Product design begins with an abstract product idea, which is later converted to a physical model. The first step in this conversion process is to determine a basic geometry of the physical model. Then, computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools are applied to analyse the product behaviour. This process of applying CAE tools is known as “analysis.” CAE tools are used to analyse CAD geometry, allowing product designers to simulate and study the expected behaviour of the product in different environments. Analysis helps the design to be refined and optimized.
In order to optimize final product performance, computer-based engineering analyses are conducted during the development stage to investigate and predict mechanical, thermal, electrical, fatigue stresses, as well as characteristics related to fluid flow, heat transfer, and noise/vibration/harshness. There are different types of software tools for different analyses. Some of these tools include the following:
Finite element analysis (FEA)
Computational fluid dynamics (CFD)
Kinematics and dynamics analysis
Logic-timing and verification
Electronic design simulation (logic simulation and circuit simulation)
Design visualization and animation
There are many commercial and free software products available for each of the analyses methods listed. Probably the most widely used method of computer analysis in engineering is finite element analysis. FEA is a complex set of algorithms that uses finite element mathematical methods to solve problems in structural simulation, modelling, and analysis. Aerospace and automobile designers, civil engineers, defence contractors, manufacturers of electronic equipment, and national and university labs use several variants of FEA. Generally, FEA is used to determine stress, deformation, heat transfer, magnetic field distribution, fluid flow, and other continuous field problems that would be impractical to solve by other methods.
Similarly, kinematics programs can be used to determine motion paths and linkage velocities in mechanisms. Dynamics analysis can be used to determine loads and displacements in complex assemblies such as automobiles. Logic-timing and verification software simulates the operation of complex electronic circuits.
Crash tests are conducted using crash-testing software. Crash testing is a specialized application that uses FEA and CFD techniques to simulate the results of a dynamic impact on several dimensions of the design, including structural integrity, flow of materials, and thermal flow. Major users of crash-testing software include automotive and aircraft manufacturers. They use it to save money by reducing the need for real-world crash tests and to improve their designs and comply with statutory safety requirements.
During the design process, a 3D solid CAD model is generated, which provides an excellent way of sharing data across the enterprise with the help of visualization and animation tools. The issues related to functionality, manufacturing, and packaging of the product could be resolved with the aid of Web-based collaborative tools. As interoperability issues are resolved, engineers can share data related to the model across many different platforms and without the fear of losing valuable information.
The field of computer-aided engineering has grown tremendously in the last twenty years. With the availability of low-cost, powerful personal computers and different types of analysis software to run on them, analysis has moved away from a supercomputer/workstation platform. In the past, analysis was strictly the domain of the expert or specialist, often with whole departments in larger companies dedicated to the function. But the current explosion of low-cost computing power has brought a matching increase in the number and type of PC-based analysis tools to the engineer.
At the same time, products have become much easier to use with user-friendly features, such as CAD geometry transfer, automatic meshing, in-built error checking, adaptive refinement, and optimization tools. This has led to significant amounts of analysis being carried out by engineers throughout the product design cycle. By minimizing (and, in some cases, eliminating altogether) prototype testing and certification, many companies are attempting to cut development costs significantly and further reduce the time-to-market. Such strategies depend on an increased reliance on the results of engineering analysis as the means of performance verification.