All the truth about CAE and FEA Simulation Software
I always wanted to write a post like that because I think everyone who is considering investing into CAE and FEA Simulation Software deserves to know.
Software vendors are always using similar terms to define their own software as fast, accurate, easy, affordable, moreover there is a bunch of features that you may never have heard about but will allow you to simulate incredible thing…or not.
Let’s make the point about all that!
Before beginning, let’s make clear 2 things:
- This post is not meant to be exhaustive and only represents my own vision of how the things are working out there. Feel free to comment and add your own things if you think it can help others to understand better.
- I am working myself for a software vendor called MIDAS IT in Korea and we are developing CAE software for mechanics and civil engineering. We are a middle size company (~500 staffs, implanted in around 120 countries), but the good thing is that we are totally independent from other bigger companies and we are proud to have a software which is 100% in-house developed with almost no 3rd party technology.
CAE and FEA Simulation software is “easy to use”
Term “Easy” can mean a lot of things and it depends totally on the judgment of the person so this is why this term may be misguiding.
So “Easy to use” for an engineer actually means “fairly complex” for anyone else. Moreover, you have “Engineer” and “engineer”… you have the guys who really like tinkering and are ready to spend days and weeks to find the best solution and you have the guys who are just here to do their daily job and not more… but I guess this is another topic ;-)
What I mean is that using mechanical simulation software requires a lot of engineering sense, a lot of judgment and a lot of learning especially.
So if “easy to use” means “graphical interface with buttons that anyone can push” then yes, it is easy… but it isn’t the case.
CAE Software are used to solve the most complex engineering problems that engineers are facing in all industries and if this could be done so simply, it would be lying about the quantity of knowledge and experience needed to actually use such software.
Now the real definition for me (Yes, I am an engineer and I like precise things…)
“Easy to use”: Once you become fairly acquainted with the graphical interface and you know the basic simulation workflow through the tutorials and supposedly you have a sufficient engineering knowledge background on the particular topic you are investigating, you will be able to get what you want from the input you give.
CAE and FEA Simulation Software gives “Accurate” Results
If you consider all what I said in the previous point, something becomes evident for you: CAE software are like a black box with an entry we like to call “input” and some results at the end that we generally call “Output”.(see my other blog post: What is a FEA Solver).
If we put something wrong in the input, we will definitely have something wrong in the Output, what some of the FEA engineers I met like to call “Garbage in – Garbage out” Process.
Now the unknown is: If you suppose my entry is valid (is it?), will the software output a value that is corresponding with what is awaited from it and matches with other kind of physical experiments you are probably doing?
The best way to be sure about that is to try the software with basic “Benchmark” tests that are recognized in the industry, the most famous being the “NAFEMS Benchmarks”.
They are generally telling that if a bunch of small test models are giving results complying with the theoretical mathematical results, then bigger models should give you the right results.
For your info, we passed few months in MIDAS IT to check ourselves the benchmark from NAFEMS (already used by developers are a standard procedure) to be sure our software is accurate and gives the results. We didn’t do that because we didn’t had faith in our own software midas NFX, we did it because we are engineer and we need to have this “peace of the mind” that happens when we are sure all is correctly working…
CAE and FEA Simulation software is “Fast”
Let’s now bring another “fancy word” on the table. What does “Fast” actually means?
All is relative in the world and an elephant is 2 times faster than a squirrel while a Cheetah is more than 3 times faster than an elephant (If you are not sure, here is the reference: http://www.speedofanimals.com)
So are we comparing Cheetah and elephant or Cheetah and Leopard when we talk about the speed of different FEA software? Difficult to say…
First of all let me list up the ways in which you can benefit from a gain of speed and tell you how:
Let me list up first the features inherent of the software that are the most related with speed and time saving. Good thing is that all that can be precisely measured so it can be proved…
- Meshing time: meshing process for large part assemblies can be very time consuming. Sometimes it fails because the part has some defaults and overall analysis time is highly impacted by both the speed and the quality of the meshing engine. Some software are performing the meshing of all the parts as a multi-thread process (midas NFX), other software are just meshing parts one by one and overall meshing will fail if one of the parts in the assembly fails (SW Simulation).
- Solving time: This is “THE” time saver in most of the case (and also the most difficult to optimize for developers) because this is decided by the architecture of the solver and of the software itself (software coded in C-language for 64bit systems will be definitely faster than software coded in 32bit FORTRAN). You should know also that it depends strongly on the analysis that you are doing. Linear static analysis in fast because it is basically only a simple inversion of matrix (to make simple). Nonlinear algorithms are a different beast and require a large amount of increments with a high potential for non-convergence which makes it very slow to compute by the solvers.
Now, let’s talk about the features that will also make you gain time but are generally not mentioned as maybe too abstract to present on a software description (is it?)
- Graphical interface is intuitive and makes it easy to find the command you need at the place you would expect them to beà This may make you gain probably much more time than you would think in the first place as you don’t spend time to click on an useless dialogue box or move the camera every time to perform the same repetitive task.
- All-in-one interface is the way we use to say that midas NFX has the full range of analysis types going from linear static, nonlinear static, linear and nonlinear dynamics to optimization and fluid CFD simulation. This is from my knowledge the only CAE software providing such thing as we are the only company in the world to develop in-house such integrated solvers (All other big companies like Ansys or MSC Software bought smaller software companies and progressively integrated them into their own software to finally finish with an “elephant” solution with difficult interactions between their own different modules). All-in-one interface will make you gain a lot of time as you wont have to build 3 different models to make a linear static analysis, a nonlinear simulation and a CFD simulation, you can just do that on one unique model.
- Learning curve (I almost forgot that) is also something generally not mentioned but very important. It will take you some years to master some software like Abaqus (to give an example), whereas it could take few weeks with a more intuitive software like midas NFX and some good tutorials (I made a bunch of tutorials myself and I always think this is something invaluable for the users to learn fast).
CAE and FEA Simulation software’s price is affordable
This is a good one, what does affordable means and for who?
Well first of all, most of the CAE vendor companies simply don’t mention that their software is affordable, and that means one thing…It is not…
They believe that knowledge come with a price and this price is so expensive that only biggest companies can pay it, but is it true? I don’t think so… knowledge is something that should be accessible to everyone and the tools that help to apply it, like CAE software are, should be more accessible… especially to smaller companies.
If you have a genius design and you are only a 1 or 2 people company, how could you possibly spend hundred thousand dollars on software to get your idea in the market? Of course you cannot…
One thing I have always appreciated in MIDAS IT is that we are developing CAE software that is good and affordable at the same time. If you are a small company that absolutely need to use simulation, we will always have what you need at a reasonable price, this is something that other companies will never provide.
CAE and FEA Simulation software’s special features
If you did some preliminary research about CAE (especially mechanical) software, your head may be overwhelmed with the name of a bunch of special features that you heard here and there, like “mesh birth and death” from Ansys for example.
What you should learn to differentiate are the features that are really useful and the features that are here just because they are fancy but almost no one uses them effectively.
You always have a bunch of features that are making great screenshots but finally will not be helpful for you as when you use them, you will come to realize that they are actually not representing the real phenomenon and it will only stay a fancy feature that will create nice screenshots but that’s all. What is quite paradoxical is that some software vendors get so excited about such features that they put them everywhere, trying to induce the user to think that “this is the new norm, the new revolution in simulation”… I don’t know what to think about that…If you do or have similar experience, I’d like to hear it in the comments.
From all the feedback I got from users, I got some idea of the features that are the most useful in midas NFX for example and they have nothing fancy at all, but they get the job done.
Some of our midas NFX users from UK, Chris Hollingworth mention on his blog the following about midas NFX and we appreciated a lot this feedback:
So, enter Midas NFX, My current software solution. What?? I hear you say, I’ve never even heard of that, must be rubbish. On the contrary, it’s the only thing I have found that bridges the modern interface of Ansys with the old school tools I still wanted. Midas have two interfaces essentially, one for ‘designers’ (akin to Ansys workbench) and one for ‘analysts’ (akin to Hypermesh). So now, I have a logical interface with the benefits of CAD level graphics and geometry tools, along with the ability to draw a single 2d element, 1d ‘spiders’ and all the other classic meshing tools which make FEA as powerful as it is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from perfect. I have a list of a hundred things I would like to see it do different, but being a relatively new solution I might just get them one day.
Here the link on Chris’s Blog: http://www.infiniteanalysis.co.uk/blog/road-to-infinite-analysis
I have still a lot of things to say but I guess it’s how far I will go today…hope you enjoyed the lecture and that it is useful to you.
Don’t forget to add a comment to let me know what you think about all that…