How can Simulation Help Design Process?

Article by Wayne Chen, CSWP updated December 22, 2010


I read an article recently, regarding to how Simulation can improve product design.  There are some interesting points I would like to talk about.

The purpose of any FEA software is to linearize the product development, eventually, to reduce cost.  For new product or existing design, FEA plays its role in the process.  The article gives an example of a plastic stool design.  The requirements are to hold certain weight, and as inexpensive as possible.  3 designs are compared: one without any inside ribs, one with shallow ribs, one with deep ribs.  Without any help from FEA, one, from experience, could choose the design with deep ribs.  The design will most likely meet the strength requirement, but how about the cost?  The design is “good enough”, but can it be “better”?  By using Simulation, we will see that the shallow ribs will meet the strength requirement as well.  Also, the cost is reduce when we compare to the design with deep ribs.

The article also mentioned how engineers currently design products besides using FEA: modify past design which worked; use hand calc; test prototypes.  I would say that with the help from FEA tool, people still need to utilize the existing methods to have better, faster, cheaper design.  For example, hand calculation can be over simplified, but it is always a good guidance to verify the results in FEA.  Also, prototype testings are very common.  With FEA, early stage testings can be eliminated.  At later stage, prototype testings are still very important, especially when safety is crucial in the design.  After all, FEA is just a tool, it can not replace real world testings.

People may reject the use of FEA with several reasons.  The article listed a few and they are valid concerns.  However, it is also a good practice to think about if the design can be better and cheaper.  Without FEA, it may be very difficult.  One major reason what people don’t use FEA is because management does not support it.  If the use of FEA is not implemented in the whole design process, it is most likely just a waste of money buying the software.  FEA should start at early stage and throughout the entire process, instead of using it at the very end, as a fire-fighting tool.

The article is attached, if you would like to read it.

Better Product Design

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Wayne Chen, CSWP