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Couldn’t get to Vienna? Recap of SIMULIA conference


Picture this: we’re in an ancient city of castles, cathedrals and really good cake, meeting to talk about advancements in  cutting-edge technology: simulation. It’s a little like the picture to the right, of St. Stephen’s cathedral reflected in a modern office building. An interesting juxtaposition that works.

Dassault Systèmes just hosted its annual SIMULIA user conference for several hundred attendees from around the world, representing automotive and aerospace as well as consumer products, medical devices, specialty consulting and much more.

DS has been on a mission over the last few years to reinvent itself. No longer a CAD or even PLM company, it now is a ‘scientific’ company. That works well with the SIMULIA crowd since they are, after all, applied scientists. The physics flew fast and furious in Vienna, including some really cool experiments on the main stage. Tricks I haven’t seen since high school, like crushing cans and using air from a vortex cannon to blow over a pyramid of paper cups. Unlike in high school, a simulation runs at the same time to show that simulation has come very, very far but that some physics still elude us.

At the same time, DS is trying to leverage all of its brands into something more than the sum of their parts. With its 3DExperiences, DS is bundling CATIA, SIMULIA, SolidWorks, ENOVIA and its other brands as appropriate into solutions that are meant to address a specific workflow or industry need. It’s a confusing sell to may customers, who see themselves as CATIA operators, or Abaqus analysts or SolidWorks users. I’ve seen DS CEO Bernard Charles try to explain this 3 or 4 times over the last year, and in Vienna, I think he finally connected with his audience. Rather than talking up the benefits of 3DExperiences, M. Charles said that they serve to ‘connect the dots’ and that individual products and their users, especially the SIMULIA brands, will continue to get the attention they deserve. By setting Abaqus into a context, the audience was able to follow and even seemed to agree with the vision.

M. Charles also talked up the spate of acquisitions that were announced in the weeks leading up to the event. He spoke about how SIMPOE (he called it ‘best of breed’ for plastics injection simulation) and FE-DESIGN (for topology optimization) will change product design. The deals probably happened too close to the event for many SIMPOE and TOSCA users to make it to Vienna, but the SIMULIA customers I spoke with are very interested in how DS builds out the SIMULIA offering, though their main concern is that DS not lose focus on the core Abaqus.

And what about Abaqus? Product managers rolled out details on enhancements and talked about making the products more straightforward to use. Major enhancements include edge-to-edge and tube-in-tube contacts, calibrating the material in a model with iSight, discreet element modeling for continuous media, more complex assembly handing, electronics cooling meshing enhancements and much, much more. [If your favorite topic isn’t in this list, ask SIMULIA. I could only capture so much!]

A big part of the strategy going forward is big picture stuff, rather than enhancements. Abaqus has the (deserved) reputation of being for experts; in order  to make it an integral part of the design process at more companies, SIMULIA plans to leverage cloud computing, improve the user experience and offer more support, tips and training to bring novices into the tools.

Abaqus customers are a bit different from the typical user conference attendee. They’re more technical, focused on solving niche problems rather than addressing business imperatives. That said, there were a couple of terrific sessions on using simulation more effectively in the design process. BMW spoke about using simulation to eliminate the need for physical prototypes of passive restraint systems until the very end of design, and its ability to predict engine failure and improve braking — all critical to the customer perception of the quality of its cars. Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson company, relies on Abaqus to model the human body in all its complexity and variability — incredibly cool stuff, but a bit unsettling to see a test setup and realize that’s a real spine in there …

One presentation, by a major automotive OEM, showed how their CFD specialists created a slimmed down app for their stylists so that they could determine very early in concept development how a slightly different side mirror, for example, would affect drag and therefore fuel economy. These stylists aren’t CAE specialists so this app had to prepare and assemble geometry, mesh, solve and present results in a way they could understand. This company used iSight to prep geometry and run CD-adapco’s STAR-CCM+ and then serve out results. This method embodies many of the best practices around CAE: use early and often, solve a specific problem with obvious benefit.

Other presentations highlighted just gnarly problems in contact lenses, wind loads, pipe-in-pipe systems, modeling ore deposits and tires. There truly was something for everyone.

Maybe M. Charles said it best in his opening remarks. He told the assembled analysts that “your bosses don’t know what you do. It’s time to make what you do more visible.” The SIMULIA user conference was very much users talking to users; maybe next year, we can invite some managers so they, too, can see how important simulation is in an overall business context. But that would really change the tenor of the meeting — so maybe not. It was great just as it was.

Image credit: Monica Schnitger

Note: Dassault Systèmes graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.

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