Removing Simulation from Its Silo for Improved Product Development

Oct. 9, 2009
To capitalize on the full advantages of design simulation -- which can improve product quality, time-to-market, and profitability -- simulation assets must be effectively deployed, adopted, retained, protected and reused.

It's a given in our industry that simulation technology and methods have resulted in faster and more cost-effective delivery of innovative and reliable products than the historical build-and-break process. However, even those companies gaining significant benefits from simulation will admit that they often fail to retain their processes or manage simulation results efficiently enough so that others in their organization can reuse the knowledge gained in an effective way.

A 2007 survey from industry research firm CPDA reported that only 6.1% of companies are using any form of a simulation data management solution, which is typically designed to handle large, complex, and highly-specialized simulation data files. Thirty-five percent use legacy databases or data management applications, and the largest percentage of respondents, 42.7%, keep their simulation data on local or departmental drives. This makes it difficult-if not impossible-for other decision-making stakeholders to access the information or even be aware of its existence, leading to the possibility of repeating the same simulation or overlooking an important performance metric. These issues have created a growing industry consensus that the data, processes, and tools associated with simulation must be brought under control and managed.

Simulation Lifecycle Management (SLM) technology, has emerged as a solution to address these industry challenges. SLM provides robust technology and methods that enable users to bring order to their simulation processes by managing the intellectual property associated with simulation tools, data, and processes, and achieve a new level of efficiency in shortening development cycles, reducing waste, and improving product quality while fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation.

SLM can intrinsically be an integral component of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), one that is focused on improving simulation effectiveness within PLM and scientific environments.

PLM -- The Foundation for SLM

Product Lifecycle Management is a business strategy that helps companies share product data, apply common processes, and leverage corporate knowledge for the development of products from conception to retirement, across the extended enterprise. By including all participants (company departments, business partners, suppliers, OEMs, and customers), PLM enables this entire network to operate as a single entity to conceptualize, design, build, and support products.

PLM systems have evolved rapidly in recent years and now provide collaborative Virtual Product Lifecycle Management of complex product, process, and resource information-from marketing and design to manufacturing and maintenance.

IT departments have previously struggled to provide the data management tools necessary to make simulation more effective for their business as a whole. SLM, as a crucial component of PLM, unites a deep understanding of the demands of simulation, its role in the enterprise, and the knowledge to determine which data and processes belong under formal management and which data and processes should remain ad hoc.

Not surprisingly, many of the key collaboration and lifecycle management tools available in PLM systems can be readily extended to suit the demands of an SLM system. A partial list of the capabilities that PLM services bring to simulation data to control not only location, but also security, retrieval, and entire lifecycle functions, include:

  • Persistence: Retained in a relational database.
  • Navigation: Organized and represented in a manner that facilitates efficient exploration over object instances and associated data. Optimally, the objects will have 3D contextual representations to make them more readily recognizable.
  • Attribution: Tagged with descriptive attributes that enable efficient search and query to facilitate both improved productivity and data reuse.
  • Configuration Management: Enabled with version control and governed by change and configuration management principles as desired.
  • CRUD Editors: Editors to allow creating, reading (viewing), updating, and deleting objects. Copy and paste capabilities are also provided with the PLM objects.
  • Security: Governed by access control principles such as lock/unlock, transfer ownership, and accessibility, based on numerous factors and variables.
  • Lifecycle Management: Maturity states that dictate certain business logic as the objects progress through their lifecycles and fully traceable historical data are captured and retained.
  • Impact: Relationship linkages with other PLM objects that provide relevant behaviors such as indicating that a recent design change has occurred that may impact or invalidate previously generated simulation results.
  • Content: Stores or links to content such as data files.

However, some specific considerations are required due to the unique traits of simulation that differentiate it from how products or processes are managed in PLM.

Simulation Complications

The requirements of simulation technology, methods, data, and processes are in many ways more demanding than those associated with PLM, including:

  • Data Model: The richness, granularity and context of simulation data is distinct and specific, traversing multiple physical domains (multiphysics) and solution procedures (linear, nonlinear, static, dynamic, transient, etc.)
  • Performance: Simulation data can be orders of magnitude larger than product structure-related data and depend on high-performance, multiprocessor computing resources for meeting performance requirements.
  • Context: To be of archival value, simulation results must be associated with the product being simulated, the functional requirements, the methods used, the environmental conditions, the stimuli considered, etc.

Yet it is for all of these reasons that incorporating simulation data into PLM is crucial to the product development process. In an April 2009 report, CPDA said that, "PLM has focused far too long on 3D modeling and mechanical design, creating a specialized silo with computerized walls that are more difficult to remove than the brick walls separating departments. The minimum objective across industry should directly target the integration of design, simulation, and physical tests together with the underlying support of requirements engineering to serve as a common thread."

Remove Simulation from Its Silo

Companies spend millions on simulation to replace or support physical testing, but often fail to capture, manage, and reuse the resulting intellectual property. To capitalize on the full advantages of design simulation --which can improve product quality, time-to-market, and profitability -- simulation assets must be effectively deployed, adopted, retained, protected and reused.

As an integral component of PLM, SLM accelerates product development by providing timely access to the right information through secure storage, search, and retrieval with distinct functionality dedicated specifically to simulation processes and data. It simplifies the capture, re-use, and deployment of approved simulation methods and best practices, providing improved confidence in the use of simulation results for rapid decision-making. SLM also enables companies to improve simulation data quality and traceability, increase productivity, improve confidence in simulation results, accelerate distributed decision-making, and secure IP.

By incorporating simulation data into the PLM solution, companies are able to secure simulation intellectual property and transform it into a valuable and controlled corporate asset that helps them reduce costs and improve time-to-market.

Paul Lalor is Product Manager for the SIMULIA brand of Dassault Systemes. SIMULIA delivers a scalable portfolio of Realistic Simulation solutions including the Abaqus product suite for Unified Finite Element Analysis, multiphysics solutions for insight into challenging engineering problems, and SIMULIA SLM for managing simulation data, processes, and intellectual property.

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