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The Design Revolution

By Steve Robbins

The revolution happening in the design engineering team’s world is much bigger than just computational power. Don’t get me wrong, the speed of our computing systems are enabling everything we do, but the tools we use are software based, and engineering processes are changing as our tools get more intuitive and powerful.

The design revolution is changing the way we work. The decisions made at the very beginning, starting with the conceptual design, are influencing every aspect of the design process down to the manufacturing floor. Design engineers are now able to simulate their models on the plant’s automation equipment, validating that the designs will be able to be manufactured.

The Parallel Process
As the design team works together to build CAD models, run analysis and simulations, configure systems, and collaborate with their team members, the design becomes increasingly complex. The design revolution taking place is based on changing from serial to parallel processes, and on the organization of large amounts of engineering data that is generated. This data needs to be accessible to team members—the right data to the right engineer—instantaneously, wherever they are working. With high-performance computing and communication networks becoming increasingly available, concurrent processes enable quick and rapid change. Quick change compresses the design and manufacturing cycles. The design revolution will not just organize data, it will help us comprehend it. It will let us know what we need to do next.

One of the challenges this presents is changing the way we think. Most of us have been trained to think serially. This was natural when a design was passed from the mechanical engineer, to the electrical engineer, to the manufacturing engineer. But in the new paradigm, models will be revised as analysis and simulations occur simultaneously and the design is being virtually manufactured to reduce time to market. CAE applications will not just create a visual post-processing report. They will suggest design changes with the data to back them up. Simulation lifecycle management software will mine analysis data for factors that affect all aspects of the design and manufacturing process.

The simulation of the mechanical, electronic, and software systems shortens the design process cycle and creates a system where the components are designed and specified before the manufacturing process. The software code developed for a mechatronic simulation is reused for the completed design. Mechatronics promotes electronic design automation, creating specifications for electronic components at the beginning of the design cycle. It is a holistic approach to virtual prototyping, and we can expect increasingly larger, more complex models virtually prototyped as we continue to make gains in software development and its use of multi-core computing.

The Revolution Will Be Accessible
The revolution is not just for large enterprises. Powerful workstations are democratizing CAE and simulation software. Software developers are incorporating analysis into their CAD software. Workstations can access some of the most powerful computers on earth. Microsoft has a vision of connecting all scientific and engineering databases with search capabilities. This access to engineering data will be as profound as the first time you searched the Web, and all it will take is your workstation.

Engineering jobs are not going to get any easier, but they sure are going to get more interesting. As Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk once said in an interview: “There isn’t a problem in the world that a great designer can’t solve.” Welcome to the design revolution.

Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communications and executive editor of DE. Send comments about this subject to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

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