MCAD/MCAE Industry View – A November 2010 Update

Dave Weinberg, president and CEO of NEi Software, continues to see new users of finite element analysis software from a diverse group, including those involved in the earliest stages of product design. “We offer several ways to support engineers who are new to using simulation or analysis tools. Although engineers may have different requirements to ramp up on the solution, they generally seek training and some degree of mentoring.”

Bill Chown, product line director of the system modeling and analysis division at Mentor Graphics, agrees that multi-disciplinary engineering is increasing. “Where organizations traditionally had dedicated simulation departments, today's designs can't wait for such departments to turn simulation predictions. The need for concurrent-based simulation by staff engineers is critical.”

Added Svante Littmarck, president and CEO of COMSOL, “I don't see design engineers replacing dedicated analysts in our market. If the current economy has changed anything, I'd say analysis is more popular than ever before.”

Pros and Cons of Virtual Prototyping

As both simulation software and the computers it runs on become more sophisticated, virtual prototyping also becomes more widespread. Explained Choudhury, “As engineering simulation progresses, we're seeing the definition of virtual prototyping take on a new and expanded meaning. Where once it meant using engineering simulation to study the behavior of an individual component, it now means testing the entire system-notjustapieceofit-in the environment in which it will operate to reach an optimal design.” Such an approach, he added, involves more than engineering software - the computer hardware must advance at the same pace.

Chown explained that a virtual prototyping infrastructure, in which models from different domains can be integrated at each stage of the design lifecycle, allows system integration issues to be identified and addressed earlier in the process. “During the verification phase of the design, simulation can again be employed to verify intended system operation. It is a common mistake to completely design a system and then attempt to use simulation to verify whether or not it will work correctly,” Chown said. “Simulation should be considered an integral part of the entire design phase and continue well into the manufacturing phase.”

An advantage to virtual prototyping is that by identifying repetitive simulation methods, organizations can realize substantial return on their simulation software investment. “Unlike machine tools, simulation methods never wear out. So once developed, the ROI continues to grow with time,” said Berry. “That's the true value of virtual prototyping.”

Added Klimpke, “If you are designing lower-cost products, it may well be easier to just build and test. But you still lose a lot of design insight that only simulation can give you. You can't see temperature distribution in a part until you simulate it.”

But the benefits of virtual prototyping are tempered by the need for real-world physical prototypes. “While the value of complete virtual prototyping is dependent on the situation, we, as an industry, are approaching a level of capability that will allow a consensus in favor of complete virtual prototyping,” according to Vaughn. “I do want to be cautious in the use of this terminology, because at the same time, I also believe that only in very few instances can physical testing be eliminated.” [Insertion by the MCAD Commentary writer, former president & COO of SDRC 1969 - 1982, “This is the same debate that we at SDRC used to have with customers in the 60's and 70's. Our conclusion then: there's a place for both computer analysis and physical testing; we built our entire SDRC business on that principle. Still true!”].


“It depends on what you're doing. Any product that's either very expensive to manufacture or to operate, and is sensitive to small variations in design, is a great candidate for virtual prototyping,” according to Peery. “Another limitation is accuracy. There are cases where the physics are not well modeled by the equations solved in the simulation.”

“The benefits of virtual prototyping can reduce field product failure risk and test multiple scenarios that reduce the number of prototypes needed to validate designs,” stated Weinberg. However, he added, “Virtual prototyping cannot negate the need for a physical prototype that can reveal design flaws that were not observed in the virtual environment.”

Friedman agrees that organizations must carefully weigh risk and benefit when looking at complete virtual prototyping. “There is no single, hard rule that can be applied. Engineers must always ask themselves what testing can move up front to the virtual world, and where the dimensioning returns for the efforts are.” At some point, Friedman cautioned, “a physical prototype is needed to perform final system-level testing, because no one wants to fly in a plane that hasn't been tested as a physical prototype.”

Trends for 2011

While virtual prototyping continues to be a trend in the analysis and simulation software arena, other important trends also will become prominent in 2011, according to our panel of experts. One of those trends is the growing interest in the use of simulation data management (SDM) or product lifecycle management (PLM) by analysts and general users. This is causing vendors to create new capabilities for SDM and PLM.

For example, with the latest version of their multi-physics software, COMSOL has included database features for the analyst to document and keep track of creations and changes to every piece of the model and simulation, according to Littmarck. “For documentation, production, future enhancements, and maintenance purposes, PLM-type features are necessary in a package for modeling and simulation. Such features shorten time to market, increase quality control, and aid investigation into critical failures.”

Peery explained that Tecplot also has added workflow integration and management features to their products. “We're very aware of how important this is. We've created layout files so work can be easily saved, restored, and archived in their systems, and decisions can be traced back to the original idea.” But PLM systems are still not easy to navigate. Added Peery, “There is a very heavy overhead associated with getting data into existing PLM systems. So, there is a lot of work we can do to make it easy and compatible.”


Added Vaughn, “Our observation is that most organizations are not sure yet how, why, or when to include simulation data in their PLM system. There is also growing interest and development of SLM. Our approach has been to listen carefully to our customers in terms of their future requirements and to position our products to be ready if and when the customers require a PLM or SLM interface.”

The most important trend for next year is an increase in the use of simulation, and the number and types of engineers who will be using the software. “Software and embedded systems will continue to grow in impact, importance, complexity, and power through 2011,” stated Friedman.

Littmarck agreed that “analysis tools will become increasingly more powerful, easier to use, and more connected to - and even embedded in - other software systems used by complementary groups of specialists or managers.”


The demand for simulation will also result in software being used in new applications. “Simulation software will continue to find new and specialized applications that will expand the demand from both traditional users and new users in industries such as off-shore, alternative energy, and medical,” predicted Weinberg. “The demand will be supported by the increases in advanced analysis product offerings at every price point.”

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