Altair: Bells, clouds, platforms and units bring simulation to the masses

Sep 12, 2018 | Hot Topics

If you’ve ever watched the news in the US, at some point you will have seen a company ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange (Wall Street) or the Nasdaq (further up the island of Manhattan, in Times Square). I’ve never given much thought to who or how or why that all happens — but now I have at least one company’s answer. And, honestly, it’s one of the cooler things I’ve ever experienced.

Altair, the CAE company, went public last year and decided to sell its shares on the Nasdaq exchange. One of the fringe benefits of selecting the Nasdaq is that companies get to stage events at the Nasdaq’s swanky space in the middle of the middle of the middle of glitziest, touristiest New York City. Listed companies can choose to “ring the bell” (really, push a button) which starts the trading day*. Why do this? According to the monitors in the studio, when Altair CTO James Dagg did his thing at the podium, it was broadcast into Times Square and carried live on the major financial networks like CNBC, Bloomberg TV and Fox Business News. Later when anchors summarize the news of the day, that footage may be used again. Millions of potential viewers will see Altair’s logo. The Nasdaq people even put some Altair CAE video on the big monitors in Times Square — I’m pretty sure the tourists had no idea, but perhaps someone will go home, think about their job and say “huh, that looked useful. What was it?” Or an investor will wander by and see how useful simulation can be, and invest in the stock.

This is Mr. Dagg getting ready for the opening ceremony, in the studio and below is an image of the ceremony taken from inside the studio of the giant billboard in Times Square:

But what, you reasonably ask, did Mr. Dagg talk about in his remarks before pushing the magic button? Three things: the company’s Enlighten award winners, its new Inspire Platform and the Cloud 365 delivery option. All were presented to investors and journalists at an event the evening before the market bell ceremony.

The Altair Enlighten awards celebrate companies and individuals who innovate in the name of vehicle lightweighting. You can see a full list of this year’s winners and runners-up here; the ones who joined the bell ceremony, like US Steel and Faurecia, spoke about design concepts, material science and advanced manufacturing techniques that couldn’t even be conceived just a few years ago, and about how Altair’s technology is key in defining, analyzing and ensuring strength to weight. Faurecia even brought a piece of tailpipe to show off its Resonance Free Pipe, where a piece of perforated material (looks a bit like a cheese-grater) is inserted around the inside of a tailpipe to break the standing sound waves in the pipe and vent acoustic pressure along the pipe. Quieter, lighter, smaller. Smart.

Before the Award winners spoke, Mr. Dagg unveiled Altair Inspire and Altair 365. Altair Inspire starts with the company’s solidThinking brands and expands on them to create a platform that brings together concept design, generative techniques, analysis, and manufacturability in a single environment — but still sticking to the brand values that appeal to designers and engineers with little simulation experience. Mr. Dagg spoke about simulation-driven design, from studio to manufacturing, with Altair building out this portfolio over the next year using solvers from HyperWorks where appropriate. Some of this is a rebranding, as Click2Cast becomes Inspire Cast — but new functionality will be added, too. Inspire Studio, a polyNURBS and subdivision sculpting solution based on solidThinking Evolve, will debut in 2019. Bottom line: Altair sees that its solidThinking customers do more than concept design — they ultimately need to manufacture these products. And with additive manufacturing playing such a strong role in ideation today (especially when it comes to lighweighting), many companies need a single solution that wraps around the concept-simulate-manufacture ideation loop in a single platform. No moving data around. No breaking the chain.

To make this solution set more accessible, Mr. Dagg also announced the Altair 365 engineering collaboration platform, hosted on Microsoft Azure. Using Altair 365 sounds a lot like using Microsoft Office 365: customers can access Altair Inspire and the entire solidThinking suite in the cloud, using browser-based tools. Mr Dagg said that Altair has worked hard to ensure that Altair Inspire customers have the same user experience and simulation capabilities whether in the cloud or on the desktop. And, because it’s cloud-based, Altair 365 also offers visual collaboration, version control, secure data management as well as access to scalable high-performance computing resources.

But all of this wouldn’t be possible without the other recent announcement made by Altair: solidThinking units. Altair has offered HyperWorks units  (HWUs) for a long time, a mechanism which allows metered usage of Altair’s entire suite of products as well as those from selected partners. Why do this? Because simulation use is lumpy: lots of topology optimization early, perhaps manufacturing simulation later, and structural simulation all along. The Units enable customers to have on-demand use as needed, up to the purchased units limit. It’s been possible to buy HyperWorks units and apply them to solidThinking; solidThinking has also been sold on a perpetual basis. Now solidThinking has its own set of units. solidThinking Units (sTUs) gives buyers access to all software titles available in the solidThinking catalog and Inspire platform,  as well as the ability to run these applications locally or in the cloud. Altair’s team at the Nasdaq event told me that sTUs are less expensive than HWUs — and that the company plans promotions to ease customers onto the new scheme. Check with your reseller.

So what did we learn at the Nasdaq? That James Dagg is unflappable in the face of cameras that project him, far bigger than life, into Times Square and into possibly 30 million homes and offices. That Altair works with customers at the very cutting edge of material science and manufacturability in its pursuit of lighter, stronger designs. And that it is trying very, very hard to get more simulation into more hands, via the usability improvements, the Inspire platform, no-desktop access and innovative licensing. Lowering these barriers to simulation for design teams with limited IT and compute resources enables them to ramp up their simulation-driven design capabilities and compete with far more established companies.

*Altair’s Dave Simon and I were trying to figure out what actually happens when someone “rings the bell” and I think he’s right. It signals the start of trading but doesn’t actually DO anything. We were cheering and clapping so I don’t even know if a bell sounded! Dave thinks there’s correlation (bell –> trading) but not causation.

Note: Altair graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. These pictures are ones I took at the event.