What Would Engineers Want to Know About COMSOL 5.2?
Shawn Wasserman posted on October 23, 2015 |


Most of the improvements in COMSOL Multiphysics 5.2 (COMSOL 5.2) focus on an easier user experience to convert multiphysics models into simulations apps.

For example, the new release includes a new app editor tool, graphical updates for running apps and more control over what the apps can do. Additionally, COMSOL explains that launching apps through the COMSOL Server will be significantly faster.

Bjorn Sjodin, vice president of product management at COMSOL, said, “The application builder was introduced in version 5.0 and has undergone a fast evolution in 5.1 and 5.2. It’s now quickly a very mature tool together with COMSOL multiphysics to make simulation apps.”

The improvements to COMSOL 5.2 aren’t limited to the app builder or the COMSOL Server. Engineers will now be able to use annotations in their plots, custom non-linear material definitions through C code and a new mesher. Regardless, much of these improvements are more evolutionary than revolutionary, so don’t expect any new COMSOL products in this release.

Application Builder Efficiency Boost

“In 5.2, we have introduced a number of tools to make the app builder quicker and easier to build the apps,” explained Sjodin. “We have one tree tool called editor tools, which allows you to quickly create a composite interface components to create advanced and user-friendly apps.”

In other words, the editor tools is a list of input and output displays that an engineer can use to easily add functionality to their applications. The editor tool can add any model parameter, physics setting or plot from the raw simulation model into the application.

“In previous releases,” explained Sjodin, “you needed to work a little harder to build apps. Now, with a few clicks, you can make fairly sophisticated apps.”

“Apps shield users from complex parts of the simulation. Only a few parameters are exposed,” said Sjodin. As a result, making it easier to build the applications gives the engineer more time to focus on ensuring the application is bug proof and foolproof.

It is worth noting that the app builder is still only available to Windows users. This is due to the fact that the COMSOL application system uses the Microsoft .NET framework to operate.

Another key improvement to COMSOL applications is the ability to update graphical displays as the application is running. “In COMSOL multiphysics we have a function, called ‘plot while solving.’ It’s used by engineers to monitor convergence when something solves,” said Sjodin. Engineers can now ensure that application users can see the evolving solution as the app is running so that they doesn’t waste time on a simulation that isn’t working to their liking.

COMSOL Server and Improved User Licensing Experience

Sjodin explained that an “app will launch up to three to five times faster than before on the COMSOL Server due to new caching technology.”

To be exact, the server will note which apps have been selected often or selected recently and cache the information to ensure they launch faster during their next use.

Additionally, administrators on the COMSOL Server will be able to limit which apps a user will have access to. In fact, when users are limited to one app, it will launch automatically when they sign on to the server, further speeding up the process.

However, COMSOL suggests that you don’t install your COMSOL Server on the Amazon Cloud Service. At this time they have been experiencing speed issues with the service due to firewall issues. They suggest that you run it on your own system.

The new release also helps engineers get a better idea about designing their own applications, thanks to an extended library of more than 50 apps on the COMSOL Server. Various simulation apps, from water treatment to MEMS sensors, are included in the library. All of the apps are editable so they can be used as a starting point for personalized applications.

The release of COMSOL 5.2 also solves a significant user licensing issue with respect to COMSOL 5.1 and 5.0.

“In 5.1 and 5.0, if you lost your connection to the application you were running, you lost your work,” explained Sjodin. “Fortunately, in 5.2, you can reconnect. It will show up on your screen when you log into the COMSOL Server and you will be asked if you want to reconnect to the app you were running. This is a much more user-friendly experience than before. If you lose a connection to your license, you will also get a question prompt to ask you to save your work.”

The COMSOL Server will be at a price much lower than the price for COMSOL Multiphysics. This allows many users to access the power of simulation apps without needing the full COMSOL editor package. This is ideal for consultants who want to ensure that their clients have access to the apps they have made for them. However, there is some confusion as to how a consultant should monetize the apps they build for their clients. COMSOL recommends that you check your license agreement before you change your client on a per-use basis.

User Defined Non-Linear Materials Is a User Favorite

Perhaps the most favorite addition to COMSOL 5.2 by the user base is the ability to define material properties externally using algorithms in C code.

Engineers working with non-linear material should get some good use of this C code. Jeffrey Crompton, principal at AltaSim Technologies, said, “One of the main things that will help us is the ability to put in our own material properties. This will help with structural mechanics and magnetic materials that have hysteresis we couldn’t take into account before, so our results will be a lot more accurate.”

Stuart Brown, managing partner of Veryst Engineering, was also impressed with this ability to import non-linear material models through C code. He said, “The additional ability to get work done more quickly, in particular, the ability to interface with outside subroutines, is an important addition to COMSOL. For us, the ability to add non-linear material models, whether it be structural or magnetic, means that there is greater functionality in terms of simulating complex non-linear problems in a way COMSOL wasn’t able to do previously.”

Udayan Kanade, CEO of Noumenon, agreed. He said, “I’m really looking forward to the materials interface to .dll [files] through C code. That is a nice way to add your own algorithms and material models to COMSOL [and] is something we are looking forward too.”

Kanade explained that, “COMSOL connects to other software like MATLAB and Excel. But once you connect to C you can connect to Fortran, Pascal and other traditional numerical-method software, which will give you great performance that you can’t get connecting to high level software like Excel, for instance.”

However, it should be noted that, currently, COMSOL cannot connect directly with programming languages such as Fortran or Pascal. These connections must be made through your C code. This seems like an added layer of complexity, and I would be surprised to see this limitation continue in future releases.

Other Improvements to COMSOL 5.2

Sjodin also highlighted some other improvements to COMSOL 5.2, including a new annotation feature. He said, “We have an annotation utility in version 5.2 to be used in 2D or 3D plots. You can write in a text or evaluation of variables. This is something users have been asking for some time.”

Unfortunately, the version of COMSOL 5.2 previewed at  COMSOL Conference 2015 doesn’t allow for the use of leaders to point to a spot on the model. The annotation must be right at the spot that is being annotated. This can create very cumbersome models with text covering up the very spot the engineer wishes to point out. COMSOL has noted the issue. As this seems like a quick fix, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it fixed by the time COMSOL 5.2 is released.

Sjodin also mentioned additions to COMSOL 5.2 with respect to meshing. He explained that COMSOL 5.2 has introduced a new tetrahedral meshing algorithm that will reduce the need for manual interactions when meshing large CAD models. Additionally, mesh parts can now be added, integrating STL surface meshes and NASTRAN volumetric meshes into the geometry.

Kyle Koppenhoefer, principal at AltaSim Technologies, was particularly impressed with the meshing improvements. He said “They’ve made some very good additions that will help us as consultants. Particularly around meshing and the ability to get rid of issues with the mesh not matching up with the edges. This is an error we see quite frequently, and apparently they have created a more robust meshing capability, so we hope not to see that error as much in the future.”

Kanade agreed that the new meshing capabilities will be key to his success as a consultant. He said, “Its great how COMSOL is trying to consolidate and fix all the small bugs that are there and improve performance. The solvers and meshers are better. There [are fewer] times that they fail. It’s all great.”

Other improvements to COMSOL 5.2 include:

  • New particle tracing models for particle matter interactions and particle counters
  • Non-linear constitutive relations formulation for magnetic materials
  • Smith plots for RF modules
  • Laminar three-phase flow multiphysics interface
  • Free surface tool and more turbulence support for rotor studies
  • Compressible flow, expansion and contractions in pipes
  • Catalytic particles of different shapes for chemical reaction simulations
  • Corrosion model compatibility with thin beams
  • Contact improvements for curved surfaces and small displacements
  • Heat transfer symmetry plane
  • Acoustic octave and 1/3 octave plots

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