Engineering to Science: “You Complete Me”
Roopinder Tara posted on June 03, 2016 |
“Everything that living things do can be understood in terms of the jiggling and wiggling of atoms.”

the Feynman Lectures, 1963

It was always about science, says Bernard Charles, CEO of Dassault Systèmes to the audience at Science in the Age of Experience recently held in Boston. He has wanted to "get into science" for a long time. Bernard has a PhD in mechanical engineering, but science has always been on his mind. He said of his early days in aerospace engineering, when composite materials were making their debut, that it was really science.

It was always about science, CEO Bernard Charles says the Abaqus conference, now one of Dassault's 3D Experiences.

It was always about science, CEO Bernard Charles says at Dassault Systeme's event in Boston

Still, Dassault Systemes is best known for engineering and design software, including CATIA, ABAQUS, ENOVIA and SOLIDWORKS , software that is used in the creation of planes, trains and automobiles... the non-living, machines.

One analyst who has followed Dassault Systemes for decades wondered out loud if all this talk of science was alienating the ABAQUS users in attendance. Indeed, with the main stage so focused on science, are the attendees wondering if they ended up at the right conference?

But if you have been paying attention to Dassault Systemes over the last few years, the unexpected is to be expected. A frontier map is unfurled, new territory is surveyed, a stronghold is acquired and a conquest is planned.

During the past year or so, Bernard has persuaded Dassault to spend USD$1.2 billion to acquire a collection of companies in the science realm. The main acquisition is Accelrys, bought in 2014 for USD$750 million, making science quite possibly the biggest of all of Dassault Systemes’ various and far-flung initiatives.

 

So Many Industries

Science in the Age of Experience is one of 4 main “3D Experiences” Dassault Systemes is planning:

  • Design in the Age of Experience, April 11-12, Milan, Italy, 400 attendees
  • Manufacturing in the Age of Experience, Shanghai
  • Marketing in the Age of Experience, London

The 3D Experiences are broad categories which house a myriad of acquisitions and technologies. The diversity of resulting products, which ranges from retail shelf design to online brand monitoring and even to mining, with many more far from the core business of design and engineering, have left many analysts and observers scratching their heads.

 

Engineering and Science, More Alike than Different

Bernard’s vision is not to be bound by the limits of traditional engineering. Engineers may have designed on a stage they can see with the naked eye, but Bernard’s vison is at once finer and wider. His building materials are not steel and concrete, but atoms and molecules. 

“Material for purpose, not purpose for a material.”

The world of atoms and molecules is not one where engineers normally work. It is a world that students peek into in the freshman year before the chemistry books are closed forever, or perhaps later if one takes an upper-level course in materials science.

For the most part, engineers are content to work with what they can see or what scientists will make for them. Atoms and molecules are of interest only in their collective behavior, when they become a material, which engineers can see and feel. In fact, our common building materials, such as steel and concrete, were invented without consideration of their molecules.


Dassault's Biovia works with molecules, soon to work with SIMULIA, which works with materials
Dassault's Biovia works with molecules, soon to work with SIMULIA, which works with materials

What if engineers could make their own materials? That is when science and engineering can have a real relationship, even a marriage. New materials can be made because of knowledge of chemistry on a molecular scale and biology on a cellular scale.

But those working at so fine a scale are still working with a blindfold, groping around in the dark. They have been lucky to get down to the cells, genes and the chemical are doing their business. We have been lacking modeling tools that can accurately simulate behavior of at nanoscale, preventing us from working precisely and with understanding.

Figure 1- Bernard Charles, center, flanked by Scott Berkey, CEO of SIMULIA, left, and Max Carnecchia, CEO of BIOVIA. (Image courtesy of DS.)
Figure 1- Bernard Charles, center, flanked by Scott Berkey, CEO of SIMULIA, left, and Max Carnecchia, CEO of BIOVIA. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systemes.)


Compose Yourself

Figure 2- Dr. Pinho discusses carbon composite failure. (Image courtesy of the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London.)
Figure 2- Dr. Pinho discusses carbon composite failure. (Image courtesy of the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London)

One person who has adapted our supersized tools for the nano-world is Dr. Silvestre Pinho. A researcher at Imperial College of London, Dr. Pinho has hacked ABAQUS to understand the molecular behavior in carbon fiber composites that result in failure.

As it turns out, the failure we observe in a failed carbon fiber part is the result of thousands of cracks that erupt at a sub-microscopic level, invisible to the naked eye or even the microscope. These miniscule cracks can rapidly and catastrophically coalesce, jumping layers in a laminate, to create the torn, jagged edges—the final stage of a complex chain of events.

Figure 3- Failure occurring in a carbon fiber composite at a much smaller scale than standard structural materials. Image courtesy of the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London.)
Figure 3- Failure occurring in a carbon fiber composite at a much smaller scale than standard structural materials. Image courtesy of the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London.)

A video zooms in on a sample and we see fiber separation occurring and spreading like fire. Hundreds of little cracks become thousands, then grow until finally layers of peel away to reveal protruding ends of carbon fiber.

By the time you can see cracks, the material is already destroyed—a scary prospect for those riding bikes with carbon fiber parts or in an airplane, where carbon fiber is dearly loved for its lightweighting ability. I can only hope the aircraft mechanics are familiar with Dr. Pinho’s work.

 

ABAQUS Hacked

Dr. Pinho found the best analysis program to use for the nanoscale was actually ABAQUS. While composites can be analyzed on a visible scale by modeling whole fibers and their orientation in the matrix, modeling the constituent molecules was never its intended purpose.

However, ABAQUS can be customized to analyze for molecular behavior. Before Dr. Pinho could safely assure that ABAQUS could work for his research, he correlated results with the industry-leading molecular modeling program, LAMMPS.

 

Cool Science

Gene technology and what is being referred to now as “precision medicine” both operate (pun intended) on a scale that is micro- or sub-microscopic. So great are the advances and so great the potential that there seems to be no limit on the attention and investment it is attracting, making it one of the most lucrative professions in all of science.

Engineering, the building of lifeless big forms, pales next to concepts like gene manipulation, curing cancer one cell at a time, 3D printing living materials and a host of molecular and cellular level advancements that were once left to physicists, medical researchers—or God.

 

How to Handle Trillions of Balls?

The problem of scale may at first seem insurmountable. How is it even possible to model molecules? There are so many of them. Can you really account for atoms and molecules individually when you are building on a human scale?

“If a molecule was the size of a golf ball, a cell is the size of Central Park. You can fit a couple of trillion golf balls in there.”

Reza Sadeghi, BIOVIA chief strategy officer

ABAQUS can’t handle a trillion cell FEA model. Not everyone has a Cray. You need a trick, said Sadeghi when asked how programs like ABAQUS could even handle molecules. “We use Fast Fourier Transforms (FFT),” Sadeghi said.

 

Executive Q&A

Bernard Charles, CEO of Dassault Systemes, sat under a banner proclaiming his vision: “Dassault Systèmes provides business and people with 3DEXPERIENCE universes to imagine sustainable innovations capable of harmonizing product, nature and life.”

But what of CATIA, asked an CAD industry veteran. Will it be forgotten?

Bernard assured us that it is not so. You see, CATIA will always be there. CATIA was not always to design airplanes. CATIA is a design tool for design of many things, he said with a smile. Airplanes were a sideline. We needed to be able to make something, make money.

For Bernard, it seems the airplane was only the means to get to other worlds.

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