Best FREE Simulation Packages for Students
Phillip Keane posted on March 09, 2018 |

Being an engineering student is tough. Not only do we have the stresses of exams and assignments to contend with, but many of us are broke for the most part, meaning we can’t afford to drop several thousand dollars on engineering software licenses.

Well, fret no more, because, in this article, we are going to take a look at what free software packages you can get your mitts on. Yes, I said free. Although we have covered student versions on ENGINEERING.com in articles before, it should be pointed out that not all student versions are free (I’m looking at you, SOLIDWORKS). So this article will focus on completely free simulation software.

There are a few different options to getting your hands on free legal software (no BitTorrent required here), ranging from open-source simulation packages to fully functional student editions of mainstream simulation software from the big CAE companies—and all you need is a student email address! Awesome.

And I have put the direct links to the actual student download page for each software package in the article body so you can just click them and get what you want. No need to search!

So let’s get started and see how you can get simulating for free!

ANSYS

Let’s start with the big guns. While you may get some limited teaching of ANSYS in your classes, the likelihood is that you will be shown the basics before being left to fend for yourselves when it comes to project work.

It makes sense to have a copy of ANSYS on your home computer so you can teach yourself at your own leisure. ANSYS is a valuable thing to have on your CV too—employers love it. So that’s why it is first on the list.

Discovery Live. (Image courtesy of Ansys.)
Discovery Live. (Image courtesy of Ansys.)

Just recently, ANSYS released ANSYS 19, the latest version of its simulation platform. The good news is there’s a student version of ANSYS 19, dubbed ANSYS Student 19, and it includes student versions of ANSYS Mechanical, ANSYS CFD, ANSYS Autodyn, ANSYS SpaceClaim, ANSYS Fluent and ANSYS DesignXplorer. There is even a student tech preview version of ANSYS Discovery available.

The student version is limited to 32K nodes/elements for the structural physics part and 512K cells/nodes for fluid simulations. Also, the electromagnetics suite is not available as part of the student version.

You can obtain a copy of ANSYS Student 19 here.

MSC Software

MSC Software is really the daddy of finite element analysis (FEA), being the first commercial vendor of the NASTRAN platform, way back when.

So the good news is that you can get a copy of MSC Software solutions for a range of simulation needs, including FEA, acoustics and materials, all for absolutely free (if you are a student)!

Just sign up at the MSC website, and you can receive free versions of MSC Apex, Adams, MSC Nastran with Patran, Marc, Actran and Digimat.

There are various limitations to the student editions, such as a 50,000 node limit on MSC Apex.

Autodesk

Autodesk has always been very pro-student in terms of its offerings, so sure enough, you can obtain 100 percent free student versions of your favorite Autodesk simulation products. These include Inventor, Flow Design, Helius Composite, Moldflow Advisor Ultimate and Fusion360. Indeed, you can get student copies of pretty much all of the Autodesk software, simulation or otherwise. Take a look at the full list.

Inventor and Fusion360 are mainly CAD programs but they both contain FEA tools, and Fusion360 even allows you to perform your simulations on the cloud. I very highly recommend it.

The limitations vary depending on which package you are using, but as an example, Fusion360 and Moldflow both give you a single three-year license if you are a student.

HyperWorks

Next up is HyperWorks from simulation giant Altair. HyperWorks 2017 Student Edition is based on integrated HyperWorks Desktop Framework and supports the RADIOSS, OptiStruct, and AcuSolve
FEM formats. RADIOSS and OptiStruct are limited to 100,000 nodes, AcuSolve CFD models are limited to 500,000 nodes and multibody simulations are restricted to 200 bodies in the student version. Oh, and you can't get the student version if you live in North Korea, Syria or Iraq.
Sorry, Kim! You can get your student edition of HyperWorks at this link.

Femap

The final offering from the big CAE houses is Femap, from Siemens. Femap is recognized as the world's leading CAD-independent Windows-native pre- and post- processor for advanced engineering finite element analysis. Siemens have just released their latest version of Femap Student Edition and it comes with NX Nastran as well. Best of all, the Femap Student Edition licence never expires! You can download it from this website.

SimScale

We have covered SimScale in a previous article. But just to recap, SimScale offers a variety of CAE solutions such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD), FEA and thermal simulation, all of which can be run on the cloud and inside of your browser. All you have to do is sign up on its website and join the “community” pricing plan and you’ll get access to the cloud-based simulation platform as well as a bunch of blogs, tutorials and other community features.

Racecar aerodynamics. (Image courtesy of SimScale.)
Racecar aerodynamics. (Image courtesy of SimScale.)

VisualFEA

VisualFEA is a fully fledged FEA platform that allows users to perform a variety of structural analyses ranging from the usual linear static/nonlinear dynamic to heat transfer and seepage. And the software allows coupled simulations too, so if you want to combine structure with heat conduction or structure with seepage, then you can do so with no worries.

Nodes … where we’re going, we won’t need nodes. (Image courtesy of VisualFEA.)
Nodes … where we’re going, we won’t need nodes. (Image courtesy of VisualFEA.)

You can check out the free version over at the download page.

The free version is limited to 1,000 nodes and a time limitation.

OpenFOAM

OpenFOAM is completely open-source and totally FREE CFD software that’s been developed by OpenCFD LTD since 2004.OpenFOAM is feature laden with tools that wili help with a range of simulation tasks, including fluid flow, chemical reactions, heat transfer and even electromagnetics and solid mechanics. So apparently it’s much more than just a CFD platform.

You can get your free software at the download page, and you’ll be pleased to hear that the software is updated every six months with fixes and suggestions from the community.

simFlow

If you love the capabilities of OpenFOAM but find it a bit of a headache, then you can get this more user-friendly variant based on OpenFOAM code and libraries. simFLOW takes all the goodness of OpenFOAM and packages it into a nicer GUI.

With simFLOW, students can run simulations on compressible and incompressible fluid flows, turbulent flows, heat transfer, multiphase flows, cavitation and chemical reactions.

In addition, simFLOW has some nice aerodynamic tools that allow users to simulate both internal and external flows for help determining velocities, pressure changes and lift/drag forces.

The free version is limited to 10,000 nodes and a maximum of two parallel computational processes. You can get your free copy here.

NUMECA

NUMECA offers a range of simulation solutions ranging from multiphysics to aerodynamics packages.

The 100 percent free student license gives you access to the FINE/Open with OpenLabs Flow Integrated Environment, which includes: FINE/Open solver, HEXPRESS, IGG, Multiphysics, Modal and Flutter Analysis and CFView.

The free one-year student license is nonrenewable, so make the most of it while you have it. You can sign up for your free NUMECA license here.

Flowsquare

Flowsquare is a two-dimensional CFD software for unsteady, nonreactive/reactive flows.

Don’t let the 2D-only capability of this software put you off. You’re students! Much of your early work will focus on 2D problems. So it’s nice to have a free software package to help illustrate those problems you may be solving.

Just draw your model in MicrosoftPaint. (Image courtesy of Flowsquare.)
Just draw your model in Microsoft Paint. (Image courtesy of Flowsquare.)

Another nice feature of Flowsquare is that you don’t need any CAD skills to operate it. You simply draw your body in Microsoft Paint, or some other basic graphics package and import the bitmap into Flowsquare.

So while Flowsquare is absolutely not the most advanced CFD package in this list, the combination of 2D simulation along with easy model creation makes it ideal for freshmen engineering students.

You can get Flowsquare at here.

So there you have it—you don’t have to spend a single penny to obtain any of these software packages. But as a side note, most of these licenses are intended for personal, noncommercial use, so they are great as learning tools or for school projects, but if you want to make money from them, you should consider ponying up for the full versions.

Are there any other free CAE simulation packages that I missed? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.


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