New Cloud-Based CFD Simulation Toolkit
John Hayes posted on September 17, 2013 |
Ciespace targets mid-market manufacturers with 100% in-the-Cloud simulation
If you are an engineer who can't run all the simulations you need, the economics and processing power of the cloud might deliver the simulation tools you've been looking for.

Ciespace was founded in 2007 by Dr. Kenji Shimada, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CMU, to bring his mesh generation technology to market.  In 2010 the Company raised $5M of venture capital to build a cloud-based simulation platform and brought on an experienced CEO, Kevin Kerns to lead the Company.  

Fast forward to 2013 and the Company has now introduced its first commercial cloud-based simulation offering - targeting the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) space.  They also have long-time industry expert, John Buchowski from PTC, leading their product management.  The Company is currently raising another round of institutional funding to bring this cloud-based offering to a wider engineering marketplace.

There are obvious benefits for simulation and analysis in the cloud, including: access to virtually unlimited CPU capacity to run all the simulations you can imagine, pay-as-you-go pricing, and unmatched parallel processing that can shorten product design cycles.  So what does Ciespace bring to leverage those benefits, particularly for the mid-market?

Mid-market manufacturer challenges

Kevin Kerns described one of their target customers as a mid-market manufacturer who could design products faster and improve product quality if they had easy and affordable access to run more simulations early in the design cycle.  

Imagine a bicycle manufacturer, for example, who wants to assess the frame stress on multiple geometries or with multiple materials.  Or a small consulting shop that gets hired to simulate the complex hydrodynamics on a naval vessel.  These sorts of users need access to a million dollar (software and hardware) simulation environment, but only for short bursts of time.

Ciespace is 100% online

With Ciespace, there is no client application to download and run.  John Buchowski told me a story about being unable to perform a demo at a client site due to a block on outside computers signing onto their network.  His solution was to borrow the client’s laptop to run the demo.  You can’t do that with most hosted solutions.  Ciespace runs without any downloads, using native browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, Safari and soon Internet Explorer (IE11). 

So why do most hosted solutions need a client app on your computer?  Well, most of them do some client-side processing to save the delays associated with pushing data up and down to the servers.  From the demo I saw, Ciespace seems to have figured out how to quickly push data across the Internet, resulting in pretty decent speed.  It’s not client-side speed, but it’s certainly good enough for the sharing and collaboration aspects of the application.  And simulation, of course, is much faster using cloud-based processing.

This architecture (ie no client-side software) is important for accessibility.  You never know when you’ll need to work from a different computer.  With this configuration, all you need is your login information and you are good to go.

Ciespace has a simulation-specific collaboration workflow

Simulation workflows are different from many other sorts of engineering workflows.  They are even more iterative and require external expertise on a more frequent basis.  Understanding this, Ciespace has developed an engineering simulation workflow engine that embodies much of the typical PLM/PDM logic for collaboration and lightweight project management.

Since CAE is not a linear process, Ciespace has built a cloning capability into the workflow.  Say you want to, for example, run the same analysis with a different mesh density.  Ciespace can automatically generate the work flow for all the downstream steps.   Another example of a simulation specific workflow is the ability to control which nodes you assign to whom. 

The collaboration environment lets users assign tasks and add text to a model.  There is real time collaboration through a chat session that lets multiple people view and manipulate the models at the same time.  To avoid anarchy, the model manipulation is controlled by handing control back and forth like a webinar. 

The Solver is based on OpenFOAM

Ciespace plans to leverage their collaboration environment a platform for other simulation tools, both commercial and open source.  To make their platform useful enough to entice users and developers from the outset, they needed to develop their own simulation tool.  Their answer was to develop an application based on OpenFOAM.  

They believe their simulation tool set provides enough value to meet the needs of many engineering use cases.  But don’t expect this to be the best simulation tool you’ve ever seen.  That said, it may make up for a lack of features with its collaboration work-flow and other attributes of their cloud-based architecture.

How does it work?

To get started you open a dashboard within Ciespace and start a project.  You then import native CAD geometry into the project you select.  Ciespace has readers for CATIA, NX, Creo, Asis, Parasholids, STEP and soon STL. 

You would then mesh the model using the online tools and select your simulation options.  Many of the tools you need, like extracting geometry, selecting boundary edges and surface selection are similar in style to desktop apps.  

You can run multiple options at the same time, and the processing will be done a lot faster thanks to the horsepower of the Ciespace hardware. 

The Ciespace pricing model

Ciespace is introducing their commercial product with a usage based pricing model where you pay for processing rather than seats.  That means they charge by the CPU hour, which is intended to suit the needs of teams that have high-volume, but sporadic requirements. 

Why wouldn’t you use Ciespace?

Although the company is 6 years old, it’s an early-stage company.  That means:

         i.            The platform they envision only has one application on it so far, their own open-source based CFD tool based on OpenFOAM.  It may not match the application you have.

       ii.            They don’t have many customers yet and the ones they have they can’t talk about, so you aren’t going to get references.

      iii.            If they don’t get more funding they could disappear.

How to learn more

You can visit the Ciespace web site, sign up for a webinar on Naval Hydrodynamics that’s coming up on either Sep 17 or Sep 19 (web site has both dates), or give it a try with a free trial.

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