One of the advantages resulting from a slow economy is the increased scrutiny placed on reducing expenses and improving efficiency. This has been the case during the past few years in the simulation and analysis software arena. “The simulation market has continued to grow strongly over the years since 2008 as companies have increasingly moved to simulation to help them reduce the time and costs of expensive physical prototyping,” said Dale Berry, Director of Technical Marketing for Dassault Systèmes SIMULIA.

Companies are looking to increase the efficiency of their engineers, especially in tough economic environments, according to Dr. Jon Friedman, Aerospace, Defense, and Automotive Industry Marketing Manager at MathWorks. “Modeling and simulation is a leading way that companies are reducing their development time while maintaining or increasing the quality of their products. This approach helps engineers explore design alternatives quickly without the need for as much prototype hardware,” Friedman explained.

“Using computer-aided engineering (CAE) earlier in the development cycle is a key way to reduce development time and cost, while still producing innovative products that out-perform the competition,” said Dr. Deryl Snyder, Director of the Aerospace & Defense Business Sector at CD-adapco. In the CAE area of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), revenue growth continues to rise at annual rates of about 15% or more, according to Mike Peery, President and CEO of Tecplot. “This is astounding when so many other companies in other industries are losing revenue,” he said.

In some areas of simulation, the way the tools are used continues to evolve. “Multiphysics simulation is going mainstream,” according to Svante Littmarck, President and CEO of COMSOL, Inc. “More engineers are being trained at the university level to use simulation, and they expect it to be part of their work. And more companies are adapting simulation into their product development cycle. It’s an exciting time for simulation, even with the economic headwinds.”

With simulation becoming more mainstream, and designers and engineers using the tools more frequently and earlier in the product development cycle, the roles of analysts and “generalists” are continuing to change. “Design engineers are taking up the task of simulating their products during the design cycles faster than the results are provided by analysts,” said Boris Marovic, Product Marketing Manager at Mentor Graphics’ Mechanical Analysis Division. “This does not mean that analysts will lose their jobs. On the contrary, analysts finally have the time to focus on more important things than doing what-if simulations. Engineers can do these simulations within their familiar CAD environment and quickly make design decisions based on these concurrent simulations.”

According to Peery, “Ten years ago, 90% of our users were specialists. Today, we estimate that 75% of our customers are specialists.” Generalists, explained Peery, are the engineers applying CFD codes who lack the experience and indepth understanding of fluid mechanics that specialists possess. That doesn’t mean the generalists don’t have their own set of benefits. “They have a deep understanding of the engineering problem. They’re best at deciding what analysis needs to be done, to what accuracy, and what the overall benefit of analysis might have on the overall performance goals,” he stated.

CAD-based and CAD-integrated simulation continues to be attractive to engineers, even though there is a limit to the capabilities it provides. “Certainly, more design engineers are taking up the task that used to be left to the most dedicated analyst. This is due mainly to the advancement in the intuitive use of modern software,” said Bruce Klimpke, Technical Director at Integrated Engineering Software.

“The appetite for affordable, easy-touse engineering simulation tools has been present for a considerable timeframe, and the recent economic downturn itself was not the catalyst for such interest,” explained Josh Fredberg, Vice President of Marketing at ANSYS.

“Although more design engineers are performing tasks typically assigned to specialized analysts, many organizations realize this comes at a significant risk, since a single individual is not likely to be sufficiently experienced in all the disciplines involved,” said Snyder. “An approach successfully taken by many organizations is to tear down the ‘over-the-wall’ relationship between the designer and analyst, and instead develop close collaboration from the beginning of the development process.” Specialized analysis tools, he explained, need to seamlessly integrate with the CAD environment used by the designer.

Collaboration and Data Management

As analysis and simulation tools become more user friendly and moreclosely integrated with CAD tools, collaboration becomes more important, and along with collaboration comes the need to manage and control the data more closely. “As analysis and simulation are incorporated into the early stages of the development cycle, seamless collaboration between the designer and analyst is critical,” stated Snyder. “In addition, the number and complexity of simulations are increasing rapidly, necessitating efficient organization and accessibility to models and results.”

This means that designers want their CAD and other data sources to link closely with their simulation and analysis data. “It is important to have simulation reports with images and numbers stored with the product data,” explained Marovic. “Therefore, reports in Word, PDF, or HTML are important to prove that a certain variant could fail or was the better choice for a product.”

Littmarck agrees that the connection between tools remains necessary. “Our focus is on making the best multiphysics simulation product on the planet. Having said that, connecting our solution with other engineering tools is critical. This can range from spreadsheets, to mechanical CAD, to technical computing environments, to presentation and reporting tools.”

This need to manage simulation data more carefully increases when there are both designers and analysts (experts) working with the same information. “The value of simulation is the insight provided to designers about what works and what doesn’t work,” said Berry. “This intellectual property should be, and is being, managed today by customers using PLM-like functionality within their data management software.” Berry explained that this is especially necessary as simulation moves from the “one-of-a-kind analysis provided by the expert, to the simulation assembly-line methods used by designers.”

Simulation requires collaboration and data sharing tools that manage analysis from a project perspective, not a bill of materials view, according to Fredberg. In general, he believes, strict PLM offerings from CAD vendors are not aligned with the needs of simulation engineers because they tend to be very document-centric. “Since managing simulation processes and data is a specialized subset of the larger PLM vision, it is often overlooked or poorly add ressed by the PLM solutions being offered today,” Fredberg added.

HPC and Cloud Computing

As larger, more complex simulations are achievable using advanced software, the hardware must be able to keep pace. The ability for high-performance computing (HPC) platforms to run complex simulations also depends upon basic software capabilities being available to take advantage of the hardware. “Simulation software can only utilize high-performance computing platforms after more basic software, such as compilers, has been developed to make use of the hardware,” said Klimpke. “Having machines with many CPUs or GPUs is changing, and will continue to radically change, the reality of simulations being performed.”

For software to effectively leverage today’s hardware, efficient execution on multiple cores is essential, according to Fredberg. “Graphical processing units (GPUs) are an exciting new technology for HPC, as they provide hundreds of processing cores that are capable of computational throughput far in excess of that achieved on today’s multicore CPUs. But it’s essential that software developers keep up with the latest compiler and chipset revisions,” added Fredberg.

Cloud computing also offers the opportunity for larger and more complex analyses to be performed without taking desktop resources. “Cloud computing will enable more customers to leverage HPC as this capability is provided on a cloud-based platform that relieves the customer of the burden of a hardware investment in such a dedicated cluster,” predicted Berry.

“Simulation software needs to provide a seamless transition from the desk to the cloud to distribute the computational load of running a large number of simulations during design, or executing a particular analysis routine multiple times,” said Friedman.

While there are numerous benefits to cloud computing in terms of the complexity and size of analyses that can be performed, there are also obvious drawbacks that must be addressed; namely, cost and security. “Many users do not have large computing requirements all the time, but only during brief, but critical, periods. This is well suited for cloud computing, but only if the analysis and simulation tools are licensed cost effectively for burst usage,” stated Snyder.

Security remains an issue among organizations looking to distribute and store data on the cloud. According to Peery, “Our customers tell us that security is still the number-one reason preventing them from putting their data out in the cloud. High-speed interconnects among the nodes in a cloud cluster aren’t currently as fast as the interconnects in a private cluster.” Peery added that if a user runs CFD in the cloud, a large amount of data is also out in the cloud, so the post-processing needs to run on the cloud as well.

Trends for 2012

More widespread and mainstream use of simulation is a top trend our executives see for 2012, including the platforms it will run on, and the resulting increase in revenue. “We see a further increase in simulation on the desktop of the design engineers, and a need to fix product flaws early in the design cycle and run many design variations within days, rather than weeks,” explained Marovic. “The time that engineers have to design a product is decreasing, and time to market is the driver.”

Snyder agrees that 2012 will see the move to more CAE usage, and that the primary driver will be economic pressure. “The industry has recognized the reduced development cost and increased product performance that can be achieved by utilizing more analysis and simulation implemented earlier in the development cycle. This move continues to gain support, and in many larger companies where inertia is greater, this will be the year when significant changes will begin to be seen,” Snyder predicted.

Those changes are expected to result in increased revenue in the simulation and analysis software market. “We see the global demand for CAE growing, with FEA growing at a faster pace within the category,” according to David Weinberg, President and CEO of NEi Software. “Industry reports from Research and Markets forecasts a 6.5% growth overall for CAE, and a 16.6% growth for FEA over the next five years,” he explained. “Large manufacturing countries will continue to adopt CAE technology to meet the growing demand for localized product design through onshoring or near-shoring of both design and manufacturing.”

Some see the proliferation of the tablet device as a harbinger of things to come in simulation. Klimpke sees the initial stages of performing some tasks on tablets emerging where portability is an issue. Peery agrees that a trend for 2012 and beyond is the “virtualization of the desktop application (or the iPad app), having the ability to simply connect back to the application running remotely on the server with high-speed access to the simulation data.”

With hardware advances, more widespread use of simulation, and a positive revenue outlook, the future looks bright, according to Littmarck. “The business of simulation software is still young in its development. We’ve passed the infant stage, but the growth is strong and the potential is even stronger,” he stated. “We’ll continue to see attributes of a healthy, competitive market.”


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.