Dave: You aptly point out one of the dangers of making simulation tools more accessible to mainstream folks. If you don't know the physics of what you're trying to simulate or set up the simulation model correctly, there is opportunity for making assumptions that lead you down a problematic design path.
Simulation software, including FEA, CFD, and solidification codes, among others, can be a tremendous resource. For example, if you are designing a cast piston for an engine, you can simulate everything from how the mold will fill and how the metal will solidify, to the stresses and strains the part will experience in service and how the dome shape will interact with the spray pattern. This allows you to refine the part for both manufacturability and performance long before it is even made.
That being said, in order to make good use of these tools, it's absolutely essential to have a solid engineering understanding of the physical situation. The increased user friendliness of software is a double edged sword. It's easy enough to set up a simulation and get numbers out - but knowing how to set the simulation up to accurately reflect the parameters of the physical situation, how to interpret and use the results, and how to tell whether the results make sense, are another matter.
One mistake I've often seen from engineers (who should know better!) is to use FEA to find the maximum stress in a part, and then compare this maximum stress to the "fatigue strength" of the material. Among other things, these engineers must have been sleeping in class when their professors were talking about the Goodman diagram. (Actually, the Goodman diagram itself is a highly inaccurate way of taking mean stress effects into account, as this paper shows).
Of course, there are fatigue codes like feSafe which apply very sophisticated approaches to fatigue. But even still, there is no substitute for physical insight into the problem.
FEA capabiliteis are definitely more common and more likely to be integrated with the core CAD platform. While we're starting to see more CFD integration, it definitely seems to be more specialized and tuned for specific industries while the need for FEA appears to be more universal.
Is it the case the CFD still tends to be more specialized than FEA? That is, I always think of CFD in terms or aerodynamics analysis (whether for automotive or aerospace), and also those program runs I've seen where they analyze how liquid shoots into bottles (like when you're filling beer bottles in a production line). FEA seems on its face to have broader application, because most every product design can benefit from a stress analysis.
I did quite a bit of FEA work 10 years back. It was really very easy to run. Recently I investigated CFD and was suprised to see its still a very difficult program to run. Maybe I need to look at competing CFD programs to see if there are any that are more user friendly.
Chuck, I think that's really important perspective and really gets to the core of why these advances are so key to advancing the engineering process. If less experienced engineers can readily gain access to FEA and CFD without being dependent on a tight coterie of specialists and without feeling intimidated, they're more likely to leverage simulation as a regular part of their design workflow. Doing simulation continuously throughout the process will then (or should) ultimately lead to better optimized products.
Thirty years ago, many great engineers with a lifetime of experience were intimidated by FEA, and therefore steered clear of it. One of the great advancements of the last decade is that the "newbies" are able to draw a wealth of important information from this technology without needing a background in structural mechanics.
Rob, I wouldn't necessarily classify these advancements as collaborative, although there is always some sort of back and forth between design engineers and the simulation specialists. What many of these new capabilities do is allow the engineer to do their own simulation work intermittently throughout the design process so there isn't this huge disconnect between the day-to-day design iterations and the on-going optimization around simulation. I guess it's a form of collaboration, to some degree.
Great slide show, Beth. you mentioned these tools enable more collaboration. Do you know if that is actually happening? This sure seems to support collaboration. but then collaboration is often a political matter. Even so, tools such as these could cut through company politics.
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