Design space exploration: Institutionalizing the practice

EVENT NOTICE—If you’re in the Detroit area, join Noesis Solutions’ free seminar April 9 on Innovations in Process Integration & Design Optimization. You’ll hear three perspectives on how this technology can help you streamline your simulation processes and identify benchmark product designs in less time, including a presentation by me on Innovative Uses of Optimization for Engineering Design Problems. Event and registration information here.

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Achieving institutional adoption of design space exploration, design optimization and process integration is a crucial goal for engineering organizations working to establish these as strategic competencies, not just tactical. Too often implemented at only the department or workgroup level, the technologies and their attendant work processes need to be recognized and given backing as enterprise capabilities to have their greatest impact on engineering’s ability to advance corporate strategic objectives. [See also Design space exploration: Justifying the investment.]

Institutionalizing design space exploration:

  • Eliminates the burden of having to re-justify the tools and methods on every new project.
  • Mitigates the problem of software and work processes falling into disuse between projects.
  • Makes the technology more readily applicable across disciplines and domains—the broader this span, the greater its impact.
  • Fosters systems thinking across project teams, helping discipline specialists raise their visibility into a project—and their contributions to it—up and out of their silo of expertise, to the systems and whole-product level.
  • Facilitates capture of expert knowledge from across the enterprise, followed by synthesis, digital encapsulation and re-deployment of that knowledge enterprise-wide.

In the auto industry, Ford’s recent adoption of ESTECO’s SOMO to enable an enterprise MDO system is a prime example. “When an expert leaves the company or is absent from work, the entire project can run into a bottleneck,” said Dr. Yan Fu, technical leader of business strategy and engineering optimization at Ford. “The collaboration at an enterprise level guarantees the pooling of domain-specific know-how that would otherwise live inside the minds and computers of the experts themselves.” ESTECO notes key capabilities include “collecting domain-specific models, integrating them into a large-scale optimization workflow, preserving and versioning all the data in a central archive, as well as sharing results with managers and decision makers.”

Another automotive example is BMW, which uses Noesis SolutionsOptimus as its exclusive PIDO solution. With numerous licenses and many trained users, the company standardized on Optimus because of its flexibility and its capability as an enterprise solution, reports Dr. Markus Zimmerman, director of research at BMW. Starting with full-vehicle early-phase concept optimization, the software is used for both system-level and component optimization across NVH, structural dynamics, crash, systems engineering, R&D and other areas. “Optimus plays an important role to capture the simulation process and accelerate the optimization,” said Dr. Zimmerman. “The wide range of post-processing capabilities facilitates the exploration of the design space of complex systems in a multi-objective and even multidisciplinary context.”

In the aircraft engine industry, a time-tested strategy for engineering organizations justifying investments in new digital technologies is to leverage corporate Six Sigma initiatives. A prominent example is Rolls-Royce, well known for its longstanding institutionalization of design exploration, optimization and process integration. Alexander Karl, Robust Design Lead, explains how the company’s robust design program emphasizes the role of design as the entry point into its Six Sigma program. “Why did we implement robust design at Rolls-Royce?” he observed. “Because we realized, early on, that the sheer size and complexity of the aircraft engine design and development ‘problem’ could only be mastered through a combination of simulation, process automation and optimization.”

“We have been using Isight software as our main toolkit for robust design for almost a decade,” Karl stated in 2010. “At first, our management approached this new technology with caution, but our early successes with it convinced them of the value of standardizing on a single solution instead of growing lots of different solutions. Once it was realized that process integration and automation could be a cost driver for manufacturing, everyone was on board. Launching with pilot programs in Germany and the UK, we now use this software throughout the company.”

More institutionalization case studies in the pipeline—stay tuned.