Simulated improvement

Design software programs are complex to use and do not talk to one another – but a new project aims to change this. Lou Reade reports

A major new collaboration aims to bring about a million-fold improvement in the performance of design simulation software.
Partners in the non-profit company CFMS include Airbus, BAe Systems, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, Rolls-Royce and Williams F1.
“These [design simulation] systems are not easy to use and basically don’t talk to one another,” says Martin Aston, CFMS co-ordinator – who has been seconded to the project from Airbus. “Our aim is to improve the power of the simulation systems by a factor of a million by 2012.”
The initiative grew out of a Technology Strategy Board-funded project, which identifies research that needs to be done in order to make these step changes. He says that this scale of changes is needed if companies are to meet its expected future levels of productivity.
In short, a design system is needed that can cope with a new generation of complex products – and deliver them to market faster and more cheaply. It sounds like an audacious – and near-impossible – task, but Aston says some of the changes needed are quite basic.
“One way to get a massive improvement today is to reduce errors,” he says. “If you look at the time spent correcting errors that the user has put into the system, it’s phenomenal. Solving this could deliver an improvement of an order of magnitude.”
Other examples include: improving the reliability of IT hardware; and designing better user interfaces.
“We could learn a lot from the games industry,” he says. “Their user interfaces are far simpler. Computer design programs are basically very hard to understand and use.”
The focus of CFMS will be fluid mechanics – but this does not mean that it is restricted to computational fluid dynamics (CFD). As Aston: “If we can get the technology sorted for the fluid mechanics part of the design process, the rest of the technologies will follow.”
One project that CFMS is working on is to try and improve the way that CAD systems work with meshing software.
“We want to be able to feed the geometry into the meshing software without worrying about interface issues,” says Aston.
While CFMS aims to design a simulation system, it will inevitably have to deal with the companies that develop these technologies.
“We have lots of technology suppliers who have an interest in simulation – but they all develop their own interfaces and data sets,” he says. “IP arrangements get in the way of systems that talk to each other.”
That will mean sitting down with the suppliers, which is on Aston’s radar.
“We will have to work with them on an amicable and constructive basis,” he says. “


* Collaborative project aims to improve simulation software by a factor of 1 million

* Specific focus will be on fluid mechanics

* Partners include Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Williams F1

Tom Shelley

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