Engineering Design Platforms and Simulation in-CAD Benefit Product Development Teams
Shawn Wasserman posted on March 17, 2017 |
Bringing CAD and CAE into one tool can simplify the design workflow.

Simulation Only at Validation; There's Got to Be Another Way

Bringing simulation early into the design cycle reduces costs, helps find mistakes early and allows for more exploration of the design space. This produces far better products. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

Bringing simulation early into the design cycle reduces costs, helps find mistakes early and allows for more exploration of the design space. This produces far better products. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

Computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools have the power to take the gut feel and rules of thumb out of the engineering world. The old guard shouting, “This is the way we always did it,” won’t cut it in today’s market.

Customers want cheaper, lighter, faster and stronger products that work the first time. Oh, and while you’re at it, those products must look cool, too.

To meet these demands, engineers must bring simulation early into the development cycle to drive innovation.

To that end, tools like simulation in-CAD (computer-aided design) and engineering design platforms make it easier for designers and design engineers to quickly check their work and make informed decisions about how their innovative ideas will affect product performance.

Traditionally, design changes were assessed in early development with back-of-the-napkin calculations, charts, rules of thumb, empirical data (if it was available), hope and a prayer. Most of the hardline simulations were left until the end of the development process, putting the cart before the horse. And if that costly physical test fails it could be goodbye Charlie for some fellow engineers-in-arms.

“Physical testing costs at least five to six times the cost of product development resources on vehicle projects,” explained Dominic Gallello, president of MSC Software. “The only way to meaningfully reduce the cost of physical testing is with simulation.”

“With up to 80 percent of the cost of a product’s development determined by the decisions made early in the design process, it is critical to properly allocate downstream resources,” explained John Graham, senior product marketing manager at ANSYS. “This is best done by making design decisions that consider relevant engineering input from many sources, with simulation being one of the most important. Up-front simulation is digitally exploring design concepts and testing critical design choices early in the product lifecycle using simulation. The most common characteristic of all simulations is the use of a 3D model as a starting point, so it makes sense to closely align CAD and simulation tools together.”

Greg Fallon, vice president of Simulation at Autodesk, agrees. He said that companies can create products with more value and focus on differentiation when they can benefit the value, insights and results of simulation throughout the development cycle. The challenge is ensuring that simulation isn’t too complex or siloed to one department.

Clearly, there is something to the concept of bringing CAE tools early into the development cycle with simulation in-CAD or with a broader-based design platform.

Simulation in-CAD Breaks Rule of Thumb Engineering, but How Can It Be Implemented?

Autodesk Nastran in-CAD brings the high-end simulation tools CAD programs like Inventor and SOLIDWORKS. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Autodesk Nastran in-CAD brings the high-end simulation tools CAD programs like Inventor and SOLIDWORKS. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Rule of thumb design is just another way to describe uninspired. On the other end of the spectrum, intuition-based design might look great on paper, but in reality, it could hinder performance considerably.

“Better performing designs are achieved in less time and at lower cost when a product is informed by physics and engineering versus preconceived organizational tenets of how a product should evolve,” said Simone Bonino, vice president of Marketing HyperWorks at Altair.

It’s clear that in the early design phase, those who use physics to guide their designs will truly win out in the end.

As with simulation in-CAD, “the main advantage is that the simulation is being done at the source. It is available when and where a design decision is being made,” explained Jose Coronado, product manager for Creo Simulate products at PTC. “CAE and CAD are all from one application; this makes it easy to go back and forth through the design process and perform analysis. Users also don’t have to export the model and open it in another application, which could result in data loss.”

But how do you get simulation into the hands of product designers who don’t know an finite element analysis model from a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) turbulence model? “Up to now, there are simply not enough experts available to fully take advantage of the power of simulation,” said Gallello.

One solution is simulation apps that experts create to pass on their knowledge to others in their organization. The other is tools that make it easier for a product designer to pick up simulation such as through simulation in-CAD and engineering design platforms.

“The real objective of [CAE companies] is to integrate simulation into the mainstream engineering discipline,” said Fallon. “In the majority of [design] companies, simulation is still relegated to a narrow and somewhat isolated community. Simulation is still commonly applied as a validation tool, employed at a discrete stage of a product development process.”

Unfortunately, a lack of experts isn’t the only thing holding simulation back. There is also the excessive cost of entry. Forget the software license—though your checkbook won’t, I’m afraid. You will also need to train those engineers to become experts and ensure that your organization has the computational power to handle the simulations. Nicolas Tillet, product portfolio manager for SOLIDWORKS Simulation, notes that all these barriers make it near impossible for small to medium businesses to gain access to simulation.

The answer is to embed or package simulation into their CAD. It solves much of the training problem as designers will be used to a CAD environment. It will offer users a familiar environment in which to play. The training to learn the software will be minimal—perhaps a few new menus, icons and tools. This will help make the transition easier. Instead, the training should focus on the physics to make sure the designers don’t do anything too crazy with the new physics powers they have discovered.

It solves the cost problem as well since an add-on to your CAD tool is typically cheaper than a full simulation environment. And it will focus on simple simulations a designer can handle, leaving the heavy lifting and computational crunching to the analyst. The goal after all is to narrow down the design space, not verify if a product works.

“The user experience is seamless in terms of moving between design tasks and performing simulations. This provides a much more comfortable user experience for the novice or occasional user to start their journey in the simulation world,” said Srinivasa Shankar, director, Global Simulation Product Marketing, Siemens PLM Software.

This is the world of simulation in-CAD and engineering design platforms. In both tools, engineers are able to seamlessly move from design to simulation. Think of it like looking at the same data but through a different lens. The difference is that simulation in-CAD tools are used strictly when the simulation tool is embedded into the CAD platform, while in the design engineering platform, CAD, CAE and often other design tools are all embedded into one overarching framework.

“What is important is that from a user perspective, if they have a design they can take it into simulation, idealize it, mesh it, add loads and boundary conditions and then solve and display results in one tool,” said Paul Brown, senior marketing director, NX, Siemens PLM Software. “They can then make design changes and have those design changes ripple through and update the mesh, and then resolve to try new alternatives. No translation, no use of different tools, no different UI to learn.”

“No data translation is required, which eliminates the possibility of data loss or unintended model alteration due to translation errors,” added Al Robertson, Product Marketing manager, Femap, Siemens PLM Software. Engineers will also benefit from “faster workflows as the modeling data can be used in its native form. No possibility of diverging models (CAD vs. FEA). This setup is preferable for cases that don’t require advanced or specialized analysis or operations.”

Another added benefit of using design platforms is that the results are available in the same design platform that the simulation analyst can use. This allows for fast interpretation by the analyst. As a result, the engineer can then immediately use what they have learned in the simulation to improve their design.

So how does the licensing work with simulation in-CAD and larger platforms that include both CAD and CAE tools? For simulation in-CAD, it’s simple. Some will automatically embed some CAE tools into the CAD software for free and then charge users who wish to upgrade for more advanced add-ins.

For design platforms, it often gets a little trickier and costly. Many opt for a floating license or token-based license where the engineers can move the tokens from one tool to the next without hassle. Others will offer license packages that give engineering teams access to certain platform tools they will need without burdening them with those they don’t want. Finally, some will just have a common license for the tools or a combination of any of the above.

In the end, it’s best to talk to the vendors about which licensing options they provide.

Will Designers Use Simulation in-CAD or a Design Platform?

One file opened in the 3DEXPERIENCE’s SIMULIA, CATIA Assembly Design, CATIA Natural Shape and ENOVIA product lifecycle management. Each tool looks and feels similar. Their democratized UI makes them easier to pick up than traditional CAE tools. (Image taken at SIMULIA Community Conference 2014.)

One file opened in the 3DEXPERIENCE’s SIMULIA, CATIA Assembly Design, CATIA Natural Shape and ENOVIA product lifecycle management. Each tool looks and feels similar. Their democratized UI makes them easier to pick up than traditional CAE tools. (Image taken at SIMULIA Community Conference 2014.)

Unfortunately, adding simulation into CAD software and calling it a day isn’t really going to cut it.

The CAE that is embedded and accessible in design platforms and simulation in-CAD tools must be digestible enough for designers to use without the need for simulation experts.

Otherwise, the value of adding simulation into the tool will be lost.

Vendors placing simulation in-CAD need to put much of the heavy lifting under the hood so that design engineers can learn how to use these tools with minimal training. Sure, the engineer needs to have a grasp of the underground physics, but they should have that from their experience and education. They just need to avoid the fantastically outdated design tree menu that is longer than my arm.

“As simulation becomes transparent within the design system, engineers will harness its value on the basis of their design objective instead of being fluent in simulation vernacular and seemingly arbitrary archetypes,” explained Fallon.

Vendors need to streamline the more complex aspects of the simulation process for simulation in-CAD and design platforms to really hit it off.

For design platforms, this problem is multiplied as various tools from computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) to product lifecycle management (PLM) might be accessible to numerous users. To combat this, design platform vendors have started to unify and simplify the look and feel of their user interfaces (UIs). The idea is that sharing a democratized UI will get users working faster despite which tool in the design platform they find themselves working with.

“By delivering an intentional, persona-specific solution for engineers right within the intensity of their design process, emphasis can be placed on the value that the solutions contribute to the engineer versus the obstacles of learning new tools and foreign workflows,” said Fallon.

So, what do vendors need to add to these tools and what should engineering managers look for when shopping around for them? Well, automatic meshing and guided workflows are a great starting point. The hardest part of a simulation is the meshing and initial setup. By doing all of this under the hood, designers should be able to provide answers that are good enough to tell if a design is going in the right direction. They can then leave it to the analyst to go the extra mile.

The next thing to take into consideration is customizable workflows. This could include a wizard or template or simulation apps that helps the user and avoids the garbage in, garbage out fiasco. Those who typically make these customized tools are the simulation experts within a company, so the tools are specific to their organizations. However, vendors can supply some of these tools for more generic simulations.

The Role of Simulation Experts and Analysts in a Simulation in-CAD Industry

Sure, a design engineer can set up this simulation easy enough in SOLIDWORKS but analysts will teach them to do it right. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Sure, a design engineer can set up this simulation easy enough in SOLIDWORKS but analysts will teach them to do it right. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

So, if any simulation experts or analysts are reading this, they might start wondering if it’s time to open up’s job site. But not to worry. Your jobs are safe—for now.

“Why do people still hire professional photographers at weddings when everyone can take photos with their smartphones?” joked Tillet. “You will always need the simulation expert for the very complex multiphysics and multiscale simulation…. It takes time to become a simulation expert, and the democratization will actually allow the simulation experts to spend more time on what is important to them, such as research and development of new methods.”

Besides, as simulations and products become more advanced, these specialists will only see more demand. Sure, simulation in-CAD and other democratization tools like simulation apps will make some simulation jobs easier, but there will be a limit. You can’t simplify complex multiphysics.

“Simulation itself continues to become more complex as it is applied to tougher problems, combining different types of physics, new materials and more. Simulation experts are needed to lead the way in using simulation to solve new challenges. And, they play a role in guiding their colleagues who may not be experts but need to leverage simulation in their daily work,” said Shankar.

In theory, simulation in-CAD will help to offload a lot of work from CAE analysts. Traditionally, they would be tasked with performing every simulation a company needs. However, by democratizing simulation and offering it within a CAD interface, a lot of the simpler simulations can be performed by others, while the more complex simulations can be the analysts’ new focus.

“This field is being more and more specialized as time passes. The use of in-CAD FEA tools will improve the input to those simulation experts,” explained Coronado. “More importantly, it would reduce the load on these experts.  Now, designers and engineers can perform a series of analyses themselves, look at possible alternatives and only pass those items along to the experts for final verification.”

Fallon agrees, going so far as to say that simulation in-CAD and democratization won’t kill analyst jobs, but will instead free them. Analysts will become the leaders in their organizations and will help their teams use the technology more effectively while they devote their time to the heavy lifting and the wizardry of simulated physics.

But there is another aspect where analysts will become leaders in their organizations—ensuring the proper use, best practices and training of simulation.

“CAE experts play a crucial role in a company’s simulation governance,” Graham explained. “That is, simulation experts define the guiding principles and standard operational procedures for how the engineering organization performs simulation and interprets the results. Often, they are referred to as the Methods Group. They may document best practices, but increasingly they codify them in custom applications and templates and deploy them to nonexperts. Simulation experts also lead centers of expertise on simulation and define the metrics and goals for simulation processes, and put in place strategies for continuous improvement.”

So how would a designer know when they should use simulation in-CAD or pass it on to an expert instead? Well, an expert is mostly necessary when the part is too complex or requires abstractions.

“CAE embedded into CAD will be okay for linear structural analysis of single bulky solid part,” said Hugues Jeancolas, product manager at MSC Software. “More complicated models, particularly ones with many small features, or ones requiring 2D shell or 1D beam abstractions and assemblies requiring abstract connection representations, are examples where CAD geometry representation is no longer suitable for simulation.”

“CAD systems’ primary purpose is for parts definition and to serve manufacturing with detailed geometry description,” added Jeancolas. “This imposes several constraints on the application, particularly on the product structures and parts representations that limit the integration of simulation methods.”

What Sets Simulation in-CAD and Design Platforms Apart?

A simplified UI in ANSYS AIM makes it easier for engineers to perform a CFD analysis. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

A simplified UI in ANSYS AIM makes it easier for engineers to perform a CFD analysis. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

Todd McDevitt, ANSYS director of Product Marketing, explains that many organizations are creating multipurpose CAE tools in the name of democratization. These tools, like ANSYS AIM, MSC Apex, Siemens NX, Fusion 360 and 3DEXPEREIENCE, all have simplified UIs that are focused on cooperation.

Many also focus on multiphysics or combining multiple tools, typically CAD, CAD, CAM and other engineering goodies. Using simplification and democratization tricks, these vendors hope to bring disparate teams together.

Delphine Genouvrier, SIMULIA R&D roles director, also argues that democratization can bring true collaboration to a company and break down silos.

Genouvrier said, “No need to switch from one platform to another one; a single intuitive environment provides CAD and simulation to users. The CAD and simulation applications are using the same design data for an efficient engineering workflow and making sure all users use the right data, with a single source of truth.”

This collaboration can be further enhanced if the team uses a common design platform for their tools that allows for easy sharing of results, ideas and brainstorming sessions. By accessing the same data from the same platform, engineers can also improve the traceability of the design process.

The design team can also then use all the tools available in the design platform to access that one file, creating a streamlined workflow. This single design platform and streamlined workflow also makes it easy to go back through the design cycle and create what-if scenarios.

“This turns into fantastic collaboration opportunities for a new product development process,” said Genouvrier.In the past, analysts have often worked in parallel with the design process. Thus, collaboration among designers, engineers and analysts was limited. Democratization of simulation opens the door to a new way of working as all product development stakeholders can work together with the same goal: producing the best product.”

In contrast, simulation in-CAD involves embedded simulation tools within a primarily CAD environment. The simplified workflow is based on an add-in in contrast to an unified platform.

Simulation in-CAD is an entry drug for engineers to learn simulation more than anything else. They can give the designer an idea of which path to use for the design. They don’t have a grand unifying company portfolio dream. They also tend to be a little less pricy, making them better suited for small to medium businesses.

Although design platforms do have that simplified UI that will help to reduce the amount of training, the various tools available more than makes up for it. Thus, although these unified tools do have some democratization qualities, they are still not the best tools for teaching simulation or bringing its functionality to the masses. They are more the tools that provide the masses with a means to share in the results that others have created. Design platforms bring the masses together.

Garbage in, Garbage Out. When Simulation in-CAD Goes Wrong!

If you can’t understand what you see in this MSC Apex screenshot or the physics behind what you want to simulate, then you have no business using the software. Even the most streamlined UI can be dangerous in the wrong engineer’s hands. (Image courtesy of MSC Software.)

If you can’t understand what you see in this MSC Apex screenshot or the physics behind what you want to simulate, then you have no business using the software. Even the most streamlined UI can be dangerous in the wrong engineer’s hands. (Image courtesy of MSC Software.)

Since simulation in-CAD offers such a large CAE sandbox for engineers to play in, some will note that it is particularly at risk to garbage in, garbage out.

However, since the simulation will be used early in the development cycle, Fallon suggests that the real risk will be minimal. He explained that simulation in-CAD should be used as a guiding principle to explore the design space, not as a tool to holistically assess the design. This will help to diminish the risk of simulations being used by nonexperts.

Genouvrier notes that the key to reducing garbage in, garbage out is CAD integration, intuitiveness of the UI and workflows, and, finally, training. That training should start at the educational level and the times are reflecting this need as more and more curriculums and student design teams continue to adopt simulation technology.

“This is the fallacy that has been going on since the late 90s. A CAD designer with no knowledge of engineering simulation will never be an effective user of simulation,” joked Gallello. “Simulation in-CAD will be okay for doing analysis if the CAD designer has the prerequisites.”

To that end, Gallello suggested that simulation analysts and engineers guide the CAD designers to use basic simulation tools to determine certain behaviors of their designs that will help shape the product during the conceptual phase.

Shankar, however, opted for simplified simulation workflows that help to guide the user through the process. In theory, if the program is smart enough to know what needs to be done, then it can guide the user without input from the analyst.

However, simplifying the workflow for a simulation in-CAD function is easier said than done. Short of offering the same UI as the CAD program, there aren’t many ways to stop a user from putting garbage inputs into the model.

The aim of the industry, according to Fallon, should be to keep the openness of a simulation in-CAD platform but to make the system smarter. This reliance on the software solving all problems again sounds good on paper but leaves too many openings for mistakes.

When you boil it down, engineers need to know what they are doing, and if they are unable to understand the physics of their problem, then they have no business working on it in the first place. To that end, the answer to reducing errors is a little bit of everything: training, programming and workflows.

“Engineering knowledge is more important than simulation expertise when it comes to determining if a design is good,” said Graham. “Designers are more likely to see a good design path than an expert only focused on simulation. Simulation enables good engineering and good design, not the other way around.”

“The creation of these in-CAD FEA applications does not eliminate the need for certifications,” said Coronado. “Over time, these applications are becoming more robust and intelligent to prevent obvious user mistakes, and this trend will continue.”

At the end of the day, it’s not just about an easy UI, noted Tillet. Engineers have the best experience using simulation software accurately when they know they have training and support available to them. Tutorials, YouTube videos, being able to reach people on the phone—these all help avoid simulation errors.

To that end, before you choose your simulation software, you might want to see how large the support community is online.

To learn what simulation in-CAD is right for you, read CAE Feature Comparison Charts for Simulation in-CAD.

To learn what design platform is right for you, read CAE Comparison Charts for Engineering Design Platforms.

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