“Over the past several years, managers looking to streamline workflows and engineers interested in quicker turnaround for results have moved from dedicated environments for simulation and analysis to their desktop,” said Jon Friedman, aerospace and defense industry manager at The MathWorks. “Engineers visualize and analyze data, develop algorithms, and share results, allowing the industry to adapt to changes in both the economy and market needs.”

Dave Weinberg, president and CEO of NEi Software, continues to see new users of finite element analysis software from a diverse group, including those involved in the earliest stages of product design. “We offer several ways to support engineers who are new to using simulation or analysis tools. Although engineers may have different requirements to ramp up on the solution, they generally seek training and some degree of mentoring.”

Bill Chown, product line director of the system modeling and analysis division at Mentor Graphics, agrees that multi-disciplinary engineering is increasing. “Where organizations traditionally had dedicated simulation departments, today’s designs can’t wait for such departments to turn simulation predictions. The need for concurrent-based simulation by staff engineers is critical.”

Added Svante Littmarck, president and CEO of COMSOL, “I don’t see design engineers replacing dedicated analysts in our market. If the current economy has changed anything, I’d say analysis is more popular than ever before.”

Pros and Cons of Virtual Prototyping

altAs both simulation software and the computers it runs on become more sophisticated, virtual prototyping also becomes more widespread. Explained Choudhury, “As engineering simulation progresses, we’re seeing the definition of virtual prototyping take on a new and expanded meaning. Where once it meant using engineering simulation to study the behavior of an individual component, it now means testing the entire system—notjustapieceofit—inthe environment in which it will operate to reach an optimal design.” Such an approach, he added, involves more than engineering software — the computer hardware must advance at the same pace.

Chown explained that a virtual prototyping infrastructure, in which models from different domains can be integrated at each stage of the design lifecycle, allows system integration issues to be identified and addressed earlier in the process. “During the verification phase of the design, simulation can again be employed to verify intended system operation. It is a common mistake to completely design a system and then attempt to use simulation to verify whether or not it will work correctly,” Chown said. “Simulation should be considered an integral part of the entire design phase and continue well into the manufacturing phase.”

altAn advantage to virtual prototyping is that by identifying repetitive simulation methods, organizations can realize substantial return on their simulation software investment. “Unlike machine tools, simulation methods never wear out. So once developed, the ROI continues to grow with time,” said Berry. “That’s the true value of virtual prototyping.”

Added Klimpke, “If you are designing lower-cost products, it may well be easier to just build and test. But you still lose a lot of design insight that only simulation can give you. You can’t see temperature distribution in a part until you simulate it.”

But the benefits of virtual prototyping are tempered by the need for real-world physical prototypes. “While the value of complete virtual prototyping is dependent on the situation, we, as an industry, are approaching a level of capability that will allow a consensus in favor of complete virtual prototyping,” according to Vaughn. “I do want to be cautious in the use of this terminology, because at the same time, I also believe that only in very few instances can physical testing be eliminated.”

alt“It depends on what you’re doing. Any product that’s either very expensive to manufacture or to operate, and is sensitive to small variations in design, is a great candidate for virtual prototyping,” according to Peery. “Another limitation is accuracy. There are cases where the physics are not well modeled by the equations solved in the simulation.”

“The benefits of virtual prototyping can reduce field product failure risk and test multiple scenarios that reduce the number of prototypes needed to validate designs,” stated Weinberg. However, he added, “Virtual prototyping cannot negate the need for a physical prototype that can reveal design flaws that were not observed in the virtual environment.”

Friedman agrees that organizations must carefully weigh risk and benefit when looking at complete virtual prototyping. “There is no single, hard rule that can be applied. Engineers must always ask themselves what testing can move up front to the virtual world, and where the dimensioning returns for the effort are.” At some point, Friedman cautioned, “a physical prototype is needed to perform final system-level testing, because no one wants to fly in a plane that hasn’t been tested as a physical prototype.”

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