ESI acquires Scilab, a numerical computation platform

Feb 27, 2017 | Hot Topics

ESI Group today announced that it has acquired Scilab Enterprises SAS, which publishes and offers professional services for Scilab, the open source software for numerical computation that’s an alternative to MATLAB from The Mathworks. This is ESI’s second acquisition in the open-source/services-for-a-fee space, coming after OpenCFD in 2011 and its second in the 0D/1D-math space, after ITI last year.

ESI has been filling out its offerings outside the traditional 3D simulation realm. COO Vincent Chaillou, says Scilab furthers this intention: “This acquisition fits perfectly with ESI Group’s technology investment strategy. It is aligned with our objective to expand our user base to include all stakeholders involved in the industrial product creation process, starting from the earliest stages of analytical modeling. It paves the way towards the more elaborate 3D-4D numerical simulations of the full Virtual Prototyping and eventually of the all-encompassing “Immersive Virtual Engineering” transformative solutions of Industry 4.0.”

Like many open source efforts, Scilab started a long time ago in academia (I’ve seen as early as the 1980s), then transitioned more formally into a consortium in 2003 that was partly funded by the French National Institute for computer sciences and applied mathematics, Inria. A commercial enterprise was created in 2010 to systematize development — and that was funded by customization, training and other for-fee services. Today, ESI says, Scilab is a small team of applied mathematicians and computer scientists, with over 1 million users who use it for math, graphs and algorithms out of the box, and to build applications for numerical analysis, system modeling, data analytics, signal processing, embedded and control systems, as well as interfaces to test and measurement systems.

But here’s what’s more interesting: Scilab Enterprises (the company) offers Scilab Cloud for web deployment of Scilab-based applications. Scilab Cloud enables users to centralize data and algorithms and simplify and control their deployment — key when you consider that there may be hundreds of engineers using Scilab at a single enterprise. This matters because Scilab has been styling itself as a platform, on which users and third parties can run their codes. Scilab says the platform can bring together codes written in other languages via Java, Python, TCl, Fortran or C/C++ components into a “single, unified language, facilitating their distribution, back-up and use.” [I didn’t know people still wrote Fortran! — Ed.] Should this prove too complex, Scilab supports the functional mock-up interface (or FMI) that defines a tool-independant standard to data exchange between CAE applications.

ESI clearly believes that Scilab will further expand ESI’s footprint, in current customers by targeting early-stage design/engineering and in new customers who use Scilab for 0D/1D but perhaps another 3D tool set. ESI calls this chain, from conceptual design to sensor-enabled discovery of operating condition, the Product Performance Lifecycle (PPL) and says that “the acquisition of Scilab Enterprises equips ESI to address the full spectrum of early engineering needs, from simple, but physically realistic models, all the way to the “as manufactured” and “as operated” virtual products that customers build today and develop for tomorrow assisted or autonomous products.”

From a business perspective, ESI says that “Scilab Enterprises is naturally synergetic with ESI Group, both in technology and business opportunities. The existing ESI Cloud offering will be greatly boosted by this acquisition and by Scilab’s reputation with a very large global community of users in diverse industries and academic circles. It also represents a major asset that will help to increase ESI’s global visibility and eventually to unlock valuable commercial opportunities. Moreover, the dynamic presence of Scilab in the educational community worldwide will immediately expand ESI’s footprint in that all important sphere”. ESI made the acquisition with treasury shares (in other words, already on hand, and didn’t need to be repurchased) but has not disclosed the cash equivalent.

— UPDATE/CORRECTION: Peter Harman pointed out on Twitter that ESI also acquired CyDesign and its 0D/1D product. He’s completely correct — I tend to think of CyDesign for its cloud infrastructure and so neglected to mention it. Apologies for the omission.