Ansys Simulation Software Analyzes Charging and Discharging Phenomena

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Ansys, a company specializing in structural, fluid dynamics, electromagnetic, and multi-physics engineering simulations, has recently launched its EMA3D Charge software in partnership with Electro Magnetic Applications, Inc. (EMA). EMA3D Charge is a simulation software which improves the design and safety of applications ranging from space exploration to automotive and consumer electronics.

Safety risks related to charging and discharging events must be mitigated in most electronics applications, especially in aerospace and automotive design. In space missions, engineers have to make sure that spacecrafts will not be negatively affected by exposure to radiation and cosmic rays. At the same time, any kind of vehicle must preserve its safety – critical functionality even when subjected to an unexpected charging or discharging event.

Electrostatic discharge (ESD), which can cause anomalies or even system failure, is caused by electric fields that exceed the strength of the materials and then forces high currents through materials and potentially system components. In space, these high electric fields arise from charging due to the plasma environment. Terrestrially, it can occur from high voltage differentials or static charge buildup. Mitigating the deleterious effects of ESDs is essential in all electronic design, which makes tools that support the analysis of ESDs essential when designing and building vehicles for these harsh environments.

Ansys EMA3D Charge

Ansys’ new software tool addresses the need of engineers evaluating charging and discharging events that can lead to catastrophic product failures. The simulation software allows for early risk analysis in the design cycle, thus improving the prediction accuracy and reducing time – to – market and costs.

“We developed EMA3D Charge because we saw there was a gap in the industry for this kind of software solution. Even though it has been specifically focused on in the spacecraft industry, it turns out that a lot of the physics and solutions that we have for charging and discharging also apply to much broader industries than what we were originally thinking ”, said Kevin – Druis Merenda , staff scientist at EMA.

Ansys is still exploring the depth of possible areas where the tool can be applied, according to Merenda. That includes not only spacecraft, aerospace, and defense applications, but also automotive, consumer electronics, and more generally anything where ESD is a potential risk.

The tool itself is meant to analyze and assess the risk of electrostatic discharge by looking at how materials charge in plasma environments, or in high voltage environments. Risk assessment is very important since it helps to predict what happens if ESD events actually occur on the spacecraft surface, inside dielectrics, or even when consumers create an electric charge while walking on a carpet and then touching their computer.

From the performance point of view, EMA3D Charge is very efficient because it takes advantage of multi – core architectures to cut simulation time. Simulations that generally take a week to run on a single core hardware platform can now be fully executed in one or two days.

Two typical issues that space engineers have to solve are related to exposed dielectric in space, or surface charging on satellites (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Surface charging event on satellite

EMA3D Charge provides a comprehensive and accurate analysis by leveraging four physics (time – domain) solvers which help designers in the assessment and management of risk associated with material charging and discharging. More precisely, the tool provides the following main capabilities:

  • Predicts catastrophic satellite failure due to discharge events, which must be addressed during the project’s design phase because testing in orbit is nearly impossible
  • Predicts charge accumulation on satellites and space platforms, a difficult undertaking that necessitates a thorough understanding of plasma and material physics
  • Because of the difficulty in predicting undesired electromagnetic interference (EMI) effects and material degradation, it performs accurate charging analysis to detect when, where, and how an electric arc may form

The software also manages the effects of electrostatic discharges in air and solid dielectrics, which has traditionally necessitated a plethora of complicated simulation tools with high learning curves. Charging and discharging phenomena that can be analyzed with EMA3D Charge are the following:

  • Air breakdown: In high – voltage systems, it takes advantage of a finite – element time difference method and a nonlinear air chemistry module to model arcing at various air densities and humidity
  • Surface Charging: In low and high energy plasma environments, as well as through triboelectrification, it is possible to use highly optimized charge balance equation solvers
  • Internal charging of solid materials: From high – energy particle fluxes, it leverages the coupling of a 3D particle transport source and a full – wave electromagnetic finite element method (FEM)
  • Coupled charging simulations: It takes advantage of the charge balance equations solvers, the FEM, and the 3D particle transport tool to self – consistently solve the 3D electric fields generated from a surface charging problem
  • Dielectric breakdown in solid dielectric materials: It is simulated once the local fields exceed the dielectric strength of a given material, using the coupling of the FEM with the 3D particle source and a stochastic tree model.

The latest version of the tool (2022 R1) is meant to address more technologies, including PCB, 3D IC package, EMI / EMC, thermal, cabling, and electromechanical design with significant advancements in 5G, autonomous vehicles, and electrification simulation. Figure 2 shows an example of the new dielectric breakdown capability, which evaluates designs and assesses the risk of dielectric breakdown for spacecraft, solar panels, high voltage solids insulators, cables, and connector design.

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Figure 2: Dielectric breakdown capability applied to solar panel (Source: Ansys)

“Today, we have many advances in materials and solar panel design. Being able to use higher powered solar panels and innovative materials, and to quickly and efficiently simulate those for the GEO environment and for other missions, is a major task we have achieved ”, said Gregory Wilson, senior scientist at EMA.

In addition to executing ESD testing in space, one of the biggest things is radiation hardening. Many electronics components need to be radiation hardened to make sure they can survive any bit flips.

“These are things that we can tackle with our tools, specifically the shielding effects and that kind of reliability. We are also gearing up to be able to measure specific material properties in our lab, that will be used as inputs to the tool ”, Wilson said.

That’s the reason why Ansys has established a test lab facility that allows them to run identical tests to simulations set up to validate them. Data from simulation can also be coupled to other tools within the Ansys environment, such as EMA3D Cable.

“EMA3D Cable allows us to couple transients occurring onto cables to see how downline circuitry will be affected. To do this, we export an S parameter file from the simulation that allows us to directly apply those effects to a spice model, which can then be used for the circuitry design and analysis ”, Wilson said.

As Wilson explained, whenever they have a customer that comes and tests in their lab, they provide without extra charge a candidate simulation of that test to the customer. In this way, they can show the complementary nature of testing and simulation, as well as show the validation of the tool that will then allow them to perform more simulations with changes in design iterations that they may have, without needing to test every single design change.

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