Quick idea test

Product developers can now test the usability of their designs faster than ever using powerful algorithms and graphics processors.

Simulations are a vital aid for designing components, machines, and cities virtually. To make the process even faster in the future, simulation experts at Siemens are developing powerful algorithms and using graphics processors. They enable them to evaluate designs in a matter of seconds or minutes and more fully exploit the enormous potential of possible designs.

Wearing virtual reality goggles and holding a controller in each hand, simulation expert Dirk Hartmann from Siemens Corporate Technology moves the design model of a wheel suspension in digital space. Not only can he rotate the model on all axes, but with the press of a button he can apply forces to the model from any direction and of any size. The effects can be seen instantly in the deformations and the colors of the model. Red areas immediately tell him that the load is in the critical range and there is a risk of component failure.

Complexity of design options

Engineers today refine their components down to the smallest detail in order to extract the best possible performance from machines and technologies. The journey from design to end product used to be a long one. If designs had to be changed, they first had to be simulated by an expert to ensure that the changes really led to improvements. “This division of labor will soon be a thing of the past,” says Jan Leuridan, who heads the Simulation and Test Solutions business segment at Siemens Digital Industries. “Our answer is to combine design and simulation.”


For years, Dirk Hartmann and his expert colleague Stefan Gavranovic from Siemens Digital Industries have been working with other colleagues from Siemens Corporate Technology to enable engineers to quickly test their designs’ physical performance, such as the load caused by external forces. If these properties don’t meet expectations, they can immediately adapt the design. “Because components are becoming increasingly complex, it’s important to form a quick impression of how a component prototype might behave,” says Hartmann. “That’s why we developed an interactive simulation software that allows engineers to test multiple ideas in a very short period of time without having to wait for an evaluation by simulation experts.”

One-thousand times faster than conventional methods

The quick idea test is made possible by two technological innovations. The first is a faster algorithm. Not only is the computing power of processors growing annually according to Moore’s Law, but the efficiency of algorithms is also increasing exponentially. In the case of a real-time simulation, the algorithms are based on the “finite element method” in which an object is subdivided into a grid of small elements. If a designer changes the shape of a component, sophisticated algorithms will calculate values like the temperature behavior or internal mechanical stress for each individual element. So that this can occur in a matter of seconds, the calculation task is divided into many small steps that are processed in parallel.


This in turn requires a second innovation: the use of a computer’s graphics processors instead of its central processor core. Thanks to their architecture, graphics processors permit a tremendous number of parallel calculation processes – and the more graphics processors that are built into a computer, the greater the number of the parallel processes. “This allows us to run simulations that are a thousand times faster,” says Hartmann.

Expansion for the digital twin

When an engineer uses this software to design a component, the simulation with the idea tester now runs continuously in the background. The effects of design decisions are then displayed immediately on request. And this doesn’t just apply to machines. “Think of a team of urban planners,” says Hartmann. “Real-time simulations create opportunities for them as a group to interactively simulate and discuss the effects of new buildings on a neighborhood’s air-flow conditions at a very early stage.”


Last but not least, this software can also support generative design. In this case, engineers use a design program that automatically creates a variety of designs based on a basic concept and selected parameters, such as the ability to withstand forces. This wealth of ideas can then be immediately evaluated using simulations, making it possible to evaluate more ideas and more complex designs. New designs can be found in a matter of seconds or minutes. This doesn’t just mean reaching the goal faster, it also allows the design software to learn continuously. Each time engineers sit down to work, they have access to an even more skillful tool.


Author: Hubertus Breuer

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