SolidWorks Simulation

28 November 2008

While much of the noise for SolidWorks 2009 has been about the core application set, simulation is increasingly becoming a major factor in each release cycle. DEVELOP3D’s editor Al Dean looks at the simulation highlights of 2009.

Product SolidWorks 2009
Company name SolidWorks
Price Price from £3,995

For those already engaged with the simulation tools within SolidWorks, perhaps the first thing one will notice is that the CosmosWorks name has been dropped from the product offerings – it’s now known as SolidWorks Simulation. It might not sound like a biggie, but if you’re looking to switch on the add-on (as I was while writing this), that information will help you find it! Now, onto much more interesting things – how to simulate products better using this new release?

What I’m going to attempt to do is pick out the highlights from several areas of the system, the reason being that there are different levels available to different users. Some are available for free to all users in core SolidWorks, some are in the various Office products and then others are add-ons over and above that. Perhaps a good place to begin is with the changes to the simulation interface.

The 2008 release saw the motion simulation tools combined and re-implemented with the animation interface, so you now have a single calling point for accessing both areas of functionality, which seem to work in concert much more than ever before. This release continues the theme with greater integration of the simulation tools into the standard SolidWorks UI. This is perhaps best in evidence with the removal of the CosmosWorks tab in the Property Manager. Rather than having a separate tab, simulation studies are now found (and interacted with) in a new panel below the part or assembly tree.

At the ground level on the motion simulation side of things, you can now create animations and motion simulation studies using two-dimensional geometry. The last few releases have let users scheme out mechanisms and such using very basic 2D geometry, as used with traditional methods. From 2009, those linked 2D assemblies can be used to create layout sketches and then to run simulations of how they would perform. After all, the majority of mechanisms are essentially 2D (in terms of their functionality) and this makes huge sense – create a schematic that’s intelligent and using these tools prove out their operation before committing to developing the 3D geometry further.

Moving into the 3D realm, something that SolidWorks has been doing over the past few releases is giving greater levels of automated support to those unfamiliar with simulation best practices. Good engineers and designers have a wealth of knowledge about the products they design, but when taking those first steps into simulation, the translation of that knowledge into ‘FEA’ speak can be daunting and this is where errors arise. To try and combat this, the Simulation Advisor has been introduced to act as the helping hand when setting up studies. When invoked, it asks questions (in plain engineering speak) about what it the user is trying to accomplish or simulate and guides them to the right options for that purpose, automatically setting up the parameters and variables of the study – which might not be immediately obvious. 

Another update that’s going to make the definition of studies much easier, particularly when working with complex assemblies is the transfer of assembly mating conditions to the simulation realm. This means that mate conditions such as contact, shrink fit and bonding are defined once and reused in both motion simulation and structural analyses, so work doesn’t have to be repeated.

Making the simulation process more flexible is something that’s a trend for this release. For example, there are no longer any restrictions of the mesh type used in simulation studies. This means that users can run the same set-up and boundary conditions on the same data, but use different mesh types to gauge the effects of different types of simulation. A good example is the ability to analyze a sheet metal part either as a solid or a shell mesh. Both can be done in the same study set-up and with the new comparison tools, inspected and interacted with in the same window. On the subject of sheet metal parts, these are now identified as such and the system automatically treats them as shell bodies by default (it can be overridden).

Adding Intelligence

While traditional analysis is always going to be the mainstay of any SolidWorks Simulation update, there is a growing trend across the industry to provide more automation and more intelligent tools to the designer that might not be accustomed to the ins and outs of analysis. This is evidenced with the Drop Test tools and many other areas of functionality that allow users to set-up and conduct relatively complex simulation tasks using straightforward engineering language.

But what if you want to build models that can perform similar tasks, but fall outside of those ‘black box’ type tools? One particular scenario that intrigues me is the ability to really use simulation as part of the design iteration process. Yes, there are the new optimisation and design of experiments type tools, but what about something more adaptable? This release sees two functions introduced that fit this bill perfectly: Sensors and Pass/Fail Indicators for Bolt Connectors. Sensors are not unique to SolidWorks by any means, but their implementation means that they can be used very effectively.

Consider a parametric model that you are varying to try and find the optimum solution. You can create design iterations and variants easily and rerun simulation studies for each very effectively, but the bottleneck is interpreting the results of each study. Even if you have your plots and charts set-up you still need to spend time going through the results. To overcome this time barrier, the new Sensors technology can be used to great effect. Sensors allow the user to monitor specific properties within a specific range and the system notifies them if the current iteration steps outside that range. Whether this is applied it to mass properties, measurement, interference or simulation specific results, the user can define the design goals and receive instant information about whether the current iteration conforms to those requirements, without having to dive into each results set.

In more specific areas, there’s been similar work done on fasteners. Allowable strength ranges for bolted connections can now be set up , so that if a design iteration forces bolts outside of their operating limits, the user is immediately notified with the bolt turning a fancy shade of red so design changes can be made.

Composites support

Composites are something that are becoming increasingly common outside of their traditional usage within auto-sport and aerospace. The ability to create lightweight, but mechanically sound, components using these materials is now quite desirable in the general design and engineering market. With this in mind, it’s clear that there is going to be (if not just yet) a need to be able to simulate these highly complex structured materials and this release sees the first introduction of such tools within SolidWorks Simulation.

As with such materials, much of the complexity comes from their ply-based nature. While the mechanics are understood relatively well, defining these forms in traditional FEA tools is complex, but of course that doesn’t suit the SolidWorks way of doing this. The first iteration is integrated into the shell meshing tools with the added composite option. This allows the user to define whether it’s a sandwich type layup, specify the number of plies, symmetry conditions, ply orientation and rotation and whether it’s a common material across all layers. The system provides graphical feedback to show each ply as it’s worked on (which is surprisingly useful). Once done, analyses can be run and the results inspected on the part as a whole or on a per ply basis.

Conclusion

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this Simulation related updates to this 2009 release – there are many more made to the Flow and more advanced areas of analysis (such as fatigue etc) – but the updates that are going to be most applicable to the majority are here on the page. What should be clear is that the lines between geometry definition within core SolidWorks and the simulation tools available in the higher-end bundles are blurring.

Already we’ve seen that the motion simulation is now combined to great effect with the animation tools, with both feeding each other and becoming more powerful as a result (as animations can be based on real-world physics). The same is happening in other areas, where simulation technology is being used to drive geometry definition – the case in point being the tools for handling deformable components (as we’ve covered) and the automated checking of bolted connections.

While I’m not entirely convinced that the simulation tools are at the point of large scale adoption in the SolidWorks community, with many having access to them perhaps but not yet using them in anger, it’s clear that the developments you can see here point to a time where the distinction between design and analysis is gone and both can be used in conjunction to create better products that suit their requirements than could be designed with geometric modelling alone. The good news is that this is being done with the mainstream user in mind and that means that more users can get into the world of simulation without the barriers to adoption of complexity and cryptic language that has perhaps been holding it back for so long.

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