In 2015, Solvay Composite Materials began using simulation tools from MultiMechanics to simplify testing of materials used in high-performance applications. The global business unit of Solvay recognized the benefits of conducting computer-simulated tests to accurately predict the behavior of advanced materials, such as resistance to extreme temperatures and loads. Two years later, Solvay invested $1.9 million in MultiMechanics to expedite development of the Omaha, Neb.-based startup company’s material simulation software platform, which Solvay predicts could reduce the time and cost of developing new materials by 40 percent.

Commitment to – and investment in – composites simulation tools isn’t unusual for a large company like Solvay, which recorded net sales of €10.3 billion (approximately $11.6 billion) in 2018 and has 27,000 employees working at 125 sites throughout 62 countries. What may be more surprising is the impact composites simulation can have on small to mid-sized companies. “Simulation tools are for everyone,” asserts Flavio Souza, Ph.D., president and chief technology officer of MultiMechanics.

The team at Guerrilla Gravity would agree. The 7-year-old mountain bike manufacturer in Denver began using simulation software from Altair more than a year ago to develop a new frame technology made from thermoplastic resins and carbon fiber. “We were the first ones to figure out how to create a hollow structural unit with a complex geometry out of thermoplastic materials,” says Will Montague, president of Guerrilla Gravity.

That probably wouldn’t have been possible without composites simulation tools, says Ben Bosworth, director of composites engineering at Guerrilla Gravity. Using topology optimization, which essentially finds the ideal distribution of material based on goals and constraints, the company was able to maximize use of its materials and conduct testing with confidence that the new materials would pass on the first try. (They did.) Afterward, the company was able to design its product for a specific manufacturing process – automated fiber placement.

“There is a pretty high chance that if we didn’t utilize composites simulation software, we would have been far behind schedule on our initial target launch date,” says Bosworth. Guerrilla Gravity introduced its new frame, which can be used on all four of its full-suspension mountain bike models, on Jan. 31, 2019.

The Language of Innovation
There are dozens of simulation solutions, some geared specifically to the composites industry and other general finite element analysis (FEA) tools. But they all share the common end goal of helping companies bring pioneering products to market faster – whether those companies are Fortune 500 corporations or startup entrepreneurships.

“Composites simulation is going to be the language of innovation,” says R. Byron Pipes, executive director of the Composites Manufacturing & Simulation Center at Purdue University. “Without it, a company’s ability to innovate in the composites field is going to be quite restricted.”