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Open Architecture and Industry Standards Enable Open Design Environments

Bob Williams
Product Manager
Pittsburgh, PA

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 corporate divisions.

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

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.

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