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David Heller
David Heller
David Heller is the founder and President and CEO of IBSystems, Inc , MCADCafe's parent company. Always curious and on the look out for 'cool tech' he enjoys thinking outside the box and sharing his discoveries with you.

The 2013 Boston COMSOL Conference: Attendees Get Their Hands On COMSOL’s New Version 4.4 Pre Release

October 17th, 2013 by David Heller

For the ninth consecutive year the COMSOL Conference was held this year in Boston from October 9th through the 11th and will now visit seven countries wrapping up in Tokyo in December after hosting more than 2,000 enthusiastic users.   I visited from California and while driving to the conference I was taken aback by the colorful beauty of New England in the autumn and then, when I arrived, by the highest level of excellence on display at the conference.

New England in the Fall “Sugar maples turn yellow with a tinge of pink. Swamp maples turn red, almost all the shades of red, so that the valleys are like carmine rivers. Birches and aspens turn golden and coppery and white ashes go through that incredible series of colors that range from yellowish-green to blue-tan to greenish-blue to purple, and then bronze, to tan, and to rust.” (Hal Borland)

Let’s simulate that!

I’m always awed by this spectacle of color and I suspect that out of the 330 attendees at this year’s annual COMSOL Conference in Boston more than a few were thinking how they could model and simulate this natural phenomenon using COMSOL Multiphysics. :)

The day started with a keynote by COMSOL CEO Svante Littmarck who introduced the COMSOL Multiphysics 4.4 pre release with all its new features, and I’ll cover these in detail later in this article.  This was followed by three compelling user presentations:

Siddiq Qidwai with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. told us how he uses COMSOL Multiphysics to mitigate structural corrosion which is a formidable challenge both in terms of the cost to the maritime industry and the time and effort required to perform accurate computational modeling. In his talk he described his investigation into the effects of microstructure on corrosion pit growth and its effect on mechanical performance highlighting the technical challenges he faced and then overcame by taking advantage of the numerous options available from an evolving COMSOL library.

Julie Slaughter of Etrema Products in Ames Iowa told us how she uses multiphysics models to design magnetostrictive transducers and how vital to her work COMSOL Multiphysics and these models are.   In her simulations and studies she uses magnetic, mechanical, acoustic, thermal single domain models, magnetic, magnetostrictive nonlinear models, and magneto-mechanical linear coupled models at different states of the transducer development cycle from concept to optimization, proof-of concept, and finally to design verification.

Peter Woytowitz of LAM Research in Fremont California wrapped up the keynotes by sharing how LAM uses COMSOL Multiphysics in semiconductor fabrication. Peter showed  how computational modeling  is being applied to wafer fabrication equipment, IC device modeling that includes solid, fluid, electrical and plasma modeling, to enable progressively higher transistor densities, better architectures, reliability and speed. He also took a look into the future where molecular dynamics and quantum chemistry modeling will play an increasing role.

All attendees were able to download this release to see and learn about the new features for themselves.  They then had the opportunity to attend one or more of the conference’s thirty mini courses, each focused on a specific simulation challenge, to sharpen their skills and then to apply this new found knowledge to their work.

Community is Key

Community and sharing is a major part of the conference and in the exhibit and display room I was surrounded by a dedicated community, connecting and sharing.  These professionals came to the COMSOL Conference to sharpen their simulation skills, pick up new modeling tools, and to learn from colleagues who face similar simulation challenges, and they were really making the most of it.

What piqued my interest were posters mounted on panels throughout the room.  Seventy-four user-created poster info-graphics were on display at the conference and each poster showed how each person or organization used COMSOL Multiphysics to simulate, study and solve a wide range of engineering challenges, including some very esoteric and interesting applications like the flow around a flying saucer micro air vehicle, and how human brain electrical conductivity relates to epilepsy.

Each poster contributor was more than happy to explain their work, and these simulation devotes also created and presented one or more of the 178 presentations and 104 papers given at the conference.

When this Conference series concludes in December COMSOL will combine all the user presentations and put them online for a few years.  You can go to their site  now and peruse this growing resource of past user presentations and papers.  COMOL’s done an excellent job of organizing the material so you’ll get to the study you’re looking for fast.


There were also seventeen exhibitors on hand; the bulk of them certified COMSOL consultants who help users get the most out of the software along with companies including Mathworks MATLAB, SpaceClaim and Simpleware.     MathWorks (MATLAB) and SpaceClaim demonstrated their software with LiveLink® bidirectional data transfer between COMSOL Multiphysics, while Simpleware showed their tool and how they import analysis-ready meshes directly into COMSOL Multiphysics.

COMSOL hasn’t yet released a video that explains all the features offered in the new version 4.4 pre-release.   However, I’m presenting below their most current video that covers their previous 4.3b release and describes the many new innovations added to COMSOL Multiphysics over the past year.

Six New Add-On Modules Provide More Functionality

It all starts with COMSOL Multiphysics that includes the desktop graphical user interface and core physics interfaces for mechanical, electrical, fluid and chemical applications.  You can then augment and drill down into each of these areas with add-on products that offer specialized physics interfaces, dedicated models, solver technology and post processing tools aimed at specific application areas, and that are all compatible with each other making it easy to mix different physics together.

Since last year, six new add-on products have been added to the required core COMSOL Multiphysics interface   including ones for Wave Optics, Semiconductors, Multibody Dynamics, Microfluidics, Molecular Flow, and Electrochemistry.   And, with the 4.4 release, COMSOL has also introduced their new Mixer add-on module that I’ll also cover in this article.

Meet COMSOL’s new Version 4.4
 Intuitive ergonomics at its finest!

The COMSOL Multiphysics user interface has been completely reworked and improved in v4.4 and now sports a ‘Windows’ style ribbon menu at the top of the GUI.  The ribbon gives you an instant overview without having to drill down, making your experience more intuitive and reducing clicks to show options so you can spend more time focusing on the work at hand and less time having to think about how to use the interface. 

You can also customize the COMSOL Multiphysics interface by docking content holders or allowing them to float.  This flexibility allows you to arrange your workspace to meet your style, and can also come in very handy if you are using two monitors.  In this case you could have a model running in a CAD package that’s connected with LiveLink® to COMSOL displayed next to the simulation representation on one screen, and have the COMSOL Multiphysics controls and adjustments displayed on the other.

With 4.4 you can also build your own complex geometric primitives that you can save and recall as needed, in effect building your own library of entities that can be assembled together to create  customized subsystems and systems.

COMSOL Multiphysics 4.4 is also a very powerful mesh creation tool, and if you create your mesh in COMSOL you’re now able to export it in NASTRAN format.

The people at COMSOL are always thinking of ways to save their customers’ time while delivering the accuracy that they need, and the new multiphysics node with its new ribbon and new GUI are definitely a major step in that direction.

The New Mixer Module

In addition to the GUI upgrade, the six new add-on modules and the new 4.4 features, COMSOL has just released a Mixer Module that can be applied across many industries including pharmaceuticals, the food industry, cosmetics’, chemistry, and the list goes on.    With this new package you’ll be able to optimize the blade shape taking into consideration velocity to see if any unwanted chemical reactions occur and then control this across all degrees of the mixing process.

You’ll also be able to study interactions when different fluids are mixed, and you’ll be able to predict and design to prevent liquid overflow. You can also control blade speed in applications where you don’t want to run the blade too fast during a timed duration for fear of breaking down a substances molecular structure.

Adding this new tool to your design toolkit allows you to measure, control and accurately design every aspect of a mixing process.

For a look into the near future I learned that COMSOL is now implementing couplings where heat transfer is of essence. This is a work in progress and coming releases will offer more pre-defined couplings under the multiphysics node.

Not familiar with COMSOL Multiphysics, but would like to learn?

If you’re not familiar with COMSOL Multiphysics, but would like to learn, COMSOL conducts regular training workshops across the country offering three hours of instruction free of charge.  You’ll get an introduction to COMSOL, the company and its software.  Then you get to try out COMSOL Multiphysics for yourself and you also walk out the door with a free trial version.  But, before you leave, the workshop instructor will take you through some exercises to get you started.   You can also bring in your example and the workshop team will evaluate it and recommend source material you can use to learn how to tackle this specific challenge using your trial software.  Just click to learn when there’ll be a workshop near you.

I’ll be attending some workshops here in Silicon Valley, and if you’re going to attend one please let me know, I’d like to meet you and share your experience with the growing COMSOL community and with the world!

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