Simulations engineers play a vital role in complex engineering projects. They use their technical expertise and knowledge of computer simulation technologies to test the performance, durability, safety and functionality of engineering solutions in a virtual environment.
When an engineering company is working on an incredibly intricate and expensive project, such as a new helicopter, satellite or submarine, simulation is massively advantageous. It saves time, it allows the company to cut down on costs, and it means the solution can be tested in situations where physical testing would be impossible.
For instance, if you’re working on a robot which will be used to collect soil samples on Mars, you can’t send a new prototype out into space every time you want to test the durability of one small component. Simulation offers flexibility and efficiency as well as cost-effectiveness.
So what does a simulations engineer actually do?
Firstly, simulations engineers need to understand the complex environment and the physical components of the technical solution that they are tasked with simulating. Initially, this process involves analysing the customer’s needs and liaising with other engineers.
After this consultation period, simulations engineers focus their efforts on solving complex mathematical problems and applying their knowledge of scientific phenomena, such as thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and quantum mechanics.
Based on all this scientific analysis, simulations engineers use computer programming languages, such as C++ and Fortran, to model simulated environments. During this process, simulations engineers model a range of different scenarios and variables in quick succession to really put the technical solution through its paces and make sure all the bases are covered.
Often, simulations engineers simply develop numerical simulations and draw conclusions based on the results of the equations that have been processed. However, from time to time, they may also be tasked with developing simulations which have a graphical user interface (GUI), so that the performance of the solution can be visualised.
Based on the performance of the solution in the simulated environment, changes can be implemented and improvements can be made.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level simulations engineers tend to earn between £18,000 and £26,000 per annum. Experienced engineers, however, can earn up to £40,000 a year.
Senior simulations engineers with team leading responsibilities can earn up to £60,000 and beyond.
Simulations engineers typically work five days a week from nine-to-five, although extra evening and weekend work may be required from time to time to meet project deadlines.
To enter this line of work, you will need an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as physics, astrophysics, maths, computer science, operational research, software engineering, electronic engineering, mechanical engineering or chemical engineering.
If you don’t have an applicable undergraduate degree, it may be advisable to complete a postgraduate qualification in a relevant subject, especially if you wish to access the profession via a graduate scheme.
Another way to boost your employability is to get work experience with an engineering company. This will give you fantastic hands-on experience and will enable you to build up a network of useful contacts.
Training & progression
The majority of your training will be done ‘on-the-job’ under the supervision of senior simulations engineers. You will also have the opportunity to attend in-house training sessions from time to time.
You may also be asked to attend training courses run by external organisations in order to develop your technical skills and knowledge of programming languages, such as C++.
In order to be successful, you will need to keep on top of industry developments and teach yourself new skills all the time.
Once you have gained a decent amount of experience, you may step up into a senior simulations engineer position with team leading responsibilities. Eventually, you may advance further and begin working as project manager.