By Jurg Gerber and John Murray
Companies are striving to design innovative products while reducing the cost of product development and time to market. The pace of product innovation has increased dramatically, and it’s a primary contributor to companies’ overall profits and market share. They have to grapple with increasing product complexity, the time and cost to create physical prototypes, and a lack of resources to perform required analyses and simulations.
Product validation during the design phase of products has historically been the responsibility of engineering analysis specialists. However, as the need for faster product development grows, designers and product engineers have to be assured that their designs are progressing in a valid direction long before there is a complete product design.
Today’s complex mechanical and electro-mechanical products increasingly require an understanding of cooling, hydraulics and other fluid-flow issues. Performing comprehensive computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analyses is crucial to ensuring that products perform as required. And as product complexity and demands on innovation and time-to-market continue to increase, CFD will need to be used by a broader range of designers and engineers.
CFD analysis has historically been decidedly complex, and it required a great deal of expertise to set up and run valid analyses. In addition, most of the computer-based solutions that support CFD were created with CFD experts in mind — and have thus not been easy to use by non-experts, such as product designers and engineers. Workflows have to be developed that will guide and automate the CFD setup and analysis that in the past required a specialist’s level of knowledge to expand the number of people who can perform CFD analyses.
A CFD solution from Mentor Graphics was developed for designers of mechanical systems, as well as electromechanical products, with the aim that it should be easily accessible to non-specialist engineers within their familiar MCAD environment, a method called “concurrent engineering.” The FloEFD software is integrated within several MCAD programs, and provides guidance so that engineers who are not CFD specialists can perform fluid flow, cooling and other analyses as part of their design process and within their product design tool.
Concurrent CFD means that the most onerous CFD preprocessing steps — the same steps that once required the attention of a trained specialist — are now automatic. Some of these complex steps include preparing the geometry for analysis and defining the fluid volume or creating a mesh. Meshing takes minutes, rather than hours of iterating back and forth. This automation also means that product designers can try out a succession of ideas out on a design without risking the project deadline.
The CFD software also makes it relatively easy to conduct “what-if” tests. FloEFD helps create multiple variations of designs by modifying a solid model, which can then be analyzed without having to reapply loads, boundary conditions, material properties, etc. The engineer simply compares the results among the many design options to choose the best possible design.
This type of tool enables product designers as well as specialists to accelerate key decisions at their workstations, as they experiment with design scenarios and as they home in on the best, most efficient, reliable, and cost-effective design. This “virtual prototyping” process allows designers to optimize a product during the design stages. In fact, that first physical prototype often becomes the design that goes into final manufacturing — delivering the best design at lower cost (because of fewer physical prototypes), and getting it to market faster than ever before.
Editor’s note: See the related applications story: “Simulation Drives Better-designed Products.”
Jürg Gerber is development manager Bucher Hydraulics and John Murray industry manager, Mechanical Analysis Division Mentor Graphics. Contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org.