CAD-simulation harmonies cut the need for expertise

Posted on 4 Jan 2010 by The Manufacturer

Once upon a time, manufacturers designed products and components, and subjected them to lengthy test programmes to see how they withstood the real world — and to establish if they worked as intended.

Then came simulation software, which allowed a lot of that testing to be undertaken ‘virtually’. The only catch: the computing horsepower required to perform the task.

“You would design something, hand it over to a specialist team who would ‘mesh’ it and then run the analysis on a mainframe,” recalls Ian Pilkington, UK technical manager at software developer PTC. “And all you’d get back was a ‘yes’ or no’.” No longer. Not only do today’s leading CAD vendors have an array of specialist simulation tools capable of handling anything from finite element analysis to computational fluid dynamics, but the tools are fully integrated with the CAD platform itself.

There’s no need to re-code a design’s parameters into a separate specialist piece of simulation software.

The data transfer takes place in real-time, seamlessly.

Better still, bolt-on third party applications come with the same level of in-built integration, providing manufacturers with competing options on price, ease of use and more detailed functionality.

Stourbridge, West Midlands based Vee Bee Filtration, for example, uses computational fluid dynamics simulation software from Blue Ridge Numerics linked to the company’s PTC Pro/Engineer CAD system to develop cost effective filtration solutions designed around the specific needs of customers.

Previously, says Vee Bee research and development engineer Napoleon Motaban, the need for time consuming laboratory tests meant that the company could only offer a range of standard products. “Now, we’re able to run analyses and generate design models at the same time,” says Motaban. “The CFdesign software reads the 3D CAD model directly, and you don’t need to be an expert in computational fluid dynamics to use it.”

Simulation ‘lite’ for Dummies Many manufacturers, though, won’t need to stray far from their CAD vendor of choice to gain access to simulation solutions. And often at low cost, or even for free.

A version of PTC’s simulation structural and thermal properties software Mechanica, for example, is bundled with every licensed copy of Pro/Engineer Wildfire design platform that a manufacturer uses, explains PTC UK technical manager Ian Pilkington.

And while it’s only a ‘lite’ version, it’s still very usable, he stresses. “The only real limitation is the number of surfaces: there’s a limit of 200, but with 200 surfaces you can still model some fairly complex products and assemblies,” he says. Other fully integrated Pro/Engineer simulation tools cover plastic flows, human-product interactions and fatigue analysis, and often ‘lite’ versions are available for users upgrading to the latest versions.

SolidWorks — another Dassault Systèmes brand, which target among other markets smaller manufacturers with low-cost CAD and simulation solutions — pursues a similar strategy.

Many manufacturers’ needs will be met by the SolidWorks Simulation tool bundled-in with SolidWorks Premium, the company’s flagship product, which integrates a broad range of mechanical CAD, design validation, product data management, and CAD productivity tools in a single package. Even better, for users of the SolidWorks Standard and Professional offerings, SolidWorks SimulationXpress is a ‘lite’ offering providing the ability to do basic stress analysis on individual parts.

But SolidWorks also offers three other simulation offerings catering for special needs—such as flow simulation and exotic and non-metallic materials.

“A lot of designs are based on metal as the material, but metal works very predictably,” says Tony Eckersley, simulation manager for SolidWorks in the UK, Ireland and Northern Europe. “Plastics, rubber, or composites react very differently, calling for what we call non linear modelling.” You have to use the right tool for the right job—but the good news is that SolidWorks, as with other CAD vendors, already has that tool in its armoury.