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What it Means to Optimize Design

By Jamie J. Gooch

Jamie J. GoochOur New Year’s resolution is to help you implement an optimized design process. But what exactly does that mean? When it comes to upfront design engineering, it depends on who you ask.

From its broadest definition, optimization is simply a process to make something as close to perfect as possible. That’s the definition we have decided to use, because optimizing the upfront design process spans all of the technologies used by engineers–from product concept until it’s ready for manufacture. If simulation, analysis, prototyping, testing or the computing infrastructure that makes desktop engineering possible is not optimized, then the design process is not as close to perfect as it can be.

Simulation Comes First

From a simulation and analysis perspective, optimization is achieved by moving simulation to the very front of the design process. Rather than simulating a design to verify it after the fact, optimization calls for simulation to be used first so that it can guide the actual shape and components of your designs. The software is driven by near-universal goals such as using only as much material as needed, reducing weight and ensuring structural integrity vs. expected stresses and loads. Simulation-driven design is optimized design when it allows engineers to reduce the design cycle by quickly determining the best possible design concept.

But it doesn’t stop there. After designs are created based on the concepts, simulation is used to optimize the next stage of the design process as well. Everything from minor tweaks to new materials can be simulated quickly, again and again, to ensure they don’t just meet design requirements, but are the best possible way to meet them. The ability to quickly create multiple iterations of a design is a critical ingredient in an optimized design process.

Moving On Up

Because simulation-driven design enables the best concept to be identified so early in the design process, it moves other aspects further forward as well.

Virtual testing can be done before a prototype is built. With the ever-increasing use of embedded software, the ability to test early and often is critical.

Prototypes can be quickly created with 3D printers to keep up with the latest iterations. Simulation-led design is also driving additive manufacturing technologies as engineers discover the optimal design might not be feasible to manufacture by any means other than additive manufacturing.

Upfront simulation also helps ensure problems are discovered and corrected before they ever see a test bench. Instead of simulation verifying a design, testing verifies the simulation.

Making it Possible

The ever-increasing speed and availability of computing processing power is the technical enabler of simulation-led design. From multi-core CPUs and GPUs to high-speed interconnects to on-demand access to computing resources via public and private clouds, simulation-led design would be mired in bottlenecks without it.

But it takes more than technology to optimize the design cycle. Perhaps the highest hurdle of them all is a shift in the engineering mindset that simulation-led design requires. That cultural shift is getting a boost from the forces of a struggling economy, global competition and an always connected society–all of which are combining to erase the silos between engineering disciplines and drive costs and time from the design cycle.

As you assess your engineering group’s technologies and culture as the year comes to an end, we hope you’ll consider the article topics in this issue to be your engineering New Year’s resolutions: Understand optimization, stop over-engineering, let simulation drive design, prototype and manufacture rapidly, verify optimization and enable it with the best hardware and software technologies.

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Jamie Gooch is the managing editor of Desktop Engineering. Contact him at de-editors@deskeng.com.

About Jamie J. Gooch

Jamie Gooch is the managing editor of Desktop Engineering. Contact him at de-editors@deskeng.com.