Although Mechanical FEA has been around for 50+ years, we are just scratching the surface of the potential and the real impact it will have on modern day design and engineering. Likely there are a number of people in the FEA world or at large manufacturers that would argue with the title of this post. But, I challenge you to think about how much your designs are evolving. Are you pushing the limits of innovation?
A good majority of mechanical engineers have either used, been exposed to or are using some sort of FEA tool. Whether its CAD-embedded or a standalone general purpose tool. The market has grown rapidly over the last 20 years or so. To the point, that I believe many feel that its reached its maturity. I disagree. The more I talk to customers and listen to their process, I wonder how many can say they are leveraging FEA to a reasonable potential. I would be interested in reasonable, not even full potential.
My estimate is probably 10% of the mechanical engineers, at best, are really at their peak potential with Mechanical FEA. In some cases, getting by with “just enough” is probably ok. In these cases, FEA is being used as a validation tool, rather than a Design Exploration tool. In order to gain market share, engineers are being pushed to innovate and differentiate. This differentiation can be around time to market, reliability or breaking new ground in a new market. The pressure to explore possibilities is on the rise.
Trends that I think could open the doors to broader usage and even more pressure.
- Advanced Materials – The need for true to life or as manufactured is on the rise. The more advancements we do in materials, such as composites, the more there will be a need to characterize the structural integrity of these designs.The more advanced the materials, the more expensive they will be to prototype, hence, the need for structural FEA will grow. Imagine the ability to simulate the impact materials will have on designs. Imagine being able to also simulate the manufacturing process, all before a single prototype is built.
- Topological Optimization- Only a few years ago, the idea of topological optimization was nothing more than a cool demonstration of what may be possible someday. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that engineers are looking to push the envelope of computing and make organic shapes and designs a reality. Companies are looking at the impact of lattice structures and how to make lighter stronger designs. These trends will force the need to simulate more.
- Systems Engineering– Companies are continuing to push to account for the impact of the entire system. Mechatronics are more and more common. The days of single parts or small subassemblies are over. Engineers are looking to model the system in all its glory. The impact of the mechanics, electronics and software all need to be accounted for.
So, I don’t want to imply that I think the FEA opportunity or market will simply just grow. I am implying that I think engineers will continue to push the usage and broaden the applicability. It’s up to us as vendors to stay ahead of the curve. So, for those that feel the Mechanical FEA space is saturated and stale, I think you will be surprised with how it will evolve. The days of simple nodes and elements will be around for as long as I can see, but I expect to see big advancements in the Mechanical FEA space over the next few years.
As always, interested to hear what you think?