BETTER PRODUCTS THROUGH COMPUTATIONAL PROCESSING AND SIMULATION

Author:  Carl D. Kolts, VP of Sales and Business Development, VEXTEC Corporation

Every company manufacturing a commercial product is focused on two things – growing revenue and reducing costs. To some companies that means bringing new or improved products to market faster, or pushing an existing product into a new application or market. For other companies it means reducing manufacturing variation, aftermarket service requirements, and warranty costs – in other words, making existing products more reliable to better meet the needs of the existing market.

As products become increasingly sophisticated and complex due to market demand or regulatory requirements, the ability to produce incrementally higher quality, more reliable products becomes increasingly more challenging. That means product design and the analytical tools used by product development teams need to become more sophisticated as well. This sophistication often translates one of two ways – either considerably more physical testing which results in longer lead times to market, or to the use of higher degrees of computational functionality and fidelity to provide a deeper understanding of the product’s sensitivity to variation.

Today’s Finite Element Analysis (FEA) tools provide a sound foundation to build upon, but they do not provide the total understanding about a product’s ultimate performance, expected life, and reliability. FEA only captures the stress distribution within a product. While that is a major driver to product durability, it is not the total answer. Design engineers also need to consider the influence of the material. Product durability is ultimately dependent on the stress it is exposed to and how the material reacts to that stress. Just as the stress profile varies across a product, so does the material reaction to that stress.  To determine product life design engineers also need to recognize the impact of the material and how it is processed, as well as the variability a product experiences during manufacturing. Once that is recognized, the material processing variability along with the stress profile and expectations for product use can be analyzed to predict product durability, life, and overall reliability.

Today, companies typically can gain insight into the impact of changes in material processing and in-service usage conditions through prototype testing. This can be very expensive and time consuming given the need to build prototypes and the testing limitations of evaluating only one variable at a time. This combination of limitations typically results in the use of a small sample population from which entire fleet reliability is based, warranties are calculated, and service programs are developed as new products are launched into the marketplace. Given this, companies typically apply large safety factors into the design, resulting in over-engineered products that are more expensive to manufacture but provide an expected level of assurance that the products will meet the expected application requirements.

Let’s step back to where we started. Your company wants to bring a new or improved product to market ahead of the competition, create a competitive advantage that translates to increased market share, revenue generation, and profitability. To bring more sophisticated products to market more quickly while reducing costs, companies need to employ more sophisticated computational analysis tools that can accelerate the development process while providing a more comprehensive understanding of product durability and reliability under varying in-service conditions.

Such computational or virtual simulation and analysis tools can help companies understand the impact of variation in manufacturing and in-service usage on product quality, life and reliability, well before prototype testing begins – literally as far upstream as the concept design stage of product development.  With this in mind, the opportunity to identify an optimum design/material combination for a given product application is significantly improved compared to today’s conventional physical testing methods.

This translates to shorter development cycles, faster time to market, and increased revenue generation.  Every company designs and builds products with a specific application and level of performance in mind. Those companies using computational tools such as VEXTEC’s Virtual Life Management durability simulation software platform to understand the impact of material processing variability and in-service usage variation, and factoring that into their new products, are leading the charge toward revenue growth, cost reduction, and profitability while creating a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Is your company taking advantage of virtual simulation technology?  Take a moment and participate in our poll below, we would like to hear from you.

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