This article first appeared in print as a two-part series on simulation in an economic downtown. Part 1 appeared in the October issue of Fluid Power World.
Contributed by Bipin Kashid, Simulation Engineer and Mitch Eichler, Applications Engineer, Parker Hannifin Hydraulic Valve Division
Economic slowdowns can hurt new business through tightening budgets, order reductions or losses and breeding uncertainty in the business. Because of this, many companies choose to put research and development departments in a slowdown in an effort to maintain a semblance of normal operations. However, while focusing on survivability in these times is understandable, neglecting long-term growth will ultimately harm a business, causing design engineers to make hasty decisions with limited information which can affect the quality of the products and the total product cost.
Innovation and R&D must always be an area of focus, especially during an economic slowdown, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem. To do this, engineering teams must harness the power of new technologies to drive innovation. Through computer-aided engineering (CAE), engineers can expedite R&D testing, bringing products to market faster, and developing higher quality products at lower development costs.
The power of simulation
Physical, real-world testing and prototyping have long been the backbone of R&D. However, with modern CAE, simulations are now an effective and reliable way to fast-track product innovation, offering shorter design cycle timeframes and reduced costs.
The power of CAE software centers around virtual prototyping. The advantages of virtual prototyping include:
- Lower costs
- Shorter time to market
- Higher-quality designs
- More competitive products
Before a wider adoption of simulation, the prototyping phase of a new product development project primarily involved creating a new physical prototype with each design change, leading to countless hours spent and piles of discarded castings, machined components and other hardware. Because parts made with permanent tooling, castings for example, can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars, the costs of design iterations can add up quickly. A cost-efficient prototyping process hinged upon getting the design right on the very first try, which, as any engineer would say, is about as likely to happen as winning the lottery. In engineering, it’s fairly easy to get it “right,” however it is not easy to barely get it right when it comes to perfectly optimizing for balanced performance and cost.
Now, through CAE-enabled virtual prototyping, engineers can create an analytical model of their design. These models allow a product to be tested in a virtual environment without the time and cost associated with making a physical test specimen. When simulation is an integral design tool, more time can be spent on product optimization instead of working to create products that merely achieve the minimum functional design requirements.
No matter where a design team is in the design process, simulation can help. Common virtual tests include:
- Linear/non-linear static stress simulations to evaluate the strength of components based on how they will be loaded and constrained during operation,
- Thermal analysis and CFD simulations to gauge heat distribution through a model, and determine fluid flow in and around objects,
- Modal/vibration simulations to examine what happens to a part and how it performs when it undergoes vibration, and
- Fatigue simulation to identify the maximum stress, strain and deformations components will experience in use.
Simulations keep testing flexible and cost-effective, saving months or even years stuck in the design phase. That flexibility is key. Virtual prototyping allows an engineer to perform sensitivity and optimization studies where manufacturing tolerances are varied to determine acceptable and achievable tolerances from the very beginning of the project. This leads to fewer product iterations and less scrap during prototyping and production.
Simulation also makes it possible to benchmark designs against competitors by comparing a competitor’s product against the engineer’s own designs with virtual analysis tools. This way engineers can achieve better performance indicators and surpass the competition before finalizing the design.
This can help to build confidence in simulation modelling to accurately predict product performance. Economic downturns present an opportune time to focus engineering efforts on building simulation-based predictive models with confidence.
With virtual prototyping, design issues are often more apparent, allowing engineers to catch mistakes before they make it to final production. Late design changes and on-site modifications are risky and extremely costly; they delay project timelines and negatively impact customer confidence and growth, making it critical to identify errors as early on in a project as possible. Simulation coupled with tools like Design Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (DFMEA) can identify failures early in a development cycle so that engineers can create successful designs and not be forced to compete with mediocre products or limited resources.
Engineering simulation can also help to break into new markets. With up-front benchmarking against competitors and using virtual prototyping to mitigate design risks, Parker was able to develop the VO20, a new aluminum open center sectional valve. Parker was able to make the valve lighter and more reliable while increasing efficiency and product life, making it a good fit for mobile equipment applications in the trailer market. With the valve’s simulation-validated test data regarding fatigue life and hydraulic efficiency, Parker was able to break into the trailer equipment market and is now expanding the use of the product into other markets where weight reduction is critical. In the last decade, simulation has been key in the expansion Parker has achieved in these markets and in others, like oil and gas. By using simulation tools to combine proven valve technology already used in mobile and industrial applications with advanced subsea technology, Parker has been able to repeatedly create products greater than the sum of their parts.
Power beyond prototyping
Simulation enables the creation of better prototypes quickly and efficiently, but the power of simulation doesn’t end after a final design is chosen. Extensive virtual testing across multiphysics domains make it possible to account for scenarios that cannot be replicated in physical testing. It also enables design space exploration to drive innovation in ways that are simply not feasible in physical tests. Simulation also allows troubleshooting any issues in the field without having to perfectly recreate the physical environment. By analyzing the problem with CAE software, design engineers can easily identify potential problematic characteristics that are not otherwise observable.
How simulation can combat effects of a downturn
Part of what makes simulation so powerful is its ability to resist, and even reverse, the impact of economic downturns. Layoffs, facility shutdowns and other economic hardships that would normally prevent product development are less of an issue with virtual testing.
Design teams can use simulation to help identify and eliminate areas of high cost or inefficiency, leading to more cost-effective virtual solutions. Playing into Value Analysis and Value Engineering (VAVE), simulation allows the team to explore creative problem-solving strategies that can promote product development and improve processes. By creating internal communities of practice (CoPs), as Parker does between seemingly disparate technology groups including aerospace, filtration, and fluid power, it is possible to leverage a large engineering team to examine simulation and design best practices without increasing engineering headcounts or incurring large overhead costs.
Legacy product lines that were designed before the advent of simulation can be revisited for the team to identify the hidden potentials for cost savings. These could include:
- Material reductions
- Simplifying electrical and mechanical systems
- Using more modular components
- Avoiding large welds
However, don’t make the mistake of ignoring how important simulation can be outside of the niche role of engineering product development teams. Simulation can play a part in many cross-functional teams, bridging the gaps between departments.
Simulation can provide value through the new product development stage by forming a relationship with customers through exchanging simulation models to better understand their systems and desired outcomes. Beyond designing, virtual tools can also assist marketing and sales in identifying what the most marketable features of products are. CAE testing provides a good salesperson more data than ever before, so make sure to highlight any key features in the next marketing pitch.
The product quality team can step in to analyze analytical models as if they were physical products, then advise the design team on any problematic features. Make sure to then loop in supply chain as the teams work toward the final product so that they can provide further component-related feedback and quickly find suppliers and implement their design for manufacturing suggestions to drive down cost.
By using CAE tools at every stage in the design process, from initial conception to the delivery of the final product, engineers will be able to add even greater value and help protect the business, even when business opportunities are threatened by a sluggish economy.
Complementary nature: CAE and physical testing
While CAE simulations offer great value to engineers, this is not to say that we should completely move away from physical testing. Simulation-enabled testing and standard physical tests go hand-in-hand, each building off of and benefitting from the other symbiotically. This method has increased the confidence level of simulations to the state where the model is used to verify good results instead of searching for acceptable results.
Without the data from real-world testing, CAE software would not be able to accurately simulate test cases. The physics and mathematics behind certain effects and environmental parameters can only be determined from tests.
Physical testing is also necessary to verify the results of a simulation. Building a physical prototype and running it through an actual use case allows designers to find and analyze any potential discrepancies between the virtual and physical results. Economic downturns provide the opportunity to run these physical tests to validate complex analytical models to build confidence in the data to create better predictive simulations, when there is a normally high level of design activity happening, these tests are not possible.
Physical and virtual prototyping are not competing technologies. Research and development engineers must manage the complementary relationships between virtual simulations testing and physical testing to deliver a standout product that exceeds customer expectations. Together, simulations and real-world testing offer a better, more complete solution for design engineers.
Simulation at work
The advantages of simulation aren’t just theoretical. Virtual testing has proven its value to countless design engineers and product manufactures by helping them fix critical issues that otherwise would have harmed their business.
When looking to optimize the design of a new wheel loader, one of Parker’s mobile equipment customers was able to see this value firsthand. It had become apparent to the engineering team that the system interaction of the vehicle hydraulic system and the main control valve could create oscillations during operation of the boom that failed to meet the performance criteria the customer expected out of the machine. A first troubleshooting step involved the addition of an orifice in the device’s workport to dampen the oscillations, but a more permanent production solution that minimized heat generation was required.
With the upfront use of multiphysics simulation tools, Parker identified a best-in-class solution concept that was proved during physical testing. By removing the orifice plate and optimizing the geometry of spool lands and notches, hydraulic efficiency was increased by 20%. This led to a faster cycle time for the customer without any boom shake or excessive heat generation. Since the problem could be plugged into a simulation, multiple design concepts were created in a fraction of the time it would have taken to create physical prototypes. Not only was a solution chosen that was fine-tuned for the wheel loader specifically, but Parker was also able to create additional IP and testing data for any future improvements.
Overcoming simulation roadblocks
There will always be initial roadblocks to process changes — some organizational, some physical — that get in the way of adopting or effectively utilizing new technology. CAE software is no exception. Most companies do some level of simulation, but many are not using it as effectively as they can to gain a competitive advantage in the market.
One of the biggest barriers that can prevent companies from taking advantage of simulation is the upfront cost. The computing resources and software needed to effectively simulate real-world testing environments can be very expensive to get set up. However, like many things, CAE software is an investment. With the cost savings of producing fewer physical prototypes, quicker design cycles, and thus increased engineering efficiencies, investing in the computing power needed for quality simulation testing will lead to significant savings in the long run. Additionally, as computing power and speed are increasing, the future of CAE will be real-time CFD and FEA being performed while engineers design parts.
Once companies have the tools that they need, there’s still the issue of getting the right people to use them. Advanced CAE software requires a certain level of technical expertise to use correctly. Even the most veteran engineers may not have the required experience if they’ve only worked with physical prototyping and testing methods.
Traditionally, simulations were always performed by an expert CAE analyst, often one with expertise in a specific domain of simulation such as FEA, CFD or 1D. That was fine when simulation was used sparingly, but now that we see the value of simulation in every stage of a product’s design cycle, having only a limited number of CAE analysts in the industry has become a major obstacle.
The solution here is simple: Better train the engineering team and bring on new talent skilled in simulation testing. Democratizing simulation across the design engineering community can also help, leveraging what each engineer can do individually as a part of a simulation team rather than requiring a single simulation expert. This can be accomplished either by utilizing standard simplified simulation apps and software that is specifically designed for non-CAE experts or by implementing easy-to-use simulation tools for routine analysis. For example, a design engineer can handle simple wall thickness calculations, orifice sizing, simple pressure drop and other static problems while saving the seasoned CAE analyst for more advanced transient and dynamic simulation across varying physical domains such as structural, fluids and electromagnetics. Additionally, creating a CAE library for the team and providing a best practice “master class” can improve adoption of CAE across design engineering teams.
Ultimately, a few CAE analysts are needed to champion the effort of democratizing simulation within an organization along with a strong engineering team willing to learn and support them. Having a dedicated senior CAE analyst can help a team:
- Identify appropriate simulation tools based on products
- Perform thorough CAE software evaluation and validation
- Establish and maintain simulation best practices and quality control
- Ensure accuracy and reliability in simulation results (simulation governance)
By democratizing simulation tools and having a strategic workflow in place, engineering teams within an organization can venture beyond traditional prototyping, into a larger design exploration space that will drive innovation and engineering excellence.
With these strategies, it becomes easier to push past the simulation barriers and achieve a more iterative and efficient design. Parker Hannifin’s experiences prove that simulation can open up a never-ending design space for design innovators to explore.
Capitalizing on simulation
To achieve shorter design cycle times and get a better product to market faster than ever before, it’s important to make simulation and virtual prototyping an integral part of product development process. Take strides to educate management on the importance of simulation and the role that it plays for the business as an innovation driver.
Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that teams were still using hand sketches instead of CAD. It is already becoming outdated to only use physical prototyping in the design process. Don’t get left behind.
Filed Under: News, Valves & Manifolds