In our annual poll of executives at leading analysis and simulation software companies, we posed questions dealing with virtual prototyping, multiphysics, the roles of the designer and analyst, and how software vendors are helping their customers remain competitive. Here’s what they had to say about major changes in their market, and how new technology will benefit users.

Virtual Prototyping

While the term “virtual prototyping” has been used for a number of years, it is defined differently by various industries. For some, virtual prototyping can mean simply simulating a design on a computer instead of building a physical prototype. But for others, it is more complex, and the tools required to achieve a true virtual prototype are not always user friendly.

“Virtual prototyping is being able to do everything you do in the lab through simulation,” said Bruce Klimpke, Technical Director of Integrated Engineering Software. “Not only would it mean how to simulate the physical parameters such as electrical, thermal, and mechanical, but it would also include aesthetics and how people may react to the product.”

Svante Littmarck, President and CEO of COMSOL, Inc., agrees. With virtual prototyping, he said, “Instead of building a physical prototype, you simulate it using a computerized model representing all interesting aspects of the realworld prototype, such as physical behavior following the laws of science, interaction interfaces with other objects and media, and other relevant constraints. It streamlines the path between ideas for design modifications and their consequences, which contributes insight into the physical physics underlying performance, and in turn, drastically improves designs.”

This complete product performance analysis also helps designers and engineers get their products to market faster, often at a lower cost, by eliminating expensive prototyping and testing phases. “Virtual prototyping expresses what engineering analysis software can accomplish as a product development tool, which basically is testing a 3D CAD part in computer space,” said David Weinberg, President and CEO of NEi Software. “The word ‘virtual’ conveys the most powerful benefit of engineering simulation — no fabricating of parts, no test fixtures, no sensors, and no test runs required,” Weinberg added. “Product designers can catch flaws and problems early, intelligently optimize, explore innovative alternatives, improve quality, and deliver finished designs faster.”

“The CAE industry is evolving toward its ultimate concept — ‘black box’ analysis, where a product designer won’t need to know about FEA details such as analysis type and finite element mesh,” explained Michael Bussler, President and CEO of ALGOR, Inc. “Instead, the software will function as a black box virtual prototyping tool, requiring the user to simply describe the physical characteristics of the product’s environment. The black box tool will then automatically handle all of the analysis set-up and processing details behind the scenes and allow the user to see how the product performs.”

Virtual prototyping not only helps designers and engineers learn about a product’s performance in a controlled, but real-world, environment. It also can simulate entire systems or subsystems. “Since real-world behavior is affected by multiple physics concurrently, the only way to truly simulate that is with a comprehensive multiphysics system,” said Chris Reid, Vice President of Marketing for ANSYS, Inc. “Virtual prototyping can identify how and why a prototype test failed or succeeded in cases where physical testing was unable to explain the results.”

Multiphysics analysis capabilities play an important role in true virtual prototyping, and have been an important component in simulation for a number of years. “Over the past decade, multiphysics analysis capabilities have become more tightly integrated into a single process so that engineers can simulate an entire scenario that incorporates the whole product and the environment in which it will be used,” explained Bussler. “No longer do users analyze one instant in time as with linear static stress analysis. Instead, simulation includes large-scale motion and impact and stress analysis, while also considering other multiphysics effects.”

While virtual prototyping has its obvious benefits, it also requires more detailed data, extensive computing power, and of course, the right software. “Unless your software supports multiphysics modeling, you’re not going to be able to tackle problems in a realistic fashion,” according to Littmarck. “The more physical phenomena your software can take into account, the fewer physical prototypes you’ll need and the closer you’ll get to ‘true’ virtual prototyping.”

Reid agrees that the choice of software is critical. “The technology enables the engineer to go beyond physical constraints and perform simulated tests that otherwise would not be possible. It is critical to exploring and expanding operational boundaries in developing products and processes,” he added. “In this way, modeling and simulation can be used to drive new solutions, rather than to merely verify existing ones.”

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