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Industry slow to adopt computer-aided engineering

Although engineering design and testing is cheaper and easier when done virtually rather than with physical models and tests, the adoption of computer aided engineering (CAE) is still proceeding slowly, delegates to the Seventh Altair CAE Technology Conference heard this week.

CAE makes the simulation, validation and optimisation stages of engineering development cheaper and more efficient. Working within the virtual world can even lead to more robust data. Physically testing a vehicle on sand, for example, instantly changes the test conditions whereas a simulation is easily repeated. Despite this, a significant amount of engineering work is still being done in the physical world.

Automotive companies such as Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) are investing more heavily in virtual methods.  JLR has invested £5 million so far this year and essentially doubled the capacity of its high-performance resources. But they are a long way from 100 per cent virtualisation. ‘Even with massive investment we’re only moving the needle very slightly,’ commented Mark Stanton, group chief engineer at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), during his keynote address.

The link to the automotive industry was apparent throughout the course of the event, which was held at The Heritage Motor Centre in Warwickshire, UK, with representatives of Force India F1, Bentley Motors and McLaren Racing delivering presentations. The application of CAE tools is far more diverse, as was demonstrated by their critical use within the water industry. Tuan Ta, research scientist, innovation at the UK utilities company Thames Water presented a paper on the issues surrounding free surface flow simulations.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) often encounters problems when locating the water surface and CFD models of water tanks assume the surface is either zero shear stress fixed wall or symmetry plane with zero vertical velocity component. Software solutions, such as Acusim, give a clearer indication, however they are not yet perfect – vortex simulation is still lacking, for one. The impact of using software that can accurately calculate the velocity distribution across a weir, for example, is significant and researchers like Ta welcome the opportunity to reduce the amount of time and money spent during the validation process.

It is clear that virtualisation will factor more heavily over the coming years, and Altair’s Michael Hoffman has predicted that by 2020 simulation will be pervasive within an enterprise, beginning at the very early stages of the design process. Companies are investing in the development of computing resources in an effort to achieve this goal, but having the right software capabilities, and the appropriate hardware to match is just the beginning. The engineering industry has a number of hurdles to overcome – not least of which is the issue of staff.

Moving into the future, companies such as JLR will expect their engineers to be able to run CAE analyses for themselves at the desktop. This is not to say that CAE experts will become superfluous – far from it as they will be required to continue the development of these methods as simulations become more prevalent. The challenges will be the recruitment of engineers with the necessary skills, and how best to keep them. Only then can the engineering industry begin to move away from a reliance on physical testing.

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