How intuitive CAE apps accelerate product development

Today, companies face multiple challenges in launching increasingly complex products to the market faster. In particular, the lack of specialized knowledge available from simulation experts in the field of computer-aided engineering (CAE) often slows down product development. Easy-to-use CAE applications can remedy this situation and significantly improve the way products are developed and optimized.

Isolated expertise as a bottleneck in product development

However, daily practice reveals that answering supposedly simple questions, such as the effects of a material change on the deformation behavior of a component or the functional consequences of minor, production-related changes to the component geometry, via simulation, still demands significant organizational effort.

Complex issues require the exchange of numerous pieces of information between the involved process partners. Examples of this include providing current CAD statuses on the part of the design department or feeding back existing test results into the simulation. In addition, relevant decision deadlines and available simulation capacities must be considered. The execution and evaluation of the simulation usually demands specialized expertise, often isolated in expert groups and only available to a limited extent.

Providing access to expert knowledge throughout the organization

Therefore, the goal should be to break down barriers to using simulation technologies, making them accessible to a broad user group – regardless of their technical expertise. The way to achieve this can be termed as “technical democratization of simulation”. It involves integrating existing technical know-how into intuitive CAE applications and making them available to all users company-wide through a CAE business layer.

Three steps to the CAE business layer:

  1. Analysis
    The initial step involves a thorough inventory of the existing CAE processes within the company. This helps to identify the most important processes based on their relevance to the application and to decide which ones are suitable for the development of a CAE application according to the cost-benefit principle.
  2. Standardization
    The next step is the standardization of the identified CAE processes which needs the expertise of the calculation engineers. The requirements for the input factors of the CAE process, such as necessary parameters and data, as well as the desired output from the CAE process, are clearly defined. Since simulation processes are typically a complex interplay of different software tools, particular attention is paid to error handling in case potential issues arise during the ongoing process.
  3. Automation
    Subsequently, the CAE application is developed and implemented in the company. Deployment on a software platform available throughout the company, which also hosts the data required and generated for the process, ensures comprehensive traceability

Successively, a CAE business layer is created which unites the CAE applications.

CAE apps dashboard in CONTACT Elements (© CONTACT Software)

Concerns and opportunities

Broad access to simulation technologies does not mean everyone becomes an expert but users are guided through complex processes. An integrated error-handling system reacts to incorrect inputs or deviations in the expected data. Experience shows that expert skills and simulation expertise are not devalued. On the contrary, experienced engineers with a wealth of practical experience and methodological know-how remain indispensable. Through general usage, they can focus on more challenging tasks, accompany decision-making processes, or concentrate on the advancement of simulation methods.

Conclusion: User-friendly CAE applications combine efficiency and innovation

The company-wide provision of user-friendly CAE applications marks an opportunity to establish simulation methods even earlier and more consistently in product development. More users are involved in the process, utilization of resources improves, innovations can be advanced more efficiently and enhanced products will be brought to market in less time. At the same time, it allows simulation experts to focus on more demanding tasks.

Of describing and showing in product development

“I notice you don’t really understand what I’m talking about. Wait a minute, I’ll show you.” Often communication fails when people are forced to describe things instead of showing them. Because they are either out of reach or because they simply don’t exist in real life. Like products that are still in the development stage. That’s why designers are downright DIY experts. With a product idea in mind, they quickly build a prototype with cardboard and glue. In this way, they succeed in showing what is difficult to put into words. This is exactly what efficient product development processes need and can be achieved through deeper integration of 3D visualization functions into the PLM system.

A picture is worth a thousand words

The value added by images over pure text is something we take for granted these days in a multimedia world. On Instagram and elsewhere, text only underscores what has already been captured in the image. But how much of this self-evidence has arrived in the IT systems that support the work of manufacturing companies? In my perception, describing is still more important than showing: The majority of the screens contain characters, words, tables and sentences.

Since the spread of CAD systems, especially in PLM applications, there has been no shortage of images. Hardly any product is manufactured before it has been designed in advance as a (3D) image. The 3D model is a natural tool in product development and in times of increasing product individualization an ideal tool for communication around the product. From chairs to electric cars: across all industries, products can be individually configured online and viewed in 3D before they are ordered and produced.

Why does enterprise software still remain so text-heavy?

CAD software licenses are expensive. Companies therefore often only equip a few workstations with it. In addition, CAD software as proprietary file formats cannot be easily opened by other programs. Thus, access to 3D geometries remains limited to an exclusive club.

If this hurdle is overcome, for example with neutral 3D viewers, the question of how 3D geometry and text can best be combined with the operating UIs of the enterprise software still remains. Beyond the fanciful visions of the future concerning data handling with VR/AR à la Minority Report, there is still a lack of concepts in reality for combining information from 3D models and databases in a uniform operating pattern.

So, where do we go next?

The first step is to bring 3D geometries into the UI alongside the usual textual content. In addition to displaying and rotating, a basic function is the ability to navigate inside the model in order to view individual components in detail by selectively showing and hiding them. Functions such as entering, saving and sharing annotations on the 3D model are also helpful for effective communication within the team. Furthermore, additional Digital Mock Up (DMU) calculation functions can support certain decision-making processes. Such as a neighborhood search to analyze the impact of an engineering change. Or a model comparison to subsequently understand the scope of this change.

In the second step, geometric and textual information must be combined in the UI. This creates an integrated user interface that offers added value in terms of content. Moreover, how would it be if the 3D model in PLM applications no longer served as an illustration of the parts list but, conversely, the parts master data enriched the 3D geometries? Or if tables and textual hyperlinks are abolished and a real geometric or spatial navigation is available? Or if users can visually browse the parts inventory like in a warehouse instead of tracking down numbers in a list? Or, or, or.

We have become so accustomed to working with strings in information technology (I’m thinking of command lines, relational databases, hyperlinks and so on) that other operating patterns seem unthinkable. Here it is time to rethink and unleash the visual power of 3D geometry to communicate quickly and accurately in business processes.

In my German-language webcast on October 7, 2021, you will learn how to make 3D visualization and inspection functionality accessible to all PLM users throughout the product lifecycle and ensure seamless integration of geometric and PLM data – in one interface, without having to jump to expensive standalone viewers.