Benefits of Simulation Graphics

As we discussed the different types of
simulation graphics, we touched on the benefits that each provides. This section
summarizes those benefits. Simulation graphics significantly enhance and optimize the
simulation and modeling process. Specifically, simulation graphics provide the following
advantages.

  1. Involve Customers
  2. Enable Collaboration
  3. Accelerate Debugging

To understand the benefits of simulation
graphics we must understand the development process. This means knowing where mistakes are
made, and what is the cost of those mistakes. This cost is quantified in time, money and
lost opportunity. A typical product development process follows the following stages.

  1. Marketing researches customer needs
  2. Marketing writes product specification
  3. System engineering partitions and defines
    specs for functional sub-systems
  4. Individual engineering teams design and
    implement sub-systems
  5. System engineering integrates and tests
  6. Marketing tests prototype
  7. Back to step 2.

This loop continues until a) they get it
right, b) they run out of time, c) the project is cancelled.

Modeling and simulation are used to shorten
this cycle. By simulating at stage three, the development team can test designs,
architectures and assumptions about the specifications and market research. A mistake
caught here can save a significant amount of time and expense. The absolute savings, of
course, can vary from company to company. For large automotive companies, the savings is
in the millions for each new car program. For a smaller company, it may save ten to a
hundred thousand dollars in product development cost. In either case, the savings go right
to the bottom line.


Figure 7: Benefits of graphics — reduced cycle times and cost.

Figure 7 illustrates these savings. The
dotted line represents the current process, without simulation or graphics. In this case,
engineering resources are spent at a steady state until a deadline approaches. At this
time, it is discovered that resources must be added to make the deadline, and even then,
it is often too late. In this case, adding extra resources at the beginning does not help
because there is nothing for them to do until hardware prototypes are built. Also, you do
not know what kind of people to add until you have a better feel for the over-all
architecture.

Simulating provides a mechanism to get
started on these problems earlier. It takes additional effort to create the simulation
model, but then bottlenecks can be identified and the appropriate resources can be brought
into the project. In addition, you can begin the software test and debug process long
before hardware prototypes are ready. This alone can make the difference in meeting the
deadline.

Graphics accelerate this process even more.
Since customers can get involved early, many of the specification errors can be identified
and a full-force implementation effort, without fear of significant re-design, can begin
as early as possible.

As enumerated above, the three advantages
that graphics provide include involving customers, enabling collaboration and accelerating
the debug process. These benefits are discussed in more detail in the following pages.

1.Involve Customers

The only way to involve customers early is
with simulation graphics. Customers cannot use or understand the simulation models
directly. As discussed in the "virtual front panel" section above, the
advantages of involving customers early are clear. First, the customer will find mistakes
in the specifications and model that the systems engineers will most certainly miss.
Second, it will help solidify the customer’s idea of what he really wants, not what
he originally told you he wanted. This is critical, since the goal is to build products
that customers will ultimately buy.

2.Enable Collaboration.

By collaboration, we mean three things.
Sharing designs between 1) different engineering disciplines, 2) multiple locations, 3)
different companies.

Models are complex and the tools to build
and simulate them are expensive and require significant computer power. For this reason,
they cannot be readily shared. Creating a graphics front end can mitigate this problem. If
the graphics architecture is defined properly, a separate graphical user interface can be
made transportable and re-usable. This allows easy sharing, and in some cases the
simulation user interface can be viewed on the web over multiple locations and computer
operating systems, while the simulation is running on a single, high-end server that can
accommodate the stringent performance and operating system requirements of the simulation.
This can save large amounts of computer hardware and travel expenses. More importantly,
engineers work together early and often. The result is a better product produced quicker.

3.Accelerates model debugging.

The first two benefits focus on the
interaction of the modeler with the outside world. However, simulation graphics have
something to offer the modeler alone. Simulation graphics, even in its simplest form, can
help the modeler visualize his system and thus find bugs quicker. Although a modeler may
know his model thoroughly, a new perspective can offer a substantial advantage. Simulation
graphics provide that new perspective. Even if the graphics help to uncover only one
additional bug, they are well worth the effort because that bug can make the difference
between the product’s success or failure.

Guidelines for Using Simulation
Graphics

For all its benefits, simulation graphics
can be improperly used. This section lists some guidelines for creating and using
simulation graphics so you optimize the benefits while minimizing the costs.

  1. If possible, separate the simulation
    graphics from your model. This enables re-use and collaboration. It also ensures that your
    graphics are not tied to any particular methodology. Therefore, if you change modeling
    tools or methodologies, you can still use the same graphics.
  2. If you are just working on a self-contained
    algorithm that does not require visualization and nobody but the modeler will see the
    model, then do not use custom, photo-realistic graphics. Use off-the-shelf data
    visualization or simulation GUI components.
  3. Get in the habit of using graphics
    immediately. Even for simple data displays. It creates a solid foundation for you to build
    graphics displays easily as the model gets complex.
  4. If customers, executives or managers are
    going to see your model, get help from a graphics professional. Compared to engineering
    talent, it is relatively inexpensive. People notice good graphics and it can enhance the
    perception of the accuracy and validity of the model. It also provides a good first
    impression of your product.
  5. If you are going to collaborate across
    multiple locations, build a web page early in the process. It will be well worth the
    effort. As you get further along in the process, you will have a hard time justifying the
    need to create the web page, and you will regret not doing it. Conversely, having this web
    page will help your model get significant attention, which may translate to more resources
    from customers and company executives.

Summary

Modeling and simulation has become an
essential part of the design process. Simulation graphics can significantly enhance the
value of these powerful yet costly models. Simulation graphics take on many forms ranging
from simple data visualization components to photo-realistic virtual front panels. The
degree of graphics fidelity required depends on the purpose of the model. If customers are
involved, photo-realistic graphics are necessary. Likewise, if project funding is on the
line, impressive graphics are recommended. On the other hand, if the model is going to be
used for internal use only, then off-the-shelf, general-purpose graphics components should
be sufficient.

While there are many benefits of simulation
graphics, a modeler must also consider the cost. If used appropriately, however, the cost
of creating simulation graphics is typically negligible when compared to the overall cost
of the modeling effort.

The benefits of graphics include involving
customers, enabling collaboration and accelerating the model debugging process. These
benefits translate into shorter development cycles, lower cost and better products.


Altia provides Simulation Graphics software
for the Embedded Systems industry. Altia graphics combine with leading system, control,
software, and hardware-in-the-loop simulation products to help developers produce
interactive virtual prototypes which can be tested by customers. This up-front customer
testing finds specification errors early, saving manufacturers time and money.