By Robert Farrell
Through the process of “democratization” organizations can safely put the power of engineering simulation into the hands of those who are not experts in using CAE software, including product designers, new engineers and even those in technical sales and customer support. This resulting Democratizing of Simulation accelerates design validation, which in turn shortens time to market with more innovative products. But what are the challenges, benefits, and enabling technologies of this democratization movement; and what results are companies actually seeing today?
Product development leverages intelligent Computer-Aided Design (CAD) models. This is no great revelation; it’s been this way since the early 1980s. About that same time the engineering world began to investigate ways to analyze these models to simulate performance. This created a need that was filled by a new breed of engineer who would develop expertise in the domain of numerical simulation – the CAE Analyst.
Software tools quickly emerged enabling these experts to painstakingly create elaborate mathematical finite element models for replicating real-world conditions and helped reduce the number of required physical prototypes. The process came to be known as “simulation;” and the results were measurable improvements in time-to-market, quality and costs. Since that time industry has embraced simulation and continued to invest in the tools and resources to support its on-going use and development.
The expert dilemma
The ability to apply advanced training, software tools, methods, expertise, and experience is as much an art as it is a science. Consequently there remains a relatively small fraternity of CAE experts – many early pioneers, or direct disciples thereof. These are the custodians of a level of expertise and experience relied upon to perform key analysis. It has been estimated there are an order of magnitude more product designers and engineers who consume the results of simulation than those who perform the simulation.
The problem is twofold. Limited expert resources create unnecessarily long analysis processes. This reduces the number of design alternatives that may be evaluated thereby stifling innovation. Second, as this generation exits the workforce there is concern that much of their knowledge will retire with them. The truth is that analysis/simulation is a critical competitive advantage for those who possess it. So what’s the answer?
Today, there are a limited number of simulation experts and a sharply growing demand for simulation. Consequently, the resident expert is often a bottleneck. But what if a way existed to capture and reuse such knowledge and engineering judgment throughout the product development team? Democratizing Simulation is the term that is used for the techniques and approaches that allow product designers and engineers, without expertise in the use of simulation tools, to safely perform even advanced simulations and leverage the results in the design process.
Expanding the number of those capable of performing simulations safely and robustly reduces experts’ workload and allows designs to be validated more quickly while exponentially expanding the number of design alternatives that can be evaluated. Also, the simulation automation techniques that are used make the experts themselves more efficient and accurate. The results are measurable improvements in product quality, time to market, and product innovation. Additionally spreading the workload allows CAE experts to focus on more sophisticated or critical simulations. This further elevates the role and value of the expert in the organization while allowing their expertise to be leveraged by many others.
More than five hundred engineers, designers and business professionals gathered in Cleveland last summer at the NAFEMS Conference on Advancing Analysis & Simulation in Engineering. The event included a growing number of sessions on Democratizing Simulation including fourteen presentations, two workshops, and a roundtable.
“It’s clear that it is no longer a question of whether democratized simulation will occur; or if it’s worthwhile to implement. Instead, the focus is on when it will become the industry norm,” said NAFEMS Americas Vice President, Matt Ladzinski. “Most presentations were real-world success stories detailing the challenges and ROI of implementation. It’s noteworthy that while none concluded that democratization is an easy process, all felt that the ROI is well worth the effort and intend to expand democratization within their organizations. These companies are the forerunners of the next generation of simulation users, when complex simulation technology vanishes behind a façade that will allow huge numbers of non-experts to safely leverage its power.”
The vision and promise sound great; but admittedly, there are a few challenges.
The biggest obstacle to widespread implementation is a general lack of understanding as to how or where to begin. Until now engineers were forced to scour the Internet and similar resources for bits of disjointed information. Too many web sites are all about selling something rather than educating their visitors. At the same time success stories were not well documented or readily available.
Quantifying the ROI
Often, the higher the business value, the harder it is to quantify. This is true of any business activity as it shifts from tactical to strategic importance. Quantifying the value of an expected reduction in cost or schedule can be challenging, but it is much easier than quantifying the value for increasing such things as quality, performance, or innovation.
Threat to the Status Quo
Democratizing anything represents a paradigm shift for organizations. And so Democratizing Simulation is often viewed as a direct threat by the CAE experts. Knowing the complexities of their job and unsure of how to accurately and completely replicate that knowledge for use by non-experts is understandably concerning. Consequently, CAE experts may be hesitant to endorse such an initiative. Still others may see it as diminishing their value in the eyes of the company. In no way is the role of the senior analyst diminished; nor are they being asked to relinquish control. To the contrary, through democratization techniques such as simulation applications, senior CAE analysts are taking on a more visible and important role as their expertise is now being leveraged throughout the company. Something in common amongst many of the Democratizing Simulation successes is the willingness of the CAE experts to champion the cause.
How it works: implementation
For those interested in taking a next step; or just want to learn more, there are multiple starting points for implementation. The most common include:
Intelligent automation templates
Template-based Simulation Automation has been used by many organizations to significantly improve the accuracy, consistency, repeatability, and efficiency of performing complex simulations. These intelligent automation templates embed the expertise of the experts in the form of rules that are automatically enforced when a template is executed. Templates not only allow non-experts to safely and robustly run simulations, but often also provide enterprise-wide standardization while making the experts more efficient and accurate.
Equally important is the speed and ease of creating these templates. Specialty tools and Low-Code Development Platforms (LCDP) allow Simulation Applications (Sim Apps) to be created with little or no manual coding. This in turn allows those closest to the design process to build the Apps rather than relying on IT developers. Increasingly, Sim Apps are browser-based, and with authorized access into a corporate network one has access to the Apps without any need to have locally installed software, eliminating yet another historical constraint of simulation and modeling.
Simulation governance and standardization
All major industrial organizations employ numerical simulation in support of their engineering and business decision-making. Therefore using numerical simulation is no longer a differentiator. The differentiator is related to how safely and reliably numerical simulation is being used? Depending on the answer, numerical simulation can be a significant corporate asset or a potential liability. Whenever engineering or business decisions are based on the results of numerical simulation there is an implied expectation of reliability. Without such expectation it would not be possible to justify the time and cost of a simulation project. In fact, if simulation produces misleading information then it has a negative economic value.
System simulation incorporates the end effects of all sub-systems and components in determining overall product performance. Throughout engineering design and simulation circles, system-level simulation has been synonymous to Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), which the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) defines as a “formalized application of modeling to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later life cycle phases.”
Simulation Process & Data Management (SPDM) and the enterprise digital thread
Traditionally, simulation data, processes and experts have operated within various silos in the organization. Hence, this valuable expertise and data has not been an integrated part of enterprise engineering processes. Furthermore, organizations are now striving to manage their engineering data and processes in a more consistent manner, connecting these into what is being called a Digital Thread. Any engineering data that exists within silos is, by definition, left out of the Digital Thread – simulation data is such an example.
High performance / cloud computing
From product prototyping to process design, High Performance Computing (HPC) can save businesses both time and money, while improving products and streamlining operations. Regardless of one’s experience level with HPC, in order to fully utilize it, you need access to three main components: hardware, software, and expertise.
HPC Hardware can consist of cloud-based resources, small departmental level clusters, or even powerful workstations. These are available from a variety of vendors, ranging from online ‘pay-as-you-go’ access, to large systems custom designed and installed in dedicated data centers.
CAE software can comprise of things such as solvers, meshers, visualization, and workflow managers, and so on. This software can range from very specialized, open-source packages available at no cost, to more generic commercial packages that can run across a wide scale of domains and resources.
Expertise that is available includes domains such as Computational Fluid Dynamics, Finite Structural Analysis, Bioinformatics, and so on. Companies needing expertise often start with external consulting “engineering service providers” who can assist with a specific project, before eventually directly hiring domain experts versed in a variety of technical skills.
Success stories surrounding Democratizing Simulation are plentiful and growing. Forward-thinking companies are taking advantage of available tools and resources to supercharge innovation, quality and productivity with effective use of simulation. Here are some documented examples:
GKN Driveline implementation results:
–Removes the bulk of routine analysis work and tedious report creation from the CAE Expert role, freeing them to work on more complex problems
–Allows a non-expert user to investigate many iterations and establish design-intent before expert involvement
–Data interrogation remains available for expert users, but is not required to execute the process
–Automation activity drives process refinement and structure, creating a globally consistent methodology
American Axle & Manufacturing implementation results:
–Average 75% time reduction for each analysis iteration
–Approximately $130,000 in annual cost savings at a single engineering site
–Improved quality through globally enforced standards and practices which remove human error
–Ability to run many more Noise Vibration & Harshness (NVH) analysis iterations, leading to more design decisions, earlier
–Ability to redeploy resources as less experienced engineers are now able to safely run simulations
Where to learn more
A new on-line resource community was launched in June, 2018 to support industry’s growing interest in the Democratization of Simulation. The Revolution in Simulation (www.Rev-Sim.Org) initiative is a collaborative effort among subject matter experts, industry end-users, professional associations, and solution providers. They all share a common mission to educate, advocate, innovate and collaborate through an open, non-commercial community to further advance engineering simulation for experts and non-experts alike to help ensure a significant, exponential increase in the use of simulation and simulation data.
“Rev-Sim provides access to the largest collection of educational materials including success stories, industry news, whitepapers, blogs, presentations, videos, webinars, best practices and technical reference materials to help individual professionals and their companies fully exploit the latest advances in simulation,” said Rev-Sim co-founder Rich McFall. “Perhaps most exciting is that the initiative is a true collaboration among topic experts, end users, thought leaders and solution providers including ANSYS, Aras, ASSESS, Beyond CAE, EASA, ESRD, ESTECO, Front End Analytics, Kinetic Vision, Modelon, NAFEMS, Ohio Supercomputer Center, PLM Alliances, UberCloud and VCollab. These innovative organizations are providing the expertise and funding to support this growing industry-wide movement to make engineering simulation more accessible, efficient, and reliable.”
Get on board
Democratizing Simulation isn’t some futuristic vision. It’s here and now and it’s delivering measurable and sustained results. Design and product development organizations, manufacturers, suppliers, software vendors and other solution-providers should begin taking steps to learn more and to join this revolution, this next generation of simulation methodologies and usage.
The confluence of simulation methodologies, software, automation templates and processes, and affordable high performance computing platforms, aided by the advent of mobile devices with ubiquitous high-bandwidth access to the Internet, has the potential to increase the number of users of simulation by an order of magnitude, over the next five to ten years.