It’s a much-discussed topic that comes with a whole array of buzzwords: simulation-driven design, frontloading or “simulation for designers”. You may also have heard of the “democratization of simulation” or about MODSIM, an acronym formed from modeling and simulation.
What’s behind these catchwords, and how does the concept contribute to the value chain? Below, we will try to shed some light on these questions.
When people talk about simulation, they don't always mean the same thing
First of all, we have to clarify what simulation is actually good for. Simulation offers insights. That’s it. Insights into products or processes, even if they don’t yet exist physically.
These “insights” can be gained at different levels of abstraction. Each level represents a different way of looking at things. The observations thus relate to different phases of the value chain, and they are relevant to different stakeholders.
This means that “the” simulation doesn’t exist. For example, the behavior or creation of products can be simulated at system level, at a stage when the components and sub-components are represented solely by their behavior and not yet by any three-dimensional manifestation. This discipline is known as model-based simulation.
But simulation can also occur at the level of fully engineered, three-dimensional components and sub-components. This is what people usually mean when they refer to “simulation”. Just like system simulation, it spans a wide range of physical disciplines.
The simulation methodology must match the purpose
What level of abstraction is better? An analogy from the field of cartography can give us an answer. What has the better maps – a world atlas or a city guide? Obviously, that depends on the type of geographical information you are looking for.
Simulation at system level and simulation based on three-dimensional models represent different levels of abstraction – there is no “better” or “worse”, just as the atlas and the city map each have their own purpose.
Now let’s move on to the “democratization” of simulation. It is correct that software improvements have made simulation programs more user-friendly and that a wider group of engineers can now run simulations. In that sense, the term “democratization” is an apt one.
But if you ask about the level at which the simulation is being conducted, or about the goals of the various stakeholders in the value-adding process, the term is not particularly helpful.