Analyze This

Yesterday a reader sent me this email:

“Your blog has been a fantastic eye-opener for me so far. I have previously worked in the software consulting industry (Ecommerce-based) and now two weeks back have entered into a new job at an organisation manufacturing machines for the construction industry.

One of the limitations here has been that all machine designs are done in 2D, since 3D software (Inventor, SolidWorks, etc.) are beyond the budget. Your blog introduced me to the world outside Autodesk which aims to be better & of course cheaper than Autodesk. e.g. Bricsys, IntelliCAD, Alibre, etc.

Continuing my search for a quality alternative for a software which is capable of 3D modeling as well as Simulation, I came across Mechatronics – which from my preliminary search is offered by Matlab Simulink, National Instruments NI LabView-SolidWorks, etc. which are not economical.

Could I please pick your brains to find out if you have come across any economical software which allow 3D modeling of machines as well as simulation (electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, control software-PLC based)? Our objective is to design and simulate the machines on the computer prior to fabricating hard prototypes.

Thanks in advance for your advice.”

I must admit that I am more into the geometry creation, modification and data exchange side of the CAD business and less on the analysis and simulation side. Analysis and simulation are highly specialized fields and like all things that are specialized, they are also expensive. I don’t believe I have come across a cheap analysis and/or simulation software. But like I said, I am not well versed in that department. So if any of you can help this reader find something that fits his budget (note that he cannot afford a $5,000 MCAD system), I would appreciate it if you left a comment pointing him in the right direction.

However, I would like to mention something else here. I don’t believe analysis software is going to get cheaper or people are likely to make cheap clones of existing established analysis solutions. But something is cooking that promises to make these specialized processes accessible to the masses – cloud computing. Actually this post is more like a continuation of my yesterday’s post on the Cloud after the CAD.

If analysis software vendors are able to put their solutions up on the cloud like how some CAD vendors are making us believe they will do so with theirs, then it will be entirely possible for a person who can only afford to buy a $97 MCAD system like Alibre Design to get his model analyzed by the best analysis software for a reasonable (I assume) per use fee.

For something like a Finite Element Analysis, all you really need is a dumb solid. Simply let your MCAD system spit out a neutral file containing the solid (defeature if required), log into the analysis server of your choice somewhere in the cloud, upload the model and do your analysis. If you are not an engineer and do not understand the tricks of the trade, you can contract it to someone who does. This someone will not even need to maintain a license of the high-end analysis software. He can simply log into the cloud and bill you the fee that he was charged.

Another example of a specialized field is reverse engineering. There are people who do it regularly as part of their day job. These people buy a license of a high-end and extremely expensive reverse engineering software like Geomagic Studio. People who rarely have the need to do reverse engineering or who simply cannot afford such expensive software end up buying something like my Point Cloud range of products (see SYCODE’s Reverse Engineering solutions). My software is capable of handling a few thousand points and arrives as a fairly good approximation of the underlying mesh or surface to be reverse engineered. But when prospective customers come to me with extremely large data sets or expect a high level of detail and accuracy, I throw in the towel and point them to the high-end reverse engineering solutions.

The cloud will change this. When (not if) reverse engineering goes on the cloud, these very same people will be able to take advantage of the capabilities of the high-end reverse engineering software for a reasonable (again I presume) per use fee. After all, just like how you only need a dumb solid for FEA, you simply need a bunch of points for reverse engineering. It really does not matter whether you digitized those points using a homemade 3D scanner or one that cost you a fortune. Points are points and all of them have exactly three coordinates each. You can take the most crappy point cloud, use software to filter out the noise, pass it through a high-end reverse engineering software and come up with pretty good results.

My point here is that when the cloud arrives in all its glory, the have nots maybe the ones that stand to benefit more than the haves. The thought of modeling something in a $97 MCAD system and then having the option to get it analyzed in a software that was probably used to analyze the Mars Rover without having to pay through your nose, is exciting, to say the least.

In fact, the vast majority of people do this all the time in their daily lives. Most of us cannot afford the luxuries of the elite rich. But once in a while we will go ahead and spend quite a bit to enjoy the finer things in life. If you can afford to pay for one night in the Presidential Suite of a 7 star hotel, for that night there is very little differentiating you from someone who always stays in the Presidential Suite.

Analyze this.

  • Great discussion, Deelip. I believe CAD will go into the clouds at some point… but this is an interesting point: I think it could be easier for FEA/CFD tools to go cloud-based first. With 3D CAD modeling, you are interacting with the geometry continously– this will require massive amounts of bandwidth to handle the graphic response in realtime.

    FEA/CFD, on the other hand, doesn’t require much more than spin/pan/zoom during the application of boundary conditions, material poperties, etc. Post processing might a little tougher. But the real power is in the number crunching of the solver phase. So, a cloud based business model for that phase (maybe pay as you go or subscription model) makes a TON of sense as clients won’t need to go purchase and maintain their own Cray supercomputer cluster.

    In fact, there’s a neat company in the UK, Dezineforce, leading the charge on this front:
    http://lifeupfront.com/2009/06/05/podcast-dezineforce-peter-collins/

  • ralphg

    “The cloud will change this.”

    Deelip: how will the cloud change your business?

  • For calculations like simulink you can try: http://wiki.octave.org/
    But I guess what is the point of your simulation if you don't know if the software is decent, so you should check your calculations.
    But if you search for open source mechanical analyses you get some on this site where a bunch of them are listed:
    http://www.freebyte.com/cad/fea.htm

  • rach_1

    To your reader's question: what constitutes 'economical' in 3D software? Would you prefer to pay $500 for a piece of software that isn't going to help much, or $10k for a piece of software that will save 5 times that in reducing errors, improving assembly processes and increasing accuracy of parts?

    Having said that, while you can get inexpensive 3D CAD (and some of it very good) you can't get decent simulation/DMU software at the same price point. Plus I don't see 'the cloud' addressing that problem in the future…CAD vendors are simply not structured for it!

    But Lattice Technology has some decent DMU software that you might want to look at.(sorry for the commercial Deelip). Go here and view some of the short videos: http://www.lattice3d.com/solutions/solutions_dm

    After that, take a look at our partner, Kubotek (http://www.kubotekusa.com/) for some pretty nifty 3D CAD tools.

    Rach

  • bjornshole

    Hi,

    Have a look at modelica based simulators. Modelica is an open standard but commercial solutions exist with library for process automation, hydraulic etc.

    SimulationX http://www.iti.de/en/simulationx.html is an example. You should be able to upload your CAD data (from either Solidworks or Alibre or whatever) and integrate that with more specialized process models. You can run an OPC server on the data too.

    NX Designer is another approach but cost more – but you can if you want import data from Alibre MCAD as well as Pro/E, Catia, Solidworks, solidedge etc. Works with OPC.

    Genesis64 from Iconics can read collada data, but this is for visualization only. Your model must be properly build using modelica. Search “genesis64” on youtube for a preview.

    OPC is slow, so a simulator put in the cloud might work okay. For more demanding process simulations – say 10msec response – cloud solution might be too slow.

    Bjorn

  • Bohdan Spacek
  • The real question is how will I change my business for the cloud. I am waiting for things to shake out. I cannot afford million or billion dollar experiments like the CAD vendors. 😉

  • matt

    There is a certain commitment level that it takes just to be in business. That plays out in terms of purchase price for tools, and also expertise to select and apply the tools. If your only requirement for a design tool is that it is $50, that doesn't reflect much discernment.

    Also, the flip side of FEA tools instantly available on the web is the same as the argument against the “upfront” movement, which is that if you give the tools to someone who doesn't understand how to apply the tools, or how to calibrate the results against the real world, the tools are doing more harm than good.

    So to your reader I would say that they need to measure their commitment and their values. If they want to deliver whatever in whatever condition, then just keep going until you can't any more. If you want to deliver quality product, it takes commitment in time, money and brain power.

  • OpenCASCADE is an open source modeling kernel.

    • Bohdan Spacek

      Yes it is anD there is numerical simulation platform called Salome built above Open CASCADE.

      http://www.salome-platform.org/

      Don’t know whether it fits demands of your reader, but it’s free …

  • Bohdan Spacek

    Yes, it is … and there is open source numerical simulation platform built above CASCADE – Salome

    http://www.salome-platform.org/

    Don't know whether it fits demands of your reader, but it's free …

  • Ah! Yes, I completely forgot about that.

  • Mook

    Deelip, I agree that analysis applications will eventually go to a cloud delivery, but that may be a long time coming. In the near term, it would be an easy first step for analysis software vendors to sell prepaid licensing packages per-analysis or per-time, similar to a prepaid phone card. That would open new possibilities for occasional users. I haven't seen this licensing from any analysis vendors.. yet

    Having said that, matt has a good point that your reader should be careful before making decisions on the use of “simulation” software.