What is Simulation? Computer Simulation – also referred to as “FEA” (finite element analysis), “FEM” (finite element method), or computer analysis – is the process of simulating structural loads in a 3D model in order to predict its real world behavior. Traditional testing relies on fabricating costly prototypes, testing them with expensive load frames, iterating the design based on test results, and repeating the process until acceptable results are achieved. When performing structural simulation for mechanical engineering applications (which can range between anything from consumer electronics enclosures to heavy machinery to medical devices), the process becomes much more streamlined. No longer is iterating on countless physical prototypes a requirement, this step being replaced by the FEM Simulation process in a digital environment. The process diagrams below illustrate the efficiency of FEA-driven product development over the traditional product development process.

FEA vs Traditional Product Development Process

As you might guess, the replacement of many physical prototypes with Simulation can yield dramatic benefits to both time and capital. For example, the traditional product development process for a molded stepping stool might take weeks or even months to complete, and require numerous iterative changes to the mold and testing for each change. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Pipeline’s computer simulation FEA-driven product development process goes through the exact same design iterations, but can be accomplished in a small fraction of the time – possibly only a few days. Additionally, the FEA process can provide valuable data that can be difficult if not impossible to acquire otherwise such as displacement or stress values in the assembly.

Once an optimal design has been identified through such a structural simulation process, it is still wise to build at least one prototype and do real world testing. The big difference, though, is that you are now starting your prototype testing with a validated design instead of with an engineer’s “best guess”.

In summary, Computer Simulation will benefit your mechanical engineering and product development efforts in the following ways:

  • Significant reduction in development cycle
  • Lower prototyping and testing costs
  • Ability to quickly iterate on different design configurations
  • Simple acquisition of key data such as displacement and stresses

Pipeline Design & Engineering can take your existing CAD data as the basis for the simulation work, or we can create the 3D simulation model for you. Give us a call to learn how we can help lower the costs and cycle time involved in your product development project.