In our annual poll of executives at leading analysis and simulation software vendors, we found that more widespread use of the cloud, mobile devices, and touchscreen interfaces will be major trends for 2013. These trends will require that vendors take a careful look at their software interfaces to evolve accordingly.

Simulate Early and Often

Many software vendors that previously were CAD-centric are now offering enhanced simulation and analysis packages that provide more advanced capabilities than simple up-front analysis. As a result, the design engineer’s use of simulation will increase, and will occur earlier in the design cycle.

“As the use of CAD tools has become ubiquitous, the natural course will be for design engineers to include simulation as early as possible,” explained Bruce Klimpke, Technical Director at Integrated Engineering Software ( ). “Why continue with a design that can be shown to be inadequate at the early stages of conception? The sooner the basic design flaws are uncovered, the sooner remedial designs can be invented.”

Giving design engineers the opportunity to assess a product’s success or failure early in the process helps ensure that a better, more reliable product will get to market quicker. “The design engineer certainly would want to know how a design will perform in the real world before calling it a finished design,” said Svante Littmarck, President and CEO of COMSOL, Inc. ( ). “Design engineers will sometimes need to go outside their comfort zone and into cross-disciplinary simulation roles. Think of an electrical engineer performing certain structural or CFD analysis tasks.”

“Employing CAE earlier in the development cycle is important in reducing development time and cost, and more importantly, in designing a better product,” explained Deryl Snyder, Director of Aerospace & Defense at CD-adapco ( ). “It does no good to inject analysis results into the design process if those results are not sufficiently accurate to move the design in the right direction,” he added.

Incorporating analysis and simulation early in the design process also helps decrease the overall development time, not just the design phase. Using simulation that is CAD-embedded enables designers to do simulation within their CAD system. “The trend is towards shorter design cycles and often, traditional simulation tools can serve as bottlenecks,” said Boris Marovic, Product Marketing Manager for Aerospace & Defense at Mentor Graphics ( ). With CAD-embedded simulation, Marovic explained, “The user will never leave his CAD system at any time. The engineer will start his design, and when he reaches a point of uncertainty, he simply sets up a simulation project, runs the calculation, and can visualize the results within the CAD model.”

Dave Weinberg, President and CEO of NEi Software ( ), observed that while he sees a growing base of customers coming from traditional CAD communities, many still require a more robust analysis solution. “Although the benefits of using a CAD program as an FEA platform continues to be mainly budgetary, we are also seeing users bypass these in-CAD solutions based on their analysis requirements, including greater control over mesh generation,” he said.

While simulation has traditionally been relegated to the end of the product development process, CAD-embedded and easier- to-use tools have brought simulation closer to the beginning of design work. “Traditionally performed at the end of the design process, budget and market pressure for low-cost, high-quality, complex systems continues to drive modeling and simulation activity earlier in the process,” according to Jon Friedman, Aerospace & Defense Marketing Manager at MathWorks ( ).

Luke Mihelcic, Simulation Product Marketing Executive at Autodesk ( ), agreed. “Performing simulation at the end of a project for validation has little impact on innovation. Putting simulation into the hands of design engineers up front in the process allows for greater innovation, faster product development, and higher-quality products.”

Dale Berry, Senior Director of Technical Marketing for Dassault Systèmes SIMULIA ( ), explained that while there will be an increase in design engineers using simulation earlier in the development process, designers’ adoption of simulation will be a slower process. “This is because the specter of oversold simulation-for-designer promises over the last decade still haunts the software industry. It is also because designers don’t want to perform analyses in the traditional expert-analyst way. They want fast, yet accurate results that can drive decisions during the design phase, and they want the processes to be consistent and easily repeatable,” he said.

As these processes become more integrated, the way in which modeling and simulation are used by organizations will follow in the same manner, according to Robert Harwood, Aerospace & Defense Industry Director for ANSYS ( ). “In today’s multifaceted and competitive global environment, simulation is a driving force behind new product development. Simulation allows organizations to confidently predict how their products will behave in the real world, ultimately leading to more successful products,” he said.

Success in the Cloud

All of the executives we polled were in agreement that cloud computing would play a role in how analysis and simulation software is used now and in the near future. Many also agreed that software vendors will need to adapt their tools to keep pace with customers’ needs for remote access to their data.

“Simulation software will have to adapt to the way customers want to do their work,” stated Rich Stillman, CEO of Tecplot ( ). “Certainly, software solutions will need to work with data that comes from any number of locations, locally or globally.”

Simulation software will need to help transition from the desktop to the cloud in order to distribute the computational load of running simulations during design, or executing an analysis routine multiple times. Friedman points out that “as access to data and computing power becomes the standard rather than the exception, engineers will look to take advantage of the availability of cloud computing to quickly analyze large sets of data using multi-threaded algorithms.”

“As tablet and touchscreen devices become more common, the need for efficient remote computing solutions such as cloud computing will increase,” according to Littmarck. “This will possibly open up new business opportunities that are not yet recognized by the industry. It is not clear if this new technology will completely replace desktop and workstation computing in the future, or if the two technologies will co-exist.”

While cloud computing provides the organization and the enterprise the ability to manage their hardware and software investments, “for simulation users, it is all about solving larger, more complicated problems in ways that cannot be provided by fixed, in-house hardware,” said Berry.

The focus on data accessibility is key to success in the cloud. “One important idea is that centralization and remote access is not just about the computing hardware. It also pertains to data, as enterprise customers seek ways to connect geographically distributed teams, while also protecting and managing the IP represented in simulation data,” explained Harwood. So, the key to success with the cloud is to focus on managing data so that it is local to the compute resource,

yet it enables the full simulation process via remote access. While we imagine most engineering organizations will focus on private clouds,” he added, “external ‘hosted’ cloud solutions have great appeal for customers who want to outsource high-performance computing and/or address occasional burst capacity needs.”

For the foreseeable future, said Klimpke, “the majority of design work will still be done on local systems that have the necessary security and horsepower to do the simulation. Practically, the idea that your data and computational resources are available to you almost anywhere makes the cloud look very appealing.”

The issue of necessary security is still a major concern among users who are wary of sending their important data into space. “There are always security concerns of highly confidential data, such as the design of a new sports car or military jet, being sent outside to a server farm somewhere in the world,” stated Marovic. “We think this is the biggest disadvantage of cloud computing, and probably will continue to exist for some time.”

Mobility and Other Trends

The top trend for 2013 that our executives cited was mobility — specifically, the use of mobile devices to access simulation data and share it. “Mobile devices have the inherent ability to be used almost anywhere at any time,” said Klimpke. “So whether you have an idea you want to test out while you’re at the airport, or you are acquiring data at a remote location, the tablet will enable the end user to do simulation more efficiently.”

Snyder agrees that “although computing requirements for CAE continue to increase, the popularity of mobile devices cannot be ignored. Through these devices, people are becoming accustomed to being ‘connected’ at all times to nearly all aspects of their lives.”

The tablet as a data access device remains an option for users who want the convenience of anywhere, anytime access without the need for complete simulation and analysis capabilities. “It certainly is useful to present any result to customers or prospects without the big data or computing behind it all,” said Marovic, “but the data cannot be endless, as the performance is limited. Here, cloud sourcing can be leveraged if access to the cloud is guaranteed to stream the results from the more powerful high-performance computing cluster to remote desktop control.”

For software vendors to keep pace with customers’ needs for ubiquitous mobile devices, it will “require simulation tools to be delivered at the right time in product development, at the right place whether in the field or in the office, and to the right person,” said Mihelcic.

“For those of us who build analysis software, it’s just a matter of making our packages run on these platforms,” stated Littmarck. “Touchscreen interfaces introduce a new look and feel, and users will have to adapt to using a touchscreen rather than a mouse and keyboard. The user interfaces of analysis software will need to evolve accordingly.”

Stillman also sees the need for vendors to adapt to changing customer requirements, including a “dramatic increase in the amount of simulation data created and analyzed, and the emergence of a new class of tools created to help engineers manage that avalanche of data, and make productive and timely use of it.”