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Engineering simulation in the next decade

Engineering simulation in the next decade

Thanks to technological innovation and the emergence of the Web, engineers in the next decade will have the opportunity to perform more simulations throughout the design process.

The technical innovations derive from the constant doubling of chip performance and halving of prices that Moore's Law predicted. Computers are simply getting more powerful every day while computing power continues to drop in cost. Today, it is possible to perform hundreds of simulations rather than just one or two, and do them for much less cost than ever before. The explosion in computer performance means that simulation may be routinely applied as a powerful, flexible, and general purpose engine for optimization early in the conceptual design stage.

A web-based integrated engineering simulation environment enjoys the benefits of collaboration among users and a high degree of data reuse for 'downstream' simulation refinement.

Low-cost bandwidth now enables engineers to search all possible design alternatives, and find the one that best meets the overall design criteria, taking into account product life, warranty costs, and maintenance schedules. Over the next ten years, these trends can be expected to yield the following four results:

Don't isolate the simulators. The Web will eliminate the "isolation" of simulation specialists, radically improving overall design efficiency. Today's world of specialization requires a remarkable depth of knowledge that can span only narrow areas. Engineers commonly specialize in discrete areas with little or no interaction with their peers in other disciplines. Through the Web, engineers can collaborate on simulation easily.

Simulate early and often. Simulation will be the norm in the early stages of design. There is an increasing demand in the product development process to move the tools of simulation from the back end of the development process to the front where mistakes can be caught sooner, improving time to market and product quality, and reducing overall costs.

It's not a new concept-Aries Corporation pioneered the trend in the early 1980's. However, there have traditionally been two main obstacles: Desktop computer price/performance was insufficient to address the task; and the advanced analysts resisted the effort, concerned that it would be hard to get the correct answers early in design and that engineers using simulation at that early stage might not know how to interpret results.

Many engineering simulation providers have focused on personal productivity solutions that advocate the concept of "push button" simulation early in the development cycle. However, isolated "push button" simulation solutions overlook the most important element of product development-the integration of these tools with existing simulation practices and processes already in use within the company. The arrival of new web browser technologies combined with a broader "enterprise-wide" perspective of the simulation process provides the opportunity to address these concerns.

Capturing knowledge! Application-specific GUIs will emerge. Advanced users will be able to quickly develop step-by-step sequences that capture the process and knowledge within the organization, important since skilled simulation specialists in many companies who have developed expertise are nearing retirement.

Additionally, unconstrained by GUIs developed for the general market, advanced users can create customer interfaces specific to the problem at hand. More importantly, these interfaces can be easily tied into the overall engineering simulation process in place within the enterprise. In this way, the right amount of simulation can be delivered to the right people, at the right time in the product design process in a highly integrated and efficient manner.

Go to school on the Web. Complete web-based analysis-training systems will be developed and deployed cost effectively. New users could log into a website and take a "self-paced" training class using an entry-level tool set put in place by the advanced engineering organization. This initial tool would be a subset of the full tool set, equipped with a GUI that restricts the user to only limited amounts of capability.

Upon successful completion of the self-paced course, the user would take an online exam. Based upon the exam results, the user would then be slotted for the next appropriate level of training. This process could also help engineers pursue an alternate career path in simulation and analysis, important since the demand for simulation skills is outpacing the supply.

Here is an example of how this new model could work within a design environment. During the initial design concept stage, a baseline "first order" GUI is accessed from the website and used to determine initial feasibility of the design. This tool typically makes broad assumptions about conditions, such as assuming frictionless contact, or ignoring the effects of radiant heat transfer. During the subsequent stages of product development, design engineers may often pick up the same model initially developed by the earlier team, now including some of the more complex issues.

As the product design nears prototype stage, downstream simulation specialists review the HTML report output of the early and basic simulations to ensure product design criteria are not circumvented. Moreover, the output data from early simulations can be fed, over the Web, into more advanced simulation tools. This mechanism eliminates the need for redundant simulations and wasted time during the development process. At this stage it is not uncommon for full parametric studies to begin searching the "design space" in areas such as variations in load, thermal, and material parameters. During the final stages of product development, the existing model is again accessed by the advanced simulation engineers to perform full "probabilistic design studies" considering all aspects of non-linear behavior as well as product maintenance intervals and overall product life.

Throughout this product development example, the simulation engines utilized are the same. The variable user interfaces scale functionally as the product design nears the prototype stage. Because the simulation engines are the same, all results and data are reusable from one development stage to another. The use of a highly configurable browser as the user interface allows increasingly complex functionality to be turned on by the webserver-based configuration files located on the portal. Used in conjunction with training, this method allows controlled dissemination of engineering simulation throughout the enterprise that matches the needs of the job function, and the training and experience of the personnel.

Although this strategy may seem futuristic, much of the basic building blocks can be seen in the recent DesignSpace 6.0 product. The user programmable "wizards" that allow advanced users to quickly and easily develop and deploy user guided processes is now available. Further, the use of full parametric simulation can also be seen within this product. This level of functionality provides an obvious platform for the realization of these plans within the very near future. The opportunity to bring simulation out of the laboratory and into production is well within sight.

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