What if?

Design engineers are frustrated by traditional analysis products claims Gary Carter of ANSYS. They don’t need to learn the entire analysis function. Their main focus is: will my design perform as I intended?

A new class of enterprise-wide engineering analysis software allows design engineers to perform finite element analysis (FEA) more routinely throughout product development and also streamlines the process by which dedicated analysts handle advanced studies. Analysis can now be seamlessly integrated into a design process, rather than used as a point solution for isolated problems.

Engineers developing parts on a CAD system can now check the design at any time to observe product behaviour and perform ‘what-if?’ simulations. Moreover, Web-enabled reporting functions allow engineers to quickly transfer project information throughout the organisation. Links to dedicated analysts facilitate more efficient, high-end analysis when needed.

With these capabilities, enterprise-wide engineering tools enable product development teams to work together efficiently. Engineers, analysts, and product development managers can collaborate on product designs, reducing design cycle time, improving product performance, and documenting the entire process from concept to final design. In the conceptual stages, an engineer develops ideas and runs a ‘first-pass’ analysis to evaluate alternative ideas and determine part size and shape. This is relatively easy, and changes are readily made because of the associative link between CAD and analysis.

In the more detailed stages of design an engineer can firm up dimensions and further refine the configuration, validating decisions with more detailed analyses. Reporting features can be used to send project results to colleagues or post the information on an Intranet for review by others working on the project. Analysts can access these reports, add their own input and sign off on the preliminary analysis results.

At some point, an engineer may need advanced analysis performed on the part to simulate multiphysical effects, including coupled stress and thermal studies, contact analysis with other parts, nonlinear behaviour, computational fluid dynamics, or electrostatics and electromagnetics. To send the model to the analyst, the engineer uses a predefined computer-aided engineering (CAE) template to automatically preprocess the FEA model. This allows an output file to be created, which, with the report, can be posted on a Web server or e-mailed over the Intranet to the advanced analyst. This is a vast improvement over having the analyst start from scratch;allowing collaboration to transcend organisational and geographic boundaries.If a problem exists, engineers, analysts, manufacturing personnel, managers, and other parties can go over the design and iron out problems.

Enterprise-wide engineering analysis doesn’t replace a company’s current design process, but accelerates it with appropriate analysis and communication tools.

With geographical and organisational boundaries overcome, the difficulty is actually persuading individuals that change can be a positive thing.

The first hurdle is convincing the product designers that they will save development time by doing more ‘up-front’ simulation of design alternatives. Past experience has taught this group to develop a prototype as rapidly as possible to leave enough time for two or three redesigns and prototypes.

In one recent discussion, a customer who manufactures multimillion-pound manufacturing equipment explained, ‘We typically build three prototypes. The first doesn’t work at all, the second typically works but not to specification, and by the time we have done the third iteration, it works according to the original specification.’ To convince designers that they’ll save time and money by performing more up-front simulation requires that they put faith in software and resist the inclination to build physical models early on. This is difficult for mechanical engineers, traditionally a ‘hands-on’ crowd, to accept.

A good way to convince users of the value of up-front simulation is to perform an in-house test on a low-risk design project, a kind of controlled experiment with the staff and new tools. If the time is taken to train users good results are often discovered. The next step then becomes deployment of the methodology throughout the organisation — a very big challenge.

Successful deployment of up-front engineering simulation hinges on several factors. Most important is the unwavering support of senior management, due to the long investment time required before results can be seen. Beyond this, a process of ‘knowledge transfer’ is required that facilitates the teaching of standard simulation techniques and practices from the analysis to the design community.Implemented correctly, this consists of progressive, formal training by advanced users on techniques and procedures for solving design problems. The level one class might teach the analysis of static single parts; level two might add thermal analysis; level three, dynamic analysis; and so on. In this way, not only is simulation knowledge grown within the organisation, but users learn where and how to get the help they need.

The tools required to move engineering simulation ‘out of the laboratory and into production’ are now available, but deploying this technology to the larger design community is not easy. Successful deployment will be complemented by a commitment to the belief that it will improve quality and time-to-market while lowering costs. Such a commitment will bring with it the patience and attention to detail necessary to ensure that individuals using these new tools see their company-wide benefits. In organisations where these requirements have been met, up-front simulation is already paying large dividends.

DesignSpace is ANSYS’ answer to bringing fundamental analysis to the design engineer’s desktop and providing internet collaboration. It directly accesses files from major CAD platforms and permits fast, intuitive, first-pass design validation. Its assembly analysis functionality is supported by the same technology that drives the ANSYS Multiphysics analysis software.

DesignSpace Report is an automatic, web-based report generator. Using this feature, design analysis data is assembled automatically, according to preferences set by the engineer, and readied for immediate dissemination via corporate intranets or the internet.

DesignSpace is wizard-driven and utilises knowledge-based automation so that even new users can use the software to obtain fast, reliable results up-front in the design process. It is, however, a broadly capable application that handles problems from linear stress deflection to nonlinear thermal analyses, and includes topological optimisation functionality, saving weight and material related costs. DesignSpace assembly analysis functionality includes automatic contact detection and adaptivity, which allows the design engineer to simulate realistic behaviour and allocate additional solution power to crucial features for precisely targeted results.