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Simulation for Small Businesses, Part 2

As illustrated in Part 1 of this article in the July issue, computer-aided design software vendors already offer an on-ramp to simulation for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) via integrating simulation capabilities into their core design applications. Once thought of as simplistic add-ons, these programs are becoming more and more sophisticated.

Flow Science
With FlowSight, FLOW-3D users can simultaneously visualize CFD and FEA results of fluid-structure interactions. In this hydraulics simulation, the cylindrical beam is deforming under its own weight. Displacements are magnified 250x for visualization purposes. The walls are colored by pressure (inlet) and turbulent energy (side). The stream ribbons are colored by velocity magnitude. Image courtesy of Flow Science.

For example, Kubotek says its KeyCreator Analysis with Sefea technology “allows designers with limited FEA (finite element analysis) knowledge to produce fast and accurate simulation results. And Simulation Analysts can produce sophisticated multi-physics analysis with speed and precision.”

But vendors who develop dedicated simulation software are courting SMBs as well. Many smaller companies — and for that matter, non-traditional users even in large companies — elect to use separate packages for CAD design and mechanical or fluid analysis. Barbara Hutchings, ANSYS director of strategic partnerships, says the challenge is how to engage with the less expert, less dedicated-time users. For this group, whose needs vary across industrial sectors, she observes three challenges in making simulation work: 1. streamlining the workflow, 2. delivering training to ensure workforce readiness, and 3. having access to hardware and software precisely when needed.

Hutchings says making any simulation tools easier to use must start with the workflow, including a seamless interface to CAD. For ANSYS products, additional ease-of-use improvements include the automation of complex tasks in the company’s Workbench product and support for its Application Customization Toolkit (ACT), the tool for customizing the mechanical interface within Workbench. The latter is useful, for example, when a methods group wants to add automation and customize the workflow of an oft-repeated design simulation. Users interact with a template layer, perhaps delivered through a web forum.

Hutchings says training is “a huge focus area at ANSYS. The mechanisms and the kind of training are evolving. As you move out to a less expert user, there are new delivery mechanisms. We need on-demand training and training on more fundamental topics to equip the user to understand what they’re doing, rather than just using a particular software tool.”

For improved access, Hutchings notes you must address total cost of ownership, from hardware and software to people and facilities. One way to lower this could be by accessing simulation through the cloud.

As the original commercial developers of NASTRAN FE analysis software (and one of the first 10 original software companies), MSC Software has seen its share of change in the simulation market. Leslie Bodnar, the company’s senior director of global marketing, says that increased computing power, as well as the changing profile of the user — broadening to include non-transportation applications and SMBs — has prompted changes.

To address pricing/complexity issues, MSC created a series of software bundles called MSC NASTRAN Desktop at a lower entry price. Each package offers a subset of NASTRAN capabilities with options for upgrades.

For companies with limited resources, MSC offers quick-start services called Expert on Demand, whereby a client designs the model and MSC runs the simulations. The fee structure starts with 40 hours of service (on-site or remote). Consulting services are also available on an hourly basis.

Bodnar says another SMB-focused initiative is updated interface functions. She explains, “We focused on Patran, Marc and Adams, going to a more ribbon-style format and menu bar, with common tools better organized and easily displayed. We’ve also recently started offering plug-ins for new verticals like Adams/Machinery in the Adams 2013 release, adding wizards and removing the complexity of scripting.”

Bodnar adds that MSC is also developing more web-based e-learning training courses, addressing users’ increasing requests for convenience.

Over the years, NEi Software has made NASTRAN for SMBs a market priority, bridging the simulation/CAD connection with its own NEi NASTRAN In-CAD design/simulation package. The company also developed the first embedded NASTRAN solution for PTC Creo (NEi NASTRAN in Creo).

Mitch Muncy, NEi Software executive vice president, explains that SMBs are continually doing more with less, so his company’s products give users access to advanced functionality.

“The real goal of any integration is to simplify the process going forward,” he says. “By tying in simulation with CAD, you’re hoping to improve the design process. But while embedded CAD solutions can be used as analysis tools, they certainly don’t replace, for example, those of a standalone variety.”

NEi Software also supports non-experts by focusing on training, support and consulting. That way, says Muncy, “our smaller customers can leverage our experience, since they might not have a team of in-house experts like we see in the larger companies.”

Altair Engineering offers a somewhat different perspective on supporting simulation for SMBs. Ravi Kunju, Altair Enterprise Solutions head of strategy and marketing, says, “The biggest problem today for anybody doing virtual prototyping is having access to resources — basically, infrastructure: high-power networks and high-power machines to crunch the simulation. The second problem is access and affordability of the software, and the third is the ease of deployment. To easily deploy, get to speed and try out concepts before a competitor does is very relevant to SMBs.”

Kunju gives the example of trying to run a large-scale computational job like a crash simulation requiring 200 cores. How does an SMB even get its hands on such a machine, and get all the support and management software deployed?

Altair supports CAE for the non-expert with vertical tools and design of experiment tools that automate many user tasks. In addition, the company offers an interesting licensing model called HyperWorks on Demand, where customers buy software tokens that can be exchanged to run hardware cycles. And, with HyperWorks 12.0, companies no longer need to have a license in-house: The license is in the cloud, yielding software portability across different data centers. Most recently, Altair launched a hardware/software “box” configuration called HyperWorks Unlimited. Users lease the box and gain their own private cloud, making it easy to handle large output files in-house.

Bringing CFD to the Masses

Many engineers who are comfortable with doing mechanical FEA shy away from simulations involving computational fluid dynamics (CFD), but some companies are making strides to change that situation. John Isaac, Mentor Graphics’ director of market development, Mechanical Analysis Division, addresses the issue: “From Day One, we’ve been working on getting CFD software into the hands of SMBs — to design engineers, not just specialists, and making our software usable by the mere mortal.”

Isaac explains that his company has done so by embedding its FloEFD cooling capabilities into several CAD systems (Siemens NX, PTC Creo, Dassault Systemes Catia V5 and SolidWorks) where it is basically just another button. The environment offers an intuitive GUI, plus wizards that guide the setup process.

“Our CFD technology removes the engineer from the need to know the ‘rocket science,’” he adds. “For example, it includes highly automated meshing that varies the size of the mesh across various sections of the design. Just that process removes significant time and expertise required in understanding CFD.”

The Mentor Graphics CFD algorithm also understands when a model transitions between laminar and turbulent flow, and handles it accordingly. Additional user value is derived from parametric data stored in the software’s Smart Parts library, and from the ability to easily conduct “what-if” design variations and parametric studies. The company is also expanding the availability of FloEFD training workshops specific to the CAD products.

MSC Software
Geometry cleanup and meshing tools in MSC Software’s MSC NASTRAN Desktop mechanical analysis software. Image courtesy of MSC Software.

Amir Isfahani, Flow Science director of business development, says that SMBs already comprise a good portion of his company’s clientele. He notes that one way in which its FLOW-3D CFD software increases its usability (and therefore, productivity) comes from the developers continually improving the user experience. For example, intuitive graphical interaction in the user interface makes simulation setup possible in a fraction of the time it used to take. Also, he says the upcoming post-processing and visualization tool, FlowSight, will increase user productivity.

Application-specific versions of FLOW-3D, like FLOW-3D Cast Basic, streamline the CFD process for users who are only interested in a subset of capabilities relevant to their application. By contrast, FLOW-3D Cast Advanced and FLOW-3D ThermoSET offer the full set of CFD capabilities — but with the convenience of customized interfaces dealing with all aspects of metal casting or resin solidification, respectively.

“For usability within FLOW-3D, various pre-processing tools have been implemented,” Isfahani says. “We have calculators for different types of casting applications so that you can do back-of-the-envelope calculations during the setup process, and checklists are provided to make sure you haven’t missed anything in your setup.”

Supporting Simulation Education

Shane Moeykens, ANSYS strategic partnership manager, says his company is doing a lot of work at the university level to encourage the use of simulation in an engineering curriculum. One approach is for professors to reach out to the local SMB community and offer simulation work done as a senior project.

Another specific program is SimCafe, a wiki-based repository of learning modules for doing mechanical design simulation. It was started in 2008 by ANSYS founder John Swanson, Ph.D., and Rajesh Bhaskaran, Ph.D., a Cornell University professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

“The approach we are taking is that learning online is key, available to anyone anywhere,” says Bhaskaran. “The ultimate vision is that the undergraduate education has given you enough of the fundamentals to hit the ground running.”

Each tutorial uses the same steps, from pre-analysis through verification and validation — a process that is very important for critical thinking. To date, more than 110,000 unique users from 140 countries have accessed SimCafe modules. Learn more at

Cloud usage of FLOW-3D is also underway, which would alleviate the headaches of an in-house cluster to run the distributed memory (MPI) version of the software, FLOW-3D/MP. This would also make it possible for the regular FLOW-3D users to run their occasional large problems on the cloud, and on a pay-per-use basis using FLOW-3D/MP.

CD-adapco (maker of STAR-CCM+ CFD software) says it is always striving for ease of use. Last year, the company began a project to revamp and modernize the user experience. David Vaughn, CD-adapco vice president, Worldwide Marketing, says, “We hired a ‘user experience’ team — a mixed bag of efficiency/human-factors programmers, including developers from TomTom (the navigation product company), who are used to really optimizing the interface between the human and the computer. And we’re looking at more traditional issues — all the way from how you set up the problem to post-processing.”

To CD-adapco, software pricing options are just about as important as usability. The company’s licensing structure works three ways that greatly benefit cost-conscious SMBs:

1. The Power-Session license allows running one simulation across an unlimited number of cores for a fixed cost.

2. Power-on-Demand gives you unlimited simulation burst capacity by the hour, independent of process or core.

3. Power Tokens buy one process job on one CPU. For example, 100 tokens could run one session split across 100 CPUs, or 100 concurrent jobs each on one CPU. Tokens are reusable, too: When the job is done, others can start.

Vaughn says the company has just extended the use of Power Tokens to operate mix-and-match across all usage.

Helping SMBs become Experts

When design engineers check their decisions as they go, they learn why these decisions make sense. That’s why making simulation available from the get-go is so helpful for producing the best possible designs.

NEi Software’s Muncy offers a great perspective on why we should also be cautious that “improvements” do not slide into dumbing-down mode. He says, “We should be making everyone an expert, not the other way around.”

Join in on a discussion of simplifying simulation software vs. dumbing down results going on at Desktop Engineering’s Virtual Desktop blog, which includes a panel discussion on the topic moderated my Kenneth Wong at deskeng.com/virtual_desktop/?p=7293.

Contributing Editor Pamela Waterman, DE’s simulation expert, is an electrical engineer and freelance technical writer based in Arizona. You can send her e-mail to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

More Info

Altair Engineering



Dassault Systemes

Flow Science

Mentor Graphics

MSC Software

NEi Software


Siemens PLM Software


About Pamela J. Waterman

Contributing Editor Pamela Waterman, Digital Engineering's simulation expert, is an electrical engineer and freelance technical writer based in Arizona. Contact her via DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.