Why Engineering Apps? Ask Altair, ANSYS, Autodesk, Dassault, Siemens and COMSOL
Shawn Wasserman posted on January 04, 2017 | 17030 views

Engineering Apps Are Key to Bringing Simulation Early in Development

Engineers need to stop hoping their designs will work during end-of-development digital and physical testing. Here’s a tip: simulate early, often and with more users to ensure that the process works. Leaving testing to the end of the development cycle could end your career!

Engineers need to stop hoping their designs will work during end-of-development digital and physical testing. Here’s a tip: simulate early, often and with more users to ensure that the process works. Leaving testing to the end of the development cycle could end your career!

The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. So Einsteins, why do so many engineering and design teams still do all their physical and digital testing at the end of a development cycle? Aren’t your fingers sore from being crossed all the time?

Using simulation throughout the development cycle is the answer. However, many computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools don’t make this process easy.

“Setting up a computer model and simulation for a specific task requires well-educated and highly trained experts: numerical analysts, physicists, application area experts and more,” said Svante Littmarck, CEO of COMSOL. “These experts need to be trained in using the simulation software at hand. This is a very small group of professionals. Much smaller than the group of people who could and should take advantage of simulation tools. Democratization will speed up product and process evolution.”

Simulations—they’re expensive. They’re computational hogs. They’re only usable by specialists. Who needs them!?

Well, you do.

And as for all those excuses, engineering applications (engineering apps) are making many of them melt away. Engineering apps includes tools like stand-alone simulation apps, simulation templates and job-specific CAE tools. They can make digital prototyping a ubiquitous part of the product design cycle. To see which simulation vendors offer engineering apps read this e-book,

“The role of simulation in the overall product development process is gaining more importance,” said Srinivasa Shankar, director of Global Simulation Product Marketing at Siemens PLM Software. “This is driven by trends such as increased product complexity and shorter development cycles. Simulation offers the opportunity to front-load development by exploring various design options earlier and then refining chosen designs faster.”

Development teams are learning that non-simulation experts can find flaws in designs earlier in the development cycle thanks to engineering apps. This way, errors and flaws can be fixed early, faster and cheaper, making your development team the new “Golden Heroes” of the office.

“Using simulation tools targeted for non-experts, engineers can test their designs earlier in the development process,” said Delphine Genouvrier, product director of SIMULIA R&D at Dassault Systèmes. “To achieve this, vendors must create simulation tools that are intuitive for the target audience, robust and accurate.”

Engineering Apps Make CAE Easy-Peasy

Siemens Product Template Studio lets analysts build apps that limit how inputs can be made so that you, sir or madam, don’t make any stupid mistakes. (Image courtesy of Siemens PLM.)

Siemens Product Template Studio lets analysts build apps that limit how inputs can be made so that you, sir or madam, don’t make any stupid mistakes. (Image courtesy of Siemens PLM.)

If you’ve ever been to a simulation conference—and I’ve personally lost count of the number of times I have—you will hear all the buzzword gurus call these engineering apps “democratization tools.”

Yea—I didn’t type that into a Google search bar, either. So, for our purposes, and a hoping chance that more engineers will see this document, engineering apps it is!

Besides, these democratization tools follow the essence of an app. They are easy to use, hard to break or misuse and small in scope.

The goal of these engineering apps is to “democratize” simulation technology for the common engineer, designer and just about anyone else in the organization.

“By democratizing simulation, more engineers can leverage simulation to make more informed decisions, resulting in a higher number of defects found earlier in the design process, more efficient use of physical testing, and faster and more effective communication between cross-functional teams,” said Todd McDevitt, ANSYS director of Product Marketing.

They essentially do this by simplifying the CAE experience or tailoring it to a specific job role or function. But non-experts in CAE tools will need to be trained in using these tools, right? Well, that’s the beauty of these apps; they make the workflow easy so that training is drastically reduced.

Additionally, vendors are offering analysts tools to build these apps so that they can both tailor their functions to their organizations and ensure that no one can input any values that would break anything.

See, just like an app. They’re simple. They’re inexpensive to use, usually. They’re computationally lighter, usually. And they’re only usable by everyone. Who needs them!? Well, everyone looking to make the ever-tightening development cycles for starters.

Calm Your Bits! Analysts Aren’t Going Anywhere

Don’t feed your CAE wizards to the Balrog just yet. Put them to work spreading their knowledge far and wide. Let them fly, you fools!

Don’t feed your CAE wizards to the Balrog just yet. Put them to work spreading their knowledge far and wide. Let them fly, you fools!

If more people will be using CAE software, and it is becoming easier to use, you might ask: “why do they even need an analyst anymore?”

This can be a scary question for many in the industry. But fear not, for the CAE wizards of old have a place in this up-and-coming status quo.

Simone Bonino, vice president of HyperWorks Marketing at Altair, argues that as the democratization of simulations grows, and as engineering apps for simulation become more popular, experts will have two main functions:

  • Training, consulting and evangelizing simulation to peers
  • Producing complex simulations to test designs before significant decisions and investments are made

“Early in a design process, simulation should be used for design inspiration, A-B comparisons, and what-if scenarios,” explained Bonino. “Consultation from experts can be helpful there, but a designer is clearly ahead of the game by using simulation with some reasonable degree of competence, albeit not perfectly, during early design phases. Later, when simulation is being used as a true ‘virtual test,’ experts should become involved and provide simulation process oversight prior to investments in tooling and other product launch critical milestones.”

But there is another magical role experts will be taking on, suggested Littmarck of COMSOL. He said that building these engineering apps will actually increase the demand for experts.

This is because vendors will not just be making these job-specific CAE tools; they will be giving engineers the ability to make the tools themselves through template and stand-alone simulation app builders.

McDevitt explained that “simulation experts and analysts are some of the leaders within a company’s engineering division. They define the standard procedures, workflows and methods to create, run and interpret simulations. The industry is shifting to a point where now these leaders are codifying these best practices into templates and applications so that non-experts can deploy them more easily.”

In other words, these experts will be the ones saving your butt. They will make sure you’re trained and have the tools available to rocket a development cycle forward.

However, industry experts are also recognizing that this shift in duties will benefit analysts in kind.

“Simulation experts will benefit from the up-front simulations performed by their engineering colleagues because they can use their models as a starting point for more advanced simulation,” said McDivitt.

Additionally, with most of the simple or repetitive simulations being done by designers up front in the development cycle, the analyst can instead focus on the complex simulations that will take some crafty spells to achieve convergence.

“Incorporating simulation into mainstream engineering shouldn’t result in a negative impact on the demand for simulation experts,” agreed Greg Fallon, vice president of Simulation at Autodesk. “Much of the current workload of CAE experts is misused, simple assessment that could be addressed by the broader engineering team, choke the queues of experts and dilute the impact that they impart on product development and manufacturing processes.”

CAE Errors Shall Not Pass!

Take the garbage in out of the equation. CAE experts can make those simulation apps idiot proof by limiting the inputs and value ranges. Simplified high-quality simulation is analyst approved! (Image courtesy of COMSOL.)

Take the garbage in out of the equation. CAE experts can make those simulation apps error proof by limiting the inputs and value ranges. Simplified high-quality simulation is analyst approved! (Image courtesy of COMSOL.)

So, engineering apps sound great and all, but isn’t it a little risky giving non-simulation experts the keys to the castle?

Well, the answer is no, because these hobbits don’t have the keys; they are on a tight leash in a vast playground.

“Analysts can develop best practices and templates so engineers are guided through their first steps of simulation usage. They will learn the typical input required for routine simulations and then gain confidence and expertise,” explained Genouvrier.

“Organizations can also reduce errors from non-simulation experts by deploying templates and custom applications unique for their industry and use of simulation,” said McDevitt. “The more specialized the custom application, the lower the risk of getting poor results because of incorrect inputs. The trade-off is the more specific the template, the more an engineering group has to invest in developing and maintaining it.”

The general school of thought is to limit the input and output (I/O) of the engineering app to leave no room for error. So, it’s idiot proofing.

“[Error proofing] is one of the most important aspects of application development,” expressed Littmarck. “The application developer creates a user interface that asks for input data necessary to solve the problem—not more, not less, and with set limits on input data to make sure input data are within the scope of the application—that is, ‘Safe I/O.’”

Now here is the rub. More targeted engineering and error-proofed apps mean more money in development. But that isn’t the only risk of significant error proofing of simulation software, templates and applications. Fallon suggests that a limited I/O can stifle a designer’s ability to think outside the box.

Fallon proposes that the simulation community should be focusing on making their simulation tools smarter instead of more restricted. The tools should be automated and tailored to an outcome instead of restricting inputs.

The tools can’t force the user to be dominated by established conventions because then we will never see anything new. “The system should not set the user up for failure by asking for potential garbage; it should collaborate with the user on a clearly defined outcome,” said Fallon.

Job-Specific Simulation Portfolios for Topology Optimization, Casting, Extrusion and More

You have one job Inspire! Simplify a workflow to reduce the weight of parts while maintaining structural safety limits! Topology optimization is your specialty? That works, thanks. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)

You have one job Inspire! Simplify a workflow to reduce the weight of parts while maintaining structural safety limits! Topology optimization is your specialty? That works, thanks. (Image courtesy of solidThinking.)

Perhaps Fallon is a fan of engineering apps that are job specific? These tools are all about the outcome and internal intelligence.

Take a topology optimization tool. Given a few easy inputs, it will create an optimized lightweight, unique looking design. These designs are then used by the engineer to light up their creativity, giving them the freedom to color outside the lines of last year’s design.

“By using simulation-driven design software appropriate to the job at hand, users are guided toward properly describing the problem and thus toward a more relevant answer,” said Bonino.

“It is important to have a combination of best-in-class tools, easy access, and choices based on the nuances of job-specific requirements and user preferences,” Bonino added.

One advantage that a vendor-built job-specific simulation tool offers is an attention to detail and maintenance of the product. Your analyst won’t be tied down to fixing the software. But the trade-off is that the software will be optimized to your industry as opposed to your organization.

Another benefit Bonino mentions is the selection of boundary conditions and loading values. “We believe vertical- and process-driven tools can be a very valuable resource for non-simulation experts,” explained Bonino. “Since they enable application of their deep domain-specific expertise to complex engineering problems and guide them through the process without requiring that they know the theoretical foundation running behind the scene.”

But topology optimization isn’t the only job-specific CAE tool out there. There are numerous examples that help engineers design everything from cast iron molds, to aerospace or automotive seating to metal stamping die faces.

“Purpose built has long been interpreted as simplified,” said Fallon. “If the desire is to leverage simulation capabilities as valued, practical and complementary to CAD, then new interactive design-centric solutions that enable objective-based thinking are needed to capture the attention of the engineer.”

However, job-specific CAE tools have a significant flaw. Licenses can add up quickly.

One way that companies with large job-specific CAE portfolios handle the licensing problem is by using token or floating license systems.

The idea is that the user has access to all the software provided by the vendor. The user just pays for several digital tokens that can be assigned to any of the software options the vendor supplies. However, these token-based solutions are vendor specific unless agreements between third parties have been made.

Simulation Template Regulates CAE Workflows

Keep it simple, stupid! Like in the above Siemens Product Template, have the app prompt the user for inputs and restrict what values can be used. (Image courtesy of Siemens PLM.)

Keep it simple, stupid! Like in the above Siemens Product Template, have the app prompt the user for inputs and restrict what values can be used. (Image courtesy of Siemens PLM.)

Templates offer simulation experts a way to create tools customized for their organizations. These tools guide novices and occasional users through a simulation workflow or best practice.

“The use of templates or wizards can greatly help ease the transition into performing simulations with confidence,” explained Shankar. “Since non-experts also tend to be more occasional users of simulation technology, there is also a need to simplify and guide the process that they follow so that mistakes are minimized.”

Genouvrier explains that an additional benefit is that these templates can also be a method to reuse assets and avoid wasting time by having multiple users reinvent the same wheel.

“Templates to democratize routine workflows can be standardized so they contain simulation expertise and corporate standards,” said Genouvrier. “And using templates or other ways of democratization does not require much training.”

When working with reused assets, the template is typically made using a parametric model. The expert designs the interface so that the end user can add new inputs for these parameters. These parameters can control almost anything in the host CAE software from meshing, connections, loads, constraints and much more.

However, a template can also be made from scratch to create a customized workflow or standard task. Shankar noted that creating these templates might also include some programming skills from the usual suspects in the CAE world such as C/C++, Visual Basic, C#, Java and Python. The programming can perform various tasks such as ensuring that the template is embedded into the host CAE platform and/or connects to third-party applications properly.

SIMULIA template guides users through the forest by helping them define load definitions for a door sag analysis. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

SIMULIA template guides users through the forest by helping them define load definitions for a door sag analysis. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Shankar notes that many new simulation users tend to get their first taste of the medium through a template within a user interface they are accustomed to. Once they become more confident with their abilities, they can then transfer this knowledge into learning a more complex simulation tool to perform more challenging tasks.

“[Templates] can establish a less daunting entry point that enables more users to leverage and benefit from simulation,” said Fallon. “It can also enable a customized design experience that is innately aware of the needs, preferences and nuances of a company.”

Simulation teams can take this a step further, suggested Fallon, by providing their companies with custom-made simulation platforms created via a series of templates. This can help to automate the application of simulation to the design process. This platform can then be made to focus on the problems the experts know are major issues for their organizations.

“Templates codify a very specific application and workflow, thereby improving efficiency and reducing risk of errors,” explained McDevitt. “With a template, which automatically sets up the model and selects the best settings for the specific application at hand, engineers get the best results faster.”

However, templates are not perfect. First, they operate within the host simulation platform. This means that the user will need to have some basic knowledge of the platform to operate the template. This requires some significant training. However, if the template is made properly, McDevitt explains that the training of the host simulation platform should be minimal.

“The training overhead for templates in a CAE UI is typically small,” he said. “First, the template itself minimizes the operations in the software to a few critical entries, which are presented in a language familiar to the engineer. The user will need to learn where to access the base software and launch the template.  A properly designed template should then lead the user through the remaining workflow and inputs.”

Another disadvantage to templates is that they can only realistically be used for an industry-specific workflow. As the templates rely on standardization, the scope of the tool must be made to help limit the scope of the template. A general-purpose workflow, however, would be much too open to streamline.

In other words, “templates are great for repetitive simulation tasks that you need to run over and over. The problem is that you need an expert to develop and maintain the template for you,” said Nicolas Tillet, product portfolio manager at SOLIDWORKS Simulation.

Analysts Create Stand-Alone CAE Applications for Custom Simulation Workflows

COMSOL Server runs stand-alone simulation apps over the cloud. These apps are packaged with the CAE platform under the hood so the builder creates the full user experience. Quite a responsibility. (Image courtesy of COMSOL.)

COMSOL Server runs stand-alone simulation apps over the cloud. These apps are packaged with the CAE platform under the hood so the builder creates the full user experience. Quite a responsibility. (Image courtesy of COMSOL.)

Similar to how they use templates, analysts can use stand-alone simulation apps to create toolsets that are tailored to a company’s needs. These tools, also like templates, could create a repeatable workflow to guide non-experts through the design cycle.

What sets stand-alone simulation apps apart from templates is how they are packaged. These engineering apps live outside of the simulation platform—or, perhaps more accurately, the platform remains under the hood of the app.

Typically, the end user will access the engineering app from a cloud server. When the stand-alone simulation app launches, the end user will never see the simulation platform that created it.

This allows for the end user to be a complete simulation novice and still be productive with the CAE tool.

“When developing apps,” Littmarck added, “you have complete freedom to customize every aspect of the underlying physics and produce a clean, intuitive user interface free of the clutter often encountered with [other] tools.”

Using a stand-alone simulation app builder, engineering analysts create their own job-specific CAE tools that are customized for their organizations. Additionally, the engineering app can be programmed to do almost anything the host CAE platform can.

“Job-specific simulation software can accomplish a single task, but modification and customization are typically not possible,” pointed out Littmarck. “With these limitations, you can easily run into a dead end where the software becomes inadequate.”

Much of the information in the application can also be password protected. This will help to ensure the intellectual property under the hood of the app when sharing it with third parties such as customers, contractors, suppliers and partners.

Due to the similarities between stand-alone simulation apps and templates, they share many of the same advantages and disadvantages. However, one place where they differ is integration back into the host CAE platform.

Since the stand-alone simulation app is separated somewhat from the platform, the analyst will need to program the tool to import or export information with the platform. As a result, if a new optimal design is discovered in the app, the analyst will need to have programmed the app to share that result. Otherwise, they will need to prepare a pen and paper to record the parameter inputs.

To learn more about engineering apps, download the e-book: Engineering Apps For Simulation.

To learn of other trends in simulation that can affect your organization, read: Current Overview of Simulation Technology or watch the webinar: Simulation Apps: Simulation for Everyone.

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