Software Softens Hardships In Automotive Testing

The development process of product manufacturing is comparatively short. It is field-testing and validation that take a lot of time. With the emergence of virtual testing, the time-consuming real-time testing is becoming redundant. Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE), and simulation software and services have reduced the time and cost for product design and test of manufactured products. They also help improve quality. During the last twenty years CAE and simulation software have become increasingly important parts of the development process of components, subsystems and systems. Today, the software has advanced so well that it is possible to simulate almost the exact realistic situation. This helps in predicting the vehicle behaviour in various conditions. The two leading US-based multinational companies, with development centres in India, that specialise in the various aspects of simulation software and technology, MSC Software Corporation, and Altair Engineering, are featured in this section. The following pages will give a glimpse of what these companies offer to the automotive companies to squeeze the time-to-market.

MSC Software Simulates Reality, Delivers Certainty

MSC Software is one of the oldest brands in the CAE Industry and one of the top ten original software companies that continues with the same brand as it started business. The company supports product manufacturers to advance their engineering methods with simulation software and services. It helps them improve quality, save time, and reduce costs associated with design and test of manufactured products. Academic institutions, researchers, and students employ MSC’s technology to expand individual knowledge and expand the horizon of simulation.

The company has developed a broad array of simulation software and has introduced in the market under different brand names like MSC Nastran, Adams, Actran, Digimat, Dytran, Easy5, Marc, Patran, MasterKey, MasterKey Plus, MaterialCenter, MSC Apex, SimDesigner, SimManager, and SimXpert. These are trademarks or registered trademarks of the company and/or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. NASTRAN is a registered trademark of NASA.

MSC is a leading player in the automotive computer aided engineering (CAE) industry, providing best-in-class modelling, solution and optimisation tools. Changing market landscape, consumer requirements and new government regulations are driving automotive industry to innovate to achieve higher fuel efficiency, improved noise and vibration (N&V) performance and reduced material costs.

The company’s software solutions have been in the forefront of this revolution, especially since they are already embedded in the design and development processes of the major OEMs and key suppliers. In order to enable engineering departments to achieve higher level of innovation, MSC provides with all the required tools, ranging from analysing component performance to system-level design.

Simulation Software

MSC is a leader in providing software solutions in Simulation Data and Process Management. This enables companies, large and small, to capture, manage and retrieve the required data through the entire process and thus improve the throughput and efficiency of their teams.

The  software is used for many types of automotive simulations such as Design Optimization; Noise and Vibration (N&V); Acoustics; Durability and Fatigue; Crash and Safety; Ride and Handling; Nonlinear and contact modelling; Structural analysis of components and assemblies; Composite material modelling; Thermal Performance; Mechatronics; Vehicle Dynamics; and Multidiscipline Analysis.

Engineers use the software for the Structural performance of components and assemblies; Elastomeric components like seals and mounts; Suspension systems; Composites modelling and failure analysis;  Nonlinear analysis; Manufacturing process; Defroster studies; Tyre analysis and performance; Hydroplaning; Fuel-tank sloshing; Weight optimisation; Control systems; Materials management; Mechatronics; Multidiscipline analysis; Airbag deployment; and Crashworthiness studies.

In an interaction with T Murrali of AutoParts Asia, Sridhara Dharmarajan, Senior Director and Country Manager, MSC Software Corporation India, said that aerospace industry has taken a giant leap in CAE followed by automotive industry. This is because the aerospace cannot afford to make multiple prototypes as the cost of failure is very high. For MSC, 80 percent of the revenue comes from aerospace and automotive with the former contributing about 45 percent.

The vision of any CAE company is to eliminate test. However, it remains as it is since the products are getting more complex, warranting tests. For instance, aviation companies would have eliminated about 250 types of tests in the last 50 years. However, they continue to test for new systems and also due to demand from customers.

When a vehicle had to be simulated about five decades ago, it had to be done individually for structural, thermal and dynamic aspects, due to the then available software code. However, when a vehicle is running, everything acts together since it is multi-physics and multi-domain. Today, the software has advanced so well that it is possible to simulate almost the exact realistic situation. This helps in predicting the vehicle behaviour in various conditions.

The Role CAE Plays

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As OEMs and suppliers replace metals with plastics and composites, they want to test physically also, though the software could simulate the exact realistic conditions. MSC Software has acquired a Belgium company, e-Xstream Engineering, having a product called Digimat. Steel or aluminium are homogenous as the material properties are similar across various points. However, the material properties are different along directions and length of fibre. Therefore, the fibre parts are dissected to perform finite element analysis. All these initiatives help reduce the number of prototypes by up to 35 percent.

Automotive engineers by default are test-driven engineers. With the slowdown hitting different markets coupled with ever increasing customer expectations and the pressure to contain time to market, they are changing. The industry is moving towards the vision of the CAE developers. For the multiple product lines the more the industry generalises the parts the more money they make.

There is a difference between prototyping cars that are related to the car the OEMs want to produce, and prototypes that are based on a predecessor car, which for many design engineers, is time consuming. However, from the CAE developer’s point of view, retesting from scratch is a wasteful exercise as the prototypes had been correlated fully by CAE.

Unlike in many companies, the emerging organisations have single person heading CAE and the testing. This helps in eliminating unwanted exercises in testing when the part or the system has been validated through CAE. In India, for instance, the top two players in the commercial vehicle space have one person each heading these two portfolios.

“One of the reasons for us to be very successful in the last 50 years is that a company which has used MSC Nastran to simulate what correlates with the test enables them to eliminate additional tests over a period of time – this establishes a strong tie between our customers and our products. It is very easy to change the external user interfaces, but the underlying solvers which do the number crunching and output simulation results are difficult to change,” Dharmarajan said. The new generation non-automotive companies that develop autonomous cars use CAE more than the traditional manufacturers.

Megatrends

Since the CAE developers cater to different industries that follow their respective megatrends, they follow collectively. “We obviously do not develop software in isolation. We have a customer advisory board meeting every year where the top management of the customer companies share the challenges they face. This enables us to cater to the exact requirements of the future. In India this exercise began two years ago with an automotive customer advisory board meeting in Chennai. In 2015 similar event was organised for aerospace in Bangalore. This year we plan to hold the automotive event in Chennai. The inputs that we get will be studied in detail to understand the way the industry is moving and give our inputs to solve these issues,” he said

Additive Manufacturing

MSC acquired Simufact that addresses the manufacturing process challenges. It is currently getting into the additive manufacturing space as well. For instance, before making any die for moulding process, the entire process can be simulated. This process largely eliminates rejections and minimises material waste.

Though additive manufacturing is picking up the world over, it is still not in India. Cost is a key factor for the small and medium enterprises to get into research and development and to energise these activities through CAE. To address these issues, MSC has set up Centre of Excellence (CoE) in certain locations to create awareness and to break the myth that CAE is only meant for graduate engineers and above.

“We now have one CoE in Anna University (in Chennai) which helps those interested in carrying out analysis. We are planning to expand this to other centres in India. We are planning 14 more locations. We have procured tools for the next three centres – two in the northern part of the country and one in the South,” Dharmarajan said.

India Operations

Globally MSC Software employs 1,200 professionals in 20 countries. In India, the company has development centres in Pune and Bengaluru.  The Pune centre has 230 engineers. Bengaluru is a small centre. There are products conceived and built in India, as some local customers ask for custom-built products. Other activities include sales and support. The headcount at the development centres will continue to increase based on the demand. Eventually the India centre may emerge as a prominent service support centre.

On the talent availability he said there are plenty of software developers, but the OEMs face shortage for their CAE team. MSC offers special pricing for educational institutions so that the students who come out for performing basic engineering are familiar with the tools the industry uses. It has tied up with about 40 universities in the country helping and training the students and the teachers on the CAE software. “We have built a platform where the student can go online and get himself certified. It will be an additional qualification for employment”, Dharmarajan said.

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