Changing Roles in a Challenging Environment
In our annual poll of executives at leading analysis and simulation software companies, we posed questions dealing with virtual prototyping, the changing role of the analyst, and how the economic environment is affecting software users and vendors. Here’s what they had to say about market trends for 2010, and maintaining competitive advantages in a challenging business market.
The role of the analyst continues to change and evolve, particularly as today’s economy dictates doing more with less. Engineers and designers must possess a new skill set that often includes more in-depth analysis and simulation. “It’s no longer possible for engineers to completely specialize in one small part of the process,” said Jon Friedman, aerospace industry marketing manager for The MathWorks. “As a result, engineers who used to be able to focus on just analyzing the performance of a design are now also part of the design team.”
“It’s true that our economic situation is demanding more out of the classic engineer,” said David Weinberg, president and CEO of NEi Software. “Currently, the designer who once in a while may use simulation products is being asked to take on more analysis work.”
A problem with designers and engineers having to perform more analysis and simulation tasks is the software itself, and how easy it is to learn and use. “The current economic climate is a period of adjustment for both design engineers and analysts,” said Svante Littmarck, president and CEO of COMSOL. “Everyone wants to get the most out of the available CAD and analysis software tools, not only to optimize designs, but also to encourage innovation. From an end-user’s perspective, it’s important that moving within a CAD and analysis toolset is unobstructed.”
“Increasing the intuitiveness of the software and automating tasks wherever possible is key to getting novices using simulation tools,” according to Bruce Klimpke, technical director of Integrated En - gineering Software (IES). “Trying to do design without proper simulation tools is the wrong starting point. In an economy where doing more with less is expected, the importance of simulation has increased.”
While designers may be required to perform more in-depth analysis and simulation tasks, organizations can make it easier by using the software tools to their greatest advantage. According to Dipankar Choudhury, vice president of corporate product strategy and planning at ANSYS, “There will always be a need for experts who understand deep, comprehensive physics concepts. At the same time, not every user will require the same level of technology, because he or she may not have the need to model complex physics. A good use of both these sectors is to have experienced staff develop templates for repeatable tasks, assigning the non-experts to do the follow-up work.”
Teresa Anania, director of mechanical simulation at Autodesk, believes that the role of the analyst continues to evolve and change, but for different reasons. “This is simply a natural progression caused by advancements in today’s computer- aided engineering software — not a significant side effect of today’s economic climate,” she explained. “This progression continues because analysis and simulation software has become more user friendly, particularly for CAD users. In an increasing number of applications, design engineers are able to perform analysis and simulation tasks. In fact, anyone who uses CAD software can learn how to use today’s CAE software.”
The Evolution of Virtual Protoyping
Virtual prototyping — enabling a designer or engineer to simulate how a product will work entirely on a computer, without physical models — continues to be a major focus in analysis and simulation. But is true virtual prototyping possible with today’s simulation tools? Littmarck said yes, but it is a matter of degree. “Every year, our industry is making progress to make more of the prototyping cycle ‘virtual.’ The growing multiphysics capability of today’s simulation tools allows engineering teams to take the guesswork out of design decisions by enabling them to consider all the physical effects impacting their product.” He added that, “When multiphysics is done right, it becomes an easy task to alter your design for better performance.”
Klimpke agrees that it is a matter of the level of simulation. “Virtual prototyping is certainly possible if the level of simulation is simple enough. With the continued improvement in software algorithms and the advent of more parallel computing, virtual prototyping continues to become more of a reality,” he said.
Anania sees simulation software headed in the direction of virtual prototyping. “In the future, a product designer won’t need to know about details such as analysis type and finite element mesh. Instead, the software will function as a ‘black box’ digital prototyping tool, requiring the user to simply describe the physical characteristics of the product’s environment.” The black box, she added, will automatically handle the simulation setup and processing details, allowing the user to see how the product performs.
As the gap between CAD and CAE software tools continues to narrow, CAD users will be able to do the more complex simulations required for virtual prototyping. “With a lightweight architecture, engineers can now compare multiple CFD [computational fluid dynamics] design studies quickly and easily in a way that was never possible before, helping engineers to optimize designs earlier in the development process before spending money on costly physical prototypes,” said Ed Williams, president of Blue Ridge Numerics. But, if virtual prototyping is only applied at the end of the process, it is not gamechanging. “If the virtual prototype takes a long time to set up or a long time to change, it does not have that much additional value over the physical prototype,” Williams added.
“As engineering simulation progresses, we’re seeing the definition of virtual prototyping take on a new and expanded meaning,” explained Choudhury. “Where once it meant using engineering simulation to study the behavior of an individual component, a real-world definition now means testing the entire system, not just a piece of it, in the environment in which it will operate to reach an optimal design.” He added that such an approach involves more than engineering software. Computer hardware must advance as well. “Simulation models are getting larger and more complex — using more computer memory and requiring more computational time — as engineers include greater geometric detail and more realistic treatment of physical phenomena.” Choudhury said that these more complex models are critical for simulation to reduce the need for physical testing, and to make it occur within a reasonable timeframe.
Stephen Endersby, product manager of simulation products for SolidWorks Corp., agrees that computational restrictions are a major roadblock to true virtual prototyping. “With today’s tools, the limit of virtual prototyping is more likely to be the computational resources or time available for a simulation.”
The amount of time needed to perform complex simulations for virtual analysis is an important consideration, added Weinberg. “With today’s analysis tools, you have the ability to simulate events as they would occur in nature. However, when performing an analysis, one must consider that for every added detail, the analysis time is increased. If your goal is to model things exactly as they occur in nature, you may find it faster to design a part, prototype it, and take it out to the lab and test it.” He explained that the goal of analysis software is to provide the best answer in the shortest amount of time, and it is the analyst’s responsibility to make the correct assumptions to create the most realistic virtual model.
Friedman disagrees that true virtual prototyping is possible today. “If by ‘true’ you mean that a virtual prototype can replace all physical prototypes, then the answer is probably no. And, most likely, the answer will always be no because some level of physical prototypes will probably be required for final sign-off.” The goal, Friedman said, is to be able to minimize the number of physical prototypes and target the testing on those prototypes to system-level tests for the best return on investment needed to build the prototype.
2010: Trends and Changes
The near-term economic future will affect how both manufacturers and engineers do their jobs, and how they manage costs. Many will turn to simulation and analysis tools to provide an optimal return on investment (ROI). Said Endersby, “Companies will demand tools that will enable innovation from software vendors in an effort to optimize their design processes and products.”
But ultimately, the true ROI of simulation and analysis tools is how productive engineers and designers can be using particular software. According to Williams, “The value proposition for simulation is all about ‘what if.’ Whenever you show someone how their design behaves from a flow and thermal standpoint, their first response is always, ‘What if we change….’ This is where there is a large ROI from using these tools.”
Users also will be moving beyond analyzing one instant in time as with linear static stress analysis, according to Anania. Instead, simulation will routinely include large-scale motion, impact, and stress analysis, while also considering other multiphysics effects.
Dale Berry, director of technical marketing for Dassault Systèmes SIMULIA, agrees. “We are seeing a trend by automotive and aerospace companies, who have been traditionally larger users of a variety of simulation technologies, consolidating their simulation tools rather than using separate tools for linear, nonlinear, and crash analysis. We are expecting to see them implement a more unified simulation approach to reduce costs in software.”
Software features and capabilities, including multiphysics capabilities, will be the product shift next year. “There is a move away from the cumbersome, highly specialized software to the nimble, off-the-shelf simulation tool that allows for customization,” predicted Littmarck. “Today’s generation of engineer is used to having the flexibility of creating their own ‘apps’ so application program interfaces are key to the success of any simulation platform go - ing forward.”
Along with innovations in software, the increase in computing power plays an equally important role. “There will be a growing interest in performing realistic simulation on multiple processors,” said Berry. “We are seeing software improvements drive performance improvements alone, but it’s the high-performance computing that allows ever more functionality to be realized.”
Choudhury sees opportunity through innovation in 2010. “Economic downturns can have positive effects. They can force companies to look for new ways to increase efficiency, cut waste, and do things in different ways. Innovation can be the single most important condition for transforming a crisis into an opportunity,” he explained. “The customers who are pushing our software to the limits are the ones who will be best positioned once the economy recovers. They know that the best way to successfully emerge from a recession is with tomorrow’s innovations, not by standing still with today’s products.”