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The Engineer’s Increasing Utilization of Simulation in Modern Design

Trevor English
September 20, 2017

Any engineer actively engaged in any technical field today feasibly understands how significant simulation has become in the modern design process. This stretches twofold, from simulation’s improved capability to provide us with practically useful data and its increased use in the design process. Fully appreciating this modern design tool change requires that we look deeper into the state of simulation integrated CAD.

Simulations in terms of computer models like FEA in relation to CAE is a fairly new capability. Simulation simply defined as the use of predictive or practical models to prepare and access future designs dates back a little further. We can trace the desire for simulation essentially back to the beginning of engineering, but it’s modern usage began during the world wars and the space age. More refined simulation models were used in the Manhattan Project to model nuclear explosions and the design of the rockets used in the early space missions. Of course, all of this  “simulation” was done on paper and involved discrete mathematics, Navier-Stokes equations, and finite element analysis, among many other formulas.

Diverging from the mathematical roots of simulation, physical simulation was also used in the design process of the Apollo landing capsules. Astronauts alongside engineers were used to test processes for launch, landing, and usage of all of the Apollo hardware. These simplistic hardware simulations are the early beginnings of simulation tools that allow for usage cases and event analysis. During the height of the space age, Simula-67, the first simulation-centric programming language was developed which lead the way for modern computer simulation software.

Since these early days where the mathematics of simulation was refined, simulation solidified into a vital tool for engineers.  

In the last several years, simulation has been ingrained into out CAE tools, like our mechanical design software. Beyond simple case analysis capabilities, simulation in many senses now comes before design. This shifted workflow comes in the form of generative design tools and simulation’s use as a design aid. Rather than designing a part and then testing whether it will work, CAD in-canvas simulation software like Nastran and Inventor’s shape generator tools allow for simulation before or alongside design. Generative design allows for simulation to create a design whereas analysis tools allow for testing of part design every step of the way.

The increasing utilization of simulation in modern part design is only natural, in fact, it’s primal to our drive as engineers. We innately seek to improve, innovate, optimize, and otherwise endeavor to design the best part/assembly/machine possible. Simulation tools and the development therein leverage themselves on our innate desire to know.

Even with the current state of CAD integrated simulation tools, there are still hurdles to overcome and improvements to be made. The NAFEMS World Congress, the International Association for the Engineering Modelling, Analysis, and Simulation Community, recently recognized many areas needing improvement in simulation tools in their 2017 assembly. They cited the most prolific problems of current simulation tools reuse of knowledge, speed and model fidelity, and pre-design simulation. In other words, the ways that NAFEMS believes simulation tools need to improve are their abilities to capture and reapply learned knowledge from past analysis, the speed and fidelity of models (which will naturally improve with cloud implementation/increased processing power) and the ability for simulation to be used before the design process.

So, while the modern usage of simulation tools alongside CAD has improved and grown to a point that has far exceeded many’s expectations, there’s a long way to go before it is perfect. This means good things for us as engineers. If we want more abilities to simulate, chances are they are coming with improved technical infrastructure. Cloud implementation is so vital to the adoption of simulation because simulation by nature requires significant processing power. Cloud offsets this burden from the engineer to the cloud data center, making expansive simulation analysis possible for anyone, anywhere.

The future of simulation is now, but the innovation won’t be over anytime soon.

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Trevor English

Trevor is a civil engineer by trade and an accomplished internet blogger with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children's book author whose most recent book, ZOOM Go the Vehicles, is aimed at inspiring young kids to have an interest in engineering.