ANSYS Promises to Make 3D Simulation Interactive, an Industry First
Shawn Wasserman posted on September 07, 2017 | 4275 views
Simulation updates near-instantly as the geometry is changed. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

Simulation updates near-instantly as the geometry is changed. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

The simulation world, as we know it, is about to be “forever changed,” promises ANSYS in a teaser video. Product designers will be able to see instantaneous stresses in a part or visualize flow around it while they are designing.

Discovery Live, due out later this year, will let you change the geometry and see the effect immediately. You do not issue a “send the part for analysis” command. In fact, there are almost no simulation commands whatsoever. Discovery Live is meant to work as a design tool.

A preview of Discovery Live was provided to ENGINEERING.com ahead of the September 7 public beta, and allowed us to ask...

How Is This Possible?

For Discovery Live, ANSYS tossed its traditional solver out the window. They built a new solver that focuses solely on the raw power of graphical-processing units (GPUs), explained Mark Hindsbo, vice president and general manager at ANSYS.

“We have created a massively parallel solver to run natively on GPU,” explained Hindsbo. “We believe it will remove many barriers to make simulation pervasive.”

“Discovery Live flies on gaming machines,” he adds. “I tried it on my son’s computer and it was very smooth. Currently, we have this running on a seven-year-old computer with a new graphics card.”

Geometry control within ANSYS Discovery Live is based on the old SpaceClaim acquisition. In our demo, the software’s control of geometry appeared both fluid and intuitive.

Early Into Design We Go

Discovery Live offers early development cycle simulation support. These simulations offer near-instant, fully 3D results for structural, thermal, modal or fluid dynamics.

“There are three aspects to ANSYS Discover Live that back up the claim of its name,” said Justin Hendrickson, director of product management at ANSYS. “The calculation of the physics is interactive and live. The simulation results being displayed are interactive and live. Finally, the geometry is interactive and live. It doesn’t need post processing and the simulation reacts as fast as you make changes.”

How fast is it? Well, Hindsbo has reported that some of the team’s benchmark simulations have seen a speed boost of 500 to 1000 times. This is thanks to the new numerical methods employed by Discovery Live. More on that later.

Preview of Discovery Live’s UI has a streamlined view aimed at simplicity and easy of use. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

Preview of Discovery Live’s UI has a streamlined view aimed at simplicity and easy of use. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

What truly stands out about Discovery Live, just as much as its speed, is its simplicity. The user interface and philosophy of the software are quite streamlined.

“As soon as you define the inlet and outlet, the simulation starts solving immediately,” said Hendrickson during a live demonstration. “This is a live (not canned) video feed. The results are as fluid as a first-person-shooter videogame.”

To ensure we were not being shown a recorded video, we interrupted the demo with requests for changes. ANSYS cooperated.

Too Good to Be True?

Discover Live does show great promise, but as new technology, it still has some limitations. Currently, Discovery Live does not offer bi-directional multiphysics compatibility. There is no electromagnetic functionality. You can set the results or a distribution to a boundary, but this appears to be more of a manual feature at the moment. In other words, it’s a loosely coupled, one-way multiphysics software.

The speed of the solver screams to coupled with optimization algorithms. However, no generative design- or design space exploration-based optimization tool is incorporated into the current build of Discovery Live.

To get the software to the point where you input only a few boundary conditions and results automatically appear means that ANSYS programmed a lot of assumptions into the code. Many of these assumed inputs—such as materials, environmental variables, flow rates—can all be changed by the user if desired.

“Our fundamental philosophy with Discovery Live is to make assumptions, as solving isn’t expensive anymore. We can change it on the fly,” said Hendrickson.

He has a point. Traditionally, model setup for simulation is time-consuming. Traditional CAE software relies on the user to make all the inputs necessary to define all assumption needed to get the simulation to work right the first time.

Simplicity vs. Accuracy

ANSYS seems to be saying, “Who cares if the initial conditions are off? It’s nice to see the simulation run right away with what you have.” You can change each assumption one at a time and ensure the simulation still runs. This translates to live debugging of your simulation.
ANSYS insists that users don’t have to worry about cleaning up geometry or meshing when working on Discovery Live. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

ANSYS insists that users don’t have to worry about cleaning up geometry or meshing when working on Discovery Live. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

To continue the theme of simplicity, ANSYS boasts that the software no longer needs clean CAD geometry and meshing. Unfortunately, any explanation to how this is possible is currently kept hush, hush and under the hood.

“Sharp points, curvatures, thin objects, overlaps and general ‘dirty CAD’ is not something you should worry about in Discovery Live,” assured Hendrickson.

Hindsbo added, “We don’t use a mesh in a traditional way. We will never show the user the mesh. They can export the geometry into ANSYS Mechanical if they want to be more exact. But, for this early stage tool, we want to show you the direction, not the exact results.”

Hendrickson did note that the tool has a fidelity versus speed trade-off. As a result, some thin features may actually be lost in the cleanup, unless the fidelity is increased by the user controls.

In our demo, increasing the fidelity to catch all of the finer detail did slow down the simulation noticeably, but only by seconds. It seemed minor compared to the process demanded by traditional CAE software.

Sealed for Your Protection?

Can ANSYS Discovery Live perform turbulence simulations? Yes. Will you be told the model being used? No. This limits the results to offering engineers more direction than exact numbers. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

Can ANSYS Discovery Live perform turbulence simulations? Yes. Will you be told the model being used? No. This limits the results to offering engineers more direction than exact numbers. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

Also kept under wraps are the models being used to mimic the simulation physics. This might become a particular issue when dealing with the longstanding debate on turbulence models.

“We will make a lot of CFD analysts angry when we don’t answer the turbulence model question,” admitted Hindsbo. “We are designing a tool for early concept design and are therefore more concerned with showing people the trends. If you are delivering true rocket science, we ask that you use our peak accuracy CFD tools.”

Clearly ANSYS keeps stressing that Discovery Live is not meant to be a validation tool. It is a tool to get the design team on the right path more quickly.

In that sense, the software has done away with the need for parameters, though they may have to appear if optimization capability is added to a future version. Currently, the user can optimize manually -- change a design’s geometry as the simulation runs to see how it will affect the results in real-time.

The thermal chart, on the left, updates as soon as the geometry updates. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

The thermal chart, on the left, updates as soon as the geometry updates. (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

Once the simulation is all set up, engineers can also interactively play with the results in a live setting.

For instance, you can define the software to track a predefined set of variables, or choose a custom graph.

The chart will then appear and automatically update as you change the model.

What Do We Think?

ANSYS Discovery Live shows a lot of potential to bringing new users to Simulation thanks to its ability to display results rapidly so that users can observe trends. However, will it meet the requirements of seasoned engineers? (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

ANSYS Discovery Live shows a lot of potential to bringing new users to Simulation thanks to its ability to display results rapidly so that users can observe trends. However, will it meet the requirements of seasoned engineers? (Image courtesy of ANSYS.)

So, will Discovery Live replace your core simulation platform?

No.

ANSYS consistently denies this intention. The product is aimed at the design team and early development, not validation.

Is ANSYS Discovery Live a disruptor? Not at the moment. But it could be. Given a few more bells and whistles, the software has potential to become a disruptor in the early product development space. Perhaps it’s best to call it conditionally disruptive.

To improve the chances of being a disruptive technology, Discovery Live needs:

  • Fully coupled multiphysics
  • Electromagnetic physics compatibility
  • Optimization algorithms to take full advantage of the technology’s speed
  • Design space exploration and/or generative design algorithms

Furthermore, ANSYS needs to be less tight-lipped about the algorithms and benchmarking behind the tool if they ever hope to convince leaders in the simulation space that their company should invest in the product. This is particularity true when it comes to meshing and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) turbulence models.

Discovery Live uses GPUs and is only usable with NVIDIA-branded cards with CUDA compatibility.

It will only be a matter of time for ANSYS to rectify many, if not all, of these flaws. Certainly, ANSYS’s competition is taking note of the company’s pioneering effort in interactive simulation and we would be surprised if similar products don’t soon follow.

Another general barrier to simulation ANSYS hopes to overcome with Discovery Live is the cost of adoption. First, since the software can run on a midrange gaming computer from Best Buy, it has certainly reduced hardware cost. 

A similar philosophy has been adopted for the pricing of the Discovery Live software. Though no numbers or licensing terms are currently available, ANSYS did note that they want to price it in a range conducive to broad adoption. This suggests a far more affordable cost than traditional engineering software.

With a low price point, blazing fast simulations and a streamlined interface, the tool addresses many, though not all, barriers to Discovery Live becoming the truly disruptive CAE tool it promises to be.

But don’t take our word for it. Test it for yourself via the public beta and let us know in the comments below.


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