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Virtual Product Development Needs Accurate Materials Information

By Beth Harlen

Generating and obtaining materials data for simulation is complex and time-consuming, but incorrect properties lead to incorrect simulations. So how can simulation analysts avoid costly errors?

The product development landscape is changing. With the availability of high-performance computers, and relatively inexpensive, easy-to-use simulation software tools, organizations across sectors like aerospace, automotive and industrial manufacturing are making significant investments in virtual product development and technologies like computer-aided engineering (CAE). Through these tools, analysts can use simulated models to refine and validate their products under development to ensure they will be functionally fit for purpose, and assess factors like manufacturability and predicted lifetime.

The software infrastructure within these manufacturing enterprises is often vendor-agnostic, meaning that interoperability between the different design and simulation solutions become a concern. Analysts can also waste a lot of time finding the right material models. And, without consistent materials definitions across systems, they risk modeling a product based on the wrong material grade. The resulting errors greatly reduce the value of any virtual prototyping or simulation work from the start. Inaccurate materials properties may also hinder innovation by placing unnecessary limits on the design.

For example, an aerospace manufacturer looking to optimize airflow around an aircraft wing may turn to composite materials due to their flexibility, durability and lighter weight. Should the complex materials properties that make up that composite be inaccurate, the design at best will underperform, or at worst fail completely as the material won’t behave as expected. From a corporate perspective, this can have serious repercussions in the event of product failure or recall.

Reduce Risk

So how do we serve analysts with accurate materials inputs, ideally traceable back to the test data and analysis from which they were derived? How can we ensure users have confidence in their results? The answer is to connect simulation tools to a reliable, managed source of materials data—ideally the same source in which the company’s test and design data is stored. This enables links to be made between these data sets, ensuring traceability and consistency. Although the benefits of using virtual product development tools seem obvious, if an organization doesn’t have such an infrastructure in place, deploying one may be daunting—especially in large organizations with multiple sites and vast quantities of legacy data.

But more organizations are recognizing the benefits of programs and supporting systems to enable the collection, collation and analysis of materials data. This is valuable data, and the simulations in which it is used can be costly. Protecting that investment can best be achieved through the consolidation of corporate materials data into a single, secure system that can be managed and maintained. Having a reliable “gold source” of information ensures accurate input data, which in turn safeguards the accuracy of simulations and other design efforts. Leading enterprises such as PSA Peugeot Citroen, Jaguar Land Rover and Molex have all commented on the importance of managing materials information systematically to ensure accurate inputs to simulation. Enterprise-wide, materials data management tools also enable in-house teams to work together coherently, regardless of geographic location, or area of focus within the product lifecycle.


Any investment in virtual product development will not deliver on its full potential if the quality and accuracy of the materials information is not there from the start. The adage of “garbage in, garbage out” sums it up that if the input materials information is flawed, the simulation outputs will be equally useless. This scenario can be avoided by using a materials information management system. The full lifecycle for simulation data and all related datasets can be effectively managed, and in-house data can be enriched with validated reference data. All stakeholders from product stewards to simulation analysts can also be assured that their work is based on accurate, validated, traceable materials information. When materials decisions can be made with confidence, innovation and competitive advantage increase, while risk, cost and time to market can all be greatly reduced.

Beth Harlen is technical marketing communications specialist at Granta Design.

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This article was contributed to Digital Engineering by a guest author.