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Reviewer Rates A Software Package
December 7, 2004
6 Min Read
Although my last formal review of Tecplot goes back 6 years, my daily usage can attest that the software has been on a continuous improvement path which in the latest version has been encapsulated into one statement by its developer: "Give users complete control of how they look at the data."
To the new user, Tecplot is designed to handle huge amounts of data either as a standalone plotting program or linked to CFD and FEM applications with multifaceted post processing demands. When I'm referring to "huge," consider that you can have up to 32,700 variables or zones per data set with variables, each handling over 2 Billion data points. The source of the plot data can be Excel, Plot3D, Gridgen, HDF, DEM , Fluent or CGNS or plain ASCII format.
After you load the data in Tecplot, its native data structure takes over. Tecplot's data hierarchy is based on Frames that contain Data Sets which can include Data Files that are divided in Zones. At first, this structure may sound complicated but there is a method to this madness: Think of the top level (Frames) as a separate workspace that holds the underlying structure as described. You can have multiple frames that give you access to the same structure (Data Set > Data File > Zones ) or Single Data set with multiple Data File > Zones. One example in the flexibility with Frames was for a plot I was trying to construct that no other plotting program was able to do: A constant life diagram that is being used in Fatigue analysis involves two overlaid plots with one of them rotated 45 degrees. By treating each plot in a separate frame and using Tecplot's frame linking option, I did the plot with few keystrokes. When saved as a layout - Tecplot's storage for info about frames and included data - the template can be used simply by importing new data.
The other main aspect of Tecplot's data structure is the concept of zones. It is an efficient way to plot complex configurations, or, for better results, dividing the data domain in smaller segments. The zone concept can be appreciated in FEM or CFD type of post-processing where the results can be represented as whole or by regions. The latter gives the user enormous flexibility in viewing portions of the results with all their attributes like contours, mesh, streatraces or vectors while setting the rest with effects like translucency. The other type of zoning in Tecplot is done as IJK-ordering, anywhere from 1D (I-ordered) to 3D (IJK-ordered) in both Cartesian and Cylindrical coordinate systems. Spherical representation is still not available.
The development of the latest version of Tecplot focused on three major areas plus some powerful features that were released in the latest version:
The contour capabilities of Tecplot now include the ability to plot multiple contours in different parts (zones) of the model so that more than one piece of information can be plotted. An example would be plotting the stress levels of a part in filled contours overlaid by the associated deformation in lined contour lines. An additional feature is to include another variable contoured on streatraces.
Three dimensional objects will look more realistic with the use of specular highlighting that add reflections. The user has control of the intensity as well as the shininess that will account for reflection in adjacent surfaces.
Complicated plotting that requires multiple zones now has a new tool in Tecplot. Without writing a macro to capture the animation of time-dependent data or groups of zones, you can select which zones and the time ranges for creating the animation on the screen which in turn can be exported in AVI, RM or Flash formats. This is especially useful in CFD or FEM data for regions where there is significantly more activity than the rest of the model (the region can be a zone by itself).
Significant changes in reducing the memory usage have been made in the way Tecplot accesses the data. While the complete data set can be loaded upfront, impacting the plotting performance, the new Mapped I/O feature allows Tecplot to load the data on-a-demand basis. This is considered a departure from Tecplot's way of handling the data stream and as a result some add-ons, like, CFD Analyzer or Mesh generator may not function as before.
The other memory/performance enhancement that I found useful was Tecplot's ability to share variables between zones thus eliminating multiple instances. I discovered this performance saver in the general preferences area and unfortunately is not the default setting.
Tecplot's inability to generate the data is balanced but its powerful tools to manipulate it in a number of ways with a slew of built-in functions. Once the original data have been changed, it is not necessary anymore to save the modifications. The new data-journaling feature keeps track of how the original was changed and the how sll derived information was created. The ASCII journal file can be modified outside Tecplot as well.
On occasion I need to include external information like pictures, map data that can make the plotted data easier to comprehend. The latest version allows me to incorporate this material in BMP, PNG or JPEG format or even animation clips.
When finished plotting and data manipulation, Tecplot's exporting tools include super sampling methods to avoid the jagged edges (especially around text), surface highlighting.
From all the data import loaders, Tecplot's MATLAB and Excel loader offer a great deal of flexibility in accessing native formats of these two established tools. Selective in its loading, Tecplot's add-on will assign variables that can be used as 1- 2- or 3-D ordered data. Once in Tecplot, the visualization part is second to none including exporting in HTML format for web presentations.
The interface to the outside world is done with the add-on developer kit (ADK) which gives you access to all of Tecplot's functions and routines if linked to your legacy code. The latest menu API addition brings the interface to Tecplot closer to its familiar menu structure.
Documentation and support
The documentation is limited to one User's manual, but Tecplot's web site with all external documents are in PDF format along with the excellent tech support offer unparalleled help.
There are data plotting software that can pretty much satisfy the daily needs of a scientist or engineer. And then there is Tecplot for the casual but primarily advanced user that has special needs in transforming data into powerful and realistic graphical representations. For the casual user there is a certain learning curve in order to get acclimated to Tecplot's structure and procedures.
The company developed its niche by realizing that users will go to the best number cruncher (simulation software) they can afford and then come to Tecplot for the rest. A highly recommended and affordable plotting software not only by sheer number of features but also as price to feature ratio. Pricing starts @$1600 for single user license.
Tecplot handles huge amounts of data as a standalong program or linked to CFD and FEA programs.
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