Preventing Product Failure With Simulation Software

To combat product failure risk, many companies look to simulation software to find the balance between reducing part cost and protecting product reliability.

A motorcycle rotor undergoes a validation test using SIMULIA Abaqus simulation software. (Image credit: SIMULIA)
A motorcycle rotor undergoes a validation test using SIMULIA Abaqus simulation software. (Image credit: SIMULIA)

In response to competitive pressures, manufacturers constantly strive to reduce the cost of their products. However, these efforts typically have a direct impact on the risk of product failure. To combat this risk, many companies are looking to simulation software to find the ideal balance between reducing part cost and protecting product reliability.

“Premature failure not only drives warrantee costs up – it also has the potential to decimate a company’s hard-earned reputation for quality,” explains David Barnes, Senior Director, SIMULIA.

Moreover, new materials, manufacturing processes, and integrated technologies are challenging the existing processes that companies use for managing product lifecycle. Simulation allows companies to evaluate the implications of these new influences in a virtual design context where application experience is simply not available.

“The methods of trial and error, physical prototyping, and commissioning are often too slow, too costly, and incapable of keeping pace with the opportunities and risks that some of these larger macro trends present,” says Greg Fallon, Vice President of Simulation, Autodesk Product Development. “Simulation capabilities will play an essential role in helping companies successfully navigate these risks and secure additional market value.”

Flawless Performance 

Today’s products – whether a smartphone or construction machinery – are expected to perform more flawlessly at broader operating parameters and in harsher environments than ever before. According to Barnes, testing is not only expensive and time consuming, but it only offers minimal insight into the performance of a product.

“Simulation provides much more comprehensive feedback on the design, allowing the engineer to understand things such as failure margins, load paths, the impact of tolerances on performance, and allows a quick efficient exploration of the complete design space to identify the ideal design,” he explains.

With the power of today’s hardware and software, companies can include a far broader range of operating conditions and other design variables into their design assessments to greatly reduce the risk of product failures.

Many simulation software developers have been adding capabilities to simulate nearly any loading condition imaginable. Whereas in the past analyses included many assumptions and simplifications, today many customers are modeling not only the product, but also the surrounding environment so that minimal assumptions are required.

“Multi-physics simulations that combine computational fluid dynamics with finite element analysis are now commonplace and eliminate the need to guess at the loading of a structure interacting with fluids or to estimate heat transfer coefficients,” says Barnes.

Perhaps of more impact is that computer-aided engineering (CAE) goes well beyond simulating the effects of environmental conditions: it provides the ability to describe and predict the influences of components and systems to each other.

For example, understanding that rapid heat and cooling may significantly degrade the fatigue life of an assembly – in a way that an isolated linear or dynamic analysis may not reveal – is powerful information for an engineering team.

A motorcycle rotor undergoes a validation test using SIMULIA Abaqus simulation software. (Image credit: SIMULIA)A motorcycle rotor undergoes a validation test using SIMULIA Abaqus simulation software. (Image credit: SIMULIA)

“Coupling system influences and interactions with application and environmental conditions is a key aspect of understanding and predicting the ever expanding demands on product performance,” says Fallon.

Meeting Today's Challenges 

A rapid evolution in simulation is taking place on both the platform and with regard to who the targeted user is. In the past, simulation software was designed strictly for users that were specialists in their field. But with market growth in low cost computational capability, high speed networks, and the emergence of global digital financial systems, the stage has been set for a period of innovation in the CAE market.

“The fact is that for the first time, CAE can begin to live up to the aspirations of the ‘E’ in its acronym,” muses Fallon. “With new solutions that focus on ease of use, improved solution interaction, and visualization – not to mention readily available computational power, collaboration, and mobile access via the cloud – simulation is evolving to be an integral part of the product design and manufacturing process.”

In fact, companies like SimScale are making it possible to do powerful engineering simulations via a standard web browser. All users need is an Internet connection to test and validate the performance of their product designs.

In addition to ease of use and simulation in the cloud, Barnes believes there are three additional simulation trends currently molding the future of the simulation software market:


Traditionally, simulation has been relegated to the role of validation – to confirm the integrity of a design after-the-fact. But to truly get the most value from simulation, it has to be deployed during the design process, which means it needs to be squarely in the hands of the design engineer.

That places much greater demand on ease of use for simulation software, and demands a seamless collaboration between the designers and the simulation experts within a company. The simulation experts need tools to quickly build and deploy simple, specialized vertical applications for their designers that have safeguards and best practices built-in to provide that intuitive, highly efficient use while ensuring the integrity of the results.

Design exploration driven by process automation and process integration. 

By eliminating assumptions and considering every possible move, IBM’s Deep Blue computer was able to defeat Garry Kasparov in a historical chess match that took place in 1997. What if we could deploy that power of the computer to identify novel, game-changing designs?

Industry leading companies are doing just that by combining process automation and process integration tools with the power of optimization algorithms. By exhaustively scouring the entire available design space, computers are finding new, often counter-intuitive designs that outperform their traditional approach counterparts. Given that Moore’s Law of computing power is alive and well, this trend will only continue to gain widespread application.

Additive manufacturing. 

The concept of additive manufacturing is straightforward. Design a part and then use a 3D printer to produce it. Simple, right? Well, not really. Because the typical manufacturing approach builds the part in layers and there are many process variables at play, getting a final part that matches the intended shape is a huge challenge.

By using simulation to study and optimize the manufacturing process, any warpage can be reverse engineered out of the part and the maximum manufacturing speeds can be reached. Not only do companies need to produce parts that are within geometric tolerances, they want to maximize production speeds. Balancing these often competing objectives is no easy task, and simulation tools are ideally suited to solve this complex problem.

Best Practices Moving Forward

As simulation software evolves and continues to improve over the next decade, so must the training and continuing education for its users.

“Having the unique perspective of peering into the inner workings of a broad range of our customers, I can tell you that the productivity of analysts that have been trained well is head and shoulders above those that are left to learn on their own or that passively pick up their skills from their colleagues,” asserts Barnes.

The extensive capabilities that are built into today’s simulation software means that there are ten different ways to do everything, but some methods are much more efficient than others. Choosing which techniques are best for a given situation is something that takes the experience and skill of a master at the craft. Thankfully, the emerging platform approach to simulation holds the potential for capturing the knowledge of the expert as a corporate asset and deploying that knowledge to others.

Not only does the analyst need to evolve, but so do the companies developing the software. The simulation market is aware that it needs to progress in several areas in order to keep pace with consumer demands and market trends. For example, simulation software needs to become easier to use and easier to consistently apply so that it can be incorporated into mainstream design and manufacturing processes.

Cost has also been a significant inhibitor to widespread adoption, whether in the form of software, hardware, or maintenance costs. However, cloud-based subscription offerings address the cost issues of upfront software purchases, the cost of maintaining hardware, and provide the flexibility of elastic, on-demand computing resources.

Fallon predicts, “The result of all of these changes and the shift to cloud-based platforms should be improved simplicity, broadened access, interconnected and automated capabilities, as well as the inclusion of big data and artificial intelligence to actively take part in the development of revolutionary products.”

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 print issue of Product Design & Development. 

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