Altair Speeds Smartphone Drop Testing

Altair has reduced drop-testing time in smartphones significantly with the use of computer-aided engineering (CAE). While we often associate CAE with automation set-up, materials testing, or landing a Mars rover, Altair worked with Korean smartphone producer LG Engineering (LGE) to create a simulation model that puts a smartphone through its toughest test -- dropping it on a hard surface.

Drop-test simulation on smartphones takes between one to two weeks to set up, conduct, and analyze. Altair and LGE have created a seamlessly integrated drop-test simulation system that allows LGE engineers to conduct virtual drop tests in just 24 hours. According to Altair, this saves almost one-third of the entire design cycle.

Speeding the design process is particularly important in the consumer electronics sector, where time to market can mean the difference between the success or failure of a product. "Time to market is one of the biggest challenges faced by the electronics industry, especially in the smartphone sector," Molly Heskitt, senior director of global electronics and consumer goods at Altair, told Design News. "The design and development cycle is extremely short due to keen global competition and high consumer expectations."

LGE agrees that time to market is not only important, it's critical. "One of the biggest challenges to the smartphone industry is time to market," Y.H Lee, research fellow at LGE, told us. "Many companies do not have enough time in the highly competitive product development cycle to consider as many designs as they would like to. The standard seven to 14 days for drop-test simulation is too long. With Altair we are now able to slice the time required for drop-test simulation from a week to just hours."

The Altair-LGE team automated many of the time-consuming manual tasks associated with finite element analysis (FEA) modeling, analysis set-up, and post-processing to carry out the drop-test simulation. The methodology Altair and LGE developed incorporates modeling and drop and bending analysis.

With the ability to test more impact scenarios quickly, LGE expects its warranty costs will be reduced, since its optimized smartphones will be more resistant to damage. "Manufacturers need to ensure high quality, reliability, and durability (QRD) to protect their market share and reputation among consumers, and to reduce warranty costs," said Heskitt. "To achieve that elite level of QRD, manufacturers need to conduct many different tests during product development. Drop testing is one of the most important and common tests required."

Computer-aided engineering enters the drop-testing world

Altair and LGE moved forward with simulation confident in the technology, since it has a long and deep history. "Simulation, or computer-aided engineering (CAE), technology has been used in different industries for decades and it is very mature," Heskitt told us. "Leading companies across a wide variety of industries have leveraged CAE technology to improve product design." She said the list of users includes players from aerospace and defense to automotive, consumer products, and durable goods manufacturers.

The modeling gives engineers a view inside the product as the impact of the drop occurs. This lets engineers see how each individual component is affected. "Simulation allows our electronics customers to peel away the exterior skin of the product and turn components on or off dynamically at any point during this millisecond event to understand what is happening to the device internally," said Heskitt. "This provides design engineers with the ability to visualize the root cause."

Is simulation as accurate as dropping the phone?

While simulated drop tests may not be more accurate than physical tests, Heskitt said the simulation offers a high level of accuracy with two major advantages. "First, the performance of a much larger number of design alternatives can be evaluated in a very short amount of time; and second, simulation makes it possible to analyze and evaluate the drop test results quickly and easily with a much deeper understanding of cause and effect," she said. As an example, Heskitt noted you can "cut a section" on a simulated product such as a smartphone and analyze the behavior of any component at any given time during the drop, seeing if, when, and how a rupture might start on that component.

One of the questions about CAE for drop-test analysis is whether it will replace testing by actual drops. "Drop simulation will not completely replace the actual drop test, but could dramatically reduce the number of actual tests needed -- by up to 90 percent -- and shorten design and development cycles while reducing cost," said Heskitt. "Actual physical drop tests will still be required for final validation, but fewer will be performed." SHe said physical testing will continue to be the final sign-off of a design before production.

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