Simulation Is Becoming Democratized—At Last (Part 1)

Software choices for simulation continue to expand. Here’s an overview of some of what’s available.

By Bruce Jenkins, President, Ora Research

Two decades ago, engineering software developers launched their first efforts to make simulation and analysis capabilities accessible and safe to use by engineers and designers who were not professionally trained analysts. The result was a wave of CAD-integrated finite element analysis (FEA) applications that were made usable and safe for non-analysts by having their functionality sharply curtailed in comparison with traditional full-featured FEA software intended for specialist users.

After early enthusiasm, more and more buyers as well as prospects evaluating those volume-market FEA products began to conclude that, in being made safe for generalist users, the tools had been dumbed down to the point of delivering disappointingly less value than users had hoped for. Although they did find some adherents, the result in many engineering organizations was widespread and longstanding disillusionment with the idea of trying to de-bottleneck product development and get more value from simulation by expanding its use beyond the analysis department.

However, across the past handful of years, a wealth of new technological avenues are at last making advanced simulation capabilities accessible, practical and safe for use by non-analyst engineers and designers in ways that no longer depend on neutering their function. These include: far more sophisticated and intelligent CAD/CAE interconnection than those early attempts, meshless structural analysis and other techniques to simplify and accelerate problem setup, very affordable cloud-based HPC (high-performance computing) resources, and a rising wave of new fit-for-purpose vertical simulation “apps.”

Accelerating geometry preparation and problem setup

Effectively every CAD and CAE software vendor today offer tools that link those two domains in ways that put significant simulation and analysis capabilities in the hands of non-analyst engineers and designers, safely and efficiently. This overview is representative but far from exhaustive.

Altair’s HyperWorks open-architecture, multiphysics CAE platform includes HyperMesh, a multidisciplinary finite element pre-processor that manages the generation of large, complex models, from the import of CAD geometry to exporting a ready-to-run solver file. HyperMesh is a solver-neutral environment with an extensive API for advanced customization.

Altair’s SimLab is a process-oriented finite element modeling application especially suited for solid element modeling. Not a traditional off-the-shelf pre/post-processor, SimLab is instead a vertical application development platform for capturing and automating simulation processes.

Optimization of a robot gripper claw in solidThinking Inspire resulted in 35%+ mass reduction. Source: solidThinking solidThinking-Inspire

Altair’s solidThinking Inspire software improves concept development by generating optimal structural concepts for parts and assemblies. Designed for use with all CAD systems, it lets design engineers, product designers, and architects create and investigate structurally efficient concepts quickly and easily. Where traditional structural simulation allows engineers check if a design will support required loads, Inspire enhances this process by generating a new material layout within a defined package space using the loads as input.

ANSYS’ AIM is an easy simulation environment designed for all engineers that offers integrated single-discipline and multiphysics solutions based on best-in-class solver technologies in a modern, immersive user environment.

ANSYS SpaceClaim is fast and intuitive 3D modeling software that lets any analyst or engineer create, edit and repair geometry no matter where they are in the workflow. This CAD-neutral tool lets users quickly and easily manipulate geometry themselves, instead of having to send it back to the CAD department.

ANSYS DesignSpace is an easy-to-use simulation package with tools to conceptualize, design and validate ideas on the desktop, using the same solver technology as ANSYS Mechanical. DesignSpace users do not need advanced analysis knowledge to perform real-world static structural and thermal, dynamic, weight optimization, vibration mode and safety factor simulations. DesignSpace works directly with existing CAD systems through bidirectional connections, or with standalone geometry files.

Autodesk mechanical simulation products use finite element analysis to predict product performance through linear, nonlinear, thermal and dynamic analysis. Autodesk Simulation Mechanical includes Autodesk Nastran FEA solver software, and provides designers, engineers, and analysts with tools for FEA and modeling. Users can set up advanced simulations with vibrational analysis tools including Mechanical Event Simulation (MES), Autodesk Nastran FEA solver software, multiphysics simulations, multi-CAD format support, and composites.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD is CAD-embedded FEA software intended as a general-purpose FEA tool for engineers and analysts. It offers a range of simulation powered by the Autodesk Nastran solver with CAD integration and integrates with compatible software to simulate real-world behavior.

Autodesk Inventor’s Shape Generator helps engineers design structurally efficient, lightweight parts right within their CAD system. Source: Autodesk Autodesk


Autodesk Inventor’s Shape Generator is a new approach to designing lightweight, structurally efficient parts that provide a creative strategy for maximizing part stiffness based on user-specified constraints. Integrated into Inventor, making it convenient to incorporate into the design process, Shape Generator produces a 3D mesh that can be used to guide design refinement.

Autodesk Within generative design software helps engineers and orthopedic implant specialists create lightweight, latticed designs that are functionally optimized and accurate for additive manufacturing. Varying the densities of surface skins and internal lattices using Within design optimization software achieves results that are lighter-weight than the original, as stiff or as flexible as needed, and have the desired aesthetics. A built-in optimization engine automatically refines parts for additive manufacturing.

Autodesk Research’s Project Dreamcatcher is a generative design system that lets designers define their design problem in terms of goals and constraints. The software uses this information to synthesize an array of alternative design solutions that meet the defined objectives. Designers can explore tradeoffs among these alternative approaches, then select the best design solution for manufacture.

COMSOL offers a family of LiveLink products that let users access COMSOL Multiphysics analysis capabilities from within their 3D mechanical CAD software environment. LiveLink is available for SOLIDWORKS; Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD and Revit; PTC Creo Parametric and Pro/ENGINEER; and Siemens PLM Solid Edge.

DS SIMULIA’s Simulation-Based Design portfolio provides powerful, yet easy-to-use design-centric simulation tools including guided workflows and active assistants to help designers and engineers achieve their design goals through simulation. The portfolio uses Abaqus simulation technology to help designers solve problems within their familiar design and engineering environment.

The portfolio consists of applications targeted to specific user “Roles.” For example, Structural Analysis Engineer is a “Simulation Role for the Design Engineer” using finite element techniques to assess structural integrity of products subject to a range of loading conditions to guide design decisions for product performance and quality.

DS SOLIDWORKS’ SOLIDWORKS Simulation, part of its Premium 3D CAD design package, provides core simulation tools including SOLIDWORKS Motion, Structural Analysis and Nonlinear Analysis. Full integration with SOLIDWORKS modeling creates a short learning curve and eliminates redundant remodeling tasks required with traditional analysis tools. Product designs can be tested for strength and safety, and have their kinematics analyzed.

Product engineers can evaluate structural product performance under a range of physical scenarios using the virtual testing environment of SOLIDWORKS Simulation Professional. Fully embedded with SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD, SOLIDWORKS Simulation Professional helps engineers determine product mechanical resistance, product durability and natural frequencies, and test heat transfer and buckling instabilities. Pressure vessel analysis and complex loading are also supported.

SOLIDWORKS Conceptual Designer, a cloud-based 3DEXPERIENCE Solution, provides mechanism synthesis and motion analysis to help validate mechanical operation during concept development. Automatic background simulation and real-time analysis during design confirm the model’s operations. Users can define design goals, then receive automatic alerts if designs fall outside of specified parameters.

ESI Group‘s VisualDSS is a framework to let users make a final decision on the product. It provides seamless connection with various CAD systems to extract data to build virtual tests, and lets users build and chain multiple virtual tests upstream and downstream for an integrated process. Simulation content from those virtual tests is collected and managed efficiently and appropriately by VisualDSS through capture, storage and reuse of enterprise knowledge and best practices. It automates repetitive and cumbersome tasks in virtual prototyping, and propagates engineering changes and design changes from one domain to another. Finally, it lets globally dispersed virtual product development teams work together on a design.

Exa’s preparation tools PowerDELTA with PowerCLAY streamline and automate simulation model creation for input to its PowerFLOW aerodynamic, aeroacoustic and thermal management simulation software, PowerTHERM thermal management solution, and PowerCOOL heat exchanger simulation software. PowerDELTA applies parametric feature modeling, direct mesh morphing and history tree model management to simulation model creation. Design data in most major CAD and mesh formats is supported. Meanwhile, Exa’s PowerCASE provides an intuitive, fast interface for preparing cases with any level of geometric complexity. On completion of a simulation, PowerVIZ lets results quickly be analyzed, while PowerINSIGHT allows results analysis to be automated. Finally, PowerREALITY fosters collaboration between engineers and product designers/stylists through photorealistic visualization of simulation results.

MSC Software’s Apex Modeler is a CAE-specific direct modeling and meshing solution to streamline CAD cleanup, simplification and meshing workflow. Direct modeling lets users create and edit geometry interactively by selecting the entities of interest such as a face, edge or vertex, then pushing, pulling or dragging to modify them. Direct Modeling is complemented with built-in meshing technology. With Direct Modeling and Meshing, for models that have already been meshed and need further geometry modification, users can employ any of the Direct Modeling or Geometry Clean-up/Repair tools, and the mesh will be immediately regenerated.

MSC Apex Structures is a fully integrated and generative structural analysis solution for engineers and analysts. An add-on product that expands MSC Apex Modeler functionality with capabilities for linear structural analysis, MSC Apex Structures packages a user interface for scenario definition and results post-processing with integrated solver methods. MSC characterizes the solution as unique in that it combines computational parts and assemblies technology with a generative framework, thus enabling interactive and incremental analysis.

MSC Apex, a linear structural analysis system. Source: MSC Software

Apex Fossa, the sixth release of MSC Apex, adds capabilities for solving problems related to vibration. Conventionally, solving vibration problems has been a tedious trial-and-error process. Apex Fossa allows design exploration to happen in the analysis results space, without having to go back to CAD to redesign the part or assembly. This feature can slash the time to achieve an optimal solution from days to hours, and make vibrational analysis more accessible to engineers.

nCode‘s new Aqira is an integrated engineering solution for all levels of users across manufacturers’ physical test and virtual simulation departments globally. Intended to address the requirements of engineers, managers and IT professionals in an intuitive and efficient system, Aqira is meant to help ensure the right product durability with greater reliability than ever, and in less time. For organizations that rely on a few key individuals for important corporate knowledge, Aqira enables engineering insights from more people at the right time. Finally, Aqira is multi-platform, accessible from anywhere on any device.

PTC‘s Creo product suite offers a range of interoperable simulation solutions, all with a simplified user interface and intuitive workflow. The aim is that, with a few clicks, simulation can fit easily and conveniently into the user’s design life “without requiring data translation, eye-popping math, or the sudden acquisition of mysterious skills,” as PTC puts it. Creo Simulate, closely integrated with Creo Parametric, has comprehensive FEA capabilities for thermal and structural analysis. Users simply apply constraints, loads and forces, and the software provides results. Users can change inputs as needed and continue refining the product based on feedback from the re-analysis.

Siemens PLM Software‘s Simcenter Solution Portfolio combines system simulation, 3D CAE and test to help engineering teams predict performance across all critical attributes, both early and throughout the product lifecycle. By combining physics-based simulations with insights gained from data analytics, Simcenter helps optimize designs and deliver innovations faster and with greater confidence.

The Simcenter portfolio for Predictive Engineering Analytics is a robust suite of simulation software and test solutions. Source: Siemens PLM Software Siemens

Simcenter lets users create a digital twin of their product, a multifidelity model that reflects reality and continually evolves throughout the product lifecycle to accurately simulate performance from concept through actual use. By combining simulation and physical testing with intelligent reporting and data analytics, Simcenter helps produce digital twins that more accurately predict product performance throughout product development. Simcenter helps engineers go beyond simple verification to performance prediction by combining simulation, physical testing and data analytics to spot unforeseen trends.

Siemens PLM Software’s Solid Edge offers scalable simulation capabilities that range from Solid Edge Simulation Express for individual parts, to Solid Edge Simulation for assembly analysis, to Femap for defining and analyzing complete systems. The product line provides a scalable upgrade path for users who need to solve progressively more challenging engineering problems. Solid Edge Simulation is a new, built-in FEA tool to let design engineers digitally validate part and assembly designs within the Solid Edge environment. Solid Edge Simulation Express offers users entry into embedded simulation through first-pass simulation of individual solid or sheet metal components for statics and modal analyses.

The next article in this series will examine how meshless structural analysis and other technology advances are simplifying and accelerating the traditionally time- and labor-intensive tasks of analysis model creation and problem setup. It will also explore the explosive growth of commodity cloud-based high-performance computing, which is finally making adequate computational resources for simulation accessible and affordable for engineering organizations of all sizes.

Ora Research

3D CAD World