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The Computer-Aided-Engineering Revolution Is Here

June 13, 2011
Today, simulation is widely used to accelerate the product-development process.

Once seen as a specialty task for advanced research and development, computer-aided engineering (CAE) -- including simulation and optimization -- today is widely used to accelerate the product-development process.

Finite-element analysis (FEA) has evolved into a mainstream part of the design process, and its impact can be measured in everything from the integrity of airframes and the packaging of appliances to the reliability of cell phones and the driving power of golf clubs. Simulation's importance in validating and improving the design of various products has heightened over decades.
Brennan: Simulation is moving up the line toward the front end of the design process.
Today, for example, instead of crashing SUVs into barriers multiple times to determine how they react, engineers carry out virtual crash tests on high-performance computers, changing designs to improve the safety of occupants and thereby dramatically reducing the number of costly physical tests and design iterations. Increasingly, simulation has moved up the line toward the front end of the design process. Now engineers are employing CAE software to create initial designs and to optimize products-removing material from the proposed product to reduce its weight without sacrificing strength or performance. Simulation in the Driver's Seat By turning to simulation and optimization as the design is being formulated, engineers are contributing to resolving many challenges in new-product development, including:
  • Creating products that are more sustainable and energy-efficient.
  • Enhancing performance and ergonomics.
  • Improving value and affordability.
  • Providing differentiation and excitement.
Simulation now is in the driver's seat, pushing product-development timelines, creating innovative concept designs and improving product quality and reliability along the way. At the same time, the emergence of software tools that automate best practices in design and analysis and that establish customizable workflow processes for product engineering has enabled engineers to focus on higher-value tasks in their organizations. Rather than spending the majority of their day inputting data and validating their models, they now are free to innovate new designs, new offerings and new capabilities for their products. Engineers now can make more informed design decisions because they can view data in new ways that often are more graphical and interrelated. And they can apply technology in new ways to create entire new categories of products -- from tablet computers and natural-gesture game machines to crossover vehicles and electric powertrains. The Future: Achieving Innovation Intelligence The trend for growth in simulation appears to have no end in sight. Simulation will reach a broader audience, with more ways for people throughout an enterprise to interact with designs and interpret them using advanced data mining and advanced analytics techniques once reserved for business intelligence. Process automation will occur on a more pervasive level, as non-value-added tasks are automated. Probability will play a greater role in improving product quality, as simulation software incorporates more stochastic elements. Simulation will be available everywhere, with cloud-based software and computing that enables employees to communicate among disciplines while paying for only the time that they use the simulation software and hardware resources. Fortunately, an exponential increase in compute power will permit this increase in simulation and slash the time required to design, optimize and validate future products. Altair Engineering Inc., a Troy, Mich.-based provider of simulation technology and engineering services, already has shrunk the time needed to set up and execute a complete crash test to just one or two days -- instead of weeks or even months just a few years ago. By 2020, that process could be accelerated by a factor of 100, permitting quality-based CAE requiring 100 or more simulations in an evening. A More Holistic Experience From a simulation engineer's perspective, the future offers a more holistic experience for those who once were bound to their data sets. As suggested by Dr. Marc Halpern of Gartner, engineers, who once achieved the dream of putting man on the moon "will be required to be system-level thinkers again, bringing it all together with manufacturing, cost, social implications, etc." Perhaps of greatest importance, however, is that professionals will be rethinking the boundaries of industrial design and engineering. With technology already available, CAE increasingly will become the starting point for ideation and problem-solving, and the same suite of software will carry the engineer through the generation and selection of design alternatives, optimization, validation and communication throughout the enterprise. The future for simulation is exciting and will continue to play a bigger role in shaping the way products are designed from the inception stage to the end product. Jeff Brennan, is chief marketing officer and director of worldwide operations for Altair Engineering Inc., a Troy, Mich.-based provider of simulation technology and engineering services that empower client innovation and decision-making.

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