Editor’s Note: Tony Abbey teaches live NAFEMS FEA classes in the U.S., Europe and Asia. He also teaches NAFEMS e-learning classes globally. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
I have just completed an intensive six days carrying out a series of analyses on a structural component. Two weeks ago, I knew very little about the structure, its function and what its key performance metrics would be. I had a CAD model, an outline performance specification and references to test data. I assume I’m not alone in my approach to the initial stage of a task like this. From a sea of disconnected information, I had to derive a clear understanding of the analysis objectives and develop an analysis plan.
A lot has been said about best-laid plans—and it certainly was true in my case. As I carried out trial analyses to understand the implications of the structure, the plan naturally changed. This didn’t worry me too much. I don’t think I have ever managed to achieve a one-shot analysis in my whole career. Finite element analysis (FEA) demos on YouTube often create a false sense of reality. Nothing is ever that simple, and FEA just never works the first time.
The series of analyses finally distilled down into what was needed to be able to simulate and predict the structural behavior. The analysis report was completed and accepted by the client. However, now comes the punchline. My office is littered with notes, jottings and sketches. My computer is equally littered with analysis files, results files, spreadsheets and Word documents. The scope of the data ranges from obsolete work, through to final sign-off justification. I know I must tidy this lot up and put it into a form that is suitable for archive—and most importantly, for easy retrieval later on. Unfortunately, this task isn’t aided by the CAD tool or either of the two FEA tools used on the project. Each tool offers different approaches and formats to archiving.
So, this brings me to simulation data management or SDM. I really do want to manage my simulation data. However, the commercial applications seem to focus more on the enterprise level. Many interesting tools enable me to collaborate within a CAE and CAD community. They would enable someone to manage my (and everyone else’s) data from a top-down perspective. The SDM discussions I have followed also seem to embrace more of a global vision. I may have been distracted by this, and may be missing some “grassroots” functionality that would assist me in my chaotic little CAE world.
My solution is based on Windows File Explorer, Dropbox and a master spreadsheet with hyperlinks. It is very tedious to set up, and certainly not error-proof. Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of different homegrown approaches—one clear lesson I learned is to keep the process as simple as possible. So, my own plea to software vendors providing SDM solutions is to let me know if a single-seat, affordable solution to my dilemma exists.
I do wonder if one of the reasons for the slow uptake and general uncertainty about SDM is because it takes a top-down view. I can understand the need for an enterprise-wide solution and the aspiration to control analyses across collaborative teams. However, for many small enterprises such as my own, that is overkill. We are looking for much simpler, more pragmatic solutions. Perhaps, if products are developed in a more bottom-up way, they may be more attractive to the average CAE user. I would like a basic toolkit that serves my very parochial needs. If I can see a clear migration path whereby that toolkit could connect and dovetail into a wider solution, it would be very attractive.
I have discussed this with colleagues in the FEA community. I tend to get extreme viewpoints: get to grips with Python, Excel and other linking applications, or invest in an SDM solution. Somewhere in-between must be what I’m searching for. If you have found it, or produce it, please do share. I look forward to filing a follow-up article from the trenches.