Multiphysics for Many Applications

Speakers at the recent Comsol conference in Boston updated attendees on how they use the company’s multiphysics software across a range of industries, including education, energy, and medical.

Let’s break it down further:

For Students

It’s no secret that prospective employers are looking for new graduates who have product design and simulation skills.

To ensure students gain these skills, a professor at the University of Hartford, in Connecticut, has created simulation apps using Comsol Multiphysics software’s application builder feature.

Simulation apps serve as an easy entry point into numerical analysis, said Ivana Milanovic, a professor of mechanical engineering at the university.

The apps provide mechanical engineering students with easy-to-use, specialized user interfaces on which they can run realistic simulations and visualize results: no previous training needed, she said.

The inquiry-based learning method gives students a deeper understanding of the physics and theory behind their mechanical engineering applications. Also, working with simulation apps helps students to create a way to describe the boundary conditions and setup used in the model, as well as to arrange visual data, charts, graphs, and equations.

“Our students tell us that the use of simulation software has enhanced their learning and helped them to easily visualize difficult theoretical concepts without exposing them to the underlying complexity,” she said.

Students can then move on to to learn more how the underlying model works, Milanovic said.

“Once students are familiar enough the concepts and the modeling techniques, they can eventually create their own apps using the application builder to further expand their knowledge and the reach of their collective analysis capabilities,” she said.

For Medical Device Design

The designers of left ventricular assist devices, or LVADs, must take many considerations into account as they work. For instance, the device needs to be small enough to be connected to the heart. It also needs to be made of bio-compatible materials, so it won’t be rejected by the human body. On top of those considerations, designers  need to take into account the device’s fluid dynamics, thermal management and power supply.

Abbott Laboratories uses Comsol multiphysics software to analyze potential designs for heart-assist devices.

Because these multiple interacting physical effects must be accounted for at each area of development, multiphysics simulation is vital to the design process, said Freddy Hansen, senior research and development engineer at Abbott Laboratories. He spoke to the Comsol Conference attendees about how he uses his expertise in physics and mathematical modeling to characterize the LVAD system before performing experimental studies.

Numerical simulation is key to incorporating these considerations into the final design, Hansen said.

“In medical technology, we often do animal studies and we use those if we want to validate our product before we go to clinical studies and one thing we often can’t do in animal studies is to measure everything,” Hansen said. “But you can measure a couple of things in your animal study, then essentially post-process your animal study results in Comsol, build the model for it, and get all of the other measurements analyzed,” Hansen said. “And that can actually help you decide which way to go when a measurement is possible.”

He compares his use to Comsol multiphysics to the way people used pocket calculators in the past.

“Some models are not too complicated. I can build one in a couple of hours and run it and get an answer. Others are quite sophisticated and include CAD models with a lot of detail. I’ll work with some complex models for months before I’ve taken all of the information I want from them,” Hansen said.

Hansen began using the software in 2011 and has since created more than 230 models that address a wide range of design challenges pertaining to the unique physics of artificial pumping devices.

Simulation allows for the evaluation of changes in size or geometry of the LVAD design before creating a physical prototype, he said.

To Study Lightning Strikes

In the aerospace and wind turbine fields, it’s incredibly important to implement a suitable lightning protection design, said Justin McKennon manager of engineering, simulation, and modeling at NTS Pittsfield MA Lightning Technologies Lab.

Lightning, and other electromagnetic effects–like static from precipitation static–can seriously degrade performance, damage, or even destroy objects if they’re not correctly designed.

In the past, to determine the threat that lightning poses, engineers had to design, test, get the data, correct the design, and do this over and over again, he said.

“This is a high-risk path that can result in tremendous program costs and setbacks,” McKennon said.

Multiphysics modeling allows for the effects of lightning to be understood without having to perform the dozens of test iterations. And that means a big time and cost savings for programs.

The data obtained from models depends on the quality of the parameters input into model. For more complex models, such as wind turbine blades, the physics and material parameters must be well understood in order to attain any semblance of useful data, McKennon said.

But, with a combination of empirical data for material parameters, properly meshing and then solving and analyzing the model, can provide early life-cycle engineering level engineering data and help to analyze designs, McKennon said.


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