The powerful engineering analysis tools made possible thanks to significant advances in computational technology are now being unleashed on the non-traditional, “out of the box” problems that have mystified whole fields of science and engineering technology until now. In this way, the once-hidden worlds of the extremely tiny along with abstract and difficult to understand problems are now able to be modeled in robust detail, with results that actually recreate the phenomenon. The relatively mundane world of flat 2D drawings or even 3D CAD models that exist only on computer screens are being left behind. The primary function of these new dynamic engineering models and simulations profiled below is to recreate phenomenon that is largely invisible to the human eye. Beyond this, the models are used for testing and experiment design in order to better understand the response and behavior of the actual phenomenon on which the model is based. The goal of these models is to create a fully immersive, virtual reality experience with which the user can actually “pick up” and interact. After all, this is actually the best way to learn the inner workings of the phenomenon.
The three areas where this technology will continue to make strides in overturning the status quo of research are highlighted below.
- Macro Medical Models: The most obviously beneficial avenue for the use of this type of technology is the hidden yet teeming world of the human body, internal organs, and tissue systems whose proper function is absolutely essential for the healthy functioning of the human body. This technology can make the small and concealed extremely large and interactive for surgeons, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies. The biggest and most useful avenue for this technology will be the opening up of the human body and the recreation of key body systems for medical education and training purposes. It will soon be possible to create realistic models and simulations of key organ systems in the body. These models will be used to train surgeons and even qualify new surgical procedures. This is already being done, and the most successful project to date has been the living heart project, led by engineers at Dassault Systems- the creator of the Simulia Brand of engineering software technology. Any medical student is aware of the shortcomings of trying to learn the intricacies of human anatomy by fiddling with a cold, static cadaver’s heart. The new world of live, dynamic simulation and engineering models in interactive, “holographic” 3D space allows anyone to rotate a beating heart at various angles, and dissect pieces of it. As the model is built and qualified, eventually various medications will be preliminarily qualified by using this model to evaluate effectiveness before undergoing human trials. The human heart is a great starting point for this sort of development work because the heart is literally a mechanical pump that possesses many complex moving parts and extremely complicated fluid flow dynamics. In this way, it really is a machine that must be taken apart while functioning in order to really comprehend and grasp the inner workings and functionality of it. This is the main charter of these kinds of initiatives, and one imagines almost no end to the real-time interactive models and simulations that can be created within the human medical space in order to better understand the complex functioning of human organs and tissue systems.
- Nano-Scale and Atomistic Modelling: Admittedly, this application area does have a distinct flavor of medical advantages for things like targeted medicine delivery, but there are also many other potential uses as well. While these types of simulations and visualizations are similar to the materials simulations detailed below, they are being developed in order to simulate and visualize atom to atom processes. These simulations are being used in medicine and drug development to simulate targeted medicine and drug delivery to specific cells at the actual molecular levels where the processes are occurring. This type of simulation is invaluable as it enables drug engineers to better design the specific targeted drug delivery systems which are used to get the medicine transported to the exact cellular location where it can be most effective. These targeted delivery systems have the lofty goal of greatly reducing side effects of specific medications by lowering the required dose, enabling the invention of entirely new drug therapies. Just like the other areas of this type of analysis, the mathematical and computational methods for modelling these molecular interactions have existed before, but now, with the advent of advanced computing power, the large numbers of these calculations required to do these kinds of analysis can now be handled relatively easily and used to create detailed simulation models.
- Materials Science: In nano-coated materials where coatings and lattice structures must be tightly controlled, individual vacancies and diffusion processes can now be simulated and visualized before even undergoing the nano-coating process. All aspects of engineering material’s molecule to molecule interactions (electrostatic, etc) can be simulated and brought into the macro scale in order to learn more about the actual processes.
- “Normal” machine applications (crash simulations, electrical simulations, etc): Not to be left out, there are still a number of other engineering fields that really do benefit greatly from the new fields of interactive, dynamic simulations. Extremely detailed, dynamic crash simulations are now used to optimize and design every aspect of automotive cars and crash systems. While these simulations may not be “Interactive” in the sense of today’s use of the word, they are done today specifically in the realm of optimization with modular pieces of equipment at the assembly level. In this way, dozens of various analyses can be run over and over to fully optimize each section of the full assembly with the end result being a fully optimized part. Detailed animations can now be created to prove full correlation validations against real world tests, thereby validating the model for use in other analyses, and greatly reducing the amount of costly testing that must be performed. In a single sentence, this means a better designed, cheaper, and safer car, airplane, or other piece of machinery can be created.
Image from The New York Times
The golden era of engineering simulation and model construction is truly upon us, thanks to the leaps in computational technology over the past decade. The world of the small and hidden and big and dynamic is coming into view and getting clearer by the second. The results of which will continue to be realized by the average joe.
Cover photo by Perth CAD Services