Virtual Validation will continue to play a significant role in product development, especially in existing times where remote working is the norm
Digital verification and validation methodologies have been in use across industries, predominantly in the automotive space for a fairly long period of time. Such virtual testing solutions offer benefits such as faster pace of development, accurate interpretation to changes in testing environment and cost savings. Another advantage of simulation, which hasn’t been always highlighted, is the possibility of carrying out testing remotely from any part of the globe. All that is needed for simulation are product specifications along with changes or conditions under which the product needs to perform.
Advanced simulation solutions are being offered by engineering service providers to offer users with highly-realistic scenarios, where they can validate their components, systems, modules and products. The advantage of simulation is that it is almost as realistic as physical prototype testing, while being able to be carried out from virtually anywhere, making it the choicest of development tools for innovators. The global outbreak of COVID-19 had caused pretty much all companies to shut down, with non-manufacturing processes continuing to be carried out by employees with secure connections from the comfort of their homes. The use of simulation solutions makes complete sense, especially during a global crisis like this since product development work can be continued despite limitations of access to laboratories or other physical validation equipment.
COPING WITH THE PRESENT SITUATION
The entire automotive industry has come to a grinding halt due to the pandemic-infused, nation-wide lockdown that saw companies come out with innovative solutions to assist the medical fraternity with equipment and other forms of support. Rafiq Somani, Area Vice President – India & South Asia Pacific, ANSYS said it will be an understatement to say that COVID-19 has changed the way the industry functions. A common intent is seen in design and development service companies coming forward to help the medical fraternity. Although these companies understand that they may not be able to function to their full capacity, they can still play a significant role by supporting the nation, government, as well as the medical fraternity in the fight against the deadly virus, Somani added.
In order to assist the medical fraternity in every possible manner, ANSYS has partnered with top academia to design and develop various medical equipment that includes a collaboration with IIT Ropar to design COVID-19 Negative Pressure Rooms (NPRs), a partnership with IIT Bombay to design Mobile Sample Collection Booth and a collaboration with IIT Kanpur in bringing out low-cost ventilators. The company’s partners are similarly working and helping several academia and start-ups for providing COVID-19 solutions.
Automotive analyst Avik Chattopadhyay and Co-Founder, Expereal said design and development services were anyway one of the few functions in the automotive industry that are at the forefront of digital and virtual interfaces. The national lockdown situation has actually been a shot in the arm for these companies to convince the rest of the automotive operation to adopt new R&D methodologies, he added. Chattopadhyay observed that the aspects that will need adaptation and tweaking are materials research and rapid prototyping.
The automotive industry has found effective and practical ways to continue their vehicle development activities, while working from home and maintaining social distancing protocols. Vinay Piparsania, Consulting Director – Automotive, Counterpoint Research, noted that automotive product engineers and designers globally are operating as usual with the development of their future models, components, and systems to ensure they are on track to support new product launch timelines. Since the coronavirus outbreak, many car companies, especially across Europe and North America, have enabled their engineers with relevant computer equipment and other gear so that they can continue to work from their basements, living rooms, and garages as needed, he noted. A number of vehicle engineers had already taken their work home with them before the lockdowns, including masked prototypes, along with testing and measuring equipment to gather data as needed to perform validations.
INCREASED ROLE OF VIRTUAL VALIDATION
Digital validation has been a growing trend for its multiple benefits, and more so at a time when manufacturing has come to a halt. Additionally, the lockdown situation provides engineers with additional time to carry out more detailed simulations of their designs – something that is not provided to them under normal circumstances. The remote accessibility of simulation products enables engineers and designers to work on projects pertaining to practically any location in the world.
We are in a world where all devices and hardware are required to be connected, noted Krishna Kumar, VP and Head-Global Delivery, Sasken Technologies. “Today, it is established that engineers in India remotely connect and perform development or validation tasks on hardware present in another country. Since such a set-up has evolved over the past decades coupled with improved internet access, there isn’t much difference when people work from home instead of being in the office,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bhavesh Kumar, Brand lead, SIMULIA India, Dassault Systemes observed that virtual validation, in the form of simulation technologies, has always played a key role in rationalising the number of physical tests and prototypes. A compelling advantage that virtual validation provides is the ability to test a large number of scenarios, and thereby explore more design alternatives and gain more insights into product performance, ultimately leading companies to make better design decisions, he noted.
Kumar went on to say that concerns over virtual validation in the past were over accuracy of results, which often led to an increased reliance on physical tests. However, this is no longer true, as nowadays simulation solutions rely on advanced multiscale/ multiphysics technology to provide highly-accurate and robust results, he pointed out. The company feels that virtual validation would play a critical role in the post-COVID-19 automotive world, and also aligns well with the digital transformation that many companies have embarked upon.
The new situation arising out of the pandemic has affected the entire globe in a scale that has never been experienced before. Never before has industrialisation of the entire planet been impacted so severely. These circumstances have resulted in the industry gaining newer perspectives about the usage of digital prototyping as well as remote working for improved efficiency and uninterrupted continuity.
It has been observed that while not everyone on the engineering and design team can take their work home with them (e.g. engine or emission testing), there is enough demonstrated understanding that most engineers can work remotely. Piparsania said most automotive research centres are anyway linked through networks around the world, exchanging data to replicate and simulate different environmental conditions. Providing engineers with required software, VR tools, and system access in a highly-secure manner can lead to automakers ensuring project continuity while they work remotely, collaboratively, and safely from their homes, he noted. It is critical for the industry to ensure engineering work continues during phases like the COVID-19 lockdown so that launches of their strategic future models remain on track.
According to Krishna Kumar, these are unprecedented times and perhaps the largest logistical exercise conducted in the IT industry, where almost the entire 40 lakh workforce need to be productive despite the lockdown. Sasken has also been successful in enabling ‘business as usual’ with projects meeting their regular milestones and customers acknowledging delivery excellence in such times, he stated. Companies need to have strong business continuity plans in place to help prepare for the worst of situations, with probably offering a mandatory weekly work from home once in a year to their employees, Kumar noted.
In the automotive sector, there are expectations of even more rigorous embracing of technology to make design easier and faster, observed Somani. This is required because a lot of time has been lost and to get those vehicles and new designs into the market, simulation technology has to be at the forefront, he added. Further, it is necessary for a change in strategy to mitigate the risk of global supply chain by not having over-dependence on any one country or region, and this will further accelerate technology usage.
The automotive industry has been staring at concerns around rising fuel prices and increasingly-stringent environmental regulations off late, for which simulation has been playing a critical role. There has been a gap in simulation offerings towards next-generation engine and exhaust system technologies to minimise emissions or other environmental consequences and enable high levels of performance, noted Somani. However, virtual validation drives automakers to rapidly progress in new technologies like electric and autonomous vehicles.
Chattopadhyay believes that virtual validation will definitely be a fresh experience for mainstream automakers, as it has been used by motorsports teams and supercar makers for some time now. A traditional and hierarchy-driven industry like automotive is definitely expected to take time to adopt and accept such new paradigms. One fact is clear, simulation is the best option, when it comes to cost and time – whatever the circumstance!
TEXT: Naveen Arul