ANSYS launched version 6.1 of its finite element analysis software at its annual users conference here, and also introduced three initiatives: AI*Workbench, AI*Nastran, and CADOE.
AI*Workbench is an open platform that lets users develop their own FEA ap-plications to meet industry-specific needs. Many CAE companies have been releas-ing vertical applications for niche markets—such as the 40 different types of Mechanical Dynamics' (Ann Arbor, MI) Adams R12, or variations of LMS' (Troy, MI) Virtual.Lab—but this is the only one that lets users create new products themselves. That's important because it empowers the user community, just as the open-source Linux operating system does.
In fact, ANSYS founder John Swanson encouraged users to write their own applications, so that ANSYS isn't tempted to boost profits by withholding functionality and writing the applications itself, as he said Microsoft does with Windows.
"If AI*Workbench works as well as Tcl/Tk, then it will be very, very important," he said. Tcl/Tk (Tool Command Language/ToolKit) is a language for developing new applications by gluing existing modules together. But Swanson said that Workbench needed to be simplified first—to create new applications with it today, users need to know too many computer languages.
The Workbench beta program will begin in June, with its final version release in October, said Mike Wheeler, VP and GM of ANSYS' Mechanical Business Unit.
ANSYS has been busy in recent months. It acquired ICEM CFD (Berkeley, CA) in August, 2000, and CADOE (Villeurbanne, France) in November, 2001. Also in November it announced a partnership with SAS (Schaeffer Automated Simulation; Altadena, CA) to launch a new version of NASTRAN simulation software.
That made tongues wag because SAS was created by engineering professor Harry Schaeffer and Richard MacNeal, the founder and former CEO of MSC Software (Santa Ana, CA). MSC is by far the largest provider of NASTRAN software, a simulation program created by NASA in the 1960s. In fact, MSC is now embroiled with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it monopolized that market through its 1999 acquisition of competitors UAI (Universal Analytics Inc.) and CSAR (Computerized Structural Analysis and Research Corp.). MSC has also announced it will acquire Mechanical Dynamics.
MSC denies the charges. "A court date is set for July, which will cover administrative issues, including the discovery process," said Todd Evans, MSC's manager of public relations. "After the meeting, we should have a better understanding for the progression of events."
At ANSYS' meeting, MacNeal an-nounced that AI*NASTRAN would launch in the third quarter, and that he'd compete with MSC through low cost and high quality. His version of NASTRAN can handle 10 million degrees of freedom, and can mesh incongruent interfaces (joints where shapes touch but the nodes don't line up). That's also possible with MSC, he admitted: "But we intend to eliminate the need for human interaction by increasing automation." He joked that many people assumed "AI" stood for ANSYS, Inc., but it really meant "automated interfaces."
MSC insisted it welcomed the new competition: "By launching its own flavor of Nastran, our competitor is validating the power and value of the MSC.Nastran brand and products," Evans said. "For over three decades, MSC.Software has built the value of its MSC.Nastran simulation software solutions."
Finally, ANSYS detailed plans to integrate its most recent acquisition, French company CADOE (pronounced cad-o-way)."
In three to five years, every one of you will be using this technology to do analysis," said panel moderator Henry Wong from Sun Microsystems, because the company's "parametric simulation" will speed up the design process enormously."
The geometry problem is not addressed in CAE: there's a limitation of input data, so a limitation on output data," explained CADOE founder Michel Rochette. "Til now, optimization has solved this through loops of iterations, a long road of consecutive attempts; it's a bottleneck in design. Delay is the second bottleneck, waiting for results. So we do one solve."
That means CADOE software performs a single operation to simulate an entire range of stress conditions on a model, giving the engineer an instant set of results. How? Even Swanson admitted: "I don't know how it works; I'm just glad that Ansys is the company that does it now."
CADOE co-founder Bruno Reymond explained this concept of "parametric simulation"—instead of meshing each iteration of a generic cad model, you mesh it just once, and produce numerous outputs. So the engineer can solve once for a range of parameters. The tool is best used for design optimization, not design verification, he said.
The Adams simulation application uses a similar approach, but it uses computer clusters to achieve the necessary processing power. (Though as noted above, they are no longer competitors, since ANSYS is acquiring them).
Overall, ANSYS users will see six long-term changes through the integration of ANSYS 6.1, Workbench, NASTRAN, and CADOE, Wheeler said:
expanded partner strategy
simplified materials characteristics, and simplified/automated element selection
minimize approximations in setting boundary conditions
more wizards for ease of use
use distributed computing to get more processing power
more flexibility for customization