Manufacturing is the backbone of any economy as it generates more economic activity than any other sector. This process of converting raw materials, components or parts into finished goods, that meet certain expectations or specifications, though crucial, can be very expensive in the overall production process.
The advantages of numerical simulation in the product design cycle across industries is a standard practice now. Numerical simulation software helps predict the behaviour and life of the final product under various operating conditions in a virtual environment, even before the product begins to exist in the real world. This helps industries to virtually evaluate different design concepts and select the optimal design.
Accurately predicting stresses and deformations
Conventional manufacturing processes require significant investments upfront in terms of getting tools, fixtures, dies and more. The finer details of these tools are what decide the quality parameters. These manufacturing processes leave considerable residual stress in the manufactured goods, and the residual stress plays a critical role in crack initiation, propagation and the overall life of the manufactured part when put under service. Simulation software accurately predicts the stresses and deformations experienced by the metal during manufacturing and service to determine if it will fail.
Simulation software providers do many independent benchmarks and evaluations against experimental measurements, such as forming of an automotive deck lid inner panel benchmark to making sure their virtual environment is suitable to drive industrial manufacturing engineering and production. Simulation processes have nowadays become an integrated critical path in advance manufacturing engineering processes in a majority of the OEMs and their cost-efficient suppliers.
Simulating processing of non-metallic materials
Computer-based simulation allows engineers to predict things, like wrinkling, cracking and lifespan, even without touching the material. This allows manufacturers to try out various tool designs and choose the optimum one before finalising the tool drawings.
The use of simulation technology in manufacturing is not only limited to metals. Simulation software that involves powerful fluid dynamics physics helps to simulate the processing of even non-metallic materials, such as polymers, glass and even food that exhibits complex non-linear behaviour while being processed. Robust simulation solvers, with appropriate material models, have the capability to accurately capture flow domain deformations. Companies in the polymer processing industries around the world reduce manufacturing risk by employing simulation software as an integral part of their product design and optimisation process. They use this verified technology to optimise processes, like extrusion, thermoforming, blow moulding, glass forming, fibre drawing and concrete shaping. Using simulation helps engineers to take corrective action at the design or manufacturing phase, or even both phases, to quickly and cost-effectively design lighter packaging with better performance by accurately assessing the material’s performance well before manufacturing. By reducing the number of trial-and-error prototypes, simulation can save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in designing PVC extrusion dies.
Revealing optimisation opportunities
When engineers start designing a product, the task is not limited to the initial design only. In order to compete in the market, engineers have to also improve the performance and reduce the cost and the lead time to market. Whether it is minimising the pressure drop or increasing the fatigue life, engineers have to alter the initial design to improve performance or reduce the cost.
Performing shape or topology optimisation on any product can be challenging, especially as components get more complex. Simulation has the ability to reveal optimisation opportunities that even experienced engineering analysts can miss. A single simulation gives an indication of how a design performs under ideal circumstances, but a six-sigma analysis investigates the range of performance as the manufacturing tolerances and operating parameters vary. In many cases, this can reveal significant design sensitivities or flaws that may have been missed by the simulation.
Topology Optimisation technology
Unless it has been topologically optimised, every part in an assembly probably weighs more than it needs to. Extra weight means excess materials are being used and shipping the part costs more. Now, with Topology Optimisation technology, simulation software gives one the tools one needs to design durable, lightweight components for any application and opening new possibilities. The optimal shape of a part is often organic and counterintuitive, so designing it requires a different approach. Topology optimisation lets one specify where the supports and loads are located on a volume of material and lets the software find the best shape.
Though the Topology Optimisation technology is a couple of decades old, it has not attracted the attention of the manufacturing industry mostly due to the impracticability of manufacturing random shapes that come out of optimisation studies using conventional manufacturing techniques. The innovation of 3D Printing has changed the design landscape by making it possible to build virtually any shape, without any regard for design for manufacturability rules.
Simulation enables designers with the tool they need to take full advantage of automated topology optimisation integrated with its full suite of multi-physics software. The latest topology optimiser dramatically reduces the engineering cost and lead time required to design a new generation of parts or products that are optimised to reduce the weight and manufacturing cost, while delivering the same or even better performance as the current generation.
The benefits of metal AM
Additive Manufacturing (AM) has been rapidly gaining popularity as a true manufacturing process in recent years. In the AM process, a digital data file is transmitted to a production machine, which ultimately translates an engineering design into a 3D printed part. Initially, AM was utilised as a rapid prototyping method — an accelerated method to create (mostly plastic) parts, before manufacturing by well-accepted methodologies, such as injection molding, casting, forming, joining, etc.
Metal AM offers several benefits over traditional manufacturing. It creates parts and structures that are impossible to manufacture with traditional methods, like parts with intricate internal structures or complex organic shapes. A single AM-generated part can replace an entire multi-part assembly. Also, through AM, these parts may be designed and produced for better performance and with more efficient use of materials. AM also helps in manufacturing replacement metal parts on demand, without the need for an entire factory and multiple machines. It helps in producing novel materials with unique properties. Apart from these, AM can help in replacing worn out or broken parts that are no longer manufactured, as deposition processes enable new functionality to be built on top of existing parts, opening up new opportunities for the remanufacturing of components.
Challenges with the AM process
The major challenges with the AM process are the optimisation of print process parameters of the machine, finding suitable orientation to reduce support material, reduce distortion and cracking induced by residual stress built up due to steep thermal gradients.
Using the complete simulation workflow for AM allows to reduce physical trial-and-error experiments and mitigate uncertainty. It also reduces design distortion and compensated geometries for more accurate printing, acceleration of production, gaining confidence in prices quoted to customers and reduces build failures. The days are not far away when one orders a spare part from an OEM abroad and instead of the physical part being shipped, a 3D Printing process simulation is carried out and an email is sent with an attachment, which one can print at an authorised 3D Printing centre locally.
Simulation – An effective tool for efficient manufacturing
A unified simulation platform leverages the parametric and persistent power of software engineering for multiphysics analyses, so one can efficiently explore, understand and optimise the design & manufacturing process. A sophisticated simulation platform allows the integration of different aspects of the product life cycle, such as exploring alternative materials at lower cost, low carbon footprints without any compromise in strength and performance from a vast collection of material data bases. Leading simulation platform providers also allow integrating their state-of-the art simulation technology with other PLM & PDM, digital business service vendors to facilitate Industry 4.0 digital factory. This is how simulation is an effective tool for innovative and efficient manufacturing.