We have the technology…. Simulation software allows testing of increasingly complex scenarios

Posted on 13 Jun 2011 by The Manufacturer

Is it possible to take an iceberg from the Arctic to Africa? Can we walk through our factories before they are built or train staff on equipment that does not yet exist? Jane Gray looks at latest advances in PLM – product lifecycle management – software and the capabilities of simulation for manufacturing and engineering solutions.

The progression of simulation technology for product design and testing has transformed the way manufacturers and engineers approach their work in recent years. Speed to market, reliability and cost effectiveness have all been amplified exponentially by the ability to put products through their paces and cut out resourcehungry physical prototyping stages. With the growing maturity of product lifecycle management (PLM) however, the scope for innovation using simulation has taken another leap forward.

Companies don’t have to have to have invested in PLM to be aware that most computer aided design and engineering (CAD and CAE) programmes now come equipped with the ability to simulate the performance of a new product in the field. Aerospace and automotive manufacturers in particular now rely heavily on the ability to be able to create life-like recreations of extreme weather conditions, road surfaces, surface qualities and more, in order to minimise the need for expensive physical prototypes.

All the major PLM vendors say that the scope for using simulation technology to allow manufacturing innovations is now far greater. The development of system controls which protect core engineering data means that design teams can work concurrently with teams in production, marketing sales and support services. Many vendors are even now providing simulation software which takes production design back to ‘ground zero’ and allows manufacturers to design their factories in beautifully presented and intelligent 3D representations.

Autocad’s recently released Factory Design Suite 2012, for example, is capable of analysing factory functionality in 3D and of optimising material flow by measuring the balance of movement, flow and cost throughout production. The new release also includes access to Autodesk’s new Eco Materials Advisor, in its premium and ultimate packages, so that manufacturers can visualise and optimise their sustainable factories of the future ahead of time.

Kevin Ison, business manager UK and Ireland for Autodesk’s Manufacturing Solutions, talks about innovation in the application of digital prototyping and simulation technology: “We are good at product development in the UK but I don’t think UK manufacturers always appreciate what can be done with 3D simulation and visualisation to innovate in other areas of the business. Sales and marketing, for instance, can be evangelised through the application of this kind of technology. There needs to be a broader understanding of what simulation can do to set you apart from your competition. How could you better position your products by being able to show your customers, whether they are consumers or other businesses, that you have considered all the ‘what if’ aspects?” In guarding against ‘what if’ scenarios, there can surely be no industry with a greater need for confidence in both its people and its equipment than the new nuclear sector. This strategically important UK manufacturing and engineering sector is working hard to recruit accredited suppliers and skilled workers. However with new-build power plants still in the realms of imagination, how is this supply chain meant to ready itself to hit the ground running? In the past, if there was not convenient access to the real operational environment engineers would be trained in expensive, purpose-built training environments. According to Dassault Systèmes however, this is no longer necessary. At the software developer’s UK user conference, on May 12, a compelling case for the use of simulated avatars for training was made using the example of maintenance work on equipment in a nuclear reactor.

Bringing the relevance of this kind of technology application to more mainstream manufacturing, luxury carmaker Bentley has realised massive benefits through leveraging simulation software in production design and training. The innovative application of technology, which Bentley has used in product design for some time, allowed the manufacturing team to go through the assembly process of assembly for the new Mulsanne model and feed back the need for changes where one design configuration made access for fitting parts difficult. Ian Swann, Bentley’s senior virtual assurance engineer, recounts the experience: “By modelling a total of 831 build operations across stations, the complete build process was simulated in 3D. Using this simulation, a detailed assessment of the build process was then carried out and any potential build concerns were identified and then resolved much earlier in the design process.” Giving more detail on some of the problems to which simulation was applied in this digital build project, Swann says: “The ability to innovate and retain design intent has been enhanced. The front headlamp design is an important feature [in the Mulsanne] for functional and styling reasons. We used DELMIA to assess assembly options within the given design envelope and worked closely with engineering and production to develop an optimised solution.” In another example, Swann tells how an efficient assembly sequence for the 204 parts in each aluminiumskinned door was optimised using Dassault’s DELMIA software for digital manufacturing and production.

TSB provides financial support
For manufacturers looking to invest in PLM technology for through-life digital prototyping, but who may not have the budget, the ability to prove their intention to apply simulation capabilities in innovative ways could be a gateway to funding from bodies like the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

The TSB has a range of funding available to UK manufacturers for the support of innovation across different priority platforms. Funding can be awarded to collaborative R&D projects as well as to individual companies.

Both have to provide evidence of how the funding would enhance their capability in a way that is unique in the market. Dr Will Barton, head of technology at the Technology Strategy Board, told the Dassault user event delegates that, “We would support the use of simulation technology if it were being applied on one of our priority platforms.” Robin Wilson, lead technologist for high value manufacturing at TSB, gave further clarification of the requirements for TSB funding: “Since technology like Dassault’s is available commercially, we would have to be sure that the application would be deployed in a really innovative way – not just doing something new for one particular company.” TSB’s pre-requisite that an idea must demonstrate innovative deployment to qualify for funding challenges manufacturers to think 84 Innovation design and the product lifecycle Being able to visualise fluid flow throughout the solution domain helps the engineers gain an intuitive understanding of the design, leading to rapid improvements Tim Bush, Dyson more inventively about how to exploit technology to differentiate themselves. And the chance to prove any such intentions is now at hand, since the TSB is taking applications for its ICT in Manufacturing funding competition. The competition will put £7m of funding up for grabs to UK construction and high value manufacturing companies.

The power of simulation to make the impossible possible and create freedom for innovation is being demonstrated with more and more compelling case studies by technology vendors every day. But perhaps the most inspirational, or ambitious, story to date is that being undertaken by Dassault in conjunction with visionary engineer Georges Mougin, as part of Dassault’s Passion for Innovation programme.

In a sideways slant on the idea of Richard Prior’s character in the 1985 film Brewster’s Millions, Monsieur Mougin’s dream is to capture a drop of the 350bn tonnes of fresh water ice which break away each year from the Arctic ice cap, and tow an iceberg to Africa to alleviate fresh water shortages. Initial budget scoping for piloting this inspirational dream pointed to a figure in excess of Eu10m.

However, after partnering with Dassault to make a detailed feasibility study of the engineering challenges involved, which included simulating the iceberg’s journey using advanced virtual reality capabilities, Mougin now has a robust case to take to potential financial partners and is ready to begin full-scale operational trials.

Pretty pictures

It is all very well to simulate beautifully rendered visualisations of product concepts and to simulate flashy demonstrations of their supposed performance. But as many experienced engineers have found, the mere availability of software functionality does not guarantee good results.

Thorough management of data and deep engineering knowledge of what inputs to use, where to take core samples during analysis and the ability to realise when manufacturability has been compromised are absolutely critical.

Kevin Ison, business manager in UK and Ireland for Autodesk’s Manufacturing Solutions explains the balance that is now being reached between software capability and engineering knowhow: “In the use of any software, a company still relies on the skills and experience of engineers and analysts. There is no substitute for that.

However, it is now possible to build some of that knowledge into your software, he says. “You can build in testing loops that make sure changes make sense within certain parameters. With finite element analysis we can identify what a good mesh looks like by running some simple quality tests on that work. Then there are in-built ‘wizards’ or advisors which will highlight any possible glitches to the user.” Such capability frees up the engineers’ time from the minutiae of engineering and allows them greater freedom to explore engineering solutions which would not have been given prototyping goahead if physical testing and prototyping were necessary.

Tim Bush, a design engineer at Dyson, describes how confidence in the ability of the company’s software to create and subdivide dense mesh designs sped up the development of its air multiplier fan: “We use ANSYS FLuENT software to simulate fluid flow without the need for a physical prototype. Being able to visualise fluid flow throughout the solution domain helps the engineers gain an intuitive understanding of the design, leading to rapid improvements. The software’s ability to divide the domain into sub-domains substantially speeds up the process of making design changes.” In total Dyson’s air multiplier fan went through 200 different design solutions in simulation before it was considered ready for manufacture. This is ten times the number which would have been possible if physical prototyping had been used.