Building Simulation Reports Efficiently
This article was contributed by Tor Helge Hansen (PhD) and Torbjørn Alstad (MSc) – Ceetron AS, Norway
The Challenges of Reporting
Virtually all simulation engineers are faced with the need to document the outcome and result of their simulations. In many cases, both textual reports and presentation material are required. Studies from simulation projects indicate that 20 - 45% of the time spent is devoted to result interpretation and documentation of the project results. By setting up an efficient process for creating reports using industry standard reporting tools, engineers will be able to devote more of their time to engineering tasks. This article highlights four important challenges in building high quality simulation reports and also points to technical solutions to improve efficiency. The four challenges are:
- Collecting and storing engineering report content
- Using industry standard editing tools and report formats
- Automated and interactive report building using one tool
- Using interactive 3D content in reports
Collecting and Storing Engineering Report Content
A critical and often time-consuming task is to draw information from the engineering applications to the report editing tool. Figure 1 illustrates the typical data and process flow in capturing and storing report content. A frequently-used method is to apply a screen capture utility to transfer information between the engineering application and the editing tools. Such a technique does not allow for taking advantage of the characteristics of the information: 2D or 3D, tabular, images only, single numeric values, etc.
Figure 1: The classical process- and data flow in building simulation reports.
Using Industry-Standard Editing Tools and Report Formats
According to a recent study, over 90% of all simulation engineers are using MS Office or Open Office to document and present their simulation projects. The ideal situation for simulation engineers would be to have a direct integration of their reporting tools with their engineering applications. In the foreseeable future this is not a realistic scenario. Hence, a loose coupling, while maintaining the major advantages of a tight integration, seems to be a reasonable compromise in order to obtain efficiency, flexibility and ease-of-use. Figure 2 shows a loosely-coupled architecture including a bidirectional interface between the content repository and the engineering tool.
Figure 2: GLview Report Builder software architecture.
By using document templates companies and organizations can create report templates in line with a company profile. Even more important is that a report template can contain a description of the workflow of the engineering process. This will ensure that all steps in the engineering process are completed before the simulation report is finalized.
Automated and Interactive Report Building using One Tool
Reports from simulation projects come in very different formats, size and content. Some can be produced more or less automatically, while others require a lot of interactive work by the engineer. A powerful reporting tool must be able to handle both an interactive approach and a fully automated approach, preferably a combination of the two.
Including Interactive 3D Content in Reports
Figure 3: Interactive 3D content in a Microsoft Word report.
Traditionally, a large number of images are used in reports to depict, for example, analysis setup and relevant result mappings at different time-steps and from different view angles. Producing such images and ensuring that all relevant images are available is a time-consuming task.
Reports in electronic formats open a whole new spectrum of advanced information to be contained within the report. In a simulation report, full 3D models and results are an obvious extension. This will enable the recipient to explore the model in full 3D, providing increased understanding.
Several CAE software systems come with report generation features integrated. However, it seems that few have had a significant take-up in the market. Some software vendors have even removed their reporting systems due to lack of success. We believe that an important reason is related to limited flexibility to customize reports, and lack of integration with industry-standard report editing tools such as Microsoft Office or Open Office.
The Report Builder architecture illustrated in Figure 2 combines a functional integration between the reporting tool and the engineering application while still allowing the company-standard editing tools and templates to be used. Building a bridge between the engineering applications and the reporting tool allows information to flow with as little human intervention as possible increases the efficiency and improves the quality of the report. In addition, the report content is collected and stored in an archive with viewing functionality. This gives the user a good and continuous overview of the information which is prepared and ready for the report.
Figure 4: Interactive 3D visualization on mobile devices.
In a simulation report, full 3D models and results is an obvious extension. This enables the recipient to explore the model in full 3D, providing increased understanding and more data readily available. This can significantly reduce the need for multiple images (and videos), adding flexibility and the ability to answer ad-hoc questions.
By combining the report building process with software architecture as illustrated in Figure 2, simulation engineers can build high-quality reports using their preferred editing tools and templates with significantly less effort. In addition, CAE software vendors and engineering companies can take full advantage of the latest technological development on mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad to read simulation reports that include advanced interactive content.