Leveraging simulation for accelerated product development

by Mayank Dhingra 02 Jun 2021


With the automotive industry belonging to a category that requires long cycle times in the pursuit of development of cutting-edge technologies for modern-age customers, software and simulation are fast becoming its go-to tool to deliver cost optimisation, better reliability and a faster time-to-market as well.

Furthermore, in the wake of the car transforming into what is today more of a computer-on-wheels, engineers are ending up doing fairly complex simulations compared to what they would do a decade ago. And, with disruptions such as electrification, lightweighting and ADAS right on the anvil, software and simulation is speeding up the development process as well, thereby improving the overall efficiency of R&D teams at OEMs and ancillaries.

To understand and gauge the role of simulation towards acceleration of new product development, Autocar Professional conducted a virtual seminar recently with Renuka Srinivasan, Simulia Sales Director — India, Dassault Systemes, and R Velusamy, Chief of Global Product Development (Automotive), Mahindra & Mahindra. The session was moderated by Hormazd Sorabjee, editor, Autocar India.

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The discussion started off with Sorabjee seeking inputs about the enhanced role of simulation, especially in a work-from-home environment that has sent teams scattered all across the world. And as one would rightly imagine, there has been a spike in the use of such tools over the past year.

According to Srinivasan, “To accelerate new product development, companies (automotive) have sped up and also increased the number of simulations they conduct, to compensate for not being able to do enough of physical or real-world testing during the pandemic.”

“People have also moved from being hesitant in using the Cloud to now embracing it through the comfort of their homes, and collaboratively working to test new products in the virtual world by leveraging the high-performance-computing (HPC) systems now available in most of these companies,” she added.

Velusamy brought in a research lab perspective and listed the benefits of simulation, “In the light of the recent multiplicity of new regulations (safety and emissions) which are throwing challenges of meeting multi-dimensional requirements such as more features, better fuel efficiency as well as safety and comfort, simulation is the only way by the virtue of which the automotive industry can meet these new demands. It allows for the best optimisation of the feature set for a new model, right from the conceptualisation stage, when there is no physical model to see.”

Srinivasan concurred with the Mahindra product chief’s thoughts and added, “The automotive industry has been a very strong user of simulation and over the years, a lot of optimisation has already happened especially with regulations becoming stricter by the day. The optimisation of components has been happening for several decades, and now we are at a stage where it’s becoming a challenge to find more areas to shelve grams or kilos from the car. Simulation is helping in this accord of the industry as well.”

Velusamy promptly agreed and explained that the foremost ‘enemy’ in every product development engineer’s mind is weight, and for every 1kg that is added into the body-in-white (BIW), there’s an additional cost impact of Rs 150 per car.

“Therefore, simulation is an extremely important tool that can offer assessment of different geometries, materials as well as joineries (welds and adhesives), to arrive at the right trade-off between stiffness and weight, among the various possibilities of structural design of a new model,” he said.

Srinivasan explained this process in a little bit more detail by informing that simulation platforms like Dassault Systemes’ Simulia put in place algorithms that automate the task of studying the variations and assessing various ‘what’ and ‘if’ scenarios, to critically analyse all possibilities in the design sphere.

“We can also compare with the past data to arrive at the best combination,” she said.

“Some of the geometries, especially external, end up affecting the fuel efficiency as well. Similarly, in case of weight saving, if the thickness of the component is reduced considerably, road noise could end up becoming a bigger deterrent to the customer experience inside the vehicle, particularly in case of eerily-silent EVs. So, simulation really does help in exploring different options and arriving at a particular trade-off for the said model in question,” added Srinivasan.

EVs — a new domain
With electric vehicles increasingly gaining popularity as well as the new focus area of automotive companies around the world, Sorabjee quizzed the panel for more insights into the role of simulation towards this critical area.

According to Velusamy, “While the core BIW is undergoing tremendous change due to safety regulations, when we talk about powertrains, there is a constant change due to emission regulations as well as the EV technology coming in. Last but not least, there are a slew of modern, active safety and ADAS features coming into vehicles as well. So, a lot of electronics is becoming inherent part of a new vehicle.”

“Such systems require a lot of data tapping, and its analyses, which has been made possible only by simulation,” he said.

Velusamy further added that this has also thrown open enormous amounts of opportunities in these areas (EV powertrain, safety and ADAS), and therefore, a huge potential for engineers to tap into these new avenues of learning and engineering knowledge.

Extending her views, Srinivasan said, “A lot of these concepts need the downstream impact assessment on the overall model. Simulation gives engineers the freedom to try out different things and then zero down upon the best approach.”

“Our aim is also to increase the time people spend in interpretation of the design that they have created. With our platform, we make that modelling and simulation aspect much more efficient and make it compatible to also conduct studies on multi-physics aspects such as thermodynamics, aerodynamics as well,” she added.

Srinivasan also briefly touched upon how simulation is driving electro-magnetic field (EMF), and electro-magnetic compatibility (EMC) testing in the case of electric vehicles, so that companies are able to make their products conform to the safety and regulatory requirements.

Upskilling to handle simulation
The final part of the discussion revolved around the need for manpower to upskill itself to be relevant in a future full of such technologically-advanced design and development solutions.

“It’s a very exciting time to be an automotive engineer, and on the other hand, it is quite frightening as well,” Srinivasan remarked.

“One big shift that I am presently observing is on the learning side. Earlier, when we thought about education, we used to think about young engineers, or those in college. But, for the past several years, the focus is more on having a continuous learning process, which is the need of the hour to keep oneself relevant in the market force."

“There is a constant need to upskill yourself and moreover, to be able to work collaboratively in teams to arrive at that right trade-off, even an expert in a particular domain would need to keep a tab of other departments and speak their language,” she added.

Velusamy extended support to his fellow panellist’s comments, and ended the discussion acknowledging that given the competition, it is impossible for companies today to invest in developing a prototype and losing out on 7-8 months of crucial development time. So, the industry is rather dependent upon simulation and benchmarking. “The quality of the software as well as human expertise will be the factors differentiating new products in the future,” he concluded.