Altair makes waves, snaps up AWE

Apr 12, 2016 | Hot Topics

Altair is one of my favorite companies — but I don’t get the chance to write about it as often as I’d like because it’s not publicly traded and so we miss those four chances per year to take a deeper dive. Why do I admire them? Because they dance to their own drummer. The company you know for its Hyper*** and solid ***-branded products also offers product design services, outsources CAE professionals and does crazy things like develop a new light bulb and more energy efficient buses.

And it’s also probably a lot bigger than you realize, with over 2,500 employees serving more 5,000 customers from 46 offices in 24 countries on 6 continents. Privately held, so revenue details aren’t available, but 2015 was likely north of $300 million.

But software, for simulation, predictive analytics and optimization, are at the core of the business. Altair has been building and acquiring at quite a rapid pace to fill out its offerings, adding the RADIOSS solver from Mecalog in 2006, Acusolve’s CFD in 2011 and EMSS’ FEKO electromagnetic solver in 2014. In 2015, Altair acquired MDS for micromechanics and Click2Cast for its casting simulation and made an investment in FluiDyna to develop GPU-optimized CFD applications. These are just a few of the deals Altair has done over the years — I count over a dozen in total, all to position Altair for the trends it sees developing around new materials for 3D printing and other uses, the internet of Things and big data analytics and, of course, cloud and other means of running computationally-intensive scenarios. [There’s a whole lot to be said, too, about Altair’s approach to CAE-centric design with the solidThinking products, but that will have to wait for a future post. Synopsis: very cool, covers the gamut from ideation to design simulation and optimization, to manufacturing feasibility.]

So why today’s note? Altair announced yesterday that is is acquiring AWE Communications GmbH, developers of the WinProp software suite and a spin-out from the University of Stuttgart.  AWE’s main focus has always been creating software for wave propagation modeling and radio network planning. According to Altair, WinProp’s empirical and deterministic propagation models are available for rural and residential, urban and suburban, indoor and campus, tunnel and underground, vehicular and time-variant, GEO and LEO satellites scenarios.

I’m not sure exactly that that means, so dove into the Tunnels and Stadium scenario provided by AWE. You all know that tunnels are complex structures, perhaps curved in many planes, with a cross-section that usually varies every few feet. If you’re a radio wave guy, odds are you’re not a civil engineering CAD guy, too, so the TuMan scenario helps the user define the geometry of a tunnel — the cross-sections, connected together along the terrain covered by the tunnel. Once you’ve defined the tunnel in TuMan, you export it to WinProp and process is with WallMan, where you insert cars or trains, signals, whatever else might be a typical use case for the tunnel. With another module, you can assign time-based behaviors to the objects such as the speed at which the train moves through the tunnel. Once you’ve defined the tunnel and its use, you’re ready to go: you can model whether the passengers on the train will have working cellphones or not, and plan coverage for cell and satellite and other types of signals. [Before you ask: a stadium can be modeled using tunnel design tools because most stadia are torus-like shapes, basically tunnels that form a donut. Therefore, same software.]

Altair says AWE supports a broad range of propagation, communication and EMC applications that, with tighter integration to FEKO will create a “leading solution for vehicle-to-vehicle communications, autonomous driving vehicles and all related sensors. Many of our existing customers will welcome the fact that these solutions will soon be available together with an interface for radiation patterns and RCS data”, said Ulrich Jakobus, Altair’s Vice-President, Electromagnetic Solutions.

As per usual, Altair didn’t comment on the price paid or closing conditions. It sounds, however, like most AWE employees have already joined Altair.