Finite element analysis should not stand apart from design because the two are intertwined, Weingarten says. When analysts and designers work together they are more efficient and more productive.
Design News: What's truly new in finite element analysis?
Weingarten: The basics haven't changed. What's new is that the majority of engineers are using Windows. More engineers are using PCs for CAD and analysis. Meanwhile, both iterative and direct solvers have improved. Many automotive users of FEA did not want to use a PC and solve their problems several times using iterative solvers--even though iterative solvers like our FFE have solved design analysis problems with more than one million degrees of freedom on a PC. So, improved direct solvers now handle their problems. Some direct solvers are up to 100 times faster than before, and that means, among other things, that engineers can solve problems as fast or faster on PCs than on Unix. Meanwhile, PC prices have dropped. In analysis, we take advantage of those trends.
FEA can't live as an island. More often than not these days, it is integrated into the mid-range CAD products engineers are increasingly using. We are primarily devoted to developing products for the mid-range field. We are bringing the capabilities of an FEA system to CAD systems. For example, we have had shells in our high-end product for use with Pro/ENGINEER. Now, we have shells for SolidWorks, and we expect to add beams, gaps, optimization and sensitivity, and other capabilities normally found in standalone FEA. This is the way of the future. We are integrating our high-end capabilities into design products, and that makes it much easier for users.
Q: Are design engineers trained to do analysis?
A: Not specifically, but that's not important with today's products. Analysis training used to be difficult, but our product is so easy to use that it's easier than developing a CAD model for basic analysis. For example, for static analysis, a user only needs to know loads and boundary conditions. Pick them and click to apply them to the model, and the program does the meshing for the basic analysis. Of course, for complicated analyses like complex assemblies or non-linear problems, you still need a specialist who is well trained, but you don't need as many as in the past.
Q: Just what does an engineer need to know to perform analysis?
A: Engineers need to know basic structural principles and how to use CAD. To help train upcoming engineers, we join with SolidWorks in donating software to universities for engineering classes. Bentley Systems and other CAD developers have also approached us to do something similar with them. As freshmen move through the curriculum, they would take courses in strength of materials, then structural analysis or dynamics or thermal, and use these tools to solve real-world engineering problems.
Q: Will design and analysis ever merge?
A: I believe that in the future analysts and designers won't be on separate islands. They shouldn't be, and the truth is that we moderns have built an artificial separation between the two functions. Analysts should be in the design group, and they should understand design just as designers should know something about analysis. When they are together, communications will be better. Working as a group, they will be more efficient than they are working separately.
Q: Do you see any breakthroughs on the horizon in analysis?
A: Windows-native CAD has been very successful. SRAC is developing Windows-native FEA. Actually, we are demonstrating such a program. It incorporates the Parasolid modeler, and shortly will include the ACIS modeler. Users with a couple of CAD products will be able to use this design-analysis tool with all their CAD products. We'll develop an API for the product. Through the API, fluids, electromagnetics, and injection-molding companies can tie into the product. Our first partner in this venture will be Unigraphics Solutions' Solid Edge. I think this will be a new dawn for design analysis.