Making smart products smarter

Written by: Sudhir Sharma | Published:
Sudhir Sharma, global industry director for high tech, ANSYS

Two years ago, most companies were just beginning to grapple with issues like connectivity and thermal management for smart product designs. Now, no-one is asking, “Do we need smart functionality?” Instead, product development teams and executives alike are asking, “How do we design the most innovative smart products to win in the digital economy?”

Engineering challenges have become more intense in the smart connected era. Miniaturised, multifunctional devices now proliferate across the globe, which may mean that they need to operate in harsher environments, consume power more efficiently and offer more digital functionality to keep pace with the market’s growing expectations. They need to become intelligent by sensing their environment and gathering data more accurately than ever to inform future product development and stay one step ahead of global competitors.

Wherever they are in their own engineering journey, product development teams can leverage new technologies to solve design challenges in five critical areas:

1. Size, Weight, Power and Cooling

As product development teams race to offer increased digital functionality, while simultaneously making their designs smaller and lighter, they must address the problem of thermal build-up, design for harsher environmental conditions and deliver all these innovations quickly and cost-effectively.

However, engineering simulation can make informed design trade-offs to achieve size, weight, power and cooling objectives for today’s complex products. With simulation technology, product developers can quickly explore, analyse and iterate design ideas to obtain the optimal balance between power, performance, thermal reliability and structural integrity.

2. Sensing and Connectivity

Sensing is central to performance in just about every application for a smart connected design, including autonomous vehicles, where enormous amounts of data must be collected — in real time and under unpredictable conditions — to support safe and reliable operation.

With the advent of fifth-generation (5G) wireless communications, peak data rates are expected to be 10 times faster than those enabled by 4G technologies. Forward-looking 5G architects are aiming to address a range of applications including machine-to machine communications and smart cities. Achieving the right trade-offs to deliver on these capabilities will require improvements in sensor reliability as well as new radio frequency (RF) architectures. By accurately recreating real-world environments, you can ensure comprehensive testing and evaluate thousands of product scenarios.

3. Reliability and Safety

Invisible, embedded software code forms the foundation for every smart connected product. However, a single flaw in this code can have dramatic implications. Modern cars are among the most complex machines ever developed, with control software consisting of more than 100 million lines of code. Infotainment systems, assistive parking technologies, heads-up displays and other technologies provide value, convenience and safety to today’s drivers. However, testing these systems is challenging.

Should one component fail, the underlying code needs to support the functional safety of all the other systems and components. For autonomous vehicles, the engineering challenge is only amplified. It is estimated that a Level 5 autonomous vehicle — which requires no human intervention — would need 8 billion miles of testing in order to be certified. At the present rate of road testing, more than 400 years would be needed to accomplish this task.

Traditional manual methods for verifying the operation of software are no longer sufficient, so engineers are looking to simulation-supported software to support the development cycle.

4. Systems Integration

Smart connected products are made up of many components that are supported by invisible networks that connect them, as well as clouds that store and deliver data to them. These components are typically produced by different design teams and are only brought together at a relatively late design stage.

When diverse components are assembled, unanticipated performance issues such as the interactions of the software and the electronics hardware often occur. The multidomain nature of these problems, and the sheer number of component suppliers makes them hard to study in advance. However, by allowing engineers to assemble the product in a virtual design space, system designers can make informed design choices that optimise the entire system.

5. Product Durability

Smart connected products operate in a wide range of physical environments, with ever-changing

and unpredictable conditions. Consider the extreme conditions routinely faced by jets, drones, oil

and gas equipment, and other products used in transportation and industrial applications. To maximise product life, all smart connected products must be designed with real-world operating conditions in mind.

Intelligent Engineering

The challenges associated with delivering smart connected products have placed enormous pressures on the world’s engineering teams. Organisations are demanding more functionality, at lower price points and in smaller product sizes. And, in mission-critical applications like transportation and healthcare, the safety stakes have never been higher. Whether you already engineer smart connected products or are challenged to incorporate new functionality into a traditional product design, simulation can help you make optimal decisions.


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