Simulation tools are becoming ever more accessible and widespread, and play an all-but-essential role in many engineering disciplines.
Post-processing options offer a myriad of exciting, colourful plots, and can generate detailed, quantitative readouts across dozens of parameters. With the technology now available to simulate almost anything, and to almost any level of detail, how do we understand these tools as designers?
At eg technology, our approach begins with the physics. Conceptualising the problem in the right way often leads to the ‘a-ha moment’ that sparks invention. A well-selected model can take a seemingly complex design problem and capture its essential elements elegantly. Sometimes, the simulations which truly offer insight begin with a thought during a brainstorm or few equations scribbled on a page.
Employing modelling and simulation wisely involves working out which information really matters, and which is less important. This allows us to save on the very heavy time costs associated with repeated iterations.
Simulation for Innovation
At eg, simulation functions as a counterpoint to innovation. It helps our engineers to refine their intuition, often leading to novel solutions.
As an example, take one of our clients, who are the ubiquitous name in their category of consumer products. Looking to stay ahead of increasing R&D competition in their sector, they came to us to generate innovative concepts for a new sensing technology.
They needed a sensor that would be kept warm and would then cool extremely rapidly (10s of milliseconds) in response to changes in its environment. Following the reversal of such a change, it had to return to the warm temperature rapidly (100s of milliseconds). We modelled the performance of a range of potential solutions during transient cooling until thermal equilibrium was reached, and then through the subsequent re-heating.
Enhancing our insight into the thermal behaviour allowed us to select and tune a series of manufacturable concepts which we were confident would perform well in production. We were then able to adapt our ideas for use across their product range, using our simulations to understand the constraints in each individual case.
Simulation for Streamlined Product Development
Simulation can inform decision making from the beginning to the end of a product development programme.
We were approached by a new start-up to develop a device to keep sensitive biological material ‘viable’. Part of the requirement was to maintain the temperature of the material in a narrow band, across a range of ambient temperature conditions. This would involve heating in cold climates and cooling in warmer areas, all whilst maintaining low power consumption.
Simulation was used to optimise the overall form of the product and its key components, locking in good performance prior to commencing the detailed design work.
Downstream of this, simulation gave insights which allowed us to get key decisions right first time. For example, we were able to predict air convection patterns and create a design to ensure good air flow around the hottest areas of the device.
We characterised performance in edge-case use scenarios within simulation, putting our device through its paces prior to committing to a physical prototype and testing in the lab. This substantially reduced project risk. By employing simulation, our client could be confident that no major design revisions would be required following prototyping.
Simulation for Problem Solving
Clients often come to us to grapple with their most thorny design challenges. Simulation can give us a way to attack these problems.
A client required the heating of a temperature-dependent, viscoelastic material during an extrusion process. The material had to be heated rapidly whilst force was applied to allow the extrusion.
The window of temperatures allowing extrusion but not causing undue melting was extremely narrow. This meant that the heater temperature had to be carefully controlled to allow correct penetration of heat into the material over time. We were able to use simulation to assess the feasibility of heating the material in situ. We then designed the heater block and control strategy within simulation, obtaining rapid feedback on the thermal response of various approaches.
The control strategy created within simulation can now be directly copied over to real world equipment.
It could be that a simulation in time saves months of painful rework. Choosing the right model to give truly meaningful, relevant results whilst maintaining fast-paced development is the critical balance.