SimSolid Isn’t New, But the Cloud Access Is

New Altair offering will reduce development time with faster simulation results.

Altair recently announced Altair SimSolid Cloud, a new way for its customers, old and new, to access the classic simulation software. SimSolid, the meshless structural analysis tool, is almost 10 years old and was acquired by the Troy, Michigan simulation company in 2018. Now, 5 years after being pulled into the fold of Altair’s portfolio, SimSolid is available through the cloud in addition to being a desktop-based offering.

SimSolid Cloud runs on any browser to give fast results.(Image courtesy of Altair.)

SimSolid Cloud runs on any browser to give fast results.(Image courtesy of Altair.)

Offering SimSolid through the cloud isn’t giving engineers any revolutionary new tools. However, Altair’s focus on smaller to medium-sized customers could give companies a big reason to move over to its family of tools. The convenience of Altair One, the company’s cloud-based pay-as-you-go platform, and its Altair Units licensing system can be a powerful option for smaller companies with limited accounting allocations. Meshless solutions and the lack of geometry preparation also make SimSolid Cloud an attractive choice for midsize structural analysis projects because it simplifies, streamlines and hastens the simulation process.

SimSolid Through the Cloud

SimSolid Cloud is another way that Altair is pushing its products under the Altair One banner. At this point, hearing that an engineering tool is being offered by anyone through the cloud brings a few things to mind:

  • The software is available on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • Users can access the tools from any browser window.
  • There is no need for expensive servers or high-performance computing (HPC) resources.

Altair Units licensing model is the additional layer of access that other simulation companies don’t offer. The units let customers decide when to access the tools and how long that access will last. Units can then be reused to take out other software tools without setting up a new license.

Altair frames its cloud portal as “particularly ideal for independent professionals and small- and medium-sized businesses looking to optimize their design and engineering processes without needing to make significant investments in hardware or software maintenance.” Over the last few years, several companies have been looking for the right tipping point to make the plunge and pay for dedicated servers and HPC resources, but the cloud option makes that decision less urgent. The needs of every company and application are different, but knowing that you can still competitively work in the simulation field without big capital investments is a welcome bonus for many.

Bidding for jobs also gets a little easier when using a pay-as-you-go service. The complexity of a big project might require purchasing additional seats of a software subscription, but when you know the process will last a finite amount of time, it’s easier to purchase virtual resources instead of new hardware. Accessing SimSolid as a meshless solver gives an even bigger benefit because Altair is proud of the fact that its tool runs faster than most structural analysis products.

What Does SimSolid Cloud Have That Others Don’t?

The big draw for any SimSolid product is its meshless analysis. Prepping a model’s geometry to remove problem areas before solving and building the mesh before crunching the numbers are two of the big time sinks in any simulation study. When an engineer doesn’t need to massage the CAD models, more studies can be run faster and with different designs, materials and other iterations. This gives users the opportunity to find a better solution—or at least to explore more options in the design space.

Way back in 2018 when Altair acquired SimSolid, one of the blurbs from the press release asked the classic SimSolid question: “Why does the geometry used in the design and structural simulation worlds have to be so different?” This question manifests itself in the software right at the beginning of the simulation process during the design phase. Conventional finite element analysis (FEA) or structural analysis generally requires a second software for a designer versus a simulation engineer. The design is created using parametric CAD software and the analysis comes from FEA software. Meshless analysis doesn’t automatically drop the required number of tools down to one, but it removes some steps. An engineer who can design three wildly different forms for a problem without being required to modify the geometries for simulation or creating mesh geometry can get three studies done before one traditional meshing study can run.

Structural analysis software is at a mature level today, to the point where we generally trust the results without working through the calculations by hand. And usually that’s a lucky thing, because working through multiple layers of partial differential equations is never as much fun for me as building a CAD model to run a simulation study. The biggest advantage that a meshless method has over traditional finite element methods is time. Taking a complex geometry and turning it into a network of nodes is much faster than building a mesh and then refining the mesh.

Meshless solutions are not a new idea, and my first introduction to them was through a paper and presentation in 2002 titled “The Meshless Finite Element Method.” Even though the tools have come a long way, there are still applications where it makes sense to go meshless and places where a more traditional FEA approach is preferred.

To me, the meshless methods work best when approaching a structural analysis problem—the meat-and-potatoes of what many engineers and construction management students get in their structural analysis or mechanics of materials courses. These are the problems where an engineer could be expected to fire off some calculations and get a warm fuzzy feeling that the results were a close match. Beyond structural analysis, the meshless method also fits well with thermal analysis, stress tests and vibration studies. Altair offers SimSolid Cloud as a product that can run simulations on a fast time frame, but still has several traditional FEA options available for its users.

What Does It All Mean?

Simulation has grown by leaps and bounds in recent decades. When I finished my undergrad in 1995, there was simulation software available, but it required workstations and highly trained operators to get the most basic results. We hammered out basic calculations before building prototypes, careful to keep the correct material and manufacturing process for design validation testing. Engineers back then were much more likely to find issues with fits or tolerance stack-ups than with structural analysis. Alternatively, those graduating today might have multiple years of experience with CAD design software and another 1 or 2 years working with simulation or CAM software.

The basic function of simulation remains the same for engineers. We want to get strong results with a high degree of fidelity from our simulations. Getting those results early in the design and development process is also a big deal. Dialing in a design before any prototypes are made saves money but more importantly, saves time. The more studies we can run to optimize form, material, or the manufacturing process, the more confidence we will have that our final design will meet the customer’s requirements without quality issues or design changes. When that time is pulled from the development cycle, we can run more studies or take on more business. In other words, cloud access is another method available to engineers to build some flexibility into the design and development process.

Altair is going all in on this meshless solution method, and is then doubling down with the cloud offering. Altair CEO James Scapa said, “We believe SimSolid Cloud has the potential to dramatically accelerate and simplify the daily work of finite element structural analysis users in all markets. Anyone using conventional finite element tools will be left behind if they do not embrace this technology soon.”