Why Over-The-Wall Simulation is Over-The-Hill
I am not an FE Analyst, by any stretch of the imagination. My hands-on engagement with FEA is limited to technical application support (some years ago now) and a handful of simulations that I have run for academic purposes, to make pretty pictures or to ensure sufficient airflow through a biltong dryer that I built a few years ago. None of the work I have ever performed in this field has even scratched the surface of the difficult mathematical, analytical and interpretive process that is required to produce a useful and valuable FEA result. I have, however, been fortunate enough to work with many FE analysts, both internally and externally, who perform such work on a daily basis. More often than not these people are highly qualified and experienced individuals who are a costly line-item on the company books, and yet their work is almost without fail one of the most poorly integrated components of the product development process.
Here is a brief example on what this process might look like at any number of organisations:
It is easy to see why FEA is often regarded as a bottleneck and performed as a matter of due diligence rather than a value-adding component of the product development process. The cause of this disconnect is two-fold, partly technological and partly procedural, although the procedural aspect is really a result of the technology so we can examine them together.
Historically simulation tools have been stand-alone, geometry agnostic vertical solutions for their particular discipline, be it structural, fluid, thermal analysis etc. CAD geometry is thrown over the wall, the link is broken, an FE model is built and from a data perspective that is it. Oh, you would like to make a change? Please insert CAD geometry for round 2…
The lack of direct associativity creates two issues; one is that it forces FEA to become an end-of-the-line function as you need to wait for a complete CAD model before you can really begin. The second is that your iterations can take as long as the first round because everything needs to be rebuilt.
Sure, there are mainstream CAD-embedded FEA tools, the kind that has “FEA” listed as a single feature underneath “drafting”… Then you have the simulation-company-who-also-kinda-bought-a-geometry-modeler-and-made-the-logos-the-same, the challenge here is that it probably wasn’t a proper CAD tool, to begin with, and more than likely isn’t the same CAD tool used by the rest of the company. Resulting in the same silo as before.
The Ideal Solution
Ideally what you would want is the love child of a world-class CAD tool (like NX®), an analyst level FEM tool (Simcenter® comes to mind), and the most well-known solver in the world (Nastran). You would want a single and consistent user interface that can switch from a CAD environment to a FEM environment and take full advantage of the associative master model concept while having at its disposal an entire catalogue of solver capability. Perhaps this solution should also extend into CAM and additive manufacturing? You might very well also want an intravenous connection to the world’s leading PLM system (something like Teamcenter®). You would be right and justified in wanting these things, it is 2018 for crying out loud! You should take your current tied-together-with-bits-of-string, 2x vendor, 3x developer, 5x file format solution and kick it down the road. You deserve a more efficient product development process