Multiphysics Helps Transform Modeling, Simulation

Toyota, Samsung detail benefits of multiphysics as COMSOL adds new features.

Version 5.6 lets engineers examine many different types of physics in one package. (COMSOL)

Modeling and simulation are showing no signs of slowing their expansion as critical elements of most design processes. Design software providers continue to advance tool capabilities, letting engineers examine many design variations and understand more subtleties in their projects.

COMSOL’s motor module helps electrification engineers work with different magnetic materials. (COMSOL)

Users including Toyota described the ways that modeling and simulation help them improve new product development at COMSOL’s virtual 2020 user conference, where the company unveiled its Multiphysics version 5.6, which offers new features including fuel cell and electric motor design. The automotive industry has various environments that are better understood if different physical parameters can be examined using a single tool.

Merging domain experts

During the virtual user conference, auto-related developments were among the topics discussed in a panel on multiphysics simulation for product development. “We put a lot of time and energy into the physics of each model,” said Ercan (Eric) Dede, group manager of the electronic research department at Toyota Research Institute of North America. “We’re able to study and explore novel device parameters in sensors and other devices. This helps us in design optimization.”

Dede’s group works with a range of electronic components and packages, where design issues include thermal composition work. When the electronic power density increases, improving the thermal characteristics of electronic packages becomes more important. Toyota is exploring a number of thermal metamaterials for heat flow control, working to optimize anisotropic thermal conductivity.

The fuel cell module helps engineers work with hydrogen. (COMSOL)

He noted that looking at different aspects of physics using a single program has been a significant help in these efforts. In the past, developers in different disciplines used specialized programs that weren’t necessarily compatible. “Early on, there was no coupling of physics,” Dede said. “That sort of coupling is very impactful; it reduces errors that can come when you try to merge results from different programs. With multiphysics tools, you can have multiple domain experts work together.”

A range of applications in automotive products combine many types of physics. That factor is fueling a growing role for tools that combine different parameters. Another panelist discussed the need for multiphysics in speaker design. “Loudspeakers are hard to simulate with only one physics parameter,” said Andri Bezzola, senior staff mechanical engineer at Samsung Research America’s Audio Lab. “We want to look at structures and acoustics, or electromechanics and structure, or maybe all three. We use simulation to get to a good starting point, then we go to a prototype.”

Bezzola is the simulation expert for his group, which designs speakers for televisions. Many of the parameters for audio speakers used in vehicle applications are similar to TV speakers; both must fit in thin spaces yet provide high quality audio. As the simulation specialist, Bezzola often builds apps for engineers who have expertise in various aspects of speaker design. “Transducer engineers may know everything about magnetics, but they’re not necessarily experienced in setting up models,” he said. “I can set up an app with a few mouse clicks so they can set up their design and get the information they need.”

Focused features

Users of Multiphysics version 5.6, set to begin shipping later this year, will find several new benefits. Four enhancements address emerging fields, providing multiphysics for simulating fuel cells, electrolyzers, polymer flow, and control systems. Version 5.6 also includes application layout templates, faster and more memory-efficient solvers, better CAD assembly handling, and graphics features including clip planes, realistic material rendering, and partial transparency.

Bjorn Sjodin, VP of product management at COMSOL, detailed the benefits solvers can bring to large models such as passenger car cabins, where the tools give users as many as 30 million degrees of freedom. “We worked hard to decrease memory size and run times,” he said. “On bench tests you can see a 30 percent decrease in run time on some models. We’ve seen as much as a 50 percent decrease on other models.”

The solvers were also upgraded to run better on clusters. For acoustics simulations, a new boundary element method formulation enables analyses of an order of magnitude larger acoustic volumes.

One of the four focused product enhancements targets fuel cells, an area of particular importance for automotive companies focused on zero-emission vehicles. The Fuel Cell & Electrolyzer Module helps engineers model and simulate hydrogen fuel cells and water electrolyzers. It provides multiphysics tools for realistic fluid flow and electrochemical simulations. Engineers can examine charge transport, electrode reactions, thermodynamics, gas-phase diffusion, porous media flow, and two-phase flow to optimize performance in hydrogen-powered vehicles.

A related module focuses on electric motors. The material library in the AC/DC Module has been extended to include 322 magnetic materials from Bomatec. Several types of permanent magnets with electromagnetic- and temperature-dependent properties have been added along with specialized tools for the extraction of parasitic inductance with L-matrix computations, which is essential to printed circuit board design.

Another focus area, mechanical contact functionality, is addressed in the Structural Mechanics Module and MEMS Module, which now simulates transient impact events. It also lets engineers perform crack modeling, providing J-integral and stress intensity factor computations as well as crack propagation based on a phase field method.

Version 5.6 also adds LiveLink for Simulink, which allows co-simulation with the MathWorks’ Simulink. Users can insert a Multiphysics block into a Simulink model for running nonlinear Multiphysics simulations in the time domain driven by Simulink. The new version permits analysis of sound distortion in mobile device loudspeakers that may be caused by nonlinear thermo-viscous effects. Mechanical port conditions in the Acoustics Module make it easier to analyze vibration paths and mechanical feedback.