine motion paths, but simply grab the model and move it.
Another advance is the Lumeo Control Interface, a feature that allows the user to use a typical computer interface—such as a joystick or steering wheel—to manipulate a virtual model and test it for CAE qualities. Aimed at the heavy machinery market, it allows designers to steer a cyber bulldozer through its full range of motion, testing its strengths and weaknesses. Future applications will be in the automotive and medical industries.