Engineers are now able to design with far higher precision, making materials thinner and lighter without sacrificing quality and durability. But as they press the limits of technology, engineers must often examine and understand subtle factors that might have been negligible in the past.
Often, these considerations involve multiple disciplines, which can make it difficult to see how changes in one technology will impact performance in other areas. COMSOL is finalizing a major upgrade of its Multiphysics multidisciplinary software tool, which let users see how changes in one field of physics impact other fields.
The enhancements come as the company faces increased competition from major CAE tool providers like Dassault and Siemens that are making acquisitions to build their multidisciplinary capabilities.
COMSOL previewed its Multiphysics 5.3a upgrade at the company's 2017 user conference in Boston. The upgrade, which ships later this year, adds several features requested by users including increased speed. At the conference, CEO Svante Littmarck also spoke openly about bug fixes.
“Our enhancement request list was at 7,000 in 2014, now it’s down to 400,” Littmarck said. “Also in 2014, we had 4,000 bugs in our bug database. Today, that’s down to 100. There are no critical bugs remaining, 90% of them are in corner cases so almost no one comes across them. We have 17 million lines of code.”
BEM-FEM reduces run times
The company expanded modeling capabilities based on its hybrid boundary element-finite element (BEM-FEM) method. Magnetostatics was added, as was the ability to perform acoustics and acoustic-structure interactions using BEM-FEM. Given the increasing emphasis on high quality infotainment systems, the enhancement is seen as important for many automotive programs.
“Loudspeaker design involves many disciplines,” said Valerio Marra, Marketing Director at COMSOL. “One person will focus on shock, so they just need mechanical analysis. The next person will look at acoustics, someone else at electromagnetic parameters. It’s nice if they can all start at the same point.”
The enhanced BEM-FEM offering lets users analyze the full range of acoustic frequencies from the lowest bass notes to ultrasound efficiently, the company claims. Existing tools often focus on high and low frequency. The new offering aims to fill this gap, letting users model the middle ranges using far less computing power and time than alternative tools that don’t examine different physics segments simultaneously.
Using BEM-FEM significantly reduces the processing workload, reducing run times. For example, a simulation of a speaker’s sound pressure level used models with 125,000 finite elements, 20,000 boundary elements, and 250,000 degrees of freedom. By comparison, an FEM simulation would require 500 million finite elements for the same accuracy. That ability to quickly examine multiple physical elements at once is important in many different fields.
“For a muffler, you can run an acoustic analysis, but performance can change as very hot gases flow through it,” Marra said. “If there’s any structural deformation, acoustic performance can change. It’s easier to analyze those parameters together using a single design tool to replicate what happens in the real world.”
He noted that acoustics impact many elements of automotive design. For example, coupling mechanics and acoustics during transmission development lets engineers see how altering one piece of material in the transmission alters the sound. Version 5.3 also helps engineers analyze the performance of batteries.
“An estimation tutorial lets people understand the properties of a battery even if they don’t know a lot about the chemistry in the battery,” said Rasmus Karlsson, Product Specialist at COMSOL. “They can look at the internals of the battery while driving, the state of charge can be monitored for each cell and each electrode. Thermal modeling in 5.3 looks at cooling. If batteries have different temperature gradients, different parts of the battery pack will age at different rates. The program also makes it easier to determine performance with low-temperature starts.”
New apps for design analysis
COMSOL, which has focused on multiphysics since 1986, now faces more competition from large engineering tool suppliers that are buying up companies to expand their blended offerings. Siemens spent $10 billion on automation and software companies in recent years, adding Mentor Graphics earlier this year. PTC and Dassault Systemes have each bought a dozen or more companies this decade.
Speed is a key factor for the multiphysics approach. Littmarck noted that COMSOL’s models can be run in far less time than is required by tools that aren’t integrated from the outset of design. In Multiphysics 5.3a, performance improvements go up to 40% for algebraic multigrid meshes and 20% faster for geometric multigrid meshes, according to Bjorn Sjodin, Vice President of Product Management.
The Swedish company’s cloud service also helps engineers do more analytical work by offloading simulations, the executives claim. Given the time needed for many simulations, that can be a major benefit.
“In the past, I ran simulations on my workstation and I couldn’t do anything else while they ran,” said Vasudevan Venkateshwaran, a Research Scientist at W. L. Gore and Assoc. “Now I put them on the cloud and forget about them until they’re finished.”
COMSOL is also expanding its offerings, with 150 new materials and 1,300 new material properties in the Material Library product. Shape-memory-alloy materials were added to simplify structural analysis along with more than 60 substrate material properties for RF and microwave analysis.
As designs get more sophisticated, design analysis is becoming so complex that it’s common for only one or two engineers to fully understand some aspects of a design challenge. COMSOL has addressed this by letting the subject matter experts create apps that perform some aspects of design analysis. Less-skilled engineers can use these apps to examine tradeoffs in design.
Currently, COMSOL provides more than 60 apps, and many companies use apps created by their engineers. “Apps are a good way to empower other people on the team,” Marra said. “The experts can create apps that let other people do more complex analysis.”
Users can also create apps that let their customers perform complex tasks. These apps can be deployed using the COMSOL Cloud without impacting security.
“We’ve got 15-20 apps we’ve created, all for internal use,” Venkateshwaran said. “If we decide to let users use them, it’s easy to set up walls to isolate them.”