SIMULIA and the 3DEXPERIENCEs aim to build a platform that’s bigger than the brands

Mar 21, 2017 | Hot Topics

When you’re looking at a CAE solution, do you look at brands or vendor names or do you look at capabilities, at how the solution fits into your workflow? Or the workflow you eventually want to have?

That, in a nutshell, is Dassault Systèmes’ dilemma as it builds out a portfolio of name solutions even as the “names” disappear into a welter of EXPERIENCES with names like Smart, Safe and Connected, DS’ solution to enable design of a modern car that’s full of embedded systems and electronics. There’s absolutely no way to do this without simulating the various systems’ electromagnetic impact on each other, on riders and on the cellphones and DVD players they may bring into the vehicle with them — but DS’ CST brand isn’t mentioned and the tagline “Smart, Safe & Connected is an Industry Solution Experience powered with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform app(s): CATIA, ENOVIA, SIMULIA and EXALEAD.” only comes up after serious digging around.

For the last 5 years, DS has been promoting the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, a framework on which all of DS’ apps reside to let product designers model and simulate the customer experience. Today, says Global VP, 3DEXPERIENCE Platform Andy Kalambi, the platform has over 500 unique apps, often depicted according to the DS compass: social and collaboration, 3D modeling, simulation, and information intelligence. The point is that all tasks in a product creation process take place in one environment, which is model-based, connected, managing data and people, combining virtual and real. [Mr. Kalambi also shared that as of Q4 2016, 1956 customers have adopted the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, 210 of those on the cloud, with 2016 seeing 1088 customers adopt it, up from 649 in 2015. Why not more? That’s a topic for another post, but this is a new way of working and is a strategic shift that customers need to work through. Some are on board, more are thinking about it and others have decided it’s not for them.]

So when you implement an EXPERIENCE such as Smart, Safe and Connected, you get some CATIA, some ENOVIA, some SIMULIA, some EXALEAD apps that appear on your workspace. But you’re not buying SIMULIA or CST or Abaqus, specifically (though you can still do that outside the EXPERIENCE framework) — from that perspective, the brands are slowly disappearing. And that’s a bit of a shame in a world where ANSYS promotes its brands so heavily, where Siemens’ Simcenter platform leverages the Femap, LMS, Nastran, STAR-CCM+ and other brands, where MSC is about to become part of a $3 billion company  … DS is doing solid work to build out its simulation capabilities and then buries it all in the EXPERIENCES framework.

So let’s shed a little light. During a day-long session two weeks ago, I saw how DS SIMULIA is working to expand its footprint within the DS EXPERIENCES and in its customer/prospect base. Scott Berkey, CEO SIMULIA, says that his 1,400 employees and 202 Value Solution partners (the indirect channel that sells everything but SolidWorks) serve 170,000 users who today span everything from designers and design engineers to researchers and simulation and optimization experts. Abaqus was always strong with simulation experts; that focus on designers and design engineers is new-ish and is a core part of the EXPERIENCE concept.

That’s not to say that Mr. Berkey’s team isn’t working on meeting the gnarly simulation needs of those experts, just that much of this will eventually trickle in some form into a solution/app for more mainstream users. in 2016 alone, DS made 3 acquisitions in simulation, including CST for electromagnetic analysis, Xflow for Lattice Boltzmann CFD and Wave6 for its vibro-acoustics and aero-vibro-acoustics. All three targeted experienced users and DS’ main automotive/aerospace verticals before acquisition but we should begin to see a trickle down, over time, to EXPERIENCES and apps.

With these acquisitions, Mr. Berkey estimates that DS can now address roughly 77% of the physics required by the simulation user base, up from 45% a decade ago. But maybe more important than this is his assertion that DS is expanding that market via its thought leadership: the Living Heart project extending what’s possible in virtual human modeling; combining DS’ BIOVIA molecular modeling for a material science-based approach to 3D printing, and other efforts.

What else did I learn during my day with SIMULIA? In no particular order:

  • Human-in-the-loop is still hard to simulate — but we’re getting closer. DS had a vehicle simulator set up in the SIMULIA visitor center, running SIMPACK Driver-in-the-Loop. It was my first time trying something like this and, well, I nearly ran off the virtual road several times. SIMPACK can model handling, road noise, brake chatter and other aspects of what the driver feels in a particular vehicle configuration. While not cheap today, these simulators are increasingly being used to model human factors, the human-machine interface, and control systems.
  • DS is trying to cover the main areas of CFD, Lattice Boltzmann (LBM) and Navier Stokes (NS), with a dual offering: Xflow for the first and Abaqus CFD for the latter. Picture LBM as balls flowing over a surface and NS as streamers. The LB balls can get into more nooks and small spaces; the streamers may be more suitable for longer flows. More technically, LBM has advantages over NS for multi-phase flows (so for gas and liquid, for example, in mixing) while NS is more accurate for homogeneous flows. Each has applications for which it is best suited (and remember that in simulation, best is a tradeoff between most accurate and fastest — and may still only approximate the real physical situation). Will DS send users to the best solution for their particular problem? Perhaps someday, but not yet.
  • DS is leveraging a lot of acquired technology in its go-to-market for additive manufacturing. BIOVIA, its acquisition for chemistry and life sciences simulation and  modeling, enables it to go from micron scale, looking at the mechanical and thermal properties, to the crystalline and phase transformation of the manufacturing process itself and then simulating material coupons and whole parts with Abaqus. Throw in some shape optimization with TOSCA … and you get a part that’s light-weighted and functional. DS’ total solution is more than simulation, however. It leverages the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to tie together designers and a marketplace for additive manufacturers; production planning (if doing this in-house) and global roll-out. The objective is to connect a customer who may need a one-off replacement for an oil rig, the designer, the service bureau/printer, and the business process that gets this all done, quickly and efficiently. It’s early days, but impressive.
  • Finally, the business impact of design/simulation/collaboration/etc. is what the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is all about. Everyone does their part to bring a design to the market; DS says the 3DEXPERIENCE platform connects and controls their activities to save time and reduce the possibility of errors. For example, SIMULIA can update CATIA design parameters so that everyone downstream uses the correct parameters. Mr. Kalambi had proof points showing that companies who implement the 3DEXPERIENCE platform can realize savings in time and money as they bring a product to market by better coordinating data, people and processes.

Not all companies buy into a platform approach; there’s an argument to be made for best-of-breed in nearly every scenario. But SIMULIA has grown to encompass so many leading brands, the EXPERIENCES aim to tie it all together on a platform that smooths and regulates the customer experience and the path to optimize it … It’s a compelling vision that’s being realized.

One last thing: I go to a lot of briefings like this. The content is always valuable but I also get to watch how these teams interact. Industry analysts are typically critical and not necessarily the friendliest of audiences. Mr. Berkey and his team were relaxed and affable. There’s usually a bit of “oh no, the CEO is watching” — not here. Most of the EXPERIENCE and brand leaders have been with SIMULIA (or the acquired brands) for years, and that experience and expertise informs customer-facing and product/technology decisions. They were a bit like kids in a sandbox, though: so many new toys, where do we start?

The cover image is from Scott Berkey’s presentation, 9 March 2017 — quite a track of building a brand, no?