CyDesign Labs brings Simulation to Concept Design
John Hayes posted on May 29, 2013 | 6699 views

I recently spoke to Tom Stegman, VP of Business Development and Derek Cheng, Director of Marketing at CyDesign about how they plan to bring simulation to the concept design stage for complex products, such as vehicles. 

What Problem is CyDesign trying to solve?

CyDesign is a new software company with a gazillion start-up dollars and a 30-geek strong brain trust.  The problem they are trying to solve is this:

Every complex product design is subject to constraints and a set of requirements.   Unfortunately, design teams can’t run all the possible scenarios to determine what the best design might look like.  Building hundreds of designs through to prototype would take too long and cost too much.  As a result, complex product designs aren’t optimized – they are typically only incrementally improved.

CyDesign allows design teams to experiment with all the physics-based constraints to settle on an optimized set of design parameters before they ever sit down to build a CAD model.  The product does this by allowing designers to experiment with different constraints to see the outcome.

Born from failure

Here’s a scenario that explains the problem, the process, and why CyDesign got the gazillion dollars

The US Department of Defense needed an amphibious landing vehicle for the Marines.  They provided defense contractors with a list of requirements.  The vehicle had to:

·         Cross 24 miles of open ocean in waves up to 4 feet

·         Reach a top speed of at least 28 knots on water (the speed of a water skier)

·         Keep up with an Abrams tank on land (ie. up to 40 mph)

·         Have a range on land of at least 300 miles

Here’s a video of the amphibious beast in prototype.  The program was cancelled after early prototypes proved to be design disasters even though they met all the specifications.

If you were to design the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle to meet these specifications, you might ask yourself, “How can I make a rectangular box that weighs 60 tons go 28 knots?” You might decide that the treads you’ll need on land will cause too much drag in the water, so you could make the treads retractable in water and convertible back to treads on shore.Of course, to make it go that fast on water you will need a huge engine, over 2,700 HP.  To meet the range requirement you’ll also need to fill a lot of the interior space with a fuel tank (325 gallons).  Put all that together and you run into another problem - the in-water hull has to be long enough to plane.  So you better add an extension to get the bow up.Here’s why that sort of design thinking led to the program being cancelled in the prototype stage, after $3B was spent.  The interior space was so small that the marines couldn’t wear their packs onboard.  They had to get dressed on shore, presumably at the riskiest point of the entire landing process.  Meanwhile, the machine had to reconfigure itself for land while the marines were supposed to hang around outside hoping nobody shoots at them.

If the designers had used CyDesign, they could have done some design trade-offs.  For example if the “boat” configuration had a top speed of, say 18 knots, perhaps the project wouldn’t have been cancelled.

As a result of systems engineering challenges like these, CyDesign Labs was launched with a $9M contract from DARPA to develop new tools to fix the early requirements process, and to exercise those tools in the DARPA FANG Challenge. CyDesign Labs has now applied this technology to a commercial product, CyDesign Studio.

 CyDesign wants to democratize simulation in the early concept design stage

CyDesign runs physics-based models in a single dimension to help design teams match requirements with reality long before they get to CAD design.  These physics based models can explore hundreds or even thousands of design configurations for complex models far faster than building CAD models and doing detailed analysis on each one.

While simulation tools like Ansys, Simulia, Creo Simulate allow design teams to analyse CAD models, that simulation is available only after the team has a 3D model to mesh.  CyDesign focuses on the pre-CAD model stage of the process.  This arena has typically been the domain of mathematical modeling tools like MATLAB and MapleSIM. 

According to Tom Stegman and Derek Cheng, those tools are too complex to be accessible to many designers.  The goal of CyDesign is to bring simulation in concept design to a wider user group.  They say they have achieved this by bolting a stylish UI on top of an open sourced physics model called Modelica.With a simpler UI, engineers can explore the design space thoroughly and quickly to determine what configurations meet or won’t meet requirements well in advance of starting detail design. This sort of modeling can provide intelligence for trading off requirements.  That way, instead of designing like this, with multiple iterations between conceptual design and prototype……….design teams will be able to explore more alternatives earlier so that they focus CAD modeling only on the optimal configurations.  Like this….These pictures provided by CyDesign still don’t show all the iterations between detailed design, simulation and prototypes, but you get the idea. 

CyDesign business model innovation

There are 2 business model advances for the CyDesign software:

1.       CyDesign is a true cloud-based application that brings tons of computing power to analyze thousands of iterations.  Physically constrained workstations provide the time to run only so many simulations.  CyDesign software is actually hosted in the cloud so that designers can fire off hundreds of concurrent simulations with a single license. 

2.       Pricing will be based on usage so that not everybody has to buy a license.  However, Tom and Derek did not provide any guidance on pricing. 

What’s next for the company?

CyDesign delivered a version to DARPA in January for the FANG project.  That introduced CyDesign to around 100 users. 

CyDesign claims to have several customers awaiting delivery of CyDesign Studio.  Their sales and marketing teams are targeting designers who are currently using Modelica in some fashion, such as Formula One teams and other vehicle manufacturers. 

Their goal is to release commercial software this summer.  I expect we will hear more from these guys.  It’s interesting.  

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