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Claire Shelley

TrueInsight awards a STEM Scholarship twice yearly based on students submitting an essay regarding an engineering topic.  For this award, we gave students the prompt "Why is Engineering Simulation a critical stage of the product development cycle?".

We are excited to announce the winner for this award is Claire Shelley from the University of Pittsburgh.  Congratulations to Claire.  Her submission is below.


Why is Engineering Simulation a critical stage of the product development cycle?

The wind rushes past my face, the crowd’s nervous excitement buzzing like bees in my ears, as I wind up for the final pitch in the last game of my high school career. The ball spins flawlessly from my fingers, just as it has hundreds of times before. This scenario is not left up to chance. It was engineered—calculated with precision and fine-tuned through relentless practice and endless drills. In much the same way, as I prepare to embark on my journey to the University of Pittsburgh to study Engineering, I find myself fascinated by the parallels between athletics and my chosen field, particularly the relevance of engineering simulation in the product development cycle.

Much like rehearsing a perfect pitch in softball, engineering design is a process of iteration informed by calculated simulations. This process first starts with an idea, a spark. It's akin to the moment when I first held a softball – I knew I wanted to pitch, but the path to perfection was not immediately apparent. The first iteration of any design is merely a guess, an attempt, a raw sketch. From the very initial stages, the process of engineering takes a concept and, through simulation models, assesses and develops it just like training refines a novice pitcher into a professional athlete.

Engineering simulation is comparable to the game plans that we meticulously devise before every softball match. They function as predictive tools, aiding in understanding the functionalities, efficiencies, and possible shortcomings of a design before its physical implementation. On the field, we analyze each player's abilities, how our opposition plays, and what the weather conditions are. Similarly, in the product development cycle, simulation effectively preempts failings and inefficiencies, thereby enabling the modification of the blueprint to ensure optimal performance in the real world.

To fully appreciate the significance of engineering simulation, an overlap between my world as a high-school senior with a 4.6 GPA and a four-year stint as a starting pitcher, with the world of engineering needs to be respected. Simulation serves as a harbinger of potential pitfalls, predicting drawbacks that might only become apparent in the final stages. During a softball game, my mind works at a feverish pitch simulating potential outcomes based on the other team's behaviors. This enables me to make informed decisions about the speed, aim, and spin of my pitch. Likewise, engineering depends on simulation to foresee challenges and opportunities, facilitating improvement of the design before physical prototyping or manufacturing begins.

In engineering, every unit of energy is invaluable. In pursuing my interest in renewable energy, I find myself learning more each day about the critical mandate of efficiency, not just as an essential factor in design but also as a moral requisite in light of the looming climate crisis. Every decision I make in my stride towards renewable energy solutions is underlined by the vital need to conserve energy and lower environmental impact. Engineering simulation is crucial in determining these decision points. Just as I have to choose where to exert my energy most efficiently on the softball field, simulation helps engineers to predict where energy can be conserved and where efficiency can be improved in a design.

There’s also the degree of precision required. Efforts in perfecting a product or reducing energy wastage would be for naught if it weren't for concise iterative steps and measurable progress. When I first started pitching, my coach and I implemented small adjustments at each stage, fine-tuning my performance over time. The same principle applies to engineering simulation. Often, we start with a simple simulation to identify the vulnerabilities in the design. From there, incremental improvements are made, and progressively complex simulations are employed to fine-tune the design as it approaches the finished product.

Moreover, the virtual testing grounds provided by engineering simulation serve a protective function. During my softball practice, I've made my share of wrong pitches. However, the setting allowed room for failure and an opportunity for growth. Similarly, in the product development cycle, simulation facilitates this growth by providing a constructive environment for trial and error, mitigating potential failures at a stage where it is cost-effective, and protecting the eventual users of the product.

As I move towards the next chapter of my life at the University of Pittsburgh, I will carry with me the lessons I've learned sweating under the stadium lights. Each perfect pitch required meticulous predictability, measured energy input, refined precision, and a safe space for practice; all of these aspects are effortlessly mirrored in the world of engineering simulation. Whether striking out the last batter or crafting the blueprint for the latest renewable energy solution, simulation will always remain pivotal in my approach. Leveraging the powerful tool of engineering simulation, I am excited to aid in the creation of sustainable, efficient, and reliable products for a greener and brighter future.

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