Is the Future of All Engineering Simulation in the Cloud?
Jeffrey Rowe posted on January 30, 2019 |

Although cloud-based engineering software applications are really nothing new anymore, there has been a definite uptick in what’s available online over the past couple of years. For example, there are cloud-based systems for computer-aided design (CAD), rendering/visualization, product data management (PDM), product lifecycle management (PLM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution systems (MES) and simulation.

Specifically, simulation is a natural fit as a cloud-based application because it can be computationally intense, requiring a lot of computing horsepower. Instead of incurring the cost and burden of expensive desktop workstations doing the heavy lifting, for an increasing number of organizations, cloud-based simulation makes a lot more sense. 

SimScalesimulation of wind loads on high-rise buildings in LOHAS Park in Hong Kong. (Image courtesy of SimScale.)
SimScale simulation of wind loads on high-rise buildings in LOHAS Park in Hong Kong. (Image courtesy of SimScale.)

Some of the more innovative takes on cloud-based simulation are offered by SimScale, a company that provides modules for computational fluid dynamics (CFD), finite element analysis (FEA) and thermal simulation.

The backend of the SimScale cloud-based simulation platform uses open source codes:

  • The FEA module uses primarily Code_Aster, which provides linear and nonlinear static/dynamic structural analysis.
  • The CFD module uses OpenFOAM for fluid flow simulations with steady state and transient analysis.
  • The Thermal module uses OpenFOAM for convective and conjugate heat transfer problems, and Code_Aster for conductive heat transfer and thermo-structural analyses. 

How It All Began

From the outset, SimScale was intended to be a cloud-based simulation offering. According to SimScale’s CEO, David Heiny, “SimScale started off as an engineering services provider. One of the things that attracted us to the cloud was the fact that we didn’t have a lot of budget for computing hardware, so we basically built a small simulation tool stack in Amazon Web Services (AWS) that grew ever more powerful and capable over time. We discovered that the benefits go beyond just computing power but also seamless collaboration, new ways of leveraging simulation data and more.”

SimScale considers the advantages of cloud-based simulation services to be scalability, reliability and security. 

As for open source solvers, Heiny said that some of SimScale’s founders had background and experience with open source, so they brought in finite element solvers that were open source, which still continue to be used today. There are already the first proprietary closed source solvers in SimScale’s software stack and the company intends to build more technology partnerships, facilitating more capabilities on the platform.

The Current State of Cloud-Based Simulation at SimScale

When asked what is SimScale’s biggest competitor and how it differentiates itself, Heiny said, “I think the biggest competitor in our space is not simulating at all. The biggest portion of our business, of our new revenue, comes from organizations that haven't been using simulation before. As we grew, we also started seeing more and more replacement sales as well and we do expect this to grow further.”

“As for differentiators, I think there are three things. What really sets us apart is our end-to-end web-based approach. From our perspective, such an approach creates a lot of value since it minimizes data transfer, parallelizes simulation workloads and fosters real-time collaboration. Second, with SimScale, customers are getting accurate, reliable simulation results without any of the barriers, any of the hassles, you have with a traditional desktop simulation software. Third, zero software, zero hardware footprint. There is nothing to administer. Literally within a minute you have your first design and you can start setting up a simulation.”

“We have an error reporting system in SimScale. Because everything runs in real time, we can send alerts if something went wrong. If you opted in, a simulation specialist will reach out to you and try to help you to resolve problems. We can use these insights to iterate faster on product development and make simulations more robust. So, all of them sort of play into this support piece, which is the fourth differentiator.” 

SimScale is getting into the architectural simulation market beyond its historical mechanical manufacturing roots. Heiny reasoned, “Because civil engineers move from project to project, an on-demand simulation service is ideal for them. That’s coincided with a trend such as energy efficiency. HVAC systems are being simulated more often, which coincides with a lot of construction work and building design in the Middle East, where we do a lot of business. AEC [architecture, engineering and construction] is becoming a really important vertical for us and is among the fastest growing verticals for SimScale right now.”

“Building energy efficiency and sustainability coming front and center are some of the main reasons that architects and civil engineers are open to new design methods that include simulation. In particular, CFD [computational fluid dynamics] is important for simulating exterior wind loads, interior comfort levels, HVAC and pedestrian experience with air flow around buildings. I think that simulation is becoming a more accepted practice in AEC because unlike mechanical products, where things can be prototyped, redesigned and reworked, once a building is built, it’s done. So, you only have one chance to get it right.”

Some of SimScale’s customers that represent AEC and civil engineering include ARUP, WSP, Aqseptence Group, Thornton Tomasetti and L&T. 

New Releases for Better Cloud-Based Simulation

It has been a busy year for SimScale with a number of new and updated simulation releases using new techniques and providing better UX (or user experience).

SimScale’s Workbench was completely reworked for improving productivity with decreased loading time and increased interaction speed. The new workbench consolidates the simulation workflow into a single tree with a step-by-step approach that simplifies set up. Users can now also perform a simulation directly on a CAD model, meaning that there is much less exposure to mesh generation, a process that can be error prone for novice users.

New SimScale Workbench 2.0 user interface. (Image courtesy of SimScale.)
New SimScale Workbench 2.0 user interface. (Image courtesy of SimScale.)

This past summer, an improved online post-processor to accelerate performance for data load speed, visualization and manipulation, which the company claims rivals post-processing software on high-end desktop workstations, was released. You can now query results for a specific location, such as understanding surface pressures based on a building’s representation in wind load. Color map enhancements for improved visualization include options to choose color schemes and levels for better presentation of results. The post-processor also lets you use animation for visualizing transient and steady state datasets for a more comprehensive understanding of analysis results.

Recently, SimScale released a new GPU-based solver for mechanical and architectural applications using the lattice Boltzmann method (LBM). The new solver is unique because it boosts efficiency with the ability to run on multiple GPUs (up to 16) in parallel. The company claims that this ability to run on multiple GPUs enables turnaround times that are 20 to 30 times shorter than traditional methods.

Wind velocity analysis in Gangnam District, South Korea. Unsteady analysis using a k-omega SST turbulence model and a grid of more than 300 million cells where 200 seconds of real time was simulated in less than two hours on eight GPUs. (Image courtesy of SimScale.)
Wind velocity analysis in Gangnam District, South Korea. Unsteady analysis using a k-omega SST turbulence model and a grid of more than 300 million cells where 200 seconds of real time was simulated in less than two hours on eight GPUs. (Image courtesy of SimScale.)

This first release was a virtual wind tunnel. It provides high accuracy and speed for transient simulations, such as wind loads on buildings, pedestrian wind comfort and vehicle aerodynamics—all in a web browser.

To develop the new LBM solver, SimScale partnered with Numeric Systems GmbH and used its Pacefish turbulence modeling tool, a unique implementation of LBM that maximizes performance with massively parallel GPU architectures. Several validation projects have been performed using the new solver that have compared physical wind tunnel measurement data with generated simulation results.

The Future of Cloud-Based Simulation

With SimScale being cloud-based, it’s not too surprising that it has formed close partnerships with cloud-based CAD developers, including Onshape and Autodesk (Fusion 360).

Specifically, as for the relationship with Onshape, Heiny said, “They are great partners. There is a lot of shared vision here. They did a great job in blazing the trail for cloud-based design, and we’re pioneering cloud-based simulation. We have a lot of shared customers. In fact, just recently we published a joined success story with a NASCAR team that’s designing the car in Onshape and running the CFD analysis on SimScale.”

Things are looking very good for SimScale as cloud-based systems become more accepted and adopted. In fact, SimScale recently passed a milestone of 150,000 users worldwide—a 50 percent increase over approximately 100,000 at the end of 2017.

The company is also expanding from Germany and opening an office in Boston. The primary reason is to be closer to North American customers. The secondary reason is for talent purposes—engineers, developers, and sales professionals.

“If I compare where we began and where we are today, when we attended conferences or when we talked with prospective customers about cloud-based simulation, the response was something like, ‘Oh my God, what is this? An engineering application in a browser?’” Heiny said. “This was something very new and very exotic. We are excited about this as history starts proving us right that more and more engineering functions and capabilities, not just in the simulation space but also in CAD and other apps, are moving to the cloud. More and more engineering and office services are moving completely to the cloud. From our perspective, this movement is here to stay. We're excited about seeing larger organizations embracing the cloud, as well.”

To this point, it looks like SimScale is succeeding and positioning itself well for the future of simulation.

SimScale offers a Community plan that is free to all users willing to share their projects publicly. The Professional plan can be tested via a free 14-day trial. Getting started with the trial requires only a standard web browser. Currently supported browsers include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Safari.

For more information, visit the company website.

SimScale has sponsored this post. They have had no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Jeff Rowe

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