We Understand the Heat Behind Thermal Desktop and Ansys

Engineers can expect more spacecraft design, API and thermal tools coming to the portfolio.

Ten years ago, it would have been difficult to predict the electrification trend in the automotive industry and almost impossible to predict the smart capabilities of everything else. When thermostats, doorbells, televisions and cell phones all turned into smart devices they were already using electricity to perform functions—so the transition was relatively smooth. Taking our keychains, water bottles and jewelry and turning them into intelligent tools instead of inanimate objects, however, added big power complexity to the design of those tools. Then again, perhaps the biggest challenge was adding smart and connected tools to already complex systems like cars, aircraft, boats and spacecraft—where the added complexity brings more risks. Electrification and batteries generate heat, and simulation companies are taxed with building more and more sophisticated thermal analysis tools to help companies understand that heat.

To that end, Ansys announced in October the acquisition of C&R Technologies and its flagship tool Thermal Desktop. The Canonsburg, Pa. simulation giant is absorbing the Boulder, Colo.-based Cullimore and Ring Technologies, Inc. to beef up its thermal offerings, especially with respect to spacecraft simulation. Ansys already has thermal simulation tools in its portfolio of products, but this recent acquisition comes with some simulation features and techniques that can expand those thermal horizons.

[Caption] Thermal Desktop studies spacecraft from nano-sats to space stations.  (Image courtesy of Ansys.)

Thermal Desktop studies spacecraft from nano-sats to space stations. (Image courtesy of Ansys.)

Richard Mitchell, Ansys’ senior director of Product Management, recently wrote about the challenges facing space engineers. He cited the extreme temperatures on Mars and the subsequent requirements placed on the Ingenuity helicopter. The mass of a spacecraft affects launch parameters, inertia and gravity. Almost half of the power used by Ingenuity went to thermal management. Every space expedition is more expensive than the last, and each seems to take more time to plan and execute. Any failure on these missions can set the entire space program back for years or even decades, and thermal engineers want to make sure that energy management and dissipation are fully understood in the development cycle.

Current Ansys Thermal Simulation vs Thermal Desktop

Currently, Ansys has a strong portfolio of products that will perform thermal analysis. Ansys Icepak is a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) solver focusing on electronics design and thermal management. Ansys Fluent uses CFD on a broader range of end uses like battery modeling, motor cooling and combustion performance. Even Ansys Mechanical has thermal analysis capabilities, with more of a focus on structural analysis.

As for Thermal Desktop, it has the capabilities we expect from thermal analysis simulation software. Temperature, capacitance and energy flow results are generated from thermal data. Technicians can work with simulation engineers to place thermocouples in true-to-life locations and calibrate models to gain results fidelity. A strong thermophysical property database gives users the ability to take existing materials instead of generating new characteristics. The company also touts its ability to import and export files in a wide variety of simulation, programming and CAD file types. What sets the tool apart is its system-level thermal modeling, which can be combined with various other multiphysics tools—like the current Ansys portfolio.

Thermal Desktop creates full parameterization models.  (Image courtesy of C&R Technologies.)

Thermal Desktop creates full parameterization models. (Image courtesy of C&R Technologies.)

TD Direct is C&R’s geometry creation and modification tool, which already exists inside Ansys SpaceClaim. Just like the name says, it is a direct modeling tool that gives users the ability to push and pull CAD geometry without requiring the model tree. This utility comes from the idea that nobody wants to be the bottleneck in the product design and development process. C&R Technologies decided that thermal engineers were getting the short straw in the process—often receiving requirement data late in the process and taking hits for not producing results faster. Taking early CAD data and giving thermal engineers the opportunity to preprocess and modify that data can lead to earlier thermal results and a better overall product.

OpenTD is an application programming interface (API) that peels back the GUI layers of the program and lets engineers dig in and do some coding. OpenTD enables engineers to build custom interfaces, work in other thermal formats and modify results. There is a long list of things that code savvy simulation users can do once they gain a deeper understanding of the software and results presentations, and C&R encourages its customers to work in the C# environment with support and user guides. OpenTD will be directly integrated into the Ansys ModelCenter and the Ansys Systems Tool Kit.

What Does It All Mean?

Ansys has a history of acquisitions for a variety of reasons. Back in 2021 when the company acquired OnScale, the addition looked like a strong enhancement to its cloud and web-based delivery portfolio. This was a case of bringing on a new company not to add the simulation tools available but to bolster Ansys’ delivery methods. The acquisition of OPTIS brought in a full complement of LiDAR simulation and a virtual reality system connected to it. Five years ago, Ensight was pulled under the Ansys umbrella because of its post-processing capabilities. Many of these companies were in strategic partnerships at the time of the acquisitions, meaning that Ansys builds strong relationships with people and companies before deciding to make the purchase. This was also the case with C&R, where the companies were already partnering on projects.

What we see is a pattern of investments in companies that are already working with Ansys and have strategic assets. There’s usually some type of simulation that Ansys already has, but these acquisitions have amped up the company’s specific niche to a different level—something beyond what Ansys has done. That might be the cloud capabilities of OnScale, virtual reality tools from Optis, or programming and personalization offered by OpenTD. This shows wise strategic moves by Ansys but also a deeper understanding of these companies that are being absorbed. Did the company find the best thermal simulation software available for running studies on spacecraft? That’s a subjective answer based on several factors, but it’s more certain to say that Ansys is bringing on a very strong thermal simulation partner with an excellent programming and individualization tool.

These acquisitions aren’t just about strengthening the current Ansys portfolio and finding companies that are performing different functions than it is. There’s also a very forward-looking methodology at play. Space exploration is in the news feed these days. There are governments and private companies launching satellites and spacecraft, a return to the moon, news from the James Webb Telescope and expeditions to see what can be found on stray asteroids. The near future might see engineers needing a stronger knowledge of how spacecraft will perform in unknown conditions, and simulation can help build that knowledge.

For me, the simple overall goal of simulation should remain consistent over time. Simulation tools exist to give engineers better information, coming in as early as possible in the development cycle, with a strong degree of confidence in the results. This new addition to the Ansys portfolio of products should help thermal engineers, especially those in the field of space exploration, make better decisions.