Most companies invest in one or both CAE Categories: Expert & Upfront.
While both have a valuable place in most organizations, they should be rolled out for very different sets of users and for very different purposes.
You might think your company is already getting the most from these tools. But, how do you know? What are you measuring against? In my experience, most companies are getting far from optimal return on CAE. There is a very simple adjustment you can make, however, to put your CAE ROI on steroids. Even better, it might cost you nothing.
First, a little background on Expert vs Upfront CAE:
High end FEA & CFD tools are generally used by full-time (usually PhD) specialists. Pricing ranges in $20k-$40k USD (often annually) per seat. Salaries for the experts driving these tools are also typically higher then frontline Design Engineers. Expert products are capable of squeezing out the finest margins of accuracy and can handle the most complex of physics needs. Ease-of-use is a secondary issue for the users of these tools.
You want to keep these experts focused on the tough problems. You certainly shouldn’t expect Analysts to learn or use the detail-design CAD tool in your Design Department. Analysts aren’t paid to be Draftsmen and naturally lack the CAD skill of full-time Designers. They would only use a fraction of the capabilities of tools like SolidWorks, UG NX, Pro/Engineer, or Solid Edge… those tools aren’t suited to Analyst needs, because they are ultimately built for detail design and documentation. While quite powerful for the most complex of Designer needs, casual-use Analysts get lost.
The companies behind these CAD tools would have you believe the opposite. They sell a Utopian ideal of everyone interacting with the same tools and the same data in a beautiful, cost-effective orchestration.
Problem is… that almost never happens.
If we’re being honest, most Analysts must interact with a Designer from the CAD department to defeature and simplify manufacturing ready models as input to their simulation tools. This work-loop adds a built-in delay to every simulation project. Usually that loop compounds as Analysts request small variations to the geometry for “what-if” studies and optimization.
The flipside of the simulation coin is Upfront CAE. These tools are built to be used casually by multi-tasking, non-specialist Engineers very early in the design process. Pricing is usually in the $5k-30k (permanent licensing) range. Upfront CAE users typically are quite adept at a traditional CAD tool.
These days, the line between between “Designer” and “Frontline Mechanical Engineer” is blurring. In my experience, however, the people most likely to gravitate towards CAE usage are less likely to be the expert CAD users. Sure, there’s a spectrum of practices out there, but most companies still have Engineers focused on Engineering and Designers focused on drafting.
While frontline Engineers are comfortable in Traditional CAD for simple maneuvers, they can’t touch the skill of dedicated Designers.
The hallmark of any Upfront CAE tool is CAD integration. Some developers even attempt to shoehorn their solvers into the actual CAD user interface. Ease-of-use and familiarity is the biggest key to success in this category.
Surprisingly, the road to Upfront CAE success is often more treacherous than the path for Expert CAE users. I shared my experience with these 2 categories in this post:
Upfront CFD: Easy to use, but often hard to implement
If you can get the Engineers to accept the need to build extremely simplified “analysis” models in a traditional CAD tool, you will likely have some good returns on the investment. If they can’t or won’t accept that requirement, they are likely to stop using the CAE tool altogether.
Most Engineers are inclined to push fully detailed, manufacturing ready models directly into the simulation environment. When that doesn’t work, they attempt (and struggle) to defeature these CAD models by suppressing parts and features.
Traditional CAD tools are not very good at that kind of simplification, because they rely on a complex “history tree” of relationships. Remove the wrong hole in the wrong order and your assembly will explode or fail to regenerate. The target audience for Upfront CAE tools typically won’t tolerate much of that frustration. This is a major reason that many Upfront CAE investments gather dust on a shelf.
The big issue: Traditional CAD
The root problem in both Upfront and Expert CAE is the traditional CAD tool. A history-based CAD tool ultimately built to support the needs of a detail Designer is simply not appropriate for CAE work. If you want to kick up productivity with CAE users, you need to give them access to Direct Modeling tools like those found in our SpaceClaim software. Direct Modeling makes quick work of the defeaturing process by ignoring the debilitating “history” of most traditional CAD systems.
The big difference between Traditional CAD and this exciting trend in 3D Direct Modeling tools is this ability to modify geometry in a history-free fashion. Direct Modeling lets you easily make massive and often unplanned changes to existing geometry. Direct Modeling solves the core problem of model preparation for both Upfront and Expert CAE users.
In fact, all of the Traditional CAD companies are scrambling to add some form of Direct Modeling to their products. That will certainly be a great productivity enhancement for the Designers that use their tools, but it will do little to address the needs of Upfront or Expert CAE.
If it doesn’t make sense for Expert CAE users to climb the learning curve of a Traditional CAD tool, then it won’t make sense for them to climb that curve for the same CAD tool with some new, Direct Modeling capabilities bolted on the side. These users won’t adopt any Traditional CAD tool… even if it is a pure Direct Modeling solution! Analysts require very few of the tools that Traditional CAD must address for full-time Designers.
Additionally, Traditional CAD tools come with Traditional CAD tool pricing. You could be in a position of spending $10k+ (not including training) for extra licenses of a tool that Analysts will never master or fully utilize.
As Traditional CAD companies add more Direct Modeling features to their legacy products, Upfront CAE users will probably see more value than their Expert CAE counterparts. I personally believe many of them will still opt for a simple, modern solution like SpaceClaim. This will be a spectrum, too. The less inclined an Engineer is to attain “CAD guru” status, the more inclined she’ll be to go for SpaceClaim.
How to double your return on FEA & CFD… for free
Even in good times, most companies were over-deployed in Traditional CAD. It was a pretty common practice to setup a new Engineer with a new desk, computer, phone, and CAD license. That may or may not have made sense for new, frontline Engineers… but it was certainly a waste of money for most Expert CAE users.
Not to be morbid, but the current economic climate has caused a flurry of pink slips in many Engineering departments. That means companies are sitting on an even bigger surplus of traditional CAD seats.
Since most Upfront and Expert CAE users need a configuration of SpaceClaim costing under $3500 (including yearly maintenance), many companies are finding it easy to swap out some of that surplus CAD maintenance budget for multiple licenses of SpaceClaim. Some are even able to cut overall software budgets with this action. Since there are no training costs for SpaceClaim, the move is easy to justify.
If your Expert CAE Analysts must currently interact with your Designers on every simulation, you can easily double their productivity by introducing SpaceClaim. As a bonus, even the CAD department will be more efficient!
On the other hand, maybe your Upfront CAE software has become shelfware due to frustration with the simplification/defeaturing process.
The return could be even bigger in this case!
Every company is different. I’d be happy to talk through your specifics.
Call or email anytime!