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Computer-aided engineering (CAE)

Computer-aided engineering is the use of computer software across industries to simulate product performance to improve designs or assist in the resolution of engineering problems. This includes simulation, validation and optimization of products, processes and manufacturing tools.

What is computer-aided engineering?

CAE or computer-aided engineering is the use of computer software across a wide range of industries to simulate physics-based performance to improve product designs or assist in the resolution of engineering problems. This includes simulation, validation and optimization of products, processes and manufacturing tools.

A typical CAE process comprises preprocessing, solving and postprocessing steps. In the preprocessing phase, engineers model the geometry (or a system representation) and the physical properties of the design, as well as the environment, in the form of applied loads or constraints. Next, the model is solved using an appropriate mathematical formulation of the underlying physics. In the postprocessing phase, the results are presented to the engineer for review.

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An engineer using the Simcenter 3D software for computer-aided engineering (CAE).

Uncover the benefits

Computer-aided engineering is a well-established methodology often used to replace or supplement experimental and analytical methods to aid the engineering design and analysis of everyday products. Compared to prototyping and experiments, CAE simulation offers the following benefits.

Increase performance

Computer-aided engineering allows you to rapidly analyze and explore the engineering possibilities for increased product performance.

Time reduction

Computer-aided engineering helps you to bring optimized product designs to market faster compared to a build-and-test method.

Cost reduction

By leveraging computer-aided engineering, you can significantly reduce your product development cost compared to traditional physical prototype-based testing processes.

Types of computer-aided engineering

Computer-aided engineering is a broadly defined area consisting of the following sub-domains:

CFD simulation of mechanical equipment realized with Simcenter 3D Software.

Finite element analysis

Finite element analysis (FEA) is the virtual modeling and simulation of products and assemblies for structural, acoustic, electromagnetic or thermal performance. FEA is the practical application of the finite element method (FEM).

Multiphysics computational fluid dynamics simulation software screenshot.

Computational fluid dynamics

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations are based on the Navier-Stokes equation, used to describe the motion of fluids.

3D model of a bulldozer from the Simcenter 3D software.

Multibody dynamics | Motion

Understanding engineering performance is challenging for intricate mechanical systems, like wing flaps or landing gear, sliding sunroofs or suspensions, or photocopiers and other mechanisms. Multibody dynamics calculates the reaction forces, torques and more for mechanical systems.

A visual from the Simcenter Amesim software.

Systems simulation

Systems simulation is the process of experimenting with and studying how changes to characteristics of a complex system (or sub-system) impact the system as a whole.

Virtual validation and predictive engineering

Computer-aided design (CAD) combined with CAE helps you virtually validate the performance of a design without having to build and test a physical prototype. As manufacturing processes grow increasingly complex, virtual validation can help companies plan, design and implement their systems before investing significant capital.

By combining CAE with design space exploration and even artificial intelligence (AI), the future of CAE can be predictive engineering. Meaning engineers can use CAE to design parts based on product requirements, expected loading conditions and operating environments, so simulation can help lead and create the design rather than simply verify and validate designs created by a person.

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Simcenter 3D software visuals representing a simulation model of a tractor design.

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  • Quickly transform CAD geometry into usable geometry for simulation
  • Efficiently mesh and solve your models for structural analysis to gain insights into design performance
  • Rapidly updates simulation model with Simcenter 3D software to design changes so you can simulate again in seconds

Frequently asked questions

Is computer-aided engineering accurate?

Computer-aided engineering has been successfully used for product engineering for decades. Along with that, there was a continuous development for both high-fidelity modeling approaches and more pragmatic ones that let you obtain sufficiently accurate results faster. Today, engineers can and must choose the level of accuracy that best fits their needs to answer engineering questions with minimum computational effort. The level of accuracy ranges from high-fidelity modeling techniques that enable the prediction of real behavior within a few percent or even less to quick methods that enable quick trend predictions.

Today, on that basis certification and verification processes for CAE tools are well established. They will remain a critical ingredient to the progress of CAE, its reliability and trust in digital twins and its establishment in novel areas. While predictive simulation will continuously reduce the need for expensive measurements and prototyping, it will continue to require rigorous CAE methods and best practices validation through experiment.

Is it hard to learn CAE?

Learning CAE requires time, dedication, thorough study and practice. It is critical to understand the underlying fundamental physics of the domain you're in, have a grasp on numerical methods and their limitations, as well as practice the hands-on usage of actual CAE software tools. Thanks to automation, increasing computing power and ever-continuous improvement of user interfaces in modern CAE software, the barriers to high-fidelity CAE will further decrease across all user levels - shifting the scope to exploring results and making simulation-based decisions. What is more, it is critical to understand fundamental physical dynamics taking place to judge the results and make meaningful engineering decisions based on CAE results.

What are the applications for CAE?

CAE software is used in a wide range of engineering applications whenever there is a need to understand or predict how various kinds of physics will affect the performance of a product design or system. In industrial product development, computer-aided engineering has progressed now to simulating the multiphysics behavior in complex geometries enabling companies to fully understand and optimize their product design virtually before ever building a prototype.

Industries, where computer-aided engineering is widely used, include:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Consumer products
  • Marine (ship design, propulsion systems, engine design)
  • Electronics
  • Energy (Nuclear, Oil & Gas, Power generation)
  • Building services
  • Life sciences
  • Turbomachinery
  • Sports
  • Other general applications involving structures, vibrations, electromagnetics, sound, heat and fluid flow

What is difference between CAD and CAE?

CAD is the use of computer programs to create, modify, analyze and document two- or three-dimensional (2D or 3D) graphical representations of physical objects as an alternative to manual drafts and product prototypes. CAD is focused just on the geometry of a part or product.

Computer-aided engineering is really the next step in the development process, and allows engineers to simulate the part or product defined in CAD to understand if the design will perform as expected to meet requirements. CAD data feeds the CAE process, where engineers using CAE tools create a simulation model based on the geometry defined in CAD. Results from the simulation then let engineers know if the design meets requirements or fails and come up with ideas to change the design to improve performance.

CAD together with CAE is an iterative process that allows engineering teams to more quickly develop innovative new products in less time than physical testing methods that rely on building real prototypes.

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