When “Form Follows Simulation”

If you have a degree in a design discipline or have worked as a design engineer, you’ve probably heard this phrase more than once.  The principle behind “form follows function” is that the shape of an object or building should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.  While studying Industrial Design at Auburn University, one of my professors would constantly repeat this phrase to our class along with “no sharp corners” …one of his other pet-peeves.

We all know that the function of a product should be the primary emphasis for design, however I believe a new design paradigm is emerging – I call it, “form follows simulation.” To illustrate this principle, I’ll refer to a conversation I had with Jeremy Singley, a product designer who uses SolidWorks Simulation to streamline 18 wheeler truck designs.

Jeremy has been working with AirFlow Truck to greatly reduce fuel costs by producing more aerodynamic tractor trailers.  We did a recent case study on Jeremy here.  The interesting thing is that simulation not only validated the aerodynamics in the design, but Jeremy says, “the simulations drove the design from the beginning.”  He would notice the flow lines over the surfaces down the truck, which would “suggest changes in the truck design.”  Jeremy’s first design (The SuperTruck) was using an existing truck platform, but they are now working on a re-design (FutureTruck), which will reduce fuel costs even more than the original design.

Here is a picture of the latest design of the SuperTruck (dubbed the “BulletTruck”):


What I also found interesting is how Jeremy incorporates SolidWorks simulation into his design workflow.  He says, “it’s so easy to use, that it’s part of the design process…I make a model, run simulation, without leaving SolidWorks, tweek the model, then run again.”  This continuous simulate-design-simulate-design process eventually produces the final design.

But the greatest value to implementing this new “form follows simulation” paradigm is to stay ahead of your competition, as simulation validates your design, and takes away countless hours of guess work or debate about a design.  Stephen Endersby (SolidWorks’ Product Manager for Simulation) says “Simulation analysis must be a part of the design process, not just validation at the end, to be effective.”  Stephen notes that this practice of validating design through simulation is nothing new, but it’s something we can do much easier and quicker with SolidWorks Simulation.

Unfortunately, I can only fantasize about what SolidWorks Simulation would have done to help my design course grades back in college, but I bet I could have validated some of the “sharp corners” in my designs to my professors.

And remember, you heard the principle “form follows simulation” coined here first!

For more information on the case study from Jeremy Singley, click here.

To see a video on SolidWorks Flow Simulation for tractor trailer designs click here (may have to register):


Cliff Medling

Cliff Medling is a Senior Marketing Manager at SolidWorks and the host for the Born to Design Podcast.