Ben Lewis is the President of Custom Machines. With over ten years of experience in mechanical and electrical engineering, he works on challenging projects in many industry verticals such as mining, rolling stock, confectionery, agriculture, and manufacturing. In 2014, Ben Lewis became a user of SimScale and started incorporating the platform in his work. Pawel Sosnowski, the Lead Sales Engineer at SimScale, had the pleasure of talking with Ben about his experience with SimScale.
Pawel: Hello Ben, great to have the chance to talk to you! Let’s move on to where it all started: how did you find out about SimScale?
Ben: Hello! I have been experimenting with different web-based products such as CAD repositories and designing tools, like GrabCAD and Onshape. I was very comfortable with the idea of working in the cloud, so I decided to look for an online simulation tool, I searched for “simulation online”, and SimScale came up as the top result.
Pawel: What did you expect to find on the SimScale platform?
Ben: I guess I was hoping for a cost-effective way of simulating. That was my experience with other web-based solutions—you pay as you go. There was no high payment upfront.
Pawel: In the end, what did you find out?
Ben: SimScale proved to be a working, functional, and cost-effective solution. There were no big investments in the beginning. Aside from the financial aspects, SimScale exceeded my expectations—especially when it comes to support. I wasn’t sure how online simulations would improve my working routine. I found that—since the platform is a cloud-based solution—not only could I share my projects with support, but I also got active engagement from the SimScale team whenever I had errors. For example, when I had some trouble with meshing, I got an email saying: “We see you have several errors, can we help you?”
Pawel: We know that people are interested in different features. What kind of functionality did you look for?
Ben: I was looking for a structural analysis tool, so features like linear and nonlinear solvers, remote loads and constraints, loading as a function of coordinates, physical contacts, and nonlinear material behavior. I was aware that there were some features not yet available, like virtual beams, bolts, or shells. Later, I realized that taking a step back from these advanced modeling techniques allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of Finite Element Analysis. Having the need to operate with fundamentals improved my skills. Still, I would love to have some more specialized features, but I managed to achieve significantly more than I expected. At the same time, I know that SimScale is developing fast so the more advanced functionality I’m looking for will appear soon.
Pawel: What was the first impression you had after you logged into SimScale?
Ben: I loved the fact that I could do what I need to do in a browser. I started working without installing any software. Using any computer I could upload the model and start the analysis. That was the big “wow” moment.
I found the SimScale workflow and layout very logical. You upload your geometry, do the meshing, move on to simulation, and finally perform the post-processing. SimScale applies the top-to-bottom way of work. This makes it easy to understand and not overwhelming for new users.
I first tried SimScale on a free version of the platform and wanted to simulate a rather large and complex structure. I exceeded the memory limitations of the free version and did not intend to take the trial any further. To my surprise, I got a message from David (SimScale’s Managing Director) saying, “We noticed you run into problems, can we help?”. I was able to share my simulation with him, and the next morning, the whole analysis was done. I was really, really impressed. It definitely caught my attention; SimScale solved such a difficult problem so fast. In addition to that, I learned about a new constraint type, which still proves to be quite useful in my daily work even now.
The other first impression I have regards the way collaboration works on SimScale. We are used to the idea that, when you share a project in a cloud-based solution, each user looks at the same set of data. It was a bit surprising that with SimScale the person I share my project with receives a copy. I definitely can see the advantage of this approach. Nobody can mess up my data. At the same time, I look forward to future developments, when users will be able to choose whether they want to share a copy of a simulation or give someone simultaneous access to the project.
Pawel: What were the challenges you faced at the beginning?
Ben: To be honest, the biggest challenge for me was getting up to speed with the fundamentals of FEA. Although I came to the platform with some prior experience, I can see now that I had much to learn.
Pawel: How did you overcome these initial issues?
Ben: Definitely it was the feedback from SimScale and the ability to work with the support team that allowed me to move forward. The platform has a lot of useful information such as documentation, videos, and example projects, but for me, it was the tailored direct support that proved to be invaluable. By talking with the SimScale team, I could learn new techniques and extended my knowledge.
I also remember the SimScale Summer School that I attended shortly after joining. This training gave me a really good understanding of the fundamental skills I needed to get up to speed. It also gave me the confidence to extend my abilities into areas I was less familiar with such as nonlinear analysis.
Pawel: You have been with SimScale for a while. What were the biggest improvements to the platform you noticed?
Ben: Definitely the release of the Community Forum is a great step forward. I can see that this will be a valuable tool for the future.
I also noticed that the Public Projects Library has grown much bigger. This is a great resource. Each time I start a new project I go there to look for examples of similar setups. Thanks to that, I get a nice idea of where to begin.
Pawel: What other modifications influenced your work?
Ben: The speed of the geometry viewer and post-processor has improved significantly since I started. There is also now the possibility of selecting items from the “tree-viewer”. This has reduced the time required to prepare my simulations.
Pawel: Which features do you now benefit the most from?
Ben: For me, the biggest thing is the technical support—the possibility of sharing the project with SimScale and getting a response within 12 hours. Not only do I get told what needs to be changed, but often I also receive a working simulation with a detailed description of the steps taken to acquire the results.
The next great feature is that SimScale works with ParaView—the offline post-processing tool. I had no experience with this tool prior to SimScale and I found ParaView very useful. I can do advanced visualizations with ease, like big project comparisons.
Pawel: In which areas do you feel strongest with the SimScale platform?
Ben: I am most confident in the structural part of SimScale, the linear and nonlinear FEA.
Pawel: Where do you feel you could improve?
Ben: The SimScale platform is very broad; there are lots of simulation types one can do. I still would like to get more experience with fluid flow analysis or particle analysis. I am sure that if I could find time to dedicate to learning these features, it would be no problem with SimScale.
Pawel: We talked about the challenges you found at the beginning. What are the challenges you are facing right now while working with FEA?
Ben: For huge projects, there is a limit on the number of nodes available for FEA simulations. It turns out that there is a workaround for this but it does take some time to work through. Also, I could really use shell elements. Some projects just need this feature to be present to start thinking about numerical analysis.
Finally, there could be a bit more information coming from the platform when something goes wrong. Right now, some solver messages are in French and I find the English event logs a bit short. For example, it would be nice to know where exactly my meshing operation failed or which body has an unconstrained degree of freedom.
Pawel: How do you handle the challenges you just mentioned?
Ben: For working with very large projects, the SimScale team invented a dedicated workflow. It allows me to move forward. At the same time, I know that this issue is being investigated and soon should be handled in a more convenient way. The same regards to the shell elements that are due to arrive pretty soon.
I also know that the SimScale team is working on English translations of Code_Aster messages, extending the log messages, and many other improvements.
Pawel: Let’s move a bit further into the future. What advantages do you see SimScale will bring for your upcoming projects?
Ben: I definitely will not have to spend big amounts of money for numerical software packages.
Also, the collaboration aspect is important. For me, cloud-based simulation is the way of the future. Being able to share simulations so quickly and easily, allows me to collaborate with clients and colleagues with ease and clarity.
Being able to perform multiple meshing and simulation tasks in parallel is a real time saver. It removes the “single task” bottleneck of traditional FEA and allows me to keep being productive regardless of what simulation tasks I have running. For example, during a large project, I completed recently I was able to run nine simulations simultaneously with a combined memory usage of 220 GB on 144 cores! I don’t think there is a desktop solution capable of such performance, and if there is, it would certainly be out of reach for my budget.
Also, since the platform is so broad, if I need to perform a different type of simulation in the future, I would not need to buy another license. I could simply go to SimScale and have the type of simulation ready for me to learn and use. So while I primarily use the structural analysis tools in SimScale, I also have full access to all the other simulation types such as thermal analysis and CFD. With other products, I would not have the possibility to extend my capabilities without a significant financial investment.
Pawel: In the next few months, with all your coming new projects, which features do you think you will use the most?
Ben: Definitely everything that I am using now! Hopefully, I will have the chance to use shell elements.
Pawel: Which features would you like to try out and incorporate into your workflow?
Ben: I would like to learn CFD and start using it.
Pawel: Do you think we can help you with that?
Ben: At the moment, my time is dedicated to some high-priority projects, but when I get some free time, I intend to start experimenting with the CFD functionality of SimScale. I am certain that if I need to get up to speed fast, SimScale will be there to help me.
Sticking to my daily routine, I would also like to investigate a bit more of the dynamic and nonlinear features in SimScale. Those more difficult subjects of structural analysis are very interesting. With some more knowledge, I could definitely optimize my simulations and get faster and better results.
Pawel: How would you deal with these new topics without SimScale?
Ben: I think I have a much better chance of getting success with SimScale because of the support I get from the team and the platform. It is set up so that I get educated when I use it. Every time I come up against a problem, I can share my simulation with the support team and I get great feedback regarding what needs to be modified to achieve success. Later, in the future, I can handle these events myself.
Pawel: What are the most important long-term benefits that you and your company get from using SimScale?
Ben: The first is that SimScale is cost-competitive. Another great thing is the possibility of sharing projects and collaborative work. Also, the post-processing approach sets SimScale apart from other solutions.
Finally, one of the most important things I like is the ability to work in parallel. I can set up multiple operations and have them running simultaneously. I do not have to sit and wait for the meshing operation to finish before I start simulating. I do not have to buy powerful hardware—I can have 10 meshing operations and 10 simulations running simultaneously on the platform.
Pawel: How would you sum up your SimScale experience in three sentences?
From a functionality point of view, it can do the vast majority of the things I want to do. It has great technical support. And SimScale undergoes continuous development so that if there are some things missing, they will be available soon.
Pawel: Would you recommend SimScale to others?
Ben: Yes! I would definitely recommend SimScale. SimScale puts high-performance simulation capabilities in the hands of ordinary people. It is no longer the domain of big business. It offers a broad range of simulation capabilities, it is competitively priced, and it is backed up with great technical support.
I do feel that the team at SimScale is genuinely interested in simulation. It is not just a “job” for them. I see their passion for what they do. When we interact while working on my projects, I am never a burden. I am treated as a valuable partner. This makes all the difference.
Pawel: We will for sure keep bringing this great experience to all SimScale users! Thank you, Ben, for our discussion!
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