VP of Altair and President of Visual Solutions Discuss the Simulation Industry
Shawn Wasserman posted on August 20, 2014 |
As Altair expands into systems the simulation industry is quick to follow.

Altair’s Sr. VP of Math & Systems Michael Hoffmann (Left) and Visual Solutions President Peter Darnell (Right).

The simulation industry is a dog eat dog world. With partnerships and acquisitions coming from all sides, it seems like the big guns are competing to offer customers the greatest possible CAE experience.

One such player is Altair, who recently acquired Visual Solutions and their system level simulation program VisSim. Now that the acquisition dust has settled, Altair’s Sr. VP of Math & Systems Michael Hoffmann and Visual Solutions President Peter Darnell are ready to discuss the simulation industry and the strengths of this new alliance.

What is VisSim?

VisSim is a visual language used to model and simulate system level solutions. Using these simulations, users can optimize their designs using model-based embedded system development. Once optimized VisSim can also generate C-code to run on the system hardware. This CAE solution is similar to Simulink.

VisSim uses Block diagrams and OMG 2.0 UML State charts to produce dynamic nonlinear simulations of discrete, continuous and/or multi-rate systems. These block diagrams can be made faster thanks to a library of mechanical functions like electro motors, power, hydraulics and communication blocks. Users can also create all of these functions from scratch using lower level blocks such as add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Darnell explains, “Using VisSim you can create efficient firmware for a wide variety of Texas Instruments chips, or ARM Cortex MCUs. We have customers like Black and Decker creating battery powered high speed drills, Ametek creating HVAC controls flying in the Joint Strike Fighter, and a major aircraft parts supplier is using VisSim to control electrically actuated brakes for commercial aircraft.”

He adds, “We are working with Siemens right now to create a virtual electric motor to demonstrate an existing controller. We proposed a real time virtual motor simulation using a motor model from our library running on a TI microcontroller. Using VisSim support of high speed on-chip event capture, DACs and PWM, we were able to simulate Siemens’ motor by reading supply voltages, producing phase currents, and quadrature encoder rotation angles in real time. This gives them a light-weight, low cost, portable test platform that responds dynamically as the real motor would.”

But it doesn’t end there, suggests Darnell, things that never had control systems before are starting to get smarter. “One example is shock absorbers in cars. Traditionally, tools like HyperWorks are used to optimize strength and weight of the physical components to form the complete design. With feedback control systems, you can have an intelligent absorber that can respond dynamically to road and load conditions to give a smoother ride. This is where we come in. One of our customers supplies shock absorbers to a major car company. VisSim allowed them, with no history of embedded development, to implement their control entirely in a VisSim block diagram. VisSim automatically generates efficient C code for the VisSim Visual RTOS and creates the firmware image ready for final ship. ”

HyperWorks and the Acquisition

As for how these two programs will interact with each other, Darnell explains that there will be a weeklong meeting to figure that out. “We want a nice smooth path from initial concept, to tuning of the combined physical system and control, to final firmware ship. We’ll need a fast co-simulator interface to let the various simulator engines cooperate. Fortunately, we have one already built into VisSim from work we have done with other vendors. That will give us a big head start.”

The idea is that you can simulate the system using VisSim first, and then use HyperWorks to simulate and assemble the structures of the parts. This would allow users to simulate before geometry; something Darnell and Hoffmann strongly suggest.

“What differentiates us from other technology providers is that they center on geometry. You make nice geometry and focus on that through the life cycle. We focus on functionality. We work with simulation a lot earlier with 1D simulations for functionality and then worry about geometry. This is true simulation driven design. Don’t wait for geometry to be there. People that start with geometry just use CAE to validate the geometry. Instead, focus on performance,” said Hoffmann.

The Altair Direction and Industry Trends

Hoffmann adds that the acquisition is “a move to expand our portfolio in the direction of embedded systems is a logical extension of the company’s commitment to simulation-driven design.”

Hoffman’s statement follows the industry trends seen by Altair and rival companies to build up their portfolio through acquisitions, partnerships and mergers. These strategic corporate moves appear to be a race to build an all-encompassing CAE and multiphysics simulation software platform.

“This is the nature of the beast, trying to grow and expand your offering in the industry. Not sure anyone will win the race,” joked Hoffmann. “If someone thinks they are winning they are already on the losing path. I’ve seen it many times in history that companies think they will dominate the world and that is the beginning of the end. We are pretty good in the race and are confident we will stay in it.”

As for rival ANSYS, they were one of the first simulation software companies to purchase a CAD company, something that typically happened in the reverse order. This is a sign that simulation is growing in importance and rivalling CAD in product development.

Autodesk on the other hand has focused on the CAM side of the development cycle. After acquiring Delman back in 2013 they soon came out with CAM360, Simulation Flex (formerly Sim360) and Fusion 360, covering the manufacturing, simulation and CAD sections of the design spectrum. More recently, however, Autodesk released a simulation bombshell from their NEi acquisition with Autodesk NASTRAN for non-linear simulations and the ability to bring NASTRAN on the cloud.

Dassault Systèmes (DS) may be the most ambitious of the bunch, expanding their design reach with the acquisition of Accelrys and the release of their BIOVIA package. Their recent acquisition of SIMPACK shows DS taking the next logical step in completing 3DEXPERIENCE’s path towards a full PLM platform. Whereas DS relies on a multi-body system approach, however, Altair has chosen to use a block diagram approach.

As for Altair, their path mirrors their competitor’s thanks to the Altair Partner Alliance and a series of recent acquisitions. Joining the Alliance were MATELYS’s AlphaCell for noise, vibration and harshness over porous materials; JMAG’s JSOL for electromagnetic simulations based on geometry and materials; SeacO2’s LinceoVR for augmented reality; Componeering for composite materials; and AcuNexus for abstract modeling. Recently, Altair also acquired EM Software & Systems for the FEKO for electromagnetic-mechanical and electromagnetic-thermal simulations.

The Integrated Platform Debate

With all these acquisitions there is an ongoing debate on the merits of integrating them all together under one platform – such as 3DEXPERIENCE – and both Hoffmann and Darnell are not afraid to share their views.

“It’s not about one integrated environment,” expresses Hoffmann. “The Altair Partnership Alliance (APA) makes, through HyperWorks’ licensing systems, other tools available. It is a currency to have users access the 3rd party tool they need to get the job done. It isn’t important to have a standard environment, moving from FEA to embedded control and manufacturing analysis.”

Darnell disagrees, though, stating, “There are requests from the user base that they’d rather learn one software package with a single interface instead of 3 different packages with different interfaces. If I am [an engineer on a team,] working in one environment it is more efficient. The trend is to make this one package.”

“However, I worry about the Microsoft syndrome,” Darnell adds. “If there are too many features that are rarely used, or the implementation is not well thought-out then the speed of the program becomes unwieldy. You can’t just duct tape it all together and say you have one engineering package. You have to engineer it together. You have to fight entropy and the marketers that will say ‘just slap it all together and I will sell it.’”

So perhaps Darnell and Hoffman are not as far apart on the issue as they initially seemed?

As Darnell notes, the long and short of it is that “partnering with Altair will bring current and future VisSim users many benefits, including integration with a world-class engineering organization and software portfolio.”

Of this I am sure.

Source Altair

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