By Christof Heisser
Editor’s note: This commentary was sponsored as part of DE’s Visionary Voices section.
Simulation has established itself as an invaluable tool for design engineers in developing new parts and deciding what materials to use in metalcasting or plastic injection molding manufacturing processes. In the past, such simulation tools were used by analysis groups. The operators of such tools were specialists who would “setup and run” simulations. Today, however, design engineers need to be able to provide answers to questions regarding all areas of the manufacturing process, requiring communication between all members of the production team. Pure design simulation tools, however, do not cover the simulation of the manufacturing process.
MAGMASOFT ® Casting Process Simulation was introduced 23 years ago as a simulation tool primarily to be used by process engineers in metalcasting operations to move the trial-and-error process of finding optimum process parameter combinations from the manufacturing floor into the computer. Designers and analysts in the automotive industry were the first ones who recognized the benefits of using such process chain integrated simulation tools, either by themselves or in collaboration with in-house manufacturing engineers and with their suppliers. Using such simulation software, suppliers and designers can work together from the beginning of the development of a new part to design parts that are optimized for performance, castability and costs. Process simulation becomes, thereby, an invaluable communication tool between designers and production engineers in an environment of ever shorter product development processes. Indeed, many OEMs, both within and outside of the automotive world, now require their casting suppliers to use MAGMASOFT ® and refuse to procure parts from foundries not utilizing this technology.
While mold flow simulation has been established as a product design tool in the plastics industry, process simulation has not been adopted by manufacturing and design engineers. The main reason is that the simulation tools that were originally intended to be used only in the design process lacked the ability to consider the complexity of the entire injection molding process. SIGMASOFT ® was introduced by SIGMA ® to provide the first true process simulation software for polymer injection processes. It even simulates the elastomer injection process, i.e. for LSRs, a material category not covered by traditional design simulation tools. This process chain integrated simulation makes simulation accessible to everyone, not only “meshing specialists.” SIGMASOFT ® has been lauded as “The Next Generation of Polymer Simulation” by our customers because of its unique combination of ease-of-use and its capability to consider all details of the entire mold and molding process. This opens the utilization of this technology to designers with product responsibilities and production engineers, as no finite element meshing experience is required to use it. Based on the success and vast experience of its parent company MAGMA ®, SIGMA ® is determined to provide comprehensive, accurate yet easy-to-use software.
One challenge of process simulation is that there are so many material, process and design variables to consider. Manufacturing processes are, therefore, inherently complex, which has resulted in the use of the phrase, “process window.” How many simulations do I need to run to cover the entire “window”? Historically, however, the time needed for each simulation had required engineers to limit the number of simulations run. Fortunately, computers now provide calculation times that were only dreamt of 10 years ago. Simulations that took three days to run are now finished in less than 20 seconds. By using multi-core or even cluster technology, process simulation tools like MAGMASOFT ® and SIGMASOFT ® can perform DOEs quickly and open the opportunity to use automatic optimization technology to find the best material, design, and process parameter configuration to establish robust metalcasting and injection molding processes.
Christof Heisser is President of MAGMA Foundry Technologies, Inc. and SIGMA Plastic Services, Inc.