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Simulating reality, from concept to reality

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 26 May, 2006  (Company News)
From concept to product, the pace of product development cycles is relentless. And with it the pressure to optimize existing products and processes. That`s why computer-based simulation systems play a key role in the future.
'If you link simulation and Virtual Reality, you get fairly close to the actual processes', explains Andreas Burblies from the Fraunhofer Alliance for Numerical Simulation NUSIM. 'Simulations are getting more and more lifelike and have moved away from the abstract models running on a computer. Events must be comprehensible on a PC in real time in a virtual world.' Using a pendulum the Fraunhofer researchers will illustrate at the Hannover Messe just how reality can be simulated: Driven by a small motor, a pendulum rod fixed to a table swings to and fro. A motor control system finally brings the pendulum into a stable vertically upright position. The monitor next to it shows the simulation as a 3-D animation. Real and simulated pendulum behave in exactly the same way, with no discernible difference between the two.

The pendulum is used to demonstrate the GENSIM project. Coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Architecture and Software Technology FIRST in Berlin, six Fraunhofer Institutes are working on developing a simulation tool for complex technical systems, MOSILAB (Modeling and Simulation Laboratory). 'On the basis of Modelica, a simulation language that can be used with any number of different tools, we can simulate heterogeneous, complex technical systems. And we can modify physical modeling approaches or the degree of detail in the model depending on the system status. This is what we call model-structure dynamics', explains project manager Christoph Nytsch-Geusen from FIRST. He illustrates what he means using an aircraft as an example: 'Depending on whether the aircraft is taxiing or in the air, I need to factor various physical variables into the simulation, the rolling resistance on the ground or the wing aerodynamics in the air. We put together simulation models that enable us to switch between the various submodels while the simulation is running.' More approximate, less precise processes that require less computing power can also be used in less important phases. MOSILAB provides interfaces to standard programming languages and tools. Its openly scalable architecture supports a wide range of applications, from the compact variant to the web service for distributed simulation calculations. To date the researchers have tested MOSILAB in fields such as mechatronics, production systems, building physics as well as fuel cell systems.

Researchers involved in the SR-PROD project are edging ever closer to reality. Led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM in Kaiserslautern, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD and the Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing SCAI are combining simulation, optimization and Virtual Reality to create Simulated Reality. 'The aim of our project is to interactively support decision-making processes, say in auto manufacturing', explains project manager Dietmar Hietel from ITWM. The researchers are currently focusing on two pilot applications: In automobile manufacturing the developers can see straightaway on the PC what happens in a crash if, for example, they strengthen the car's hood. When producing non-woven materials they can identify how the fibers need to be distributed in a diaper so the baby's bottom remains as dry as possible.

The ProVis.Agent production assistant is a real-time simulation system used in the automotive industry. ProVis.Agent is the first agent-based production control system to be developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing IITB in Karlsruhe. At DaimlerChrysler's C-Class production facility in Bremen there are more than 450 automated production stations, from bodyshop to assembly shop. If one piece of equipment fails, the control room currently relies on the experience of staff, as production becomes more complex, retaining an overview of what impact faults can have becomes increasingly difficult. Based on data from the real-time system, the production assistant forecasts where bottlenecks will occur on which station during the upcoming shifts. For instance, whether the current supply of parts or other supplies will run out. 'It computes what the operator in the control room has to do to hit the target production quota wherever possible', explains Olaf Sauer, business unit manager at IITB. 'Say, delaying a scheduled break, redeploying staff on the lines or altering the sequence of vehicles at short notice.' A research team headed by Andreas Burblies from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research IFAM in Bremen will be presenting virtual materials design. It is just part of their remit: 'By taking ten materials with different porosity and density characteristics we can manufacture components with an optimum structural design.' With implants, for instance, the material needs to be distributed so the artificial bone is just right for the patient in terms of the surface and strength. Lightweight design is another application. Modern fiber composites must also combine optimum properties with low weight. The researchers want to bring together simulation and rapid prototyping in the next few years. The simulated model, such as an implant, will then be generated immediately in a kind of printing process.

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF in Darmstadt are looking at the issue of monitoring. State-of-the-art mechatronic systems need to operate reliably. To monitor these kinds of systems, researchers use sensors that record relevant system parameters and transmit these to a central location. Wind power stations out at sea, for instance, can only be maintained and repaired within very limited time windows. Operators depend on sensors to monitor the equipment. Real-time data is the only way of deciding whether the facility will survive the next storm or should be switched off beforehand. LBF researchers will be illustrating state-of-the-art monitoring systems at the Hannover Messe using little more than a bicycle. Both the load and the current condition of the system can be recorded, and predictions made on where damage is likely to occur.
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