Nine ways to get the most from simulation and CAD/CAM software

July 11, 2013
Simulation software and CAD/CAM systems have helped transform the design of machines and automated systems by reducing design engineering time and costs. Here are some tips for getting the biggest bang from your software investment:

1. Find a user group. For any software, it is useful to find out if there’s a software user group or online community that shares problems and solutions or good and bad examples. White papers and a few application examples in the manual cannot compare with real experiences shared by users. This is especially important if the software supplier provides only paid help or support.

2. Test and test again. Simulate industrial control systems on the bench to the greatest extent possible and practical. Experience suggests that there’s never been a startup where anyone said, "We performed too much simulated testing."

3. Integration simulation. You can increase productivity for automated systems using pneumatic, hydraulic, electric control, electro-pneumatic, electro-hydraulic, PLC ladder programming or function block diagram by simulating the entire integration of these technologies into a new project. Using soft technologies as support for projects allows you to analyze the behavior of the entire system, see how a design works or compare different design options and technologies. Simulation software has become an essential tool for successful automation projects.   

4. Start with a database. Study software concepts well and avoid going too far before creating a full, consistent components database.

5. Verify performance. CAD/CAM simulation helps the programmer and engineer to know about the working of a machine before it's built and for troubleshooting as well. It’s also useful for research. Before applying any hardware ideas, a programmer or engineer can simulate to verify the results to the nearest real-world values.

6. Talk to those who did a project. It’s worth researching similar projects and simulations. Try to visit the sites where the work took place. The published version that emerges from a project is usually a pale imitation of the blood, sweat and tears that actually went into a particular software system. If you can get a word with those who were actually on the front line of the system, they tend to be the most truthful about its benefits or limitations.

7. Design with modeling.  Make sure modeling and simulation give you a good image of the problem to solve.  Have a mental model to make sure digital version mimics the real world.

8. Keep it simple. CAD/CAM is one of those tools that quietly revolutionized low-volume production. But it is easy to get caught up in adding features because it is so easy to do. Keep it as simple as it needs to be and little more. This is as true in design as is in cutting metal. Drive for simplicity; saves a lot of headaches.

9. Is it real? Models can be very powerful -- or very misleading. The challenge in creating a useful model is validating that the output is actually predictive. We are conditioned to believe what we see. In simulation, what we see may not be real. While simulation can save time and money, just make sure you are modeling with the correct variables. Mathematical modeling is the first step in simulation, yet the most critical step to success. Always validate against real-world conditions.

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