The democratization of design software is a trend that makes engineering tools accessible to new users through improved user interfaces (UI) and access.
This trend makes it easier for the next generation of product designers to gain the experience they need at a much younger age.
This experience will be a considerable boon to the engineering community once these youth start to enter the workforce.
For instance, take Torstad Middle School, Norway, as an example. The school introduces students to engineering design work through a course called "Research in Practice."
The course assigns students a challenging: design a leisure boat that can actually fly!
The democratization of design software empowers these students to meet this challenge. Better yet, the experience they gain helps those that pursue an engineering career to design better products in the future.
How Democratization Helps Young Engineers Learn to Design Products
Research in Practice revolves around a fictional company, called FlyBoat.
The company hires students to perform a proof of concept that combine a leisure boat and a seaplane.
The democratization of design software makes it feasible for students to complete the proof of concept.
Just like real-world engineering problems, the seaplane has a few boundary conditions. For instance, it must have a predefined height, width and length. Other than that, the students are free to innovate.
"We learn to think in a new way — where there is more than one correct answer,” says Mina Borg, a Research in Practice student.
The students at Torsdad Middle School are told that Flyboat will only pick one of the students’ concepts for its design. In other words, students learn about the engineering proposal process as they bid to get their designs selected. The students even make a sales presentation to convince a panel from FlyBoat that their concept is the best.
To win the competition, the students have to come up with the design from scratch. Their designs must be in 3D and use simulation to prove it can fly.
The students design their 3D models of the seaplane using ANSYS Discovery Live. At the end of the semester, all the boats are 3D printed.
None of the students have prior experience with CAD or simulations. But, they take the challenge head-on and learn the ANSYS software impressively fast. It is really inspiring to see what concepts they came up with.
Teaching Young Engineers the Value of Simulation for Design
Perhaps the most challenging task for the students is to perform the simulations that prove their designs can fly.
Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is traditionally thought of as a challenging concept — even in the engineering world.
The fact that the democratization of design software has reached the point where students in ninth grade can perform these simulations is promising for the future of product design.
The students learn to perform the analyses needed to prove that the wings have enough lift. In the process, the students also learn to visualize how airfoils work.
This practical visualization is a great motivator to learn foil theory. One student’s research is so thorough it includes 20 hours of reading on Bernoulli’s principle and Newton’s third law of motion.
“It is impressive to see such a spirit among the students. They have really gone the extra mile,” says Ole Andreas Nordhaug, the teacher of Research in Practice. “The students really got a kick from the project.”
The Future of Product Design is Bright Thanks to Democratization
The most interesting aspect of this exercise is that none of the students have prior experience with design software. This is a testament to the democratization of design software.
In fact, the students’ introduction to the concepts of design comes from a presentation form ANSYS channel partner EDRMedeso during the start of the course.
EDRMedeso ‘s presentation gives the students their Research in Practice assignment and shows them how design engineers work. Then they are mostly in charge of their own design process.
It is true that the students still gain support. For instance, the cloud-based HPC company UberCloud offers them support when needed.
“Each week we provide the students with 10 Discovery Live environments that sit on 10 Azure NV6 Windows compute nodes,” says Wolfgang Gentzsch, president of UberCloud. “Each node has NVIDIA Tesla M60 graphic processing units (GPUs) that provide remote visualization. To further speed up the students’ interactive work, NICE DCV software is used to accelerate the rendering of the visual elements. These are heavy simulation tools for the group of middle schoolers.”
At the end of the day the students are their own project manager, lead engineer and lead designer. This experience will be invaluable to them and the engineering community if they ever choose to pursue one of these careers.
It just goes to show that democratizing simulation for design can help the engineering community gain experience faster. In the end, this experience can only lead to better designs in the future.