The digital form of carrying out testing and validation is known as simulation, and is fast emerging as a standard for engineering development that is being applied more over physical prototyping and testing during a product development phase. Simulation technologies have been in use since the 1950s and are not new for the engineering fraternity. However, the possibilities of simulating real-world conditions digitally have grown exponentially in recent times.
The main reason for the growth in simulation technologies is the drastic cut in development time for new products as well as new variants. In addition, companies are also focussing more on cost-effective methods of new product development, where simulation plays a key role to fulfil this task. Another scenario where virtual simulation is opted over physical testing and validation is when the technology or solution being developed requires a large number of cycles of repeated testing. Since repetitive physical testing could take a long period of time, the same in a virtual environment would potentially take a fraction of the time to be completed. This also satisfies both the primary requirements of shorter development time as well as lower development cost.
MOBILITY TRENDS DEMANDING NEW-AGE SIMULATION
While a number of trends are present in the automotive industry at present, electrification of the powertrain and autonomous driving are two that are on top of this list. Both these megatrends bring in a high level of electronics into the vehicle, in terms of managing numerous systems to perform properly for efficient results. Electronics in vehicles also need to be smart so as to offer complete safety since a number of these systems are critical in nature.
In the case of electrification, there is a continuous focus on extracting the most out of a battery, in terms of the vehicle range on a single rate of charge. In order to get the most out of a battery pack, there are a whole range of multi-physical layers that need to combine with electronic modules. There is a need to simulate characteristics right from the chemistry used for the battery, to thermal management, optimal charge and discharge, as well as clubbing the electric powertrain with the many electronic systems of the vehicle. This requires a Multiphysics simulation solution that can address each of these modules separately as well as test and validate them together as a combined system, which is the electric vehicle.
Meanwhile, when we look at autonomous driving, the main focus is on testing the various features of autonomy that are embedded into the vehicle. One obvious challenge for testing autonomous vehicles is that it is potentially dangerous to test these systems on open roads due to the possibility of harm to motorists and road-users. Further, the systems of automated driving need to be validated over large distances to be able to reliably conclude on their working in real-driving environments. Both these challenges faced in the development of autonomous vehicles can be best addressed through virtual simulation solutions.
From the point of view of simulation technologies, the use of new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), machine learning and digital twin is growing. These high-tech solutions make the simulation process much more robust, thus leading to more reliable forms of digital testing and validation. The concept of Digital Twin, as the word suggests, is where a copy of a product or its design is stored in a digital format. This twin can then be put to various tests, as well as through potential conditions of environment or abuse. Obtaining results from such work can provide deep insights into developing new products and also refreshes existing products.
A major role of simulation technologies is to provide insights to manufacturers on the use of various materials and manufacturing technologies to make products with a certain shelf life. When carried out precisely, simulation makes it easier for manufacturers to deal with warranty issues, since simulation technologies provide near-precise information on the expected life of a product or component. It also provides information on the future repairs and weak points in a product, which then translates into a mild level of predictive maintenance. This shows that the role of simulation lasts through the entire lifecycle of a product or component.
The role of virtual simulation is not only limited to offering solutions that are quicker in enabling product development. It also helps reduce the overall costs of product development, since the time taken has been reduced drastically. Another point worth noting is that engineering companies providing simulation technologies are now making simulation software that is easy to use, which designers themselves can operate. This simplification of simulation and validation software enables designers to make quick changes to their preliminary models and make appropriate alterations for intended results. Therefore, simulation and validation solutions will continue to have growing adoption in the automotive industry, due to the varied benefits they offer to end-users.
(Inputs from National Instruments, COMSOL, Tata Elxsi)
TEXT: Naveen Arul