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Designing Race Cars in the Cloud

Designing Race Cars in the Cloud
With the democratization of simulation led by cloud solutions for computational fluid dynamics, it has never been easier to test and optimize the design of a race car long before creating a physical prototype or investing in wind tunnel testing.

Engineering simulation technology, especially computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element analysis (FEA), is no stranger to the automotive industry. In fact, providers of on-premises computer-aided engineering (CAE) solutions—such as ANSYS, SolidWorks, or Dassault Systèmes—have been around for a few decades already, being a part of many engineers’ software stack. In addition, many automotive companies have developed their own simulation software.

Using simulation, engineers can easily test, compare, and optimize designs by investigating a car’s aerodynamics or stress in components as well as work on projects involving thermal management of engine parts or brake cooling. All of these possibilities have made simulation technology an integral part of the development process of top racing series, such as Formula 1 and World Rally Championship (WRC).

The purpose of simulation is not to completely replace physical prototypes or wind tunnel testing, but rather enable engineers to virtually test and validate their designs early in the development process. They also can easily compare different scenarios, conditions, and parameters, thus reducing the time and costs that would normally go into traditional testing methods.

Shown is a CFD simulation of a car’s front wing. (Image source: SimScale)


Despite its advantages, design and engineering professionals don’t fully benefit from simulation. This is mainly due to the barriers that accompany traditional CAE solutions:

  • Access: Both the high-performance computing (HPC) hardware requirements as well as the licensing policies of traditional on-premise simulation software create overhead related to installation, maintenance, and update management.
  • Costs: Dedicated hardware, software, and training for simulation can generate up-front costs of tens of thousands of dollars per simulation seat—sometimes even 6-digit investments—before the first simulation can be started and its added-value proven.
  • Know-how: Due to the large investment required to deploy traditional simulation tools, companies typically make sure to have a team of specialized experts to utilize these tools to their full potential.

Cloud-based solutions have already started tackling these barriers. In fact, at the 2016 NAFEMS annual North America conference, Dr. Marc Halpern, vice president of research at Gartner and one of the pioneers of CAE, presented the five biggest trends in CAE, stating that the “cloud is central to everything.“ Noting that the cloud is contributing to the trend toward “freemium” products, Dr. Halpern mentioned different tools (such as SimScale) that run in the web browser and can be accessed by anyone using an ordinary desktop or laptop computer.

Up in the Cloud

Cloud-based tools play a crucial role in the democratization of CAE by removing two out of the three main obstacles previously mentioned: the required access to high computing power (HPC) and the cost. Mainly delivered as SaaS (software as a service), these tools are accessible via a standard web browser, which makes Internet access the only requirement for simulation. Because the provider is the one who takes over the responsibility of computing power, simulations can be carried out from any normal computer. As for the cost, cloud-based tools are normally paid with a yearly subscription, with no investment in special hardware or licenses needed. The know-how, which is the third obstacle, can be removed with the reduced complexity of the user interface (UI) and the simulation workflow, as well as with open access to training content and simulation templates.

“In the end, it all comes down to building better products, faster and more cost efficiently. Better in the sense that you have more detailed insights into what you are developing and more control over the product development process. Faster because you can test your design at the earliest stage, which allows you to make more informed design decisions from the very beginning. And cost-efficiently because, in the early stages, you have a lower risk of missing deadlines, you can stick to the plan, and save on material, manufacturing, and physical prototypes,” said David Heiny, CEO of SimScale, a cloud-based CAE platform.

This graphic shows CFD analysis of an F1 car’s aerodynamics in the web browser. (Image source: SimScale)

With the emergence of cloud-based tools, simulation technology is now more accessible than ever. To learn more about how to get easy access to powerful simulation technology, this free webinar about the application of CFD in motorsports could a be a place to start. All participants will get free access to the software with the required simulation features included.

With more than 10 years of professional experience with engineering simulation and motorsport aerodynamics, Milad Mafi is currently working as product marketing manager at SimScale. In his role, he manages, grows, and supports relationships with key business and educational partners. He also hosts monthly webinars covering CFD, FEA, and thermal analysis.

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