Anyone who designs and manufactures cars for a living will tell you that the job isn’t getting any easier. Even before autonomous vehicles entered the mix, automakers were facing shorter design cycles, higher product variability, increasingly advanced electronics, and ever more stringent fuel standards. Self-driving cars only add to these challenges, especially given the smart roads and cities needed to support them.
Of course, product designers and analysts have some excellent software systems with which to tackle such challenges. Where would these engineering professionals be without product lifecycle management (PLM)? Or 3D modeling and advanced simulation capabilities, finite element analyses (FEA), and all the other tools available to automakers and other industries? There’s no arguing that the manufacturing community overall has a better toolkit at its disposal than ever before, so where’s the problem?
Problematic Product Design
There are several problems. Consider traditional product design software systems. Built around what is now considered a rigid, file-based database structure, these systems present numerous obstacles to departments wishing to collaborate on design projects, especially when multiple facilities and long distances are involved. There’s often the need to convert disparate file formats before they can be used in other systems, making data management cumbersome at best. Worse, project teams might end up working around the system, then trying to shoehorn their results into legacy software not designed for today’s fast-moving business landscape. The result? Costly mistakes, lost time, and missed opportunities.
And yet, the challenges go deeper even than that. In most automotive environments, the modeling and simulation functions are historically performed independently of one another. The individuals responsible for these activities typically use different software tools, some of which are highly specialized and are disconnected. Designers develop a 3D model of the part or assembly in whatever CAD software the company has purchased, then hands off their work to a simulation expert, who uses another software package to analyze the design. The process is repeated with each iteration or project phase and continues throughout the development cycle.
This last part raises some of the same interoperability concerns just mentioned and illustrates another unfortunate point: it tends to leave the designer in the dark, wondering if the simulation showed that the design was sound and provided the required results. Again, this siloed approach is wasteful. Improvement opportunities are lost and departments hamstrung by software systems that lack both integration and interoperability.
The alternative is a development platform that provides integrated multidisciplinary capabilities, allowing teams to efficiently and seamlessly collaborate on complex engineering problems. As many auto companies have learned, the alternative is to have a platform that combines modeling and simulation into one seamless solution. One such solution — MODSIM — brings CAD MODeling and SIMulation applications together into a single integrated platform where they work seamlessly together, as you might guess from the name.
With solutions such as MODSIM, both simulation and design take place within a common environment and share a single data model, eliminating the time-consuming file sharing and data conversion so prevalent throughout the automotive design community. Missing or incomplete information becomes a thing of the past, as do problems with version control. Better yet, users from different departments, facilities, and countries can easily collaborate on projects in real time, providing numerous opportunities for design improvements while greatly compressing development cycles.
For example, team members at one auto company complained that their siloed modeling and simulation approach had fallen short. After implementing MODSIM, they “observed firsthand how the integration of modeling and simulation on the platform opened a new approach to developing an effective solution.”
Another company noted that with the siloed approach, its teams worked as if walled off from one another and their idea of collaboration was handing data files back and forth. “The current method we’re using to perform modeling and simulation is extremely inefficient,” said one of the company’s design engineers. “Team members sometimes must travel to other locations just to get on the same page.”
A structural analysis engineer from the same firm agreed that not having an integrated modeling and simulation tool forced her and others to develop time-consuming workarounds. She estimated that design and validation time could be cut in half on many components while also improving product quality and, just as importantly, promoting innovation.
“An integrated modeling and simulation tool would quickly identify whether we’re on track to deliver a product that the customer expects,” she said. “If design changes are needed, they can be made at that moment — not hours, days, or weeks later.”
Here again, a singular platform provided results that were, in hindsight, entirely predictable. “MODSIM offers the means to improve collaboration and increase efficiency in the early stages of product development,” she added. “This represents the future of engineering.”
Breaking the Paradigm
Solutions like MODSIM are not just additional software systems — they enable a complete transformation of the design, analysis, and engineering process. Because end-to-end collaboration is now possible, each department can “experience the design” as a team. Concepts are fleshed out more quickly, “policing” of changes comes to an end, and seemingly endless series of design revisions fall to far more manageable levels, or in some cases, zero.
And while MODSIM is suitable for a broad range of industries, automotive users can expect their own unique set of benefits. For example, some CAD applications offer a native ability to generate parametric geometries and lightweight, optimized designs. They also may support the development of parts made from composite materials, giving designers the ability to rapidly iterate various structures for car and truck applications. Similarly, industry-standard FEA technology can offer best-in-class capability for realistic simulation of parts and assemblies performance for common automotive workflows.
Powertrain engineers will now be able to design, simulate, and optimize components within a single platform, evaluating stress, strength, sealing, durability, and thermal performance — including vibration — far earlier in the design cycle and eliminating potential problems to minimize and often eliminate physical testing. And tire engineers can employ a range of simulation tools to reduce development costs and improve road performance, again using an integrated environment that greatly streamlines automobile tire design, development, and performance optimization.
Byron Pipes, executive director of the Indiana Manufacturing Institute at Purdue University, described MODSIM as “transformational.” He also said it will become pervasive throughout the industry. Time will tell on both counts but from my side, I see significant opportunities for automobile manufacturers to move toward an integrated approach that harnesses their engineering teams’ very best skills and ideas while simultaneously cutting development costs, improving product quality, and reducing risk.
This article was written by Dale Berry, SIMULIA Technical Marketing Director, Dassault Systèmes, Johnston, RI. For more information, visit here .