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Why the Future of Product Design is in the Cloud – CAD and CAE

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 platform that runs in a web browser and can be accessed by anyone using an ordinary desktop or laptop computer.

The cloud is playing a crucial role in the overall democratization of CAE, by removing two out of the three main obstacles to making simulation technology accessible to more engineers. Specifically, 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 open access to training content and simulation templates.

Let’s consider the solutions to these problems in detail.

Cost of Software and Hardware for Product Development

As previously 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. The advantage of cloud-based solutions is that users have access to state-of-the-art computational power even when using a $300 laptop.

The struggle associated with buying several licenses for different simulation packages or products—common with simulation software like ANSYS or SolidWorks—no longer exists with cloud-based solutions. The latter typically come with a monthly or yearly subscription that gives access to all of the product’s features. There is no longer a requirement for separate licenses for each module such as “Fluids”, “Structures” or “Thermal Analysis”.

The access to all features is not the only advantage of subscription-based payment. Maybe the most important benefit is actually flexibility. In product design, it is very common to have a need for CAD or CAE software for a specific time period, and thereafter it is not used for several months or even a year. Let’s use the example of an engineering services provider that specializes in both Fluid Dynamics and Solid Mechanics. In January, the firm closes a deal with a client and purchases a “Fluid Flow Analysis” package because this is the application required. The results are delivered in February and in the same month, two new clients are interested in Structural Analysis. Thus it becomes necessary to buy another license for this feature. The rest of the year there are only new projects focusing on Structural Mechanics, consequently, the one for CFD analysis is no longer used, but was paid for.

This is, of course, not the worst case scenario. There could be a requirement for another feature or different industry-focused packages (for HVAC or Electronics, for example). And what if the company was recently founded and the hardware not yet bought? How many clients are needed to ensure the amortization of a $30k or $50k investment? And how long will it take?

The same problem can be for a product manufacturer that has the design in-house. It is possible that the company works a new product for one year, invests in the hardware and software, but subsequently has the need to create a new version of the product three or four years later. Was it worth the investment? In some cases it was, but in most cases 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 to 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 CAE (computer-aided engineering). 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 users can go back to Onshape and modify the design until they get the best version. This is SimScale’s mission—empowering engineers, designers, and scientists around the world to develop the best product they possibly can, by giving them easy access to simulation technology.

The Training or Expertise Barrier in CAE

We covered the first two common problems in the CAE and CAD field. What about the third? In CAD, there are already many designers with experience in using the dedicated tools, whereas 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. Furthermore, 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 who will be in charge of the simulations. This takes away from team collaboration and agile product development.

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 be easily 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, and 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, and 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 over 20,000 simulation projects that everyone has access to. SimScale engineers and our community of 100,000 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 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, the forum provides a platform for vastly comprehensive knowledge sharing between engineers. If you have a question, it is possible to just post it on the forum and in a few hours, an answer will be surely given.

It has been said that one of the disadvantages of cloud solutions is the lack of support. SimScale doesn’t entertain this downside. Besides the support team employed only to ensure our users’ success, the forum ensures that 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 get started as fast as possible. We believe that with enough time dedicated to learning and ambition, everybody can use the SimScale simulation platform, whether they have an engineering background or not. 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 the tutorials to understand the basics and depending on their industry, watch the recordings of webinars and workshops available on the website for free. Every step of the way, the documentation is available to provide answers.

4. Support

Customers who subscribe to the Professional account also get a 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-effectively.” This is the reason behind the Community Plan, released in December  2015, to give access to 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 on-premises simulation software).

What is Holding Engineers Back From Using Cloud-Based Tools?

With so many advantages of cloud-based solutions, it seems quite hard to discern what is holding everyone back from making the shift.

Well, it is 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-based solutions will not be easy and will depend on the company’s processes. For small and medium-sized firms it’s easier, we are already seeing the change and especially the engineering services companies who represent the drivers of the transition.

What about Security?

The biggest concern engineers mentioned in moving to the cloud is security. We encourage designers and engineers to assess the security measures of the cloud-based solution they are considering, whether it is a CAD, a CAE, or a 3D printing platform.

cloud encryption

Ultimately, as our colleague Cristian Klein put it in his article about SaaS providers, “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, is unbreakable. It depends on if the cloud tool provider is taking the security of users’ data seriously, or not.

At SimScale, there are two full-time employees working around the clock to ensure the platform is secure. They are responsible for following security bulletins, applying security software updates, reviewing permissions, and rotating access keys. Another full-time employee regularly reviews the architecture of the platform to ensure that, even in the unlikely event of a breach, attackers cannot obtain any useful data. You can learn more about how we encrypt the data on this dedicated page.

Conclusion: The Future of Product Design

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 the 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 SimScale a try for free!


References

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

2. gartner.com, Marc Halpern

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