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Is Digital Simulation Good Enough to Replace Physical Tests?

Left: Nonlinear finite element analysis (FEA) of a coupler with MSC MD-Nastran including effects such as large deformation, buckling, and self-contact. Right: Nonlinear FEA of a rubber (elastomer) CV Boot performed in MSC.Marc including nonlinearly elastic Ogden material model, pre-stress associated with installation, large deformation, large strain, contact with other components, and self-contact.

Left: Nonlinear finite element analysis (FEA) of a coupler with MSC MD-Nastran including effects such as large deformation, buckling, and self-contact. Right: Nonlinear FEA of a rubber (elastomer) CV Boot performed in MSC.Marc including nonlinearly elastic Ogden material model, pre-stress associated with installation, large deformation, large strain, contact with other components, and self-contact.

During the live Q&A session in my previous webinar with Autodesk’s Amy Bunszel and PTC’s Sandy Joung (“Materialistic Engineering: Building Stronger, Better Parts Using Interactive Tables and Equations,” sponsored by Knovel), one caller raised the following question.

Is digital simulation good enough to replace physical tests?

To explore the topic further, I enlisted the help of Dr. Kim Parnell, founder and principal of PEC-Parnell Engineering & Consulting. (To hear webinar copresenters Amy and Sandy’s responses to the same question, you can download the archived webinar.)

According to Dr. Parnell, “[Digital] simulation has definitely come a long way from its initial applications in linear, structural analysis. Today, complex nonlinear structural analysis is commonplace … the other area where it has grown is in fluid dynamics.”

On software-driven simulation’s reliability, he noted, “If the question is, ‘Can I totally replace physical testing [with digital simulation], and therefore do no physical testing and only do simulation?’ I would say, in most cases, ‘No.’ But you can definitely reduce the amount of [physical] prototypes you build by the use of simulation … Tests can be expensive. Prototypes may be very expensive. By reducing the number of prototypes you build and the number of tests you perform, you get a tremendous amount of benefit.”

He also cautioned, “Simulation by itself is not enough. You need to do a certain amount of testing for understanding the variability, in geometry, materials, load, etc., and the environment in which the product is going to exist. The more high-value the product is, the more critical it is to life and safety, then the more you need to do beyond basic simulation.” For more, listen to my recorded interview below:

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Dr. Kim Parnell, founder and principal of PEC (Parnell Engineering and Consulting).

About Kim Parnell
Dr. Parnell is an expert in the development and application of finite element analysis (FEA) techniques and the use of computational analysis to solve real-world problems. He has over 25 years of project experience involving critical engineering skills such as simulation, fracture/fatigue, reliability, life testing, FMEA, metallography, SEM inspection, failure analysis,  forensic engineering, and root cause analysis with applications in fields including energy, medical devices, and vehicle crashworthiness. He can be reached via LinkedIN or PEC. Email at kim.parnell [at] stanfordalumni.org.

At the time of the interview, Dr. Parnell was senior manager in product management at MSC Software, an analysis software developer. Now, through his firm Parnell Engineering and Consulting (PEC), he continues to work with MSC Software and other clients as an independent consultant.

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.

2 comments

  1. Great article Ken. I’ve been involved in CAE space for 20 years and have opportunities to use MSC Marc and MD Nastran on many of my projects for doing NonLinear analysis. It’s been very exciting to see the changes in this space, the speed of computers, etc., Every year, I’m amazed at how far simulation has progressed.

    Keep up the great articles,
    Tony Davenport

  2. Tony: Thanks for the feedback! I’ve always felt that, while video game and entertainment trends are driving some of the most noticeable advances in the consumer market, simulation and analysis trends are doing the same in the professional market. We’re watching both closely.

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