Simulation is an undeniably important part of modern design, whether it’s something relatively simple like the packaging for a fruit container or a highly complex piece of machinery like a modern fighter jet.
In both cases, designers and engineers will run extensive tests on the various parts of the product or system prior to any sort of real-world usage, in order to identify areas of improvement and possible problems that could grow into more serious issues down the line.
A brief history lesson
According to SOLIDWORKS expert Alex Kok, simulation was historically used to determine whether a product could take a specific load or the product would deal with a specific set of complex conditions which were commonly encountered in the fields of civil and aeronautical engineering. Simulating how a structural component would behave under operational conditions and then optimizing the mass of the component to ensure the lightest weight possible would be a familiar sounding scenario for many a structural engineer.
What was once a tool for rarified fields of complex engineering fields, access to computer-aided simulation tools have now gone mainstream and become accessible to almost any engineer requiring its capabilities. Thanks to the rise of affordable computing power and growth of cutting-edge desktop-based computer aided design (CAD) tools, both product designers and engineers can today utilise simulation in more effective ways.
Bridging simulation and design
Why not utilise simulation right from the start? Instead of waiting to design products and then conducting simulation afterwards, why not instead continually test and refine the product and its various components from the outset?
“Simulation is more than just testing after the fact. It allows people to consider different “what if” scenarios and come up with different prototypes,” Alex explained.
“It’s about seeing what suits a particular project. Asking about whether we can do it better or if there’s room to optimise.”
In the aviation industry, for example aeronautical engineers could use simulation software to optimize the geometry of control surfaces easily with reference to varying scenarios which could take up to years of physical testing. Multiple designs could be considered, refined and optimized without physically building components, test rigs and simulating different environments.
“It’s all about looking at what’s possible, and pushing the limits beyond what was initially thought as,” Alex said.
Quadcopters and fridges
Using such sophisticated simulation software isn’t limited to major military industrial projects, however. It can prove extremely effective for objects people use every day.
Take a drone, for example. Like the jet, this is a machine that’s going to spend much of its time up in the air. By achieving the perfect balance of weight and power, and seeing how the small vehicle would respond to different temperatures and sudden changes in wind speed, designers could ensure a much better end product. Another potential area of consideration for the use of simulation would be finding the delicate balance between the weight of the frame and its ability to both carry the required loads and possibly survive a crash.
Another potential area of consideration for the use of simulation would be finding the delicate balance between the weight of the frame and its ability to both carry the required loads and possibly survive a crash.
And what about something less fantastic like a fridge? With the ability to quickly simulate how temperature reacts in a confined space, and the effect it has on the various materials within the compartment, engineers can identify where best to place cooling lines, vents and even things like vegetable or egg trays.
“Simulation can really be used anywhere, and kitchenware is a good example,” Alex said. “Look at a fridge. Why are there cooling vents in the upper corners, but the fruit is stored at the base? Someone had to simulate how the cold would move about within the fridge.”
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With the capabilities already available, there’s nothing stopping designers and engineers from moving ahead with a powerful new approach to product development.
Whether it’s a multi-million dollar fighter jet or even something as simple as a remote controlled aircraft, utilising simulation throughout the design process will always yield a more capable, proven product.