Eyes on the prize

Cost-conscious through simulation

The automotive industry is facing the challenge of tight development deadlines across the board coupled with market transformation. The on- and off-road industry is tasked with getting conventional powertrains ready for future emissions legislation, while e-mobility is continuing to develop at speed. In other words, resources are limited and the conflict of objectives that is pitting available resources against available time needs to be resolved.

Simulation of sensors and electronics for future systems.

Simulation holds the key to high-quality sample levels that meet customer specifications targeted, thus saving on development steps. The use of cutting-edge simulation methods in the early phases of product development is essential if you want to hold your own within the market, whether you are an OEM, supplier, or service provider.
For this reason, Thomas also makes use of simulation to verify hypotheses as the first step in the product development process, running in parallel with design. This allows to have a functioning sample in testing as quickly as possible. Its Simulation department, part of its Development unit, employs the latest simulation methods (see infographic) at component, product, and system level. Besides the traditional electromechanical components such as actuators, sensor systems and electronics are also increasingly being simulated for future systems in line with Thomas’s technological approach “Sense. Think. Act”.

The seven-strong Simulation team has been led by Diego Lehmann as Director Simulation since October 2020. Every new concept is analyzed and optimized systematically. For this work, the team has access to software packages such as those developed by ANSYS (FEM, magnetics), Simerics (3D CFD), and Siemens (1D CFD). In the pre-processing phase, the simulation engineers enter all the requisite parameters and discretize[1] the calculation space for 3D problems based on a CAD model. This is followed by the calculation stage, known as processing, which maps the behavior of the model under the specified conditions, such as temperature, pressure, voltage, current, force, torque, and material data. The results are then analyzed and interpreted by the engineers in post-processing. This enables the product to be fine-tuned before it is available in physical form and can be tested.

The simulation engineers cooperate and interact with designers, test engineers, and process planners throughout the agile development process. “Agile development” means putting together different interdisciplinary teams for each specific issue and having them make targeted decisions or come up with recommended actions on their own responsibility. “Experience plays a key role,” Lehmann reveals, “because simulation engineers have honed their instinct for shaping details from a design perspective in order to achieve the best possible functional result. They recognize critical configurations from the ‘virtual prototype’ and indicate how the problem might be solved.”

Close collaboration with the customer is also important, as it is not just Thomas’s test engineers who give their feedback on the respective sample phase in the next step: Throughout the development phase, the Simulation team compares the simulation model with the test results from the test engineers and the customers and works continuously to improve it. 
With the help of simulation, Thomas and its customers literally do have their eyes on the prize – the product ready for series manufacturing.

I love the fact that simulation allows complex physical phenomena to be represented and thus made easily understandable for the engineer. It gives us engineers insights into the areas that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to explore with testing and experiments. This makes problems much, much easier to analyze and thus goes a long way toward achieving a rugged design.

Diego Lehmann, Director Simulation

[1] discretize: Discretization means splitting a 3D space 
- into (discrete) elements that the software can read and calculate (in the case of the finite element method (FEM)) or 
- into (discrete) volumes (in the case of the finite volume method (FVM))