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Archive for 2013

Future Vision: Google Glass and CAD From IMSI/Design

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Although I’m gradually coming around, I still personally find the Google Glass technology/device concept intrusive and a bit creepy, but have to admit it is innovative and possibly inevitable. Google Glass is still being tested by its “Explorers,” and has received mixed reviews, but relatively few warm feelings from them. Even though not generally available until late this year or next year, there are already several places and events where Google Glass will be banned.

According to Google, “Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that is being developed by Google in the Project Glass research and development project, with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer.” Like all things Google, Glass runs under Android, and this might be a good thing for wide acceptance.

The show of negativity toward the device, however, has not stopped many companies from exploring the possibilities of Google Glass. In fact, a CAD company recently announced an app for Google Glass — TurboSite from IMSI/Design.

The video that follows is Sergey Brin discussing Google Glass in general terms:

NOTE: To address comments about Sergey’s poor delivery, I want to emphasize that this is NOT a “TED Talk”, despite it being recorded during TED conference. It is pretty much a spontaneous appearance to show the latest technology and wasn’t prepared or rehearsed. Google Glass is also not available for purchase yet so it is not strictly speaking a product promotion either. This video is posted mostly because it has details about Glass that were unknown or unconfirmed before.

With its other mobile CAD apps already in the marketplace, notably TurboSite for tablets in the AEC industry, IMSI/Design announced at the 2013 AIA National Convention that TurboSite will be available for Google Glass when it is launched.

“We think Google Glass is a terrific platform for a site evaluation and field reporting app like TurboSite,” stated Royal Farros, CEO of IMSI/Design.

Historically, documenting walk-throughs and creating punch lists have been  physically-demanding processes, because site inspection requires carrying a full set of building plans and cumbersome digital equipment (camera, computer, etc.).

“Using Google Glass and TurboSite, we’re literally letting someone to walk onto a job site carrying [virtually] nothing,” said Farros.

That is, carrying nothing but wearing the smart device glasses and running TurboSite — theoretically, you will see building plans directly in front of you. GPS will track your movement through a drawing. The built-in eye glass camera will let you take pictures and record video, and TurboSite will automatically insert these into a markup layer at the exact physical location. When the field report is finished, it is automatically distributed to an entire design and construction team.

Although it’s obviously very early in the wearable computer game, I’m not totally sold on the idea for a number of reasons — practicality, quality, integrity, security, and privacy. However, Google Glass is totally new, and not just a paradigm shift, it’s a total game changer. In kind, TurboSite for Google Glass is also totally new and promises to be one of the first enterprise tools for Google Glass. It’s really a natural outgrowth for TurboSite, an app developed specifically for mobility, and is taking it to the next level.

And, OK, at this stage TurboSite for Goggle Glass is an AEC application, but you have to believe it could also be used in plant design and verification, as well as facilities management.

As for MCAD, I envision that it could be used in automotive, aerospace, consumer product design sectors, and shipbuilding (after all, a ship is just a horizontal building that floats). Who knows? This marks the dawn of a new age of design with hardware shrinking from yesterday’s main frames to today’s wearable computers that will only continue to get smaller as their utility becomes bigger.

In speaking with IMSI/Design’s CEO, Royal Farros, he’s very enthusiastic about the potential of TurboSite for Google glass, but also forthcoming and honest about it — traits that we seldom see from an executive discussing technologies as significant as these. These evolving technologies  are going to be ones to watch closely.

Russia’s ASCON Finding Success By Taking Matters Into Its Own Hands

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

For most of us who have grown up with and seen the CAD industry evolve, it means experiencing CAD from a relatively narrow perspective, that is, a US perspective. As it turns out, the CAD development realm actually extends far beyond our shores, and is becoming more competitive over time. Some of the most noteworthy competitors are coming from Asia, notably China, and Russia.

Having had some experience with Chinese and Russian companies and associated CAD technologies, I feel that the Russians currently have the upper hand because their products seem more comprehensive, capable, contemporary, and consistent design tools.

One of the most interesting CAD tools I’ve come across is from Russia — ASCON’s KOMPAS-3D for associative 3D modeling. Models can be made from original designs, standard part libraries, or combination if the two. While that’s not especially unique, KOMPAS-3D’s parametric technology lets you generate ranges (different configurations) of products based on a single source model.

A distinguishing feature of KOMPAS-3D is that it uses its own modeling kernel and parametric system, both of which were developed at ASCON — something I  have always considered an advantage over licensing components that form the basis of a CAD product.

The following video clip provides a brief overview of the KOMPAS 3D geometric modeling kernel:

What the video lacks in detail introduces the possibility that ASCON could become a power to be reckoned with in the future.

About this time last year ASCON Group made public its proprietary geometry kernel, C3D, as the foundation for creating CAD systems and applications.

Development of the C3D kernel began in 1995, and became the basis for ASCON’s KOMPAS-3D in 2000. The company continued to update the kernel, and last year launched it as a separate product for the CAD component market. It can handle several aspects of a CAD system, icluding 2D drawing and sketching, 3D hybrid and solid modeling, parametric constraints, and translation.

The main feature of ASCON kernel is that it is comprehensive. The core of C3D combines just about everything necessary for developing engineering  application software with modules that include:

  • C3D Modeler — the geometric modeler with functions for 3D solid and hybrid modeling, sketching, and 2D drawing.
  • C3D Solver — the parametric constraints solver with functions for creating and solving parametric constraints on 2D and 3D geometry.
  • C3D Converter — the translator module that reads and writes geometric models in all primary exchange formats.

Keep in mind, though, that the C3D kernel is not the only Russian kernel being developed there. There is also a Russian government-financed mandate to develop a “national” CAD engine, the Russian Geometry Kernel (RGK), a B-rep modeler that can create NURBS curves and surfaces. The RGK is being developed by Russian university mathematicians, and like the C3D modeler, it supports GPU acceleration and multi-threading.

The ultimate winner of the Russian kernel competition is anybody’s guess at this point, but ASCON seems to have a number of technical things in place to make it a real player in the worldwide CAD arena. To a large extent, because it’s in control of its base product components, it may have better control over its destiny in a competitive market.

So, it just might be true, “The Russians are coming.”

Autodesk Fusion 360 – Released, But Ready For Production?

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

After several months in Beta, Autodesk today officially and commercially released Fusion 360 (formerly known as Inventor Fusion) — the newest member of Autodesk’s growing cloud-based products/services family.

Essentially, Fusion 360 is a conceptual design tool. I liken it to a relatively simple modeling tool where CAD meets social media for collaborative design. As an industrial designer myself, I was especially interested in what Fusion 360 could do as a conceptual design tool, so I signed up for the Beta program and had some hands-on time with it.

Check out the Fusion 360 overview video to get an idea of what it’s all about:

Fusion 360’s interface is pretty basic, so it doesn’t take long to start creating some shapes and forms. Keep in mind that a lot of 3D form creation is based on T-Splines technology (that Autodesk acquired), so it’s different than Inventor’s method.

For conceptual design, you’ll probably spend the majority of your time in the Sculpt (for creating organic forms) or Model (for creating solid geometry forms) workspaces. For repairing imported surfaces, you’ll use the Patch workspace.

At least initially, a slightly different mindset is required for using Fusion 360 because it is based on a hub-and-group premise. At the center is your personal hub, where you can create and participate in groups, and post items to, and monitor them. Each hub and group has a similar set of tabbed pages with areas called tiles that contain related information and tools.

As of today, Fusion 360 is commercially available and is free of charge for the next 90 days. After that it will set you back $25 per user per month with an annual contract commitment. So, for $300 a year you get a fairly capable conceptual design tool that I feel can fit into many collaborative product design workflows, as shown in the following video:

There’s a lot to learn and cover in Autodesk Fusion 360, and in the coming weeks, I’ll take you through some different design workflows that involve interacting with others — importing data, creating different types of models, refining designs, exporting design data to other CAD applications for other purposes, collaboration, etc. In other words, what you can realistically expect to do with Autodesk Fusion 360.

OK, so Autodesk Fusion 360 is just outta Beta, but is ready for prime time? With some reservations, I would say yes, no, and maybe. How’s that for commitment? I think it all depends on what your expectations are and how hard you want to push it. Admittedly, it’s come a long way, but in my opinion, still has some maturing to do before I’d truly consider it production-ready for sophisticated design purposes.

I like the potential of cloud-based applications, but like Adobe’s Creative Suite, I’m still coming to grips with the perception of data integrity and vulnerability, as well as a perpetual monthly fee. I guess, like many new users of cloud-based applications, I just have to get used to the inevitability of this brave new world. That said, though, with Version 1.0, Fusion 360 does have some limitations, but its potential is tremendous.

“Open Source” MakerBot Closes Deal with Stratasys

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

MakerBot, once the progeny and a proponent of the open source hardware/software movement is being acquired by Stratasys for about $403 million. Not bad for a company whose origins are the open-source community.

I use open source and MakerBot in the same sentence rather loosely because MakerBot became pretty closed and proprietary not all that long after its inception in 2009. It certainly began with an open-source design based on the RepRap Project, but effectively became a “closed” system with the advent of the Replicator 2 in September 2012. At that time, the company said it “will not share the way the physical machine is designed or our GUI.” This sudden departure from its previous open-source embrace and no longer willing to share with the community that made MakerBot possible in the first place was met with criticism in many circles. To be fair, though, MakerBot has created several products and services beyond its flagship 3D printer, which was definitely an improvement over its base design.

Officially, this deal is being called a merger and Stratasys intends for MakerBot to operate as a separate subsidiary, preserving its existing brand, management, and the good faith it has with its users and partners.

If you have never seen a MakerBot Replicator 2 in action, check out the following video:

For its part, (and until now) Stratasys had repeatedly denied any interest in the 3D printer (under $5000) market and would not pursue it, because their historical customer has been industrial, not the hobbyist or prosumer. Things change, though, and with this transaction, Stratasys has certainly changed its tune. A customer is a customer, and with the additive manufacturing/3D printing market consolidating, Stratasys didn’t want to miss out on an acquisition opportunity that was probably being explored by competitors, possibly including 3D Systems or HP.

This merger is an especially good opportunity for MakerBot to take advantage of Stratasys’ technologies that could boost part resolution, quality, and build material choices. To reinforce this possibility, the following statement was part of the press announcement: “Upon completion of the merger, Stratasys and MakerBot will jointly develop and implement strategies for building on their complementary strengths, intellectual property and technical know-how, and other unique assets and capabilities.” However, whether this actually happens remains to be seen, as companies are usually very cautious about possibly cannibalizing existing products when new assets are acquired.

Don’t get me wrong, MakerBot’s principals stand to make a lot of money off of this deal, and there is nothing wrong with that. My issue comes from the fact that few will truly benefit from this transaction that in reality was the work of many in the open-source community. Business is business, I guess. Who says there’s no money to be made in open-source technologies? Not me, not anymore.

Creo Apps Coming to the Virtual Desktop

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Last week at its annual user conference, PTC announced that some of its PTC Creo design and analysis applications will be available and supported later this month in a Virtual Desktop environment. Five Creo apps – PTC Creo Parametric (formerly Pro/ENGINEER), PTC Creo Direct (formerly CoCreate), PTC Creo Layout, PTC Creo Options Modeler, and PTC Creo Simulate, have been verified as Citrix Ready and ready for virtualized prime time.

Starting with PTC Creo 2.0 M060, these applications will be supported by PTC when running on virtualized desktops on an IBM server through a Citrix and NVIDIA-powered integration. It will also let users work on a wider variety of operating systems – including mobile – through the Citrix Receiver and NVIDIA GRID vGPU technologies.

PTC’s Virtualized Creo Environment

By supporting virtual desktops, PTC also lets users employ a device of their choice – a device powered by Windows, Mac OS X, or any of the major mobile platforms, such as iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile. This will add an additional element of flexibility and accessibility for PTC users by eliminating the need for every member of an extended development team to have a Windows-based device solely dedicated to design or analysis tasks.

I couldn’t locate any brand new video on the new virtualized Creo apps, but here’s an older one on Creo View Mobile to give an idea of what the new apps might look like.

“Some power users experience network bandwidth limitations when they work with their largest assemblies, simply because they need to move a lot of data from a PTC Windchill server to their local workspace.  This inefficiency slows the design process for some of our customers’ most proficient users,” said Mike Campbell, Executive Vice President, CAD Segment, PTC. “But now imagine working on huge assemblies in PTC Creo with little to no network latency impacting your part load times because all of the data is right there – potentially on the same server rack as PTC Windchill – and is therefore almost immediately available. You actually have a better user experience than if you tried loading the data across the network to your local machine.”

In addition to the performance edge, running PTC Creo in a virtualized environment offers customers a level of IP protection that is not available with alternate deployment methods. Company data stays on its servers, allowing customers complete freedom to collaborate with external design partners in real time utilizing the same design data.

The Citrix Ready program helps customers identify third-party solutions that are recommended to enhance virtualization, networking and cloud computing solutions from Citrix. PTC Creo applications completed a verification process to ensure compatibility with Citrix XenDesktop with Citrix HDX 3D Pro and an NVIDIA GRID K2 board with two high performance NVIDIA Kepler GPUs.

PTC says it expects PTC Creo 2.0 M060 will be available in late June (June 21 to be exact). However, the timing of this or any product release, and any features or functionality, are subject to change at PTC’s discretion. Standard PTC floating license pricing applies to the new virtualized Creo apps.

Honestly, based on announcements and conversations a couple of years ago, I never would have imagined that PTC would be this cloud centric at this time and moving forward. As more becomes known, and as they become available, we’ll let you know how the new Creo virtualized apps contrast, compare, and perform with their desktop counterparts.

This announcement could help to finally provide the momentum and customer uptake that PTC has been hoping for until Creo 3.0 is released early next year.

2013 PTC Live Global Conference Highlights

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Along with about 1,900 attendees, we just returned this week from the 2013 edition of the PTC Live Global conference and exhibition in Anaheim, CA. We saw and heard several interesting things from PTC employees, partners, and customers.

Let’s start off on Day 1. After a short introduction, PTC’s president and CEO, Jim Heppelmann took the stage with the song “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath blasting. What’s that about? The early focus of his address was the focus of not only PTC, but just about every other software vendor – mobility.

This dramatic change of tune comes just a couple of years after Heppelmann derided the notion of software as a service and cloud computing as nothing more than “vapor.” Today, mobility to PTC, according to Heppelmann, consists of products being delivered as a service, with the line blurred between product and service.

Click on this link to view Jim Hepplemann’s keynote address at the PTC Live Global event.

He then introduced the concept of reverse innovation to accommodate different unique requirements for different customers. Interesting concept, but I need to get more details on exactly what this means.

He went on to say that for products in general, value is shifting away from hardware to software, especially embedded software. Increasingly, products are defined, upgraded, and updated via software. Traditional hardware manufacturers are beginning to employ more software engineers than mechanical engineers. As handy as these software innovations might seem, do they offer too many choices and ultimately frustrate customers and drive up costs? The verdict on this remains to be seen, but I tend to say, “yes,” too many choices can be overwhelming, especially for products that are meant to be simple.

What he was getting at, though, is that increasing numbers of CPUs and software mean “smart” products connected to the Internet. In other words, an “Internet of things,” thanks largely to increasing connectivity.

With 10 Creo apps currently available, and although the next release of Creo (3.0) won’t be available until early next year (Q1?), a few hints were given about what it might look like. Think scalability and interoperability – more on that later, though. PTC says that today, one in four Pro/ENGINEER users has upgraded to Creo, but sees adoption rate at 50% uptake by the end of this year. That seems just a bit optimistic, but potentially doable.

I’ve just begun with the highest of highlights about the conference and the future as PTC sees it. Over the few weeks I’ll discuss some of the most significant announcements coming out of PTC’s user conference with regard to new products/technologies, corporate direction, and customers’ reactions. From what I witnessed this week, PTC’s future looks brighter than it has for quite some time.

 

Wohlers Report 2013: The Source Book for Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

A company we have come to know quite well, Wohlers Associates, Inc., has announced the release of the Wohlers Report 2013, the company’s annual detailed analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide. Among many things, the report reveals troubling trends that suggest the U.S. may be losing its competitive advantage in the AM industry.

To at least maintain a competitive advantage in manufacturing, the White House launched the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) last year with the support of several agencies, including the Department of Defense. This initiative seeks to accelerate the position of the U.S. in the development and use of AM technology. “It will not be easy, given what organizations in China and other regions of the world have planned,” said Terry Wohlers, a principal author of the report and president of Wohlers Associates.

As it has from the beginning, Wohlers Report 2013 covers virtually every aspect of additive manufacturing, including its history, applications, underlying technologies, processes, manufacturers, and materials. It documents significant developments that have occurred in the past year, covers R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia, industry, and summarizes the worldwide state of the industry. This edition is the report’s 18th consecutive year of publication.

A 3-D Printed World: Terry Wohlers at TEDxTraverseCity

According to the new report, 38% of all industrial AM installations are in the U.S. Japan is second with 9.7%, followed by Germany with 9.4% and China with 8.7%. Sixteen companies in Europe, seven in China, five in the U.S., and two in Japan now manufacture and sell professional-grade, industrial additive manufacturing systems. “This is a dramatic change from a decade ago, when the mix was ten in the U.S., seven in Europe, seven in Japan, and three in China,” said Tim Caffrey, a principal author of the new report and associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Wohlers Report 2013 provides an in-depth look at market forces and competitive pressures, as well as growth of the industry. Revenues from all additive manufacturing (AM) products and services worldwide were $2.204 billion in 2012. This is up 28.6% (CAGR) from 2011. Approximately 28.3% of the $2.204 billion is tied to the production of parts for final products, rather than models, prototypes, patterns, and other types of parts.

The Wohlers Report is the most thorough and comprehensive report of its kind. It is packed with up-to-date and practical information that includes charts and graphs, tables, photographs, and illustrations. The annual study is priced at US$495, and was produced with support from 74 service providers, 31 system manufacturers, and the contributions of 69 co-authors from around the world.

I’ve known Terry Wohlers for many years, and in my mind, he continues to the pulse checker and voice for the AM and 3D printing industries. I also highly recommend the Wohlers Report for its breadth, depth, and insights as the source of accurate and objective information about the ever-evolving world of AM.

For more information: Wohlers Report 2013

Autodesk Acquiring Tinkercad, Preventing Demise, and Adding to its 123D Family

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Over the weekend we learned that Autodesk had signed a definitive agreement to acquire Tinkercad, a browser-based 3D design tool/service that is relatively easy to use. The addition of Tinkercad makes a lot of sense for Autodesk and will further broaden its 123D family of apps. The acquisition will also rescue Tinkercad and its user community, despite a previously announced June 2013 shutdown by its founders.

“We are excited to have reached an agreement with Autodesk that will provide a solid home and bright future for Tinkercad,” said Kai Backman, founder and CEO of Tinkercad. “We found in Autodesk a shared vision for empowering students, makers and designers with accessible and easy to use software, and with their global reach and expertise in democratizing design, we’re confident in their ability to introduce Tinkercad to new audiences around the world.”

Introduction to 3D Modeling with Tinkercad

Autodesk said it intends for Tinkercad to remain available as part of its consumer portfolio. I assume this also includes Tinkercad’s four pricing tiers: $0-$499/month.  The company also intends to incorporate elements of the Tinkercad technology and user experience into the Autodesk 123D family of products. The transaction is expected to close within the next 30 days, although (as usual) no financials were disclosed.

“Tinkercad is a natural extension of the Autodesk 123D family as well as our other apps and services for consumers, as it is already used alongside Autodesk products,” said Samir Hanna, Autodesk vice president, consumer products. “We look forward to welcoming the Tinkercad community to Autodesk and to continuing their mission of accessible 3D design for all.”

Summarizing the acquisition, Backman said, “Before signing the deal we spent a lot of time talking to Autodesk engineers and product people about their vision for Tinkercad. We were impressed by the deep insight the Autodesk team had into the Tinkercad interface and its underlying technology. There is also a strong alignment on topics like furthering education and the vision of making design more accessible. But most of all we are very excited about the roadmap Autodesk has drafted for Tinkercad.”

This acquisition is good news for Tinkercad principals and users, and should be a good addition to the Autodesk 123D portfolio and its users. The companies are also located less than a mile apart, so the commute won’t be too bad for either party during the transition period.

Hardware Review: GoBOXX G2720 Mobile Workstation

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

BOXX Technologies builds a diverse range of desktop and mobile workstations geared for high-performance applications, such as CAD, CAE, advanced animation and rendering, game production, and architectural design.

In the past we’ve evaluated some of the company’ desktop and mobile workstations and have come away impressed with the performance and build quality of the machines. This time around, we’re reviewing the GoBOXX G2720, a machine I’d classify as a high-end mobile workstation. Normally, we evaluate mid-range workstations because they can provide a good balance between performance and price. However, we did not regret going high-end this time because the GoBOXX G2720 exceeded our expectations for its performance, price notwithstanding.

The GoBOXX G2720 Mobile Workstation

This machine will appeal to those users who really need high levels of performance, and are ready, willing, and able to pay for it. So, let’s see how this mobile beast fared.

G2720 Mobile Workstation Specifications and Build Quality

The GoBOXX G2720 we received had the following specifications as supplied:

CPU: Intel Core i7 – 3970X (3.5 GHz); 6-core

GPU: NVIDIA Quadro K5000M

RAM: 32 GB DDR3; 4 DIMMs

SSD: 240 GB SATA

Connectivity: 3 SATA ports internal; 1 IEEE 1394 port; 1 USB 3.0/eSATA port; 2 USB 2.0 ports; 2 USB 3.0 ports; 1 HDMI; 1 external DVI; 1 display port; Ethernet

Other: 8X DVD Multi-drive; 9 in 1 Flash memory reader; 2MB digital video camera; fingerprint reader; Kensington lock port;

OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Edition 64-bit

Display: 17.3″ Full HD (1920 x 1080) LED Backlit with Super Clear glare screen

Dimensions: 16.5″(W) x 11.3″(D) x 2.4″(H)

Weight: 12.8 pounds (with battery)

Warranty: One-year limited

Default resolution of the full-HD backlit LED that measures a whopping 17.3″ is 1,920 x 1,080. Screen image resolution/clarity, colors, and brightness were excellent.

Measuring Performance

When we received the GoBOXX G2720, we had high expectations for performance, largely because of the high levels of performance we have experienced in the past with other machines from BOXX Technologies. The objective (formal documented generic benchmarks) and subjective (actual design and engineering software applications) tests we ran fulfilled our expectations. In fact, this machine posted the highest performance numbers ever for an engineering workstation — mobile or desktop.

The tests were performed with the GoBOXX G2720 “out of the box,” as we received it – nothing was tweaked or optimized to distort the performance numbers (such as enabling multi-threading) in a positive or negative direction. I actually get more out of the subjective testing because it’s more “real world,” but the raw numbers from the benchmarks are also useful as a means of objective comparison with other machines in the class. Your evaluations will probably differ from mine, but they do, at least, provide a point for comparison.
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Using Simulation for Accurately Modeling Fiber-Reinforced Composites

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Designing lighter products, whether they’re as large as jet liners or as small as mobile phones, has always been smart business. Less material means less cost and lower energy consumption, both in production and operation. Lower production costs mean higher profit margins for manufacturers. Lower operational costs lead to broader customer acceptance and higher market share.

These days, the “smart business” in lighter products has been upgraded to “essential ingredient.” Lower weight and material efficiency are mandatory for companies that expect to succeed in markets coping with volatile energy prices and increasing environmental regulations. Higher energy prices cause sharp swings in production costs. Manufacturing a product and its component materials means more predictable costs and higher profit margins.

End products are also subject to more scrutiny during their operational lives. Vehicles have to squeeze more miles out of every gallon to satisfy mandates such as U.S. corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards

 

For decades, making a product lighter meant optimizing designs to cut out mass that wasn’t needed to achieve engineering goals. Now, extensive use of fiber-reinforced composites has introduced a new weight-saving measure into product design. Especially in vehicle design but also in appliances and industrial machinery, composites offer comparable strength to metal at a fraction of the weight.

However, introducing composites into product design requires extensive testing. Composites’ plasticity means they do not perform as predictably as metals under real-world conditions. Many manufacturers qualify composites through extensive physical testing on prototypes. This is expensive, time consuming, and can be replaced by simulation – provided that simulation evolves to accommodate composites. Otherwise, they will not yield accurate material allowables, and inaccurate allowables can lead to poor product performance or outright failure.

Simulation technology has traditionally focused on metals. Composites, however, have different properties from metals. For example, a metal-stamped part will behave the same way regardless of how it is manufactured. By contrast, the manufacturing process can change a fiber-reinforced plastic part’s behavior significantly because the process can affect the orientation of the fibers in the material’s epoxy-resin matrix.

Those additional variables complicate engineers’ tasks. They can optimize a design for maximum lightness but end up with a different set of problems because the composite won’t perform the way they expected. Engineers must be able to simulate the strength of composites in different configurations and through various manufacturing processes down to the microstructure level. However, simulation technology hasn’t accommodated them so far.

Most simulation solutions depict composites as “black aluminum.” They represent a composite part’s geometry, but not the full range of its properties. Composite suppliers provide their customers with property data, but that data seldom takes into account the manufacturing process’ influence on the material. Entered into a simulation, these data points will not produce accurate results.

Without accurate material modeling and simulation, designers have to approximate how the composite will perform under real-world conditions. That often leads to over-designing to guard against failure. Over-designing undermines the purpose of designing with plastic or composite in the first place – using less material and reducing weight. It also adds unnecessary cost.

Many simulation technology vendors have incorporated some level of non-uniform material behavior into their solutions. However, these solutions only simulate composite behavior on the surface. A truly realistic model requires an intelligent handle on:

  • individual properties of the fiber and the matrix;
  • the composition of the overall materials; and
  • manufacturing processes’ influence.

Conventional simulation tools do an excellent job of modeling a party’s geometry, loading, deformation physics, etc.  Incorporating detailed material behavior for composites drives further precision into the simulation lifecycle.

Giving engineers that precision opens a new range of possibilities for making products lighter without sacrificing performance. For example, an automotive OEM wants to re-design a metal engine mount in composite to save weight. Design engineers develop the basic geometry for the new mount in a 3D CAD environment. The mount weighs 1.2 kilograms. Simulation reveals that the engine mount performs its function under normal loads and in normal operating conditions.

Through virtual simulations to analyze the composite’s behavior in that shape and function, the design team does a series of iterations, analyzes the mount’s performance, and reduces its mass by 40 percent without compromising performance. The lower mass shaves 15 percent from the mount’s cost.

This is what design teams can achieve when they have the tools to model and simulate composites with the same precision they have for simulating metals. It’s the approach that manufacturers need to incorporate in bringing composites into their designs while keeping prototyping costs. The result will be lower material use and energy consumption in production and operation, and more accurate material and part performance. These essential qualities will enable manufacturers to meet the new economic realities of rising energy costs and the societal obligations of sustainability through lighter, better products.

This article was contributed by Dr. Roger Assaker, PhD,  founder and CEO of e-Xstream Engineering, and also chief material strategist at MSC Software. Please see http://www.mscsoftware.com/product/digimat for more information.)




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