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September 22, 2003
CAE Not Just An Afterthought Anymore
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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It wasn't all that long ago that CAE was relegated to the back end of the product development process -- all too many times as sort of an afterthought. This mindset and practice is changing, though. Realizing the potential payback in terms of getting it right the first time, many design and manufacturing organizations have moved CAE tools further forward in the development process. Some are even moving the tools as far forward as the conceptual phase. Also, software vendors are getting better at integrating CAE with CAD, CAM, and other technical software tools.

Historically, a major hurdle to CAE's wider acceptance has been the perception that only high-priced analysis specialists could understand and work with high-priced CAE tools. While specialists are required for some of the high-end tools for performing complex analyses, there are many CAE tools now on the market that require just some basic training and practice to become proficient. It really just requires familiarity with the interface of a CAE tool for creating and loading digital models, and then reviewing and interpreting the results.

There are several types of CAE-related manufacturing applications for optimizing the use of materials, tools, shape and time by simulating and analyzing specific manufacturing processes. However, probably the most common method for getting CAE into an organization is finite element analysis (FEA) for parts and tooling.

FEA tools can be used for innovating or optimizing mechanical designs. Optimization is a process for improving a design that results in the best physical properties for minimum cost. However, optimization using FEA tools can prove difficult, because each design variation takes time to evaluate, making iterative optimization time consuming. On the other hand, FEA tools can really shine when seeking new and unique ways of designing things -- the most crucial aspect of innovation.

Don't, however, expect CAE tools to solve all of your problems with all of your parts. Like CAD and CAM tools, they should be used in conjunction with practical experience and common sense. CAE tools cannot perform miracles by themselves because they still require a tremendous human element, but used correctly, will likely improve the products you design.

By now you've probably got CAD and CAM tools in your shop and you've seen how they have positively impacted the way you work, as well as the way you interact with your customers and vendors. Looking for a way to further increase your productivity, while adding to your bottom line? Maybe it's time you considered integrating computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools into your business.

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    --Jeffrey Rowe is Editor and Publisher of MCADCafé and MCADWeekly Review. He can be reached at
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    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.