Complex technologies are forcing automotive engineers to work in areas outside their fields of expertise. A mechanical engineer, for instance, can be called upon to use electronics, fluid dynamics and other fields to design auto parts such as motor mounts.
Sandeep Sovani, 43, manager of automotive industry at Ansys Inc., a provider of simulation software that helps engineers work with various disciplines, talked about the trend with Staff Reporter Richard Truett.
Q: The term multiphysics is heard more and more. What does it mean?
A: If you think of automotive engineering's many disciplines -- structural design, electrical design, fluid design, chemistry, etc. -- those are different parts of physics. When we go through school, engineers specialize. There are different people who look at the structure, who look at fluids, who look at electromagnets. That is single physics. That's been the culture of automotive engineering. And that has been OK until now.
Now what we are seeing with complex systems is the intersection of two physics, where oftentimes it's a gray area, where engineers from one discipline are not good at working in another area. And that's where things can go bad. It can lead to a poorly designed product.
What is an example of a component design that required multiphysics expertise?
Ford's new hydromounts [anti-vibration parts that use a combination of liquid and rubber damping]. That's a classic example. It is a complex structural problem, because the rubber is deforming, and inside that there is a dampening liquid. The force of the liquid [presses] against the shape of the structure, and so those two aspects have to be designed together to exploit the best opportunities for that product.
How do simulation programs help engineers use multiphysics to work on components?
The way we are structuring simulation is that an engineer should not consider himself a fluids expert or a mechanical expert. They should think: I am a hydromounts expert. We are making tools that will allow them to be a hydromounts expert and know everything about it and have all the tools in one place to solve the problem. That's the spirit of multiphysics software.
Is the goal of engineering simulation software to enable automakers and suppliers to go from simulation on the screen to validation with no prototype parts to test?
It's a goal. Many companies are trying to take development time out of the process, but we always say that testing will never be eliminated. It will be reduced, say from 100 prototype parts to one part. If you think about it, physical testing and simulation are two tools in the hands of the engineer. Using one tool to crosscheck the other is a good practice. So that one physical prototype at the end gives a different angle to determine if the design is good.
As new technologies such as electrification of more parts debut in vehicles, must the simulation business change at the same pace?
I think so. Electrification of the drivetrain is a great example. That's when we added the electromagnetic simulation part to our portfolio. And now we can do multiphysics with electromagnetics, fluids, structures and thermal aspects.
What is the biggest challenge simulation faces -- improving accuracy, keeping up with technology, something else?
I think accuracywise the industry has made satisfactory progress. Now it's about how I do the whole system of a complete virtual prototype. That means the challenges we are dealing with is getting the culture of car companies changed.
Right now there are all these silos. But we are trying to get car companies to look at the car holistically because now the simulation tools are there to do that. It's the company culture that needs to change to leverage these new capabilities that are out there now.