Do you remember when you had your first smartphone or tablet? It probably felt kind of miraculous at first. Then planes, cars, and medical devices started getting smart, and pretty soon we had refrigerators that could order yogurt and streetlights that adapted to pedestrian movement. Today, it’s hard to find a product development team that isn’t dreaming up new ways to leverage smart connected technology to captivate customers. But to achieve this high product performance, these teams must balance a number of technological conflicts while meeting safety regulations – and so they’re turning to simulation in engineering.
While consumers might experience seamless digital intelligence and convenience from their smart products, the engineering wizards behind the curtain are dealing with sensors, microprocessors, and other components. They need to turn those components into reliability and performance, and then beat their competitors to market. Finally, they need to do it all cost-effectively.
Those are high stakes – and trying to balance the exploratory nature of innovation with the cost considerations of prototype and product development is what makes simulation software so valuable. High-tech product engineers can leverage simulation to achieve advanced functionality, ingenuity, and safety in one product at an attractive price point.
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) has been around as a term for about 20 years, with a steady parade of smart connected products melting easily into our everyday lives. We’ve come a long way since the invention of the transistor; fifth-generation (5G) technologies are exponentially faster than 4G communications, and so the progress continues. But it’s clear our ongoing march into greater and greater technology sophistication provides both opportunities and threats for technology organizations. Some will intelligently leverage the disruption, while others will fall behind – and possibly face their own obsolescence.
Sparking Innovation with Simulation in Engineering
The rise and fall of tech companies is tied to innovation, but creativity isn’t the only factor. Successful companies can come up with a range of ideas, identify the most promising ones, and then carry them across the finish line. While talent plays a large role, implementing the right engineering tools and processes is important too – especially when it comes to minimizing cost and risk and exploiting opportunity.
Simulation in engineering gives product development teams an exploratory environment in which they can cost-effectively design new smart connected products, confirm their compliance, and test their performance. With the freedom to push design boundaries and the ability to answer questions like “what if we…” and “will it really…” in a safe virtual world, teams can find out how their designs will perform under thousands of conditions. They can identify and correct performance flaws like software bugs or integration issues before development, avoiding the high cost of flawed production. In doing so, they’re able to give even radically new ideas a shot without having to financially invest in creating prototypes.
Five Ways Engineering Simulation Changes Smart Connected Products
Let’s look at five ways simulation in engineering can help engineers empower their design strategy.
- Size, Weight, Power, and Cooling (SWAP-C). One of the central IoT challenges has been the additional size, weight, and heat – known as SWAP-C challenges – that accompany the addition of electronic components to a design. Physics-based simulation gives development teams a real-world preview that helps them balance these components to make the right trade-offs before production.
- Software Code Safety. While consumers experience their products as intuitive and simple, smart products are built on millions of lines of embedded software code. Not only must the code be bug-free, but the software architecture must guarantee the safety and reliability of the overall production system. Simulation tools can test embedded software code to both speed up development and ensure flawless performance – something critical for any medical or transportation application where human lives hang in the balance.
- Sensor Testing. Sensors are foundational to smart products; they collect the data that determine a self-driving truck’s movement, for instance. To test sensors – whether in isolation or in real-world conditions – engineers can test and refine sensor performance before investing in physical manufacturing.
- Integration. Your typical product development team depends on components and subsystems from suppliers all over the world. These disparate parts can lead to integration challenges when trying to create a unified product system. Simulation can help teams address component incompatibility and other issues early on, before physical assembly — avoiding the expensive disaster that is a late-stage design failure.
- Durability. As smart connected products have become embedded in transportation and industrial applications, they’re going into space, deep below sea level, and into other extreme environments. Simulation lets engineers test their durability and safety by virtually subjecting component and product designs to thousands of harsh operating parameters.
The Ubiquity of Simulation in High-Tech Engineering
Simulation is interwoven in the high-tech industry, birthing the next generation of smart innovations. It has helped many companies bring groundbreaking products to market that the pressure to compete is getting more intense – forcing product development teams to constantly up their game in terms of capabilities, functionality, and customer value.
For entertainment and consumer products, designers must consider cost, appeal, and functionality – in addition to meeting compliance and safety regulations. Information Communication Technologies (ICT) now play a strong role in many smart connected products, such as AI algorithms that power voice-activated smart home speakers. To test data security, fast connectivity, and 24/7 uptime, engineers rely on – you guessed it – simulation environments. In the semiconductor environment, product development teams must increase power density in the device and maintain reliability even while integrating RF, analog, and digital circuitry onto the same silicon die. Simulation helps these teams meet the metric commonly known as PPATS – power, performance, area, thermal, and schedule (time-to-market) – to reduce power noise and increase reliability.
Unleashing a Future of Smarter Products
In the competitive high-tech industry, innovation is king. Engineering simulation is key to not only creating complex, high-performing products but getting them to market in a quick and cost-effective manner. It’s a safe bet that consumer tastes for increasingly smaller, lighter, and smarter products will only continue. So will the desire for increasingly novel and exciting digital experiences. It is high-tech leaders that must evolve to meet this moment in engineering – with simulation unlocking the door.