Speeding up product development time is key to success in the current economic climate, says Bruce Klimpke, Technical Director at INTEGRATED Engineering Software.
Reducing development costs whilst speeding up the product design process is of the utmost importance to both engineers and company bosses, especially in today’s tough economic climate. Physical prototyping can be a very expensive process, but simulation software can offer one possible solution. Simulation software offers a number of benefits, all of which limit the need for the construction of actual prototypes. This is achieved by enabling companies to design and test product ideas before the expensive manufacturing process begins. Here Bruce Klimpke examines how the software dramatically decreases costs and eliminates some of the problems which companies are faced with whilst designing devices and components.
In the past, building prototypes and measuring their performance under environmental influences was the established method used for testing designs. But this method has a number of limitations. The first problem with prototyping is obvious: building and testing can be expensive and in some cases also virtually impossible. The second problem is the lack of design insight: this is not always so apparent but is more important. In building test models, the designer can often measure bulk quantities such as force, pressure, voltage and temperature, however, simulation tools go far beyond these measurable quantities. For example, it is impossible to see magnetic field lines and stress plots with the naked eye, but simulation tools readily yield these quantities. As a result, the designer can immediately see where regions of greatest stress occur or parts that are being magnetically saturated. This data can then be used to maximize product performance whilst also reducing materials and the costs associated with them, as well as being a far quicker process.
Generally the ultimate purpose of a design tool is to improve a device by minimizing cost, maximizing reliability and optimizing parameters. To achieve this, design software should allow users to change parameters, such as dimensions and materials, and discover how they affect the ultimate product performance and production costs. High performance design software incorporates built in parametric features, allowing its users to change models parametrically without the need to learn a complicated scripting language. Simulations that may require hundreds of solutions in order to find the optimal design can be achieved with only a small learning curve for the engineer. This is especially important for designers who don’t use a simulation tool on a daily basis, as users don’t need to re-train every time a solution to a new problem is required.
Finding a program which is both easy to learn and use can be hugely beneficial to designers throughout the design process from starting with an idea, to creating the geometry, assigning the physical parameter, and finding the best solution to a specific problem. Subsequently, intuitive tools are available to display a wide range of output parameters. A text utility is provided for documenting the final results for presentation material. For simulation tools this encompasses a wide range of tasks to get a meaningful result. Packages such as INTEGRATED’s are designed to lead the novice through clear steps to reach the ultimate goal of testing new ideas or optimizing a particular problem.
The designer in many cases has the choice of modeling a device in three dimensions or two dimensions. Of course, the real world is always 3D, so ideally all problems would be solved in this way. However, most designers will usually work in 2D whenever possible due to the far greater ease of inputting data and the radically faster solution times. To optimise a design, thousands of solutions are often required. This is normally only practical for 2D models as the full equivalent 3D models often take significantly longer to solve. For combined field problems, such as magnetic and thermal, the magnetic field may be solved in 2D but the thermal may require a full 3D solution.
In brief, appropriate design software removes the requirement for the development of physical prototypes. As such, simulation software drastically reduces the risks associated with physical prototyping. It allows companies to reduce design time and overheads, by spending less money on expensive prototypes, improving product performance, decreasing time to market and ultimately increasing profitability. The cost savings involved may well be the most enticing factor for companies in the current economic climate. However, no less importantly, engineering software has made vast advances over the last decade and its benefits clearly outweigh the need for building actual prototypes.