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The Future of Product Design is in the Cloud

At the NAFEMS annual North America conference this year, Dr. Marc Halpern talked about the five biggest trends in CAE, stating that the “cloud is central to everything“. Dr. Halpern is vice president of research at Gartner and one of the pioneers of CAE; or, how engineering.com puts it, “has been into CAE practically as long as there have been computers”[1]. In fact, he was one of the earliest developers of Ansys [2].

trends cloud

Image source: engineering.com, courtesy of Gartner

Explaining that the cloud is contributing to the trend toward “freemium” products, Dr. Halpern mentioned different tools, including SimScale as an example for CAE  tools running 100% in a browser, allowing anyone to access their technology for free using a regular desktop or a laptop computer.

As such, the cloud is playing a crucial role in the overall democratization of CAE, by removing 2 out of 3 main obstacles to making simulation technology accessible to more engineers: the cost of the software and hardware, and the access to high computing power (HPC). The know-how, which is the third obstacle, can be removed with the reduced complexity of the UI and the simulation workflow, as well as with an open access to training content, and simulation templates.

But let’s consider the solutions to these problems in detail.

Cost of Software and Hardware for Product Development

As mentioned, the cost problems are solved by the cloud, as not only SimScale or Onshape but all providers of cloud-based solutions can reduce costs through it. What’s great about them is that users have access to state-of-the-art computers even by using a $300 laptop.

The struggle with buying several licenses for different simulation packages or products, common with simulation software like ANSYS or SolidWorks no longer exists. Cloud-based tools normally come with a monthly or yearly subscription that gives access to all the product’s features. No more separate licenses for “Fluids”, “Structures”or “Thermal Analysis”.

But the access to all features is not the only advantage of subscription-based payment. Maybe the most important one is actually flexibility. In product design, it is very common to have a need for CAD software or CAE tools for a specific time period, and after a project is completed it is not used for several months or even a year. Let’s say you’re an engineering services provider specialized in both Fluid Dynamics and Solid Mechanics. In January you close a deal with a client and you purchase a “Fluid Flow Analysis” package because this is the application you need to work on. The results are delivered in February and in the same month, two new clients are interested in Structural Analysis. So you buy another license for this feature. The rest of the year you only have new projects focused on Structural Mechanics, so the one for CFD analysis is no longer used, but was paid for.

In January next year, you decide to not renew it, as you only had one client for Fluid Dynamics and you renew the Solid Mechanics one instead as you’re still working on a customer’s project. This year, however, all new clients have CFD applications. What now?

This is, of course, not the worst case scenario. You could also need another feature or different industry-focused packages (for HVAC or Electronics, for example). And what if your company is at the beginning and the hardware not yet bought? How many clients do you need to have for the amortization of your $20k or $30k investment? And how long will it take?

The same problem can be for a product manufacturer that has the design in-house. You could work on a new product for one year, invest in the hardware and software, but have the need to create a new version of your product maybe after 3 or 4 years. Was it worth the investment? In some cases it was, but in most not.

What is the Alternative to On-Premises CAD and CAE Software?

The desire to tackle these problems and to help design teams collaborate better is what inspired Onshape develop the first and only full-cloud 3D CAD system, which is accessible via a web browser, phone, or tablet.

And this is what SimScale is doing for 3D CAE (computer-aided engineering or engineering simulation). Furthermore, both tools can be used together through the Connector App, for users to create their CAD models in Onshape and directly transfer them to SimScale for simulation, whether they need to perform a Fluid Dynamics, Solid Mechanics or Thermal Analysis. The results will show where the CAD design has flaws or could be improved and they can go back to Onshape and make the changes until they get the best product version. This is SimScale mission, empowering engineers, designers, and scientists around the world to develop the best product the possibly can, by giving them easy access to simulation technology.

The Training or Expertise Barrier in CAE

We until now talked about the first 2 problems common in the CAE and CAD field. What about the 3rd? If in CAD there are already many designers with experience in using the dedicated tools, in CAE things are more complicated. Engineers normally specialize in one type of simulation (CFD and FEA are the most common) and every type is so complex that the software used to perform them needs to be intuitive even for those who studied simulation. And then there is the industry for which you simulate: Electronics, HVAC, Automotive, Aerospace, Industrial Equipment – all have different particularities. For companies using on-premises simulation software, it is mandatory to hire a highly-specialized engineer in charge of the simulations. So much for team collaboration or agile product development…

So how can the expertise problem be solved?

  1. Firstly, with an easy-to-use solution.

CFD analysis with SimScale

At SimScale we release a new version of our simulation platform every 2 weeks. Often it includes new features, but there is no release without improvements, as our focus is making the product as user-friendly as possible. And this was our challenge at the beginning: how can we create a product that is both highly performant and easy-to-use? Simulation is very complex and results can easily be misleading. One of our partners actually wrote about the topic in this article: When Is It just a Pretty Picture? Tips For a Better Structural Analysis.

We started by choosing state-of-the-art solvers. Among others, the OpenFOAM, Code_Aster, YADE, SU2 open source solvers were integrated into SimScale and the platform was developed to provide a full set of simulation features in one single tool. What is unique about it is that it comes with a user-friendly interface, no shell scripts, no coding, no struggle. This massively reduces the expertise required to use it.

2. Secondly, with templates and resources

CAE community

The SimScale CAE Community has an open library of 16 000 simulation projects that everyone can use. This is how it works: SimScale engineers and our community of 70 000 engineers worldwide run CFD, FEA, or thermal analyses. As long as they have a free Community plan, their CAD models, setups, and simulation results will be public at simscale.com/projects and all community members can copy, edit and rerun the simulations according to their own design specifications. This builds an enormous database of knowledge and resources that can be used for an easier simulation, as it’s not always easy to start something from scratch.

At the same time, on the forum, there is so much know-how shared by other engineers that you could spend a month only reading what was already published. Or if you have a question, you can just post it there and in a few hours you will get an answer.

There has been said that one of the disadvantages of cloud solutions is the lack of support. SimScale doesn’t have this downside. Besides the support team employed only to ensure our users’ success, the forum makes sure everybody gets their answers. A great example is this collaborative simulation project for which 7 engineers contributed: Multiphase flow around a boat hull.

3. Tutorials, documentation, webinars

Cloud-based solutions usually give access to learning resources to help users gets started as fast as possible. We think that with enough time dedicated to learning and ambition, everybody can use the SimScale simulation platform, whether they have or not an engineering background. To prove this, we have an internal competition called “SimScalator“, for which team members from Sales, Marketing, or Quality Assurance departments create their own CFD or FEA analysis. Its purpose is also to discover potential problems or improvements, by not only putting ourselves in the user’s shoes but actually becoming one.

If a beginner with simulation or with SimScale wants to learn, he or she can start with tutorials to understand the basics and depending on their industry, watch the recordings of workshops or webinars available on the website for free. Every step of the way, the documentation is here to provide answers.

4. Support

Customers who subscribe to the Professional account also get phone and email support. On review websites like Capterra, the SimScale support team is highly appreciated. This is because we sincerely care about our users’ success. As complex as simulation technology is, it has got nothing on a team driven to achieve customer satisfaction.

5. Free access to the simulation software

Our mission is “to empower engineers, designers and scientists around the world to develop their products better, faster, and more cost-efficiently.” This is the reason why in December  2015 we released the Community Plan to give access to the entire functionality of the SimScale platform, to the public simulations library, and to the learning resources for free. Everybody is welcome to try it, to make sure the features are what they need, and follow all the available learning resources to become proficient with simulation (for beginners) and with SimScale (for engineers already using traditional software).

What is holding engineers back from using cloud tools, then?

With so many advantages of cloud-based solutions, it is quite hard to tell what is holding everyone back from making the shift, isn’t it?

Well, not really. On-premises CAD and CAE software solutions have been used for more than 50 years. They are included in product design and development processes or in academic curriculums, and they have practically become the industry standard. The transition to cloud solutions will not be easy and will depend on the company’s processes. For small and medium-sized companies it’s easier, we are already seeing the change and especially the engineering services companies are the drivers of the transition.

What about Security?

The biggest concern engineers mentioned in moving to the cloud is security. And we encourage them to make an assessment of the security measures of the cloud-based solution they are considering to use, whether it is a CAD, CAE, or 3D printing platform.

cloud encryption

But the end, as our colleague Cristian Klein put it, “achieving a perfectly secure computer and keeping the bad guys out is quite easy: simply unplug the Internet connection and never insert any USB sticks or other devices. ” No solution, even the on-premises ones, are unbreakable. But if your cloud tool provider is taking the security of your data seriously, you should be fine.

As for SimScale, we have 2 full-time employees working round the clock to ensure the platform is secure. They are responsible for following security bulletins, applying security software updates, reviewing permissions, rotating access keys, etc. Another full-time employee regularly reviews the architecture of the platform to ensure that, even in the unlikely event of a breach, attackers would not get any useful data. You can learn more about how we encrypt the data on this dedicated page.

Conclusion

It cannot be denied that software is going through a transformation phase. Experts are constantly talking about it, software providers are releasing cloud versions, users ask for accessibility and collaboration options and the Internet seems to take part in everything. With these trends, one can conclude that the future of product design is in cloud computing and SaaS solutions.

It already started a few years ago,  when SimScale launched world’s first cloud-based CAE platform and Onshape – the first cloud-based CAD tool.

What’s next? It’s up to you. But in the meantime, you can give them a try for free!


[1] engineering.com, Roopinder Tara, “Be Warned, the CAE World is about to Shift“,

[2] gartner.com, Marc Halpern

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