Open Architecture and Industry Standards Enable Open Design
The mission of computer-aided engineering (CAE) vendors is to help engineers
speed up time to market and make better, safer products at a lower cost. CAE
vendors have made great strides in that direction by providing direct data
exchange and full associativity with CAD solid modelers and improving the
overall ease of use of analysis and simulation tools. The next milestone for the
CAE industry is to enable open design environments through the implementation of
open architecture technology and industry-standard data formats that are
flexible enough to incorporate any type of software that an engineer might need.
Even though CAE vendors strive to offer software that is applicable to a wide
cross-section of the engineering community, design is rarely accomplished with a
single software product or a single vendor’s offerings. Making the software
tools of multiple vendors available within a common, intuitive user interface
will increase an engineer’s overall productivity and reduce the learning curve
and time needed when using a variety of software interfaces.
Open Architecture Today
Open architecture is the use of the latest API and database tools to integrate
and manage data from any source. Currently, open architecture is enabling CAE
vendors to directly support leading CAD solid modelers, offer an expanded range
of analysis options and integrate design cycle support capabilities such as
Product Data Management (PDM), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and
collaboration tools. The integration of these tools into CAE software simplifies
the process of working with outside consultants, legacy systems and different
As an example, open architecture enables users to have more analysis choices
because the capabilities of multiple CAE vendors can be easily integrated into
the same user interface. By integrating the analysis capabilities of multiple
vendors, engineers can choose from a variety of FEA processors including
Mechanical Event Simulation for combined motion and stress analysis and
specialized analysis tools such as acoustics, fatigue and electromagnetics, all
within the same user interface. This gives engineers the flexibility to choose
whatever analysis type or combination of analysis types is needed to get their
products to market.
Open architecture also increases the potential for partnerships that enable the
integration of design cycle management tools such as PDM/PLM applications and
Internet collaboration. PDM/PLM applications help design teams optimize products
for market value considerations such as ergonomics, aesthetics and cost as well
as traditional engineering considerations such as weight, material choice and
safety factors, while collaboration tools foster open communication about model
data, material data and geometry revisions through on-line sessions in which
design team members interactively review and revise models.
Open Design Environments of the Future
While the CAE software of today is oriented toward meeting engineers’ most
direct needs for integrated design cycle tools, the truly open design
environments of the future will be flexible enough to include any design,
analysis, simulation and data management tools that engineers might need and all
within the same user interface.
In addition to using CAD, PDM/PLM applications and collaboration tools,
engineers often use CAE software in conjunction with calculators for computing
loads; specialized, industry-specific applications for designing or laying out
products (e.g., heat exchangers or pressure vessels); CAM software; office
productivity tools such as Microsoft Excel; photorealistic rendering software
and presentation tools. They may also interface with supplier catalogs; use
mathematical software to analyze costs or perform design optimization; and
download material data from on-line sources such as MatWeb.com.
Initially, creating an open design environment could be as simple as enabling
users to access their frequently used applications through the CAE software,
essentially making the CAE software a single entry point for their design
toolkit or platform. Users could also use built-in scripting tools and plug-in
support to automate data transfer and format conversions between applications.
Ideally, an open design environment should directly exchange data with
applications that engineers frequently use. To do this, CAE vendors will need to
do more than just implement open architecture; they will have to establish
industry-standard data formats. Just like standards such as IGES and STEP have
resulted in advances in CAD interoperability, standard CAE formats will advance
the development of open design environments.
For example, establishing a standard data format for material data would make it
easy for engineers to exchange material properties between on-line sources, CAE
software and a cost-comparison application. Managing and synchronizing material
data between these tools could then become as simple as exchanging contact data
between your PDA, PC and mobile phone.
Standardizing the format of FEA data (model and results) will also help to
integrate the CAE software of multiple vendors, even industry-specific analysis
tools, within the same modern, Windows-style graphical user interface that is
the foundation of an open design environment. To realize the full potential of
open design environments, the CAE industry must adopt an FEA data format that
handles a wide range of analysis types and capabilities and then collectively
work to document, implement and periodically review and update the new
industry-standard data format for CAE software data exchange.
Through the implementation of open architecture and the development of
industry-standard CAE data formats, CAE vendors have the opportunity to enable
open design environments that manage product data throughout the entire design
cycle. By integrating the tools already at engineers’ fingertips within the same
user interface, open design environments will enable engineers to be more
productive while bringing safe, innovative and high-quality products to market
faster and at a lower cost.