Manufacturing industries are increasing the use of simulation tools to better understand and validate product behavior leading to more informed design decisions. However, I have always wondered how companies that adopt aggressive design simulation processes successfully manage the resulting data. The first step to an answer is asking a key question: do best practices to capture, manage and re-use simulation data exist? For these companies, best practices need to be in place. Effective management of simulation data is increasingly important as simulation becomes a core business process and organizations rely on simulation results as the basis for business decisions.
- My investigation…
So I started by researching how data management was done about 50 years ago with the Apollo spacecraft. The image below shows the amount of documentation that had to be managed which in turn contributed to reliability, safety, and success. If one batch of one alloy in one part was found to be faulty, for example, a search could show if the bad material had found its way into other spacecraft.
It may have put a man on the moon, but it won’t fly today. Relying on traditional manual systems for Simulation Data Management is no longer a valid strategy.It used to be necessary in the absence of appropriate Information Technology. Companies now recognize that simulation information is valuable intellectual property that needs to be captured, shared, and leveraged throughout the design process. And this can be done through effective Data Management tools.
2. Manage Simulation Data in SOLIDWORKS EPDM
The good news is that there is a lot of intellectual analysis data being created somewhere on every user’s machine (see image below). It just needs to be organized and searchable for repeatability, scalability and consistency!
SOLIDWORKS EPDM integrates SOLIDWORKS Simulation data into a single environment where simulation files can be managed for different model and analysis versions. SOLIDWORKS customers using these tools have implemented workflows that tie into the main engineering workflow. My goal when I started working with EPDM was to look at more than just a Simulation workflow. How can we build intelligence into this process by creating quick search tools and features that would allow reusing existing data in a seamless way? There are hidden gems in SOLIDWORKS Simulation, such as Library features for Loads, Fixtures, and Connectors that provide a powerful platform for reusing information.
Setting up the Workflow was the first step with the goal of creating more visibility among different levels of users.
There are at least the 5W’s in this workflow:
- Who performed the simulation?
- What type of simulation was performed?
- When, or at which stage of the design cycle, did the simulation occur?
- Where did the geometry, material properties and load conditions originate?
- Why was the simulation done?
The Simulation workflow (see images below) then becomes a branch of the Main Engineering workflow. This allows managing and sharing Simulation methods across cross functional departments to improve reliability, consistency and for better communication.
The key here is to start building intelligence during each stage of the workflow process. For example, in Step 3 (see image above), the analysis manager sets the analysis requirements by choosing the specific analyses type. This information is automatically streamed into the SOLIDWORKS file. This allows another user at a later date to be able to search and retrieve this model containing the analysis information!
With SOLIDWORKS EPDM, you can easily create a custom interface for the above scenario. Below is an example. The analysis manager can check off ‘Linear Statics” and so now a flag for Linear Statics is created in the SOLIDWORKS document which becomes searchable.
The customized search tool below can be used by the analysis engineer to retrieve a model easily with specific analysis information. The keyword “flange” along with “Linear Statics” checkbox selection retrieves a model that has been through an approval process. The engineer now can look up the model for material, fixtures, loads etc. that needs to be replicated on a similar design!
This works great for a user who knows the tools. For a new user, simulation library features can be very useful. The library features are interactive and also can show the user what geometry needs to be selected for applying loads, connectors, fixtures etc. Here is how a library feature works:
- First Save the desired entity as a Library feature by simply right mouse clicking on it and selecting “Add to Library”
- On the new design, simply drag and drop the library feature and the appropriate dialog box opens up. The user makes the geometry selections needed. The force value is already defined. The image below shows how this is done
You can also create simulation library features that actually show a preview of the geometry selections. The image below shows how this works for a Symmetry Fixture. You simply drag and drop the library feature and a preview shows the geometry selections to be made.
The entire library feature can reside in your data management system and updated as necessary. All users can have access and this truly enforces guidelines and best practices for a company on current and future projects. Most importantly intelligent simulation data now has become a knowledge base that can be re-used anytime, anywhere by anyone in your company!
Detailed reports using SOLIDWORKS Simulation can be also created by the analysis engineer for submission. Supporting documentation simplifies the review process for that version of the design as well as accompanying analysis information.
The analysis manager can then review the work done, approve and then hand it off to the engineering manager for final approval.
Finally, the image below is a snapshot of the History of this process that addresses the 5Ws mentioned earlier in this article.
In summary, the combination of SOLIDWORKS EPDM and Simulation tools provides a powerful platform that can be easily leveraged to:
- Providing a more collaborative environment
- Improve traceability of design validation
- Increase Data Security
- Eliminate barriers between various groups / departments
- Enabling improved assessment of risks and informed decisions