Virtual Engineering: A Key Enabler of Future Technologies

George Constand, Chief Technical & Quality Officer, Dana Holding Corporation
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George Constand, Chief Technical & Quality Officer, Dana Holding Corporation

The demand for technological change in the automotive industry has increased significantly and for the foreseeable future will continue to trend upward. Automakers are faced with meeting the latest safety and fuel economy regulations, as well as addressing the rapidly changing consumer electronics industry. For suppliers, this means their customers will be looking for strategic partners to help deliver new innovations quickly, while still achieving cost and quality requirements.

"The complete vision virtual engineering environment will require significant investment in software and computing power"

Working side-by-side with their customers, leading  vehicle suppliers are turning to virtual engineering to help keep pace with this technological revolution. While Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) is not new to the industry, significant potential for harnessing its power remains. Today, data generated by simulations enable engineers to reduce development time and cost by optimizing solutions up front. In the future, however, CAE will provide predictability to reduce development time even further, which is essential for keeping up with the speed of technological change.

The vision of virtual engineering is for suppliers to create a comprehensive simulation environment—Dana refers to this as iCAE—to bring together all the key elements of the engineering process, including design, manufacturing,quality, cost estimating, purchasing, and probabilistic assessment of correctness, to paint a complete picture of each project from beginning to end. This new environment will enable suppliers to become more agile and make informed decisions through virtual trial and error before expending significant resources. Achieving iCAE will require that suppliers focus on three major fundamental areas (besides having the proper simulation tools available):

1. Creating a single source of truth.
2. Improving transparency and communication throughout the entire product planning process.
3. Investing in the physical infrastructure to support cloud computing.

Creating a single source of truth

The first step toward achieving iCAE is creating a single source of truth. Projects are developed by teams of engineers, often on different continents  that are running simulations and tests and thus creating large amounts of data. Companies need to assess what information is available, know where it came from, and track it over time. Creating a data center for storing this information will ensure that data  integrity is retained and that decisions can be made more accurately and effectively. This is especially important  for predictability. Having the dataavailable is the first step to creating a feedback loop that will eliminate challenges that might be faced in future projects.

Improving transparency and communication

iCAE will require significant transparency. As sets of data are created, their ownership will need to be transferred to the full product development team, including the  product planners, engineering managers,and design engineers. This transparency will aid the creation and effective use of automated templates that will enable those who are not experts in CAE to work collaboratively and share information, improving decision making, and thus the entire product development process.Internal communication is only the starting point. The new environment will help to connect suppliers and customers with the information they need.

Investing in physical infrastructure

The complete vision for this virtual engineering environment will require significant investment in software and computing power. The need for High- Performance Compute clusters (HPC) and simulation software will increase, but this investment will help to reduce the need for physical testing and bring cost efficiencies to the overall engineering effort. Physical testing will be eliminated, as it will still be used at the end of the design cycle to validate the product. But it does seek to remove redundancies and keep prototyping costs to a minimum, drastically reducing time to market.

Improving efficiency

Combining the power of data, transparency, communication and HPC’s will enable suppliers to better assign resources and assess costs for each project. Eventually, it will provide opportunities to not only analyze the design, but also review the exact manufacturing environment needed to bring a product to market. Integrating manufacturing steps into simulation will further improve product quality  and allow for the optimization of the manufacturing layout and process. By utilizing iCAE, suppliers will be able to more effectively manage risk, eliminate inefficiencies, and ensure that products are delivered to specifications.

The time savings alone will be significant enough to see a return on investment, and as this virtual engineering environment continues to be adopted across the industry, its impact on competitiveness will be significant. As the rate of innovation  ontinues  to accelerate, iCAE presents an excellent opportunity for the industry to adopt new technologies quicker and simultaneously improve across the board, becoming more agile; improving speed to market; reducing costs; and delivering highquality products.

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