Growing Need for Optimization, Simulation in Design Process

A major theme at the 2013 Americas Altair Technology Conference was the growth of the need for using simulation and optimization tools during product design. James Dagg, senior vice president of design/analytics technologies, gave a talk on Altair's software vision describing these trends. Separate presentations by automotive and aerospace leaders reinforced this message during the conference, held in Garden Grove, Calif., October 1 to 3.

Both the products that engineers design, and the design and development process for manufacturing those products, are changing, said Dagg. Optimization is influencing the esthetics as well as the structure of products, which can be seen in the design of robotics and aerospace components, as well as more typical examples such as cars. Consumers are also expecting a much better user experience from all products, due mostly to the success of Apple's products. "Apple changed our expectations of all products, not just electronics," he said. In cars, every aspect of a vehicle is now engineered, which requires a lot of simulation. Safety and simplicity are now more important. So is sustainability. All of these constraints require simulation and optimization, so engineering is becoming extremely complex.

In the design process, the use of optimization can help develop the concept of a product and inspire entirely new products, by showing what is and isn't possible, and the best shapes or other features. Product design can be evolved by using modeling and rendering tools, which come originally from the world of industrial design. Altair's open architecture HyperWorks CAE simulation suite includes applications for modeling, visualization, analysis, and optimization. The company expects to introduce a new product for system modeling soon, Dagg said.

Simulation and optimization tools are becoming extremely sophisticated. Some of Altair's partners' products can show such fine detail that they let design engineers look at crack propagation in composite materials, Dagg said. Or they can be used to evaluate the best ply angles for a specific composite structure.

The growth of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is timely, since it combines well with the increase in optimization, said Dagg. This is because 3D printing and additive manufacturing are often used to create designs with complex shapes that can't be manufactured by traditional subtractive processes. "The two technologies were made for each other," he said. Altair is talking to all the major 3D printing companies and working on using optimization to use even less material than the processes do now. In an interview after his presentation, though, he told Design News that Altair has no current plans for specific software products related to 3D printing.

In order to show all this detail and cope with all of these constraints, the number of structural elements is growing rapidly, and this increasing complexity is getting tough to model, Dagg said in his talk. The cloud will definitely help. It will also change the design experience. Altair's suite of cloud tools include different methods for using the HyperWorks suite via the cloud. Licensed users can run models too big for their own servers on Altair's machines via HyperWorks on Demand. Other options include running the suite through the user's browser, or managing various projects run on Altair's servers through the browser. Finally, a completely turnkey option is HyperWorks Unlimited. This private cloud appliance combines fully configured hardware and software, and became available globally on October 1.

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