Four Questions to Ask When Getting Started With Simulation

Four Questions to Ask When Getting Started With Simulation

Many businesses decide that they want to start using simulation — perhaps because a product failed in an unexpected way, or they’re trying a new material or manufacturing process.

Designers have taken motion modeling and other CAD techniques as far as they can and now need to add CAE into their process. These designers often ask, “How do I get started with simulation? Is there a course? Are there online tutorials? What’s a good reference work?”

There’s no single answer, but here are a couple of things to consider as you start your CAE journey:

1: What type of simulation do you need to do?
CAE is used to predict performance, optimize designs and validate decisions, but within those general categories are many different technologies and techniques. Structural analysis, mechanical stress modeling, vibration, motion, flow, multiphysics, and design space exploration may each require a different type of learning environment, depending on your expertise.

You could pick up structural analysis and mechanical stress modeling from online resources like tutorials and YouTube videos but a class is never a bad idea. With an instructor and other students around you, you avoid building bad habits and learn the most efficient way to create your simulation. CFD and multiphysics may be best learned in a class, with refreshers from tutorials and the like. You could also informally apprentice to an expert in your organization and learn both simulation and your company processes.

It may be worth starting your simulation journey by duplicating known cases to ensure that you’ve correctly set up and run the simulation. If your results don’t match, figure out why. Check simulation results against the physical test results whenever possible, especially as you build your skills.

Simulation has been likened to a sand box, where you need to experiment to develop, calibrate and validate the simulations you run. You need to build a toolkit that lets you explore and refine your techniques over time.

2: Are you dabbling or all-in?
Like most skills, the more you simulate, the faster you’ll get and the more confidence you’ll have in the results. If you’re going to use CAE only occasionally, it’s hard to build that competence and you may be better off outsourcing CAE to experts. If simulation is going to be a regular part of your job, what you learn in a class is more likely to stick and help you build your toolkit.

That said, it takes time to become proficient with CAE. Your first project may be a nail-biter; your second will be better and faster and you’ll be more certain of your results, and so on. Give yourself enough time to learn and grow. It may even make sense to create a “deep dive” project to learn what you really can and can’t do with the model and tools you have access to, and how to interpret those results.

A lot of people want to learn simulation to build their resumes. More skills are always good, but don’t try to promote expertise you don’t yet have. It’s hard to fake mastery.

3: Do you have a “simulation worthy” problem?
Simulation is most useful when it’s applied to a problem that can’t be solved any other way. If the problem isn’t important enough to justify spending days creating and validating the model and results, you could be creating a situation where CAE is perceived to be a lot of effort for little return.

Use CAE when the problem is important, such as reducing a significant risk or eliminating an expensive prototype, and when it can save money and time. It’s very hard to compare an investment (CAE) to a cost avoided (prototype), but companies typically look at prior product development programs to reach these comparisons.

4: Do you have an example to follow?
CAE is both art and science. Many simulations make tradeoffs between model accuracy and complexity, trying to get a good enough result as quickly as possible. People who are new to simulation often find it hard to strike this balance, and mentors or corporate methods and procedures can remove some of the confusion. If that is not possible, I would suggest working through the examples provided at training and tutorial sessions. While they may not be exactly the same as what you’re trying to simulate, they’ll show you how to set up an appropriate simulation.

Classes, books, online tutorials, mentoring and in-software help features all make CAE easier to start than ever before. What are you waiting for?

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