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Steering Toward the Future

Faced with rising fuel prices and growing environmental concerns, the automotive industry is reinventing itself — and simulation is playing a critical role.

The global automotive industry faces incredible pressures today. The skyrocketing costs of traditional fuels — along with worldwide supply uncertainties — are forcing automakers to not only increase the efficiency of current fuels, but to explore new fuel sources and engine designs that will drive increased efficiency.

Consumers are demanding cars, trucks, and other vehicles that are smarter and safer than ever before. Incorporating innovative, interactive infotainment systems, wireless communications technologies, collision avoidance systems, and navigational devices is changing the way cars are designed, manufactured, and used by consumers. Today, 30 percent of the value in the average passenger car lies in its electronic systems, and this percentage will increase as designers imagine new automotive functionalities to capture the imaginations of consumers worldwide.

Today, manufacturers are using simulation to design and optimize every aspect of a vehicle: new electric powertrains, reduce overall vehicle weight, create high-speed wireless communications systems, optimize the software that controls vehicles, and engineer new radar-based collision avoidance systems. There are a host of practical challenges when designing such advanced systems. For example, how can wireless systems reliably eliminate interference and crosstalk? How do onboard computers decide which information is critical enough to transmit to drivers? When human safety is at stake, products must perform reliably the first time, every time.

Driven to Innovate

While these multi-faceted pressures may be daunting, they create an extremely exciting opportunity for automotive engineers and designers. Auto makers have an amazing chance to reconceive and reinvent the most basic technologies that have driven the design of engines, powertrains, fuel systems, exhaust systems, and other components since the earliest days of the industry. In this clean-sheet design environment, no idea is too outlandish, and no component or system can escape scrutiny. Everything is open to reimagination and reinvention.

Though this represents an energizing and thrilling environment for designers, it presents practical challenges. How can engineers design, test, and verify new elements quickly enough to meet the U.S. 2025 fuel-efficiency mandate? How can they keep engineering and testing costs low, while still ensuring the high level of product integrity required to protect consumers in real-world situations?

The answer, of course, lies in engineering simulation. Few other industries face the same intimidating challenges — perhaps this is why the global automotive sector has been among the quickest to embrace the promise of engineering simulation. Since simulation technologies were introduced more than four decades ago, automakers have been at the forefront in understanding the value of these solutions and applying them to solve their most complex design challenges.

Get There Faster, with Greater Confidence

The challenges automotive engineers face are incredibly complex. The good news is that recent technology advancements help companies address even the most sophisticated challenges.

Robust design simulation features impart confidence that automotive designs will perform as expected in the most demanding real-world conditions. While it might be impossible to test the actual performance of a physical component, such as a powertrain or muffler, in every condition — from rough roads to highways, from cold climates to deserts — simulation opens up this possibility. Typically, automakers can afford to test physical prototypes under only a few limited conditions, but simulation can ensure product integrity across a broad spectrum of conditions, for a fraction of the time and cost involved in physical testing.

Today’s high-performance computing (HPC) environments enable rapid and seamless solutions of numerically large simulations, as complex problems are distributed across thousands of computer clusters. Simulation software that is specifically designed to be compatible with auto industry HPC environments are absolutely necessary for R&D teams to dramatically cut total time to solve, without sacrificing fidelity or scale. Engineers can test multiple scenarios quickly and efficiently by taking advantage of advanced capabilities like parametric analysis, distributed solve, and other features that harness the power of today’s HPC engineering environments.

For example, automotive engineers can leverage morphing, advanced computational fluid dynamics (CFD), solver numerics, HPC environments, and process automaters to simulate 50 shape variants of a vehicle, with high-fidelity CFD simulations that use a computational mesh of 50 million cells for simulating each design point, in a total elapsed time of 35 hours after initial case setup. Partnerships with processing leaders and engineering simulation vendors bring this kind of speed and power to auto engineers around the world.