Gemma Church talks to engineering simulation company Altair about how Computer Aided Engineering has become mainstream
Altair serves more than 5,000 corporate clients across broad industry segments, including the automotive, aerospace and rail industries as well as architecture, life science, consumer products, electronics, energy, heavy industry, and the marine and offshore industries.
It offers a broad range of services to these clients, including product development, industrial design, workflow automation and even staffing services, to supply engineering and IT resources to companies with a skills gap.
But Altair remains focused on the development and application of simulation technology, including its HyperWorks software suite, which is used to synthesise and optimise designs, processes, and decisions to improve its clients’ business performance. The company also offers engineering services to implement these technologies broadly throughout all industries.
According to Dr Detlef Schneider, senior vice president EMEA at Altair, Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) applications have shifted from niche tech to mainstream staple. He told Scientific Computing World: ‘Different industries have different requirements, but all of them are striving to develop better products faster. In addition to that, many companies have also tried to consolidate their investment in CAE software and to reduce the number of software vendors they work with.
‘Therefore it becomes increasingly important to offer a broad portfolio that can cover the simulation needs of the engineering community from one vendor,’ Schneider added.
The shift of CAE applications from niche products to broadly-used engineering solutions has meant the technology is now used earlier in the design phase.
Previously, CAE was employed rather late in the development process, as a final check of a design before building a prototype.
Schneider said: ‘The use of CAE has now been frontloaded and the tools are applied very early – even as a driver of the design process.’
This method of CAE use very early in the process, before a CAD model exists, is called ‘simulation-driven design’. It enables engineers to optimise their products and to make important design decisions a lot earlier, helping them to save development time and money.
Previously, when using CAE applications, companies have often employed specialised single products for each application case. Now, customers are demanding a broader set up, through an entire CAE suite of products, according to Altair.
‘Those product families include more than just one application area and therefore enable multi-disciplinary simulation and optimisation, as well as multiphysics simulation,’ Schneider added.
This broad user base means the CAE software has had to change to meet customer demands and expectations. A convenient and intuitive user interface is a ‘must’ to make different applications accessible to a broader user base. Easier, semi-automated processes are also required to open simulation to other non-specialist users in the concept phase, according to Altair.
This is no mean feat, and Altair has constantly had to reinvent itself to find new ways to help customers. A good example is optimising the user experience (UX) of its highly technical software. Schneider said: ‘Because of the evolution in UX and the rise of a new generation of users, we reached a point where we needed to go back to the drawing board and redesign our products interface, leveraging the functionalities developed over the years but making them available in an easier, more natural fashion.’
This trend for broader CAE applications and a more generic user based shows no signs of slowing over the coming years, as Schneider added: ‘[Over the next five years] access to CAE solutions will become easier and more affordable and engineering technologies will see a growth in usage.
‘The modelling processes will be more automated and the single disciplines will merge into multi-disciplinary, optimisation-driven solutions.’
Licences as currency
Altair also offers a flexible licensing system for the use of its products. As such, its customers can buy an annual subscription to access a pool of HyperWorks Units (HWUs) and use Altair products and third party software.
These HWUs are like currency – every HyperWorks application draws on the resources of a certain number of units when a user begins working with the software. The HWUs are then returned to the pool when the application is shut down.
The end users can access as many products from the HyperWorks suite as they need concurrently, until they exceed the total quantity of units in the pool.
Altair has also opened this licensing system to third party vendors through the Altair Partner Alliance (APA). The customers who participate in the programme can use their existing pool of units for both HyperWorks and participating partner products.
This helps the customers to reduce the number of vendors they have to work with, and to consolidate software costs.
Altair will continue to grow and answer its customer’s needs by broadening its solution portfolio and democratising the use of CAE and HPC, according to Schneider.
He concluded: ‘There will be an even more closer relationship between Altair and its customers, where Altair will be not only a software and service provider, but an even closer development partner.’