Dr. Jim Wood, University of Strathclyde, UK
The FENET world-wide survey, which sought to establish the significance of barriers to the effective use of finite element analysis across a range of industry sectors, including Aerospace, Land Transport, Biomedical, Civil Construction, Consumer Goods, Marine and Offshore, Power and Pressure Systems and Process & Manufacture, ran from November 2002 - July 2003.
The survey, consisting of over 450 questions, included a wide range of issues covering education and awareness, the staffing of FE projects, the cost of FE products; support-related matters in the widest sense, and an extensive list of functionality-related matters, including integration of the analysis function. Particular emphasis was placed on the topics of multi-physics & analysis technology, life extension & durability and product & system optimization, as these are identified themes within the FENet project.
In addition to documenting current state of practice, it is anticipated that the results will provide the basis for other useful business benefits including:
The results from the extensive questionnaire have already informed the future plans of the various FENet Industry Coordinators and some of the more interesting results have been reproduced in the following discussion.
One of the main objectives of the FENet project is to improve both the quality of industrial applications of the technology and the level of confidence that can be placed in results. It was perhaps not surprising therefore that initial technical discussion should focus on the barriers to achieving this across the various industry sectors represented in the project. The Education and Dissemination Technical Workshops held in Copenhagen and Zurich considered the general issues and were instrumental in the formulation of the questionnaire.
Over 1.300 replies were received from more than 40 countries, although most responses came from the UK and US. Around 50 % of respondents were industrial users, 20 % were consultants, 15 % academics, with the remainder being made up of software vendors and researchers. Of these industrial users, there were 20 % each from Aerospace, Land Transport and Process & Manufacturing; 10 % each from Power & Pressure Systems, Civil Engineering & Construction and Marine & Offshore, with the remainder from Consumer Goods and BioEngineering.
From the replies, it was clear that the survey had mainly reached experienced users, with Linear Statics being the most common type of analysis being carried out, closely followed by Non-linear Statics. Interestingly, 40 - 50 % of respondents (range indicates difference between EU and North American responses) worked in “business units” with less than 5 users and over 50 % of respondents had Unix platforms. Over 60 % report that their use of FEA is growing and 75 - 80 % did not see an end to the ever increasing level of detail and complexity in models.
In terms of the user environment, around 40 % of respondents work in business units that operate internal user group meetings; around 60 % employ some form of mentoring and around 45 % disseminate best practice (precisely how is not known). Altogether, around 95 % of respondents made use of personal contacts, thus emphasizing the importance of networking. Quite surprisingly perhaps, 70 - 80 % of respondents indicated that they use newsgroups and discussions forums. Interestingly, over 80 % felt that some way of capturing and re-using experience would be useful. Perhaps there is a research opportunity to re-visit the area of knowledge management and expert systems, that failed to deliver some 10 – 20 years ago?
Positively, almost 90 % of respondents felt that their FE investment had been effective ... but then again the survey didn’t really get to the non-users of the technology (and possible former users). Vendors received a further pat on the back, with almost 90 % of responses for vendor support ranging from important to vital.
Only 10 - 20 % felt that this support was inadequate and more than 20 - 25 % felt that it was excellent. Consultants did not fare as well and while around 50 % put some degree of importance on support from consultants, only 10 % rated the support as excellent with 20 % rating it as inadequate.
In terms of non-purchase of an FE system (users of the technology only were surveyed remember), 75 % of respondents indicated that cost was a common or major issue, 55 % reported nonrelevance of the technology as a common or major issue and 65 % reported unclear of the cost benefits as a common or major issue. Additionally, 44 % blamed current trading conditions as a common or major issue, 42 % indicated that the level of complexity was a common or major issue for the products they had considered and 40 % highlighted staffing issues as a common or major issue.
In terms of non-renewal of FE system maintenance contracts, 53 % of respondents indicated that a common or major issue was the fact that cost outweighed the business benefits, while 28 % reported perceived inadequate support as a common or major issue. The availability of in-house expertise obviously has some bearing on the need to use hotline support and 38 % reported the availability of adequate inhouse expertise as a common or major issue for non-renewal. On the other hand, 26 % highlighted loss of in-house staff expertise as a common or major issue for nonrenewal. The fact that software upgrades were not required was a common or major issue with 26% of respondents.
With respect to getting the most out of the technology, 60 % reported infrequent use as a common or major issue and similarly over 70 % felt that ease of use was either very important or vital. Clearly there is still a demand for easier to use software.
New functionality in the finite element systems results in little benefit if they are difficult to use and/or staff do not have the time to explore the functionality and around 65 % of respondents reported that time pressure was a common or major issue in terms on not getting the most out of the technology. This latter issue also relates to staff development, which is addressed below. Also related, is the fact that over 70 % of respondents felt that the lack of understanding of the business benefits of FEA by management, resulted in some form of barrier.
In terms of staffing, 45 - 40 % felt that the recruitment of suitably qualified staff was a significant or very significant barrier to their use of the technology and around 45 % blamed staff turnover as a common or major issue. Despite this, 50 - 45 % reported that their organisations don’t subcontract work and 60 - 65 % don’t employ on-site contractors.
The responses to staff development questions would seem to indicate that there is perhaps a market for education and training resources aimed at self-learning, as 80 % of respondents felt that time off the job while training was some form of barrier. This point was reinforced by the fact that a similar percentage saw the lack of adequate and convenient training as some form of barrier.
In addition, 85 - 80 % of respondents felt that the cost of training was a barrier and 30 - 25 % felt that the poor quality of training was either a significant or very significant barrier. Similarly, around 65 % blamed lack of investment in training as a common or major issue in not using their system effectively. The fact that 30 - 25 % of respondents felt that the education of new graduates was either a significant or very significant barrier to the effective use of FEA may be of concern to those involved in academia.
Further trends in academia also give cause for concern and indicate a sector under change. It is perhaps an indication of cause and effect that 65 % of academic respondents reported increased competition amongst institutions, whilst 61 % reported increased collaboration. Of greater concern to the well-being of engineering and the future supply of wellqualified graduates to industry, is that around 48 % reported merging amongst science and engineering departments, 28 % reported closure and 49 % reported a loss in facilities. While 60 % reported a loss of staff in science and engineering, only 40 % reported a loss in the number of specialist subjects in degrees.
This contraction is perhaps in direct response to the fact that 58 % reported a reduction in the number of students entering undergraduate engineering and related courses, with the same figure for postgraduate courses.
Approaching 70 % of the academic respondents reported a reduced mathematical ability in school leavers and 36 % reported a reduction in FE and simulation in degrees.
The number of detailed questions relating to the general topic of integration of the analysis and simulation function into the wider business enterprise is testimony enough to the importance placed on this area by the various industry coordinators involved in the development of the survey.
The various replies confirm the importance. Around 50 % of respondents rated simplification and defeaturing as very important to vital, while over 40 % rated reuse of data and results as very important to vital. In addition, 50 % rated FE to CAD updating as very important to vital and over 40 % rated re-use of data and results as very important to vital.
Although only 50 % of respondents overall, rated use & control of legacy data as very important, this percentage was much higher in some business sectors.
The technology specific questions in the survey were structured around the notion of Technology Readiness Levels (TRL’s), which use ratings from 0 (low) -9 (high) to indicate both the Priority and the Maturity of the particular technology in the respondent’s business sector. The highest Priority for Durability and Life Extension @ 6.2 was fatigue life prediction and assessment, whilst the lowest Maturity @ 3.3 was damage/deterioration modelling and assessment. The highest Priority for Product and System Optimisation (PSO) @ 5.5 was application of structural and system optimisation tools, whilst the lowest Maturity @ 2.9 was use of decision support tools for management issues. In addition, 65 % of PSO respondents felt that user education and training was a barrier to the effective use of the technology and 55 % of PSO respondents also felt that management education and awareness was lacking.
The highest Priority for Multi- Physics and Analysis Technology @ 7.1 was automatic meshing, whilst the lowest Maturity @ 1.74 was magnetic hydrodynamics. This small sample of results from the three FENet RTD areas were drawn from a questionnaire report based on all responses. Reports based on responses from specific industry sectors were supplied to the various FENet Industry Coordinators and these reports in turn are reflected in the FENet Industry Requirement Reports. In many cases the “overall” and “industry-specific” conclusions were similar, but in some cases, marked differences were apparent.
In the Aero Sector report, Failure Criteria for Advanced Materials had a Priority of 7 and a Maturity of 4. Probabalistic Methods was also highlighted as being important. In the Land Transport Sector, Modelling of Connections also had a Priority of 7 and a Maturity of 4. In the Civil & Construction Sector, Material Models for Buildings had a Priority of 7 and a Maturity of 4.5. In the Power & Pressure Systems Sector, Design by Analysis appeared as a significant issue and in the Process & Manufacturing Sector, Material Data figures prominently.
The general issue of validation is clearly important to analysis and simulation. It is rather unfortunate therefore that this section of the questionnaire was probably less than satisfactory in terms of how the questions were posed and how users were constrained in their responses. Nevertheless, it is suggested that 95 % of respondents felt that poor material data for input and assessment was important to vital as a validation issue and that 95 % also saw the general lack of correlation with test as an important to vital issue.
Unfortunately the questionnaire did not allow users to select more than one method of results validation used. As a result, the conclusions in this area should probably be interpreted as the users most popular method of model validation. It will be reassuring to many that experimentation and test is alive and well, with almost 40 % of respondents indicating that they use physical tests.
Surprisingly, but perhaps evidence of the complexity of analyses being carried out, only just over 30 % indicated hand calculations. Also perhaps surprising is that less than 4 % indicated other FE codes and around 2 % indicated nothing at all. The latter result perhaps being a protest at the length of the questionnaire!