Real-Time Simulation for a Faster, Better Design

A new generation of technologies is making simulation and test more accessible than ever.

A new generation of technologies is making simulation and test more accessible than ever.

If you’re like most designers and engineers, your new product workflow is something like this: You gather requirements and turn those into a spec. From that spec, you create a preliminary design, perhaps in CAD, but maybe on a napkin. You review that design with the important stakeholders and then dive into the deeper details. 


Somewhere before production, but after you’ve created a full-up CAD model, you send it off for validation. Maybe to an internal resource bureau, where you compete for test and/or simulation resources. It could be an outside service, where they do it for a fee. The problem is that this happens so close to production start. Any changes recommended by the validation team at this point could delay the whole timetable; you have to think hard before making them.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. A new generation of technologies is making simulation and test more accessible than ever. In fact, these tools may drive your team to rethink its processes. 

The traditional workflow I just described grew out of the fact that simulation used to be done by specialists who had expensive hardware and software. Because of its cost and the need to keep it fully occupied, CAE became a central resource that was shared by a number of product or platform groups. In many companies, a test function was aligned to simulation, since it was also a shared resource with expensive assets. Scheduling time with these experts became a bottleneck and hindered innovation. Its valuable input was often too late.

You still need these simulation experts, but real-time (or near real-time) simulation technology on the market now, combined with much better user interfaces and cheap, available compute power, can radically change design workflows. 

CAE-Centric Process

If you didn’t have this backward-looking process in place and could invent one instead, it would probably look more like this: you would use CAE to validate our earliest concepts against requirements before you spend significant resources on any one design idea. You’d use simulation, as well as virtual reality, visualizations, cost models, preliminary manufacturing line design and other techniques to explore each concept as thoroughly as possible before deciding on the one or two that are worth pursuing. Only then would you get to detailed design, relying on input from simulation, production, customer panels and so on. It would truly be the best alternative you could choose to meet the requirements.

Moving from the traditional process to this more modern, CAE-centric view isn’t easy. Here’s how to start:

  1. Recognize that because technology has changed, so must your workflow. Simulating early saves time and money, and lets you spend your limited resources on the best alternatives.
  2. New tools, such as generative design and real-time simulation, require training. You could just learn as you go, but you will miss out on nuances that will make you more efficient and better able to set up simulations and interpret results.
  3. You may have to create job titles to suit these new responsibilities. People doing more work should be paid more, and that upsets a lot of apple carts.
  4. Your enterprise needs to value the input from these super-designers. They may not yet be as skilled as the experts in the simulation group, but their results are important, too. You might try pairing a designer with a simulation expert; both will learn about the tools and techniques, and figure out what works best.
  5. Real-time simulation usually trades off speed and accuracy. Be sure you understand this and can work with these limitations. And no matter how you get to your final design, be sure to simulate it one last time.

Integrating simulation earlier into a design process means stepping out of historical workflows and embracing new technology and work patterns. Rather than simulating at the very end, use CAE as often as is right for you: design space exploration in concept design; real-time simulation in detailed design; and, then, just before production, do a product verification run. The end result will be worth it. Your products will be more creative and more fit for purpose.

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About the Author

Monica Schnitger's avatar
Monica Schnitger

Monica Schnitger is the founder, president and principal analyst of Schnitger Corporation. She has developed industry forecasts, market models and market statistics for the CAD/CAM,CAE, PLM, GIS, infrastructure and architectural / engineering / construction and plant design software markets since 1999.

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