Multiphysics, simulation lifecycle management, unified simulation, and other terms are becoming the new trends in analysis and simulation software. There are new capabilities, new options for analysis and simulation management, and even room for growth in the market. We polled executives from leading software companies that provide analysis and simulation tools to find out what major changes have taken place in the products and how users will benefit.

Over the past year, major changes have occurred in the analysis and simulation software market, including the growth of the market itself. Major trends in new capabilities have advanced the software, including multiphysics, model-based design, and advances in computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

“We have seen multiphysics capabilities becoming a standard feature in the market,” said Dr. Ted Lin, managing director of AMPS Technologies. “There is increasing focus on integrated thermal- stress coupled problems. The demand for more realistic multiphysics and easy-to-use simulation software is on the rise.”

The trend toward the expanding use of nonlinear analysis and multiphysics simulation is a growing one, agreed Ken Short, vice president of strategy and marketing for SIMULIA. “Engineers realize that to get closer to simulating real-world behavior, they need more sophisticated simulation technology like nonlinear FEA and multiphysics,” he explained. “Multiphysics allows the solution of multiple physics to provide more accurate simulation results, rather than analyzing the physics separately.”

According to Mike Peery, president of Tecplot, CFD is growing in use, but has a long way to go in terms of computational speed. “CFD is continuing to be used in more and more engineering analyses. There are also many problems that we haven’t yet applied CFD to because of various technical challenges like multiphysics phenomena, complex multiphase flows, and unsteady turbulent flows.” He added that, “I have been waiting for a breakthrough in computational speed of CFD solvers. I am disappointed.”

The next “breed” of CFD, according to Andy Farrington, North American regional director for Flomerics, is Engineering Fluid Dynamics (EFD). “Unlike traditional CFD, EFD is CADembedded and design-centric. In other words, with EFD, mechanical engineers are able to use simulation as a step in the design process,” he explained.

Ease of Use

Particularly for designers and other non-analysts, ease of use continues to be a top issue with analysis and simulation software. Some vendors address the issue with simplification of complex functions, the use of open standards, and process simplification.

“The revolution continues to be in the simplification of complex user functions,” said Jim Spann, vice president of marketing for Blue Ridge Numerics. “The technology still has some barriers for some design engineers, but I think the biggest barrier is process. Most companies have decades-old processes that don’t leverage CAE in an efficient, profitable manner,” he added.

“For the dedicated analyst, there is a constant search for tools that improve productivity, enhance real-world fidelity, and provide capabilities for larger models and more complicated geometry,” explained David Weinberg, president and CEO of Noran Engineering. “For the designer, virtual testing continues to become more attractive as it becomes more accessible from both a cost and ease-of-use standpoint,” he said.

“Simulation and analysis software has become more user friendly, particularly for CAD users,” said Michael Bussler, president and CEO of ALGOR, Inc. “FEA and simulation have become increasingly accepted as part of the design process. More than ever, design engineers are using CAE software as a tool for verifying, improving, and optimizing product designs.”

Vince Adams, analysis products manager for SolidWorks Corp., agrees that analysis tools are becoming more integrated with CAD, making them easier for designers to use. “Design analysis tools are becoming more integrated into the CAD environment, which removes one impediment to expanded use: changing user interfaces. Analysis will get much more mindshare if a design engineer doesn’t have to break stride through translations and program changes. Design engineers are perfectly capable of learning more advanced FEA-centric interfaces — they just don’t have time,” Adams explained.

By more tightly integrating FEA and other analysis capabilities, vendors are able to ease the transition from design to analysis. “The advantages to users at the CAD design stage are a familiar environment and tools for developing their model,” said Weinberg. “Full associativity with FEA data offers ‘what-if’ studies on part changes that can be done quickly and easily with highly accurate Nastran results.”

Simpler user interfaces, particularly Windows®-based interfaces, are also helping with ease of use. “Interfaces between CAD and analysis tools continue to improve, and the integration is becoming tighter,” said Svante Littmarck, president and CEO of COMSOL, Inc. “The rise of desktop environments also helps, particularly for multiphysics simulations.”

Chris Reid, vice president of marketing for ANSYS, agrees. “Many of the engineering simulation processes are now well understood and can be implemented into software interfaces that guide the user through the process, making decisions on behalf of the user based on user input. The software becomes an ‘intelligent agent’ working with the user as a guide to accurate and precise solutions even if the user is not an expert in the details of CAE.”

It’s important for vendors to understand their individual customers and not dictate general solutions to meet all customers’ needs, according to Kirk Benell, chief technical officer for ITT Visual Information Solutions. “To deliver successful, easy-to-use functionality, software providers must deliver solutions that are rich in features, yet flexible enough to allow customers to tailor the final deployment to meet a specific need. Software can no longer be one size fits all, but open to end-user customization,” said Benell.

New open standards and protocols for data sharing and computing platforms also have helped simulation and analysis software become easier to use for nonanalysts. According to Graham Beasley, director of business development for Analytical Graphics, the Department of Defense has standardized on various protocols to share data for real-time simulation. “These are IEEE standards that are now being adopted by other communities,” explained Beasley. “There is a proliferation of open standards in other areas as well, enabling the user to more easily plug and play.”

Jon Friedman, manager of aerospace/ defense and automotive industry marketing for The MathWorks, agrees. “There are many in-house simulation platforms and standards developed to support specific projects. In the past, engineers would have to develop and test new components in isolation and then plug into the platform.”

But there is still a long way to go, according to Short. “Many software developers have tried to make simulation more accessible to designers, and some have succeeded more than others, although we are not even close to the fullest extent of what is possible. Even today, simulation is an afterthought in the minds of the CAD user or designer. The vast majority of simulation that makes a difference to the design is still performed by ‘experts.’ ”

The Hardware Effect

As much as the capabilities and ease of use of analysis and simulation software have improved, an even greater improvement comes with the speed at which the software runs. This is due in great part to faster computers using multi-processor and multi-core technologies to help engineers run their software — and get their designs to market — faster.

“The largest issue facing simulation over the past ten years has been the time it takes to run the software,” said Reid. “With the increase in computer capacity and performance, we are now able to run many simulations prior to production. This has allowed us to improve the software, through the use of parallel processing techniques, to take advantage of the increased amount of parallelism inherent in today’s computer architectures,” he added.

Keeping pace with the constantly improving hardware market is a welcome challenge for software vendors. Multiple processors and more powerful operating systems enable software users to be more productive. “One of the breakthroughs that we continue to evolve is the scalability of simulation on distributed-memory, multi-CPU computing platforms for challenging engineering problems,” said Short. “What does this mean for our customers? It means that a simulation that used to take days can now be done in hours, and what used to take hours now takes minutes. Design decisions can be made more rapidly, or more design variations explored.”

Bussler agrees, adding that in addition to increasing power and speed, computer hardware also is decreasing in cost. “Hardware advancements continue to drive developments in CAE software, including support for 64-bit operating systems, multi-platform computing, multiple processors, and distributed processing.”

Where the Market is Headed

Vendors have put in place new capabilities and new features that make software easier to use, and continually improving hardware is available to run their software faster than ever. So what more could the future hold for the analysis and simulation software market?

“There is always room for exciting new technologies that allow engineers to get data faster and in more meaningful terms,” said Adams. “I don’t know that the needs of the ‘generalist’ — the design engineer vs. the analysis specialist — are even yet well-defined. Consequently, there is plenty of opportunity for someone with a better idea to make an impact,” Adams added.

Short agrees that while the simulation market is fairly mature, there are still opportunities for niche applications to take hold. “It takes many manyears of intense R&D to create the infrastructure, architecture, and functionality necessary for robust, reliable, and accurate simulation software,” he explained. “So in that sense, the barrier to entry is very high. However, for niche applications, this is not so much the case. There will always be opportunities for small players to emerge based on a new technology that has applications for a narrow class of problems in specific industries,” added Short.

According to Peery, CFD is one area where new players could emerge. “Because there are many specialty areas for CFD application, I believe there will remain room for new and emerging players that focus on doing one type of analysis better than the large ‘general-purpose’ solver,” he explained.

Said Benell, “With the number of established applications and vendors in the simulation and analysis software market as well as the ever-increasing capabilities of open source offerings, it’s easy to say that the market is mature and has little opportunity to grow.” However, he said, “continued technical advancements and associated market demands still provide ample opportunities for growth and expansion.”

The ultimate goal for the market, said Bussler, is to keep moving toward virtual prototyping. “We’re all continuing to move toward what we’ve known is wanted: true virtual prototyping, where a person working on a computer can simulate the testing of a product design as realistically as can be physically performed in a laboratory.” He explained that “this ultimate goal can only be achieved if the computer hardware can support that kind of simulation. We still need even faster, more powerful, better integrated systems. With the continuing development of multi-core computing, we’re getting there.”

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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