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Emerging from the Dark Ages

Engineering Simulation
June 6, 2017 By: Nick Veikos

In the study of history, the “Dark Ages” traditionally represent the period of cultural and economic decay of Western Europe after the decline of the Roman Empire. During this time, the cultural, literary, and scientific accomplishments of the Greeks and Romans seem to have been misplaced. Not until the beginning of the Renaissance in 14th century Florence were the classics re-discovered and used as the foundations of a new humanism, transitioning Europe into the modern era. (This synopsis is not quite accurate, but I’m an engineer and not a historian, so close is good enough!)

Many engineers who sparingly perform simulation experience their own form of Renaissance every time they begin a new analysis after a long hiatus. Having forgotten how to use their software tools, they slowly emerge from the “Dark Ages” and begin to recreate the knowledge they acquired the last time they had to implement simulation. They complete their assignment, but the slow start-up process repeats itself the next time around. This Sisyphean approach is a big reason that engineering simulation is not used as often as it should be.

It does not have to be this way. The simplest solution, of course, is to use simulation in all phases of the development cycle, keeping the knowledge fresh and top of mind. The benefits of this approach have been clearly proven in countless studies, white papers, and are highlighted in some of my previous blog posts.

However, many organizations are slow to migrate to this approach, for a variety of reasons. They can still minimize the re-learning pain through implementation of a few simple activities and best practices which are summarized below:

  • Employ simulation software which is easy-to use, and includes some basic guided workflows for representative applications right out of the box, along with context-sensitive help. Infrequent users will be guided step-by-step through typical simulations and can easily get extra assistance with a simple mouse-click. Ease-of use is not everything, however. It does not help if you have an easy path to the wrong answer, so it is also important that the software include all the functionality and robust, accurate solvers you need today, plus provide a migration path for the simulations you will want to run tomorrow.

  • If your simulation requirements are repetitive from project to project, or there are boundary conditions, specifications, or simulation requirements unique to your organization, it will be worthwhile to develop custom applications, assuming your simulation software allows it. In addition to further automating the user experience, they will automatically enforce engineering simulation best practices and further streamline simulation workflows. Below is an example of a custom application for a hip implant simulation based on a standard simulation practices defined by ASTM F2996-13 in ANSYS AIM.

  • In addition to attending instructor-led training seminars on a regular basis, it is important to have proper training material readily available to the engineering team on-demand. It should be easy to access, provide step-by-step instructions and best practices for common types of simulation on frequently analyzed components, including ways to validate results. For the best outcome, this material should not be only software-focused, but include conceptual information. For example, what types of boundary conditions should be applied in certain situations, and what are the implications if incorrect ones are chosen. A web-based implementation with material that is specific, easily searchable, and easy to maintain/augment is one potential approach.
  • Rather than have the engineering team rummage through their computer “junk drawers” in order to resurrect previous projects which are similar to the current requirements, exemplary projects can be housed in an easy to access database. Prior projects can be searched by user-defined keywords and be used as templates or starting points for current simulation projects. It is important to vet these properly, so they are true examples of best practices and do not propagate bad practices. Having this reference library at engineers’ fingertips can be a big help to get things started. This type of repository has a myriad of other advantages that I will talk more about in a future post.

There are certainly commitments and investments to be made, but implementation of some or all of the above items will quickly clear the cobwebs and go a long way towards helping infrequent users get up to speed quickly. They will improve their skills every time they do simulation, rather than simply recover their previous baseline. The result will be enhanced, more frequent simulation, resulting in better products.

Have you encountered other means to keep simulation methods fresh in the minds of infrequent users? Please feel free to share them – we are all interested to learn more.