Altair’s Vision: Solution Breadth Surprises

References Cited

Altair, What is Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering (MCAE)?, Model Based System Engineering (MBSE)

If you’ve heard of Altair before, you likely consider them an analysis company. In the last five years, however, their solution set has broadened dramatically. There’s still a ton of analysis tools in the toolbox. However, there is a lot more there than you’d think. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at their offerings across the engineering disciplines involved in developing discrete products.

Let’s jump into it.

Altair’s Mission

Been around the mechanical simulation and analysis space? Then you’re surely heard of Altair. They have a long legacy of developing new technologies, like topology optimization some twenty-five years ago and pre-processors and post-processors almost thirty years ago, and bringing them to market for general use. Since that time, however, their mission has become broader.

Overall, they intend to improve how engineers make design decisions. Their position is that engineers should be using a set of tools that allows them to make better design decisions ahead of getting into detailed design, which is when you would get into MCAD. In their eyes, there is a distinction between designing a product and documenting it for manufacturing. And, frankly, I don’t disagree with them.

What’s interesting about their vision, however, is how it has expanded. We’ll get into how their solutions apply to different engineering disciplines below, but the quick summary is that they no longer just play in the mechanical design space. Their tools are applicable to electrical and electronic systems, embedded software and IoT platforms. Yet in each case, they fall back to that idea of empowering better design (or development) decisions through democratized simulation tools.

So, with that understood, let’s start to look at their offerings.

Mechanical Design

Most of Altair’s software solutions sit in this bucket, so there is a lot to unpack.

  • Altair solidThinking products provide a range of mechanical design and simulation capabilities for mechanical engineers. Evolve provides concept and aesthetic design functionality. Inspire provides simulation-driven design and topology optimization tools. Click2Cast, Click2Extrude, and Click2Form provide manufacturability analysis capabilities. You can read more about each of these offerings in our review called Altair solidThinking: Mechanical Design and Analysis.
  • Altair HyperWorks suite offers advanced simulation and analysis capabilities to experts. Hypermesh is the pre-processor. HyperView is the post-processor. There are solvers and other tools that cover a wide range of physics. You can read more on this suite in our detailed review titled Altair Hyperworks: Expert Mechanical Simulation.
  • One of Altair’s offering to specifically note is Multiscale Designer. This tool allows you to model materials at a micro level. You can then set up macro level simulations and connect it to the micro level simulation to run a coupled analysis. This allows for more accurate simulations, especially when it comes to planned failures in products.

Altair offers some good mechanical design and analysis tools with Inspire particularly standing out. Engineers can use this tool to make better design decisions and then document them in a more traditional MCAD application. When it comes to expert simulation, the Hyperworks suite may well be the broadest and deepest available. Career analysts can get a lot of value from this suite. What’s the bottom line? If you’re an engineering-heavy company, you should seriously consider both of these toolsets.

Electrical and Electronic Analysis

When it comes analysis of electronics engineering physics, Altair has a pretty broad array of capabilities as well. It all leverages the functionality of HyperWorks alongside other solvers, which includes:

  • FEKO for high-frequency electromagnetics and Winprop for electromagnetic wave propagation.
  • Flux for static and low-frequency electromagnetics.
  • MODELiiS supports both IC design and simulation.

You can find the full details of the review in this post titled Altair HyperWorks: Expert Electrical Analysis

The amount of electronics in today’s products is only increasing. Using simulation and analysis here, beyond the traditional checks required of electrical engineering, is an oft-overlooked need. Altair provides some incredibly powerful and useful tools in this regard. If you’re jamming more electronics in your products, you might want to take a look here.

Embedded Systems Development

One might assume that Altair really doesn’t have much of anything to do with embedded software development, but that assumption would be wrong. They actually have good components to an overall solution here. The solution is called Embed. It supports graphical programming and simulations in line with Model-in-the-Loop practices, a key step in Model-Based Development. For the full details on the Embed solution, read our review titled Altair Embed: Embedded Software Development Toolset.

Multi-Disciplinary Systems Development

Now, lets shift gears. Activate is Altair’s tool for creating multi-disciplinary simulations of a physical system. The idea is to verify functions before you build costly prototypes. These models are built through a block-diagram graphical interface. The blocks in the diagram are components that are connected to one another via inputs and outputs. Once all connected, this model can be run as a simulation of the entire system. Our full review can be found at the post called Altair Activate: Systems Development Solution.

IoT Platform

Everyone knows that connecting smart products to an IoT platform is a quickly emerging trend. Earlier in 2017, Altair acquired a company called Carriots that offers one such platform.

The Carriots platform has some standard IoT capabilities. You can connect your product and stream data from it, storing it on the cloud platform. You can use it to build apps that will let you interact with that data and potentially send commands to those connected products. So there is good functionality there.

Interestingly, Altair has been active in the data analytics space over the past 6 or 7 years. Their commercial cloud data analytics solution, rebranded as Carriots Analytics, will be tightly integrated with the Carriots IoT platform in the near future.

Overall, this is a solid offering. I expect it to mature and expand in the near future.

Recap and Conclusions

  • When it comes to enabling better decisions by the common mechanical engineer, Altair offers good options in solidThinking Evolve and Inspire. Note, however, that your designs will need to be documented in another application.
  • Altair provides possibly the broadest and deepest set of expert analysis tools in the form of Hyperworks. Their solvers cover a wide range of physics. Their pre-processor and post-processor are mature and very capable. I expect most analysis departments are already using some of these tools in some way, shape or form.
  • Altair doesn’t provide design tools for electronics and electrical systems, but they do offer very applicable analysis tools that allow engineers to make better decisions and reduce rounds of prototyping. In the IoT era, this is a growing area of need.
  • Writing software is another area where Altair provides some surprises. solidThinking Embed aims to democratize the development of code for controls engineers without making them software engineers.
  • Systems modeling and simulation is also an area where Altair offers a solution in the form of solidThinking Activate. It provides a similar purpose as solidThinking Activate: to democratize systems analysis to more engineers.
  • Carriots, Altair’s newly acquired IoT platform, offers good capabilities. I expect this to expand in the near future as they roll their analytics tools into the platform.

What’s the takeaway? Altair provides a broader set of tools than many realize. Those tools, spread across many engineering disciplines, aim to empower engineers to make better decisions. Frankly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the solutions that are available here. Any engineering organization that finds themselves in the middle of the complexity of IoT-enabled mechatronic products should take a closer look at the offerings here.

Those are my thoughts folks. Let me know what experience you’ve had with these tools in the comments below. Looking forward to the discussion.

Chad Jackson is an Industry Analyst at Lifecycle Insights and publisher of the engineering-matters blog. With more than 15 years of industry experience, Chad covers career, managerial and technology topics in engineering. For more details, visit his profile.