A Beginner’s Guide to Simulation, Part 1

Primed with the resources and fundamentals of how to get started, now it’s time to sign up for a training course and dive into simulation.

Armed with a workstation laptop and a fresh cup of coffee, you’re ready for the challenge of learning simulation. Maybe your boss promoted you to engineering lead, or you’ve been curious about how to improve a design you whipped up or you want to be more marketable to employers. Whatever the reason, you’re starting the journey toward becoming a simulation analyst. Where do you begin?

First, it’s important to understand what simulation is and how it works. Simulation is a system of equations or algorithms used to model real-world behavior. Physics and engineering-based equations provide the foundations to describe a specific analysis. The two main types are:

• finite element analysis (FEA) and

• computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

FEA is primarily used to describe behavior in solid objects, whereas CFD is used for fluids and/or gases. The two core areas are divided mainly due to the mathematical efficiencies they use to approach a given problem. Each core area can be broken down into studies that we will discuss in a future article.

How Do I Start?

Whenever I hear this question, an elephant comes to mind. “Start with small bites,” is generally my response. Joking aside, slicing this large task into small, manageable bites is the preferred method. Begin with software selection. Simulation software falls into two categories: embedded and standalone.

Almost all large, mainstream engineering software packages—including PTC Creo, Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk Inventor and Siemens NX—have integrated FEA and CFD tools built into their CAD interface. The capabilities of the embedded tools vary by vendor and tend to be based on the segment of the market that they serve. An obvious advantage of embedded simulation software is ease of use from being familiar with the software. The ability to quickly make design changes based on analysis results increases productivity.

Standalone vendors are generally focused more on the niche market within the analyst community where specific requirements of an analysis are outside the scope or capability of embedded tools. Most simulation analysts start out with the tool their employer uses based on their needs.

Vendor Software Training

Once you’ve got a simulation tool, how do you use it? Simulation software vendors have developed training curriculums offered direct from the company or through authorized resellers of the software. In some instances, independent engineering consulting firms specializing in FEA and CFD offer this training.

The training tends to be focused more on the software’s capabilities and how to navigate the interface. Courses are separated into several classes that delve into specific aspects of the software’s capabilities. One example would be a two-day course based on the nonlinear analysis section of a tool. This type of training becomes vital to your growth as a simulation analyst because you will learn the limitations of the vendor’s simulation tool. Plus, course instructors tend to have real-world experience as simulation analysts and often come from a mechanical design background.

Simulation Analyst Training

Engineers craving a more in-depth understanding of simulation after vendor training often join the simulation analyst community. NAFEMS, a vendor-neutral simulation organization, provides training courses tailored to bridge the gap that exists between vendor-based training and a formal university engineering education.

Started in the late 1970s, NAFEMS was originally established by the UK government to develop standards and accuracy methods for simulation software. Today, it has expanded globally, providing software vendors and engineering companies with peer-reviewed publications and professional development curriculum. NAFEMS also offers e-learning courses and an independently assessed professional simulation engineer (PSE) certification for those who wish to gain recognition for their level of competency in the areas of FEA and CFD.

Primed with the resources and fundamentals of how to get started, now it’s time to sign up for a training course and dive into simulation. Stay tuned for future articles on software selection and approaching simulation studies from a CAD user perspective.

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About the Author

Donald Maloy

Donald Maloy is a consultant analyst based in the greater Boston area. He also works as a certified simulation and mechanical design instructor for a software reseller.

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