The real world isn’t what it used to be when it comes to testing. Simulation has created a world of new product testing that puts products through scenarios that cannot be duplicated by prototypes in the real world. Instead of just testing an actual part physically, simulation can test an entire complex product – like a car – and see how each part performs in conjunction with the entire product – a form of accurate testing that can’t be done in the real world.
The exception is with composites and some 3D-printed parts. There is not enough data on the new materials and 3D-printed shapes to provide accurate simulation. That’s temporary, however. The data from the physical testing of composites and 3D shapes are getting fed into simulation programs so those programs can begin to include new materials and shapes into the digital world of simulation.
Simulation at the Center of the Design Process
Simulation used to be a side function, something done after preliminary design to see how the product performs in the real world. Simulation has moved to the center of the process so the product’s performance can be evaluated as it is being designed.
“Simulation has become an entire part of the design process, saving development time, reducing physical prototyping cost, and improving the quality of the product,” said Nicolas Tillet, SolidWorks manager at Dassault Systemes. “Additionally, by saving development time through simulation, the design team can spend more time innovating.”
With simulation in the hands of the design team, a wider range of different digital versions of the product can be created and tested, making simulation part of the design process itself.
“With the simulation model, once you invest in it, you can try different scenarios. You can simulate driving up the hill pulling a trailer and see how much the engine heats up,” said Stephen Ferguson, product marketing director at CD-adapco. “In simulation, you’re not simulating the test bed, you’re simulating the real world.”
The idea of putting more emphasis on testing digital versions of the product – rather than costly physical prototypes – is new to product design. “I’ve been working in the industry 25 years, and it’s only in the last two or three years that simulation has been replacing physical prototypes,” said Ferguson. “It’s an economic necessity, because building physical cars is more expensive. It lets people design better products in less time, and that’s happening in auto and aerospace.”
Simulating the Whole Thing, Not Just the Part
One of the significant advantages of simulation is the ability to see how different structures behave as part of the whole assembly project.
“It used to be that fluid and structures were handled differently by different people, but in order to solve difficult engineering problems, you have to do it all at once,” said Ferguson. “Any fluid flow problem flows around things, and that involves interaction with solids. So we simulate the entire problem, not just parts of it.”