Computer-aided engineering (CAE) software is responsible for most modern engineering—in fact, most of the objects you can think of were creating using CAE software and most of the engineers reading this article can thank their jobs to computer-aided designs. But just because the software is widely used does not mean that it’s easy to create with computer-aided design. Engineers need to have a high-level understanding of the models that they’re working with and the coding of their software in order to create flawless and innovative designs. And though software systems are maturing, meaning that updates are at times modest, engineers are finding that collectively they can find solutions that software companies can implement for the next generation of computer-aided engineering.
While software developers are constantly innovating, trying to improve their products with the newest tools and more intuitive workflow, they still heavily rely on the opinions of researchers and their consumers to inform the next generation of engineering software.
Academics and engineers continually push the limits of what software can do as they innovate, but now that more companies and engineering firms are providing training for coding and CAE software, a new generation of consumers is finding the ability to develop independent updates.
Plug-ins and add-ons have grown in popularity across the internet for many commercial software packages, and in the arena of simulation software they can often be found months before official updates are added to a software package. These independent updates work in tandem with current software, boosting its capabilities or simplifying product design, and when it comes to simulation optimization researchers are pushing the boundaries using existing software in new ways.
In a recent paper published in the Journal ACM Transactions on Graphics, researchers from MIT and Columbia University developed one such tool that allows engineers to interactively edit, improve and optimize CAD/CAE models, in hopes of making them easier to work with. This software allows for simultaneous iterations of a design to be created in real-time, allowing for optimization in minutes rather than days. And because it integrates with existing CAD/CAE programs as a simple plug-in, engineers do not need to learn new techniques to get the most out of this tool.
“From more ergonomic desks to higher-performance cars, this is really about creating better products in less time,” says Adriana Schulz, lead author of the paper and MIT Doctoral student.
“We think this could be a real game changer for automakers and other companies that want to be able to test and improve complex designs in a matter of seconds to minutes, instead of hours to days.” (Adriana Schulz, MIT researcher)
While unofficial plug-ins and add-ons are not suggested for industry applications because they have not been rigorously validated for professional simulations, software companies keep an eye on trends in these applications because they show what’s needed in the next generation of their products. In fact, it’s not entirely uncommon for software companies to collaborate with researchers and engineers to upgrade and validate their code, so you’re likely to see similar features added on your next software update!