AUTOMEX: Increased efficiency thanks to new software

Along with the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences, TECOSIM recently wrapped up the research project: 'AUTOMEX – Automatic Extraction of mid-surface descriptions from 3D CAD solids'. This project developed a software package to fill a gap in the simulation of complex, thin-walled components. For five to ten per cent of all components, it was not possible to calculate these 'mid-surfaces' with the programs previously available. In fact, for these components, which were usually complex, engineers had to produce the mid-surfaces manually. This manual process accounted for 70 to 90 per cent of the total integration time. The new AUTOMEX software significantly reduces working time: depending on the complexity, the potential time savings could be anywhere from a few hours to several days.

With AUTOMEX, the numerous intermediary steps are just a push of a button.

For the layman, a radiator grill is a seemingly simple component. However, development engineers know that the thin-walled, ribbed structure made of composite or cast metal parts poses a challenge during crash simulation or NVH analysis. They revert to what are known as surface models to minimise work when calculating such complex geometries during day-to-day project work. The component is represented by a surface located in its centre – the mid-surface. It is shown in a two-dimensional mesh, which contains all essential component and material features. Generating the mid-surface also has its limitations since existing commercial software solutions have only been able to map a mid-surface for 90 to 95 per cent of all components until now. Calculating the mid-surface for the remaining five to ten per cent generally highly structured, thin-walled components –involves time-consuming work for engineers. It may take several hours or even days if the component is highly complex. This is where the AUTOMEX application comes in and generates a complete mid-surface model.

The Automex research team with representatives of the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences and TECOSIM

One click instead of five separate steps

At the start of the project, the team closely examined the current capabilities of existing commercial software solutions and identified weaknesses. The team then developed a more efficient process based on their findings. After integration into Tecosim's IT environment, five steps in the process are now to be performed automatically with AUTOMEX. The software will produce a component surface using a polygon mesh based on the available CAD geometry. What is known as the medial axis is calculated based on an approximation (scale axis), which can be used to define the mid-surface.
 In the third step, the surface is smoothed out, removing, in particular, defibrations from the ends of the component. The filtered surface of the real object geometry is then adjusted. In the last step, the surface is re-meshed to generate a technical mid-surface which features the quality required for FEM simulation (finite element method).

Reduced workload and competitive advantage

Both partners consider the developed software a complete success. It now needs to prove its worth during day-to-day use. "Using the software reduces the workload for Tecosim engineers, particularly in cases where they previously needed to finish off the mid-surface by hand," explains Professor Christian Glockner from the Rhein-Main University of Applied Sciences. "We anticipate great competitive advantages from automated mid-surface generation since we will be able to process orders more quickly and the potential for errors due to manual intervention is reduced," adds Udo Jankowski, Member of the Management Board. The software and process flows have been integrated into TECOSIM's existing IT environment and are slated for implementation in a future project step. It should be ready for its initial use in project business during the first six months of 2014.

Valuable synergies

The project (HA project no. 300/11-45) was funded as part of the Hesse model projects scheme using resources from the LOEWE State Initiative for the Development of Scientific and Economic Excellence, Funding Line 3: Collaborative Projects for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses. The project got off the ground in early 2012 and featured a project life span of 24 months. The budget totalled 500,000 euros with Tecosim providing 38 per cent of the amount using its own funds. The research team consisted of Tecosim employees and employees from the Rhein-Main University's Mechanical Engineering and IT departments.

Useful synergies arose from the extensive exchange of information. The existing processes and algorithms were examined together and different scientific approaches to mid-surface calculation were evaluated and further developed based on everyday practical experience. Last of all, interdisciplinary collaboration with the Information Technology department enabled the team to use a state-of-the-art approach to transferring the jointly developed process into a software application.