By Bruce Jenkins, President, Ora Research
Design space exploration today is enjoying ever-increasing levels of recognition, adoption and successful application to help solve some the world’s most difficult engineering problems. Nevertheless, there remain significant impediments to the even broader deployment and usage that champions of these tools and methods believe will be possible, and indeed imperative, to meet the product development challenges of the near future.
Design space exploration encompasses a family of applications and methods that include design of experiments (DOE), multidisciplinary optimization (MDO), multi-objective (Pareto) optimization, stochastic (robustness and reliability) optimization, and the rich family of structural optimization methods – shape, size, topology, topometry, topography and more. Supported by capabilities for multi-tool integration and simulation process automation, design space exploration is rooted in the domain originally termed “process integration and design optimization,” or PIDO.
What’s new? Why now?
Many of the methods that underpin design space exploration have been long known – and sometimes applied, in cases where the attendant costs in expertise, time and labor could be justified. What’s changing now is the way that fresh software technologies are transforming these powerful but formerly difficult-to-use methods into practical everyday engineering aids.
Why this matters is evident in the fundamental business justification for design space exploration: namely, the ability it confers on engineering teams and organizations to gain more complete, higher-fidelity visibility into product performance earlier in project schedules than was possible or practical with older technologies and approaches.
In essence, it does this by enabling more efficient, effective and revealing application of simulation, analysis and digital prototyping assets – tools, expertise, methods, work processes – to the perennial business drivers for any organization’s investments in those assets:
- To become more competitive by gaining increased capability to explore, create and innovate.
- To apply that capability to create better performing products.
- To improve product quality and reliability – yielding expanded opportunity and customer appeal at the same time as lowered warranty expenses, liability exposure and lifecycle costs.
- To control or, better yet, reduce product development schedules and budgets by supplanting costly, time-intensive physical testing with digital prototyping, and replacing intuition-based, guess-and-correct engineering practices with systematic, rational, rapid design discovery and evaluation.
New developments driving adoption and impact of design space exploration today
A number of key developments are driving and accelerating the adoption and impact of design space exploration today:
- Advancing levels of built-in intelligence that let design exploration software choose the best search algorithms and solution methods autonomously, based on the user’s description of the problem in native engineering terms.
- “Appification” of simulation – the embedment of design exploration and optimization technologies inside easy-to-use, product-specific and customer-specific simulation apps.
- Full-cloud solutions that are beginning to expand accessibility, affordability and usability of design space exploration.
- Continued vigorous marketing and sales activity by large CAE vendors that own premier design exploration technology.
- Mounting pressures on engineering organizations to find new ways to do more with fixed resources, such as complying with the march of automotive CAFE and emissions mandates.
Legacy conditions constraining adoption and impact
Despite the foregoing advances, there remain a number of legacy conditions acting to substantially constrain and retard adoption and impact of design space exploration tools and methods at present:
- Design exploration and optimization are still not part of the standard work process at enough engineering organizations.
- The technology remains too often implemented at only the workgroup or department level, instead of as an enterprise competency.
- Many small software developers offering highly capable technologies continue to struggle under marketing and sales resource constraints.
- Some PLM vendors have yet to fully embrace design space exploration, fearing it a troublesome complication in an already complex CAE sales process.
Possible future developments that could spur interest and accelerate investment
Several developments possible in the near and intermediate future hold potential to spur interest and accelerate investment in design space exploration:
- Market-development ripple effects from the growing democratization of topology optimization.
- More acquisitions of design space exploration software developers by major CAE and/or PLM vendors.
- New breakthrough technologies coming from startup developers, academic researchers or government R&D labs.