I started computing in the age of DOS, which (for any of you not old enough to remember and for those old enough to forget) required you to type in a command whenever you wanted the operating system to perform its duties. I had the most common commands memorized. Say I wanted to copy a file from my cutting-edge 10MB hard drive to my 5.25” floppy disk, I would type “copy c:filename.ext a:” at the command prompt.
With the right commands, I could make that big, ugly beige box do some pretty amazing things. Not everyone could do those things when faced with only a monochrome C:> prompt and a blinking cursor. It was specialized knowledge.
Then the graphical user interface and mouse took over, and all my DOS knowledge didn’t seem so special. Now everyone can copy a file with a drag and drop. But that’s how initially complicated technologies proliferate quickly: they get easier to use.
Expertise Still Needed
As we show in our two-part series on simulation software for small- and medium-sized businesses that continues in this issue, software vendors would like to make their software as ubiquitous as the personal computer has become. It’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t, given all the benefits of simulation-led design. To do so, they need to make the software so easy to use that it doesn’t require such a high level of specialized expertise. That’s where the danger comes in.
If a design engineer runs a simulation by clicking a few icons, but doesn’t understand what’s happening behind the scenes, it could be disastrous on many different levels. Does simplifying simulation mean dumbing down the simulation so much that it’s not useful, or does it mean making complicated simulations easy to perform and understand? That’s the kernel of the debate being moderated by DE’s Senior Editor Kenneth Wong on our Virtual Desktop blog, where he hosted a panel to discuss the pros and cons of simplified simulation. You can read about and listen to a podcast of the discussion, and add to it with your own comments, here: deskeng.com/virtual_desktop/?p=7293.
As Bernt Isaksen of dyNOVA Engineering Simulation noted in his comments on the debate, “When the solution approaches final design, the simplified simulations will not be sufficient anymore, and a more detailed and thorough simulation is needed. This should be handled by the simulation expert with a tool that can include all the important details.”
But that begs the question: If and when all design engineers are capable of running simulations, how can we tell who the real simulation experts are?
NAFEMS, an association dedicated to the application of simulation, has an answer for that question. As we reported (deskeng.com/articles/aabkjs.htm), the association introduced the Professional Simulation Engineer (PSE) designation at NAFEMS World Congress 2013 in June.
The PSE program consists of two parts: the PSE Competency Tracker and PSE Certification. The Competency Tracker is an online tool that lists competencies and educational resources, and provides a means for engineers and/or their employers to track their achievements. PSE Certification is designed to accommodate both simulation experts and newcomers, according to the association. Engineers who are already in the field need to apply and prove their competencies via their academic background and prior work, while newcomers follow a path to certification that includes Entry, Standard and Advanced levels.
For experienced simulation users who apply to be certified, two independent PSE Certification Assessors — people deemed to be experts in simulation analysis — will schedule an interview with the applicants. After the interview, in which evidence supporting the applicant’s experience is discussed, the assessors can recommend certification, defer the submission with guidance, not recommend certification, or request more information.
Entry-level PSEs are required to find and work with a mentor, who will monitor their workplace experience and competency levels, which the applicant has to track in a logbook. Once the entry-level applicant is ready to be certified, the mentor must approve the logbook, which is turned over to a NAFEMS assessment panel along with an assessment fee.
From the information available at nafems.org/pse, it certainly doesn’t seem like certification will be a “rubber stamp” process. That’s a good thing, as a certification is only meaningful if it is a true measure of an applicant’s ability and knowledge. However, a process that is too burdensome could dissuade some prospective applicants from seeking certification. Time will tell whether the balance is right. If it is, the PSE Certification program could boost best practices in engineering analysis while providing engineers with a means to separate themselves from people who can run simulations, but aren’t simulation experts.
Jamie Gooch is the managing editor of Desktop Engineering. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.