Advancing Toward the Goal of Complete System Simulation

This week’s Siemens PLM Software NX CAE Symposium 2013 at the University of Cincinnati featured more than two dozen presentations, roundtables, and panel discussions, as well as two workshop tracks. Siemens PLM Software NX customers explained how they used the software to simulate everything from tiny 0.015mm cardiovascular stents to huge, ship-based cranes and heavy-lift rockets. While the simulation projects were varied, there was a common theme running throughout the symposium: the need to reduce cycle times via collaboration and system-level engineering. Continue reading

Stress Analysis at Your Fingertips

NEi Software‘s upcoming FEA application will put analysis at your fingertips, literally. Developed for iPad and iPhone, the software takes advantage of remote computing clusters and hosted software to let you conduct simple FEA tests on basic shapes, then retrieve the results in a combination of statistics and graphics — all done over the internet.

In this debut release, you may select the basic shape you wish to analyze (cube, tube, cylinder, or flat plate), enter its dimensions (length, width, height, and radius), specify force or pressure, specific the direction of the force (by selecting a surface or edge with your fingertip), specify material, then let the application run.

The application uses the computing horsepower and solvers hosted elsewhere, allowing you to access and run it from an iPhone or an iPad. But the technology working behind the scene is the same NEi Nastran software you’ve come to know and respect. This could be the beginning of a new wave: FEA on demand, accessible from mobile devices previously considered unsuitable for analysis.

Mobile devices are still too lean and limited to run computing-intense applications like FEA or CFD. Nevertheless, using the web-enabled device as a portable terminal to communicate with remote servers, you may bypass the need to process FEA and CFD algorithms on your local hardware.

With this version from NEi, you cannot upload your own geometry or mesh model to solve in the cloud. But I’m willing to bet NEi — or someone else — is already working on such a solution.

When the application becomes available publicly may depends on Apple, the custodian of iPhone and iPad apps. The program must go through Apple’s review and QA process before it appears in your iTune app store.

This week, NEi will demonstrate the application at Pacific Design and Manufacturing Show (Feb 8-10, Anaheim Convention Center; Anaheim, California). For more, you can visit NEi’s dedicated site for the mobile app here.

Analysis Story for October: Take Your Pick

In May, I called on analysis software users to send me their explosive blockbuster clips, made without the help of Hollywood celebrities. The idea was to issue an open call for story pitches in the form of animated clips, the kind that you can easily export from a FEA (finite element analysis) or CFD (computational fluid dynamics) package after a simulation session. (I had to specify it to make sure I wasn’t flooded with a deluge of home videos showing household pets doing tricks.)

Here are the four that caught my eyes, presented in no particular order (click on the corresponding images to go to the video):

  1. Multibody simulation featuring a ball bearing with flexible outer race, from Brant at MotionPort.
  2. Optimized blade shape of a wind turbine, from Travis at The University of Texas.
  3. Airflow around the wheels and inside the wheel wells of a motorcycle traveling at 250 mph, from David at Design Dreams.
  4. CFD simulation of the air flow around a generic open wheel race car, from Richard at Symscape.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who submitted clips! It’s now time to help me select one from these worthy four. Please leave a comment to tell me:

  • which one you’d like to see as the topic of my next article;
  • what more you’d like to know about this particular simulation.

If you’d rather email me directly with your choice, please send it to Kennethwongsf [at]

I look forward to your input!

Centaur Sighting Reported Among Autodesk Beta Testers

Part human, part horse, the mythical Centaur was born in the romantic imagination of the Classical Period. You’ll find him fending off Theseus in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, roaming the foothills of Pelion in Pindar’s verses, and battling legendary heroes in Homer’s Iliad.

If you are an Autodesk beta tester, you may also find him in Autodesk Inventor 2011, nestling under the Optimize tab.

Project Centaur is the name of an Autodesk technology currently in limited beta (by invitation only). It’s a plug-in for Inventor users to perform design optimization in the cloud. This feature allows you to pick a design, specify materials, specify constraints (for example, holes A and B are connected to the rest of the assembly via pin joints), specify load conditions, specify variable parameters, then run an optimization session.

In return, you receive a number of proposed design iterations, with slight variations in safety factors, weight gains or weight losses, and percentages of weight changes. Usually, the most optimal design (identified by the software based on your specs) is presented at the top of the list, but you can view all iterations and pick the one you feel is the best.

An optimal design is usually one that meets your target safety factor, but with less material than you started off with. So you can conceivably use this approach to identify places where you can shave off materials without compromising strength, durability, or integrity. In the way it works, it closely resembles SolidWorks‘ design optimization feature (as demonstrated in this video clip), with one big difference — in Autodesk’s Project Centaur, number-crunching takes place in the cloud.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the usual protocols involved in performing computation-intensive operations (usually, it’s simulation, analysis, or rendering). You set up the scenario (perhaps an analysis of a 1,200-part assembly, vivisected into millions of fine meshes, or a 28,000-polygon model under complex lighting conditions), hit “Run” or “Render,” then go take a shower or walk your dog around the block while your CPU sweats. With Centaur, you can continue to work on your model while the optimization is in progress. In fact, your local machine’s CPU is free, still at your disposal, so you may even run a stress test on a small part while you wait for optimization results.

Centaur implementation shows Autodesk is learning — quickly — from its previous cloud experiments. With initial release of Project Twitch, the technology was available only to those living within 1,000 miles from Autodesk’s data center in California (where the application was physically running), effectively preventing many eager users from trying it out. This has since been corrected.

With Centaur, the application runs in Amazon-hosted cloud services, so where you live shouldn’t limit your access to the software or its performance. At the moment, the hosted application needs to support only a finite number of beta testers, so, if you’re one of the beta testers, you should be able to get your optimization results within a reasonable time. It’s difficult to predict how scalable the application is or whether it’ll perform just as well when the public beta version is rolled out to the masses.

Like its namesake, Autodesk’s Centaur is part-desktop, part-cloud, a hybrid creature straddling two environments. This allows the technology to take advantage of the cloud for purposes where the local CPU may not be powerful enough. (There’s no reason you can’t perform a design optimization using your local CPU, but doing it remotely using the more powerful CPUs in the cloud is just infinitely faster.)

I’m on the list of beta testers, so I’m planning to run a few tests and file a video report. Stay tuned!

Make a Movie, Pitch a Story (via DE Exchange)

Every morning, I wake up to an inbox brimming with story pitches. Most of them are from marketing and PR people urging me to write about their clients’ projects and products. As it happens, I am looking for a story, one that will complement the upcoming special supplement on simulation and analysis (scheduled for October 2010). But before you fire off an e-mail in my direction, please read.

I’d like you to make the pitch without words.

That’s right. For this one, I’ll only consider pitches in movies.

What’s that? You don’t have a camcorder, a film crew, or a budget for special effects? No need. I’m talking about the short 10-15 second movies you export out of an analysis program.

Here’s what I’d like to see. A movie showing the results of FEA, CFD, stress tests, or any other kind of simulation. The more spectacular, the better. Essentially, I’m looking for exemplary or unorthodox use of computer-aided analysis. Show me twisted metal plates, collapsing vehicle frames, and airborne assemblies in colored contours and animation. Show me your most impressive displacements, shears, and Von Mises.

Please don’t e-mail me those clips as attachments, by the way. My e-mail server simply won’t be able to cope with that kind of traffic. You can upload them to DE Exchange, our new online community, then e-mail me the link with a subject line that reads, “DE story pitch.”

No explanation, no background, no preface, just the link to the movie and your contact info. As an alternative, you may also upload it to YouTube, then e-mail me the link in the same fashion. I’ll pick one that piques my curiosity the most, then contact the sender to develop it into an article.

My inbox is now open. I look forward to view your submissions: Kennethwongsf [at]






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