June 30, 2003
High-Powered Users Demand More from Analysis and Simulation Tools by Ira Breskin
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High-Powered Users Demand More from Analysis and Simulation Tools

by Ira Breskin

Big users of finite element analysis software are demanding that vendors help them more quickly and efficiently design increasingly complex products.

That's the predominant theme that emerged after discussions with users at Daratech Inc.'s Digital Product Simulation conference near Detroit last week, said Bruce Jenkins, the consulting firm's executive vice president. The goal "is to pull the use of the tools forward to leverage simulation to test products as soon is feasible," Jenkins said during a telephone interview on Tuesday.

To do so, customers want vendors to make the tools easier to use or more intuitive by offering features such as "wizards," without introducing commensurate performance penalties. Why? Because this will generate wider uptake and acceptance of the software beyond core users, generally concentrated in design engineering departments, Jenkins said.

However, the bigger goal: "help the serious user better understand the complexity in order to meet project objectives." This, in turn, will help users make a stronger case to management to justify the cost of buying and installing this specialized software.

Using the software ultimately allows designers to replace costly and time consuming physical tests with quicker and cheaper data analysis, directly addressing top management's costs reduction and quicker time to market mandate. An added benefit: quicker analysis gives engineers more time to consider design options throughout the product development cycle.

Moreover, vendors ideally will seize on users. calls for increased after sales service and support and move "from technical marketing to business case marketing," Jenkins aid.

Specifically users want help in determining how to optimally transfer these powerful tools throughout their organization and track the resulting workflow to ensure that resulting analysis data are used in a design feedback loop.

"Ideally, vendors will provide more analysis so more engineers can get involved in computer-aided engineering," Jenkins said.

That scenario assumes that users can readily share simulation data that they can correlate with physical test results, still a significant challenge. Also high on users. wish list is the ability to correlate electronic and electro-mechanical simulation data, according to Jenkins.

Moreover, users continue to request dedicated product data management software for CAE data. Given the difficulty tied to managing this data by addressing its unique structure, as well as providing underlying workflow, traditional PDM vendors haven't taken up this challenge, according to Jenkins.

However, FEA vendors such as Ansys Inc., LMS International and MSC Software recently have stepped to the plate to address the concerns of this niche market, one that they know well. Their solution: so-called simulation data management packages.

Finally, users continue to call for CAE middleware that will help transfer analysis data between CAE engines, or solvers. The need for such a tool emphasizes the fact that discrete solvers tend to address specific design areas such a noise, vibration and hardness or computation fluid dynamics, for example.

However, several vendors, including LMS International, recently have introduced process integration and design optimization tools designed to foster sharing of solver-specific data, according to Jenkins.

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Ira Breskin, a freelance editor/writer specializing in business and technology issues, is a frequent contributor to Business Week, Newsday, and the New York Times. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University and a Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism, Columbia University Business School. He may be reached at

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