This post reviews ANSYS’ simulation platform for electronics and electrical systems, including Electronic Desktop, HFSS, SIwave, and Maxwell.
With more companies making the transition to develop smart connected products, there is a need to integrate more and more electronics and electromechanical components into traditional designs. As that occurs, you run into the potential for more performance issues. Electromagnetic interference (EMI) can wreak havoc the behaviors of circuit boards, antennas, microwave components, solenoids and other electromechanical components. Simulation and analysis solutions go a long way to identifying, and resolving, such issues long before prototypes are built. That, in turn, allows organizations to dodge schedule delays and costly overruns.
That’s the context for this post, which reviews ANSYS’ solutions for electrical and electromechanical simulation. Here, we’ll review the functionality their products offer and the value they provide to manufacturers.
Given all that, let’s jump right in.
Focused on Simulation
Before we get into the details, it is important to note that ANSYS does not offer design tools for circuit boards, harnesses or other electrical design such as schematic or diagram functionality. Their tools do have interfaces to practically all of the ECAD and EDA tools available today.
ANSYS does provide automated design interfaces for specific components like electric motors, transformers, and inductors. Note that ANSYS does provide the 3D modeler SpaceClaim, which is most frequently used in mechanical design, but can also be applied to the design of enclosures and electromechanical components.
Physics Solvers for Electronics
ANSYS’ simulation solutions address four different kinds of physics disciplines, each important in the design of different electrical, electronic and electromechanical systems.
High-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields
The solver from ANSYS in this physics field is called HFSS (High-Frequency Structure Simulator). It is aimed at simulating static and transient microwave, RF, electromagnetic and other phenomena for high-frequency and high-speed devices. That includes antennas, connectors, IC packaging, circuit boards, arrays and more. Given today’s trend towards smart connected products, that pretty much includes everything.
One particularly important application of HFSS is to the design of antennas. Given that at least some of the intelligence in smart connected products comes from sensing the world, especially distances and movement, antenna design is increasingly important. Inserting such antennas into products so they are not exposed, especially for aesthetically designed products, causes a lot of interference. Using this kind of simulation tools allows engineers to figure out the placement and strength of the antenna.
If your engineering organization is packing more and more electronics into your product, then it probably makes sense to leverage this kind of solution to avoid finding problems during prototyping and testing, which result in respins.
Signal and Power Integrity
One solver from ANSYS in this domain is called SIwave. It is targeted at analyzing signal and power integrity in circuit boards and integrated chip (IC) packages. With the incorporation of more and more lower power components into electronic designs, it becomes harder to ensure that the right power levels and signals are actually being transmitted throughout the board or package. Note that this tool has its own pre and post processor for PCB analysis. This is another tool that is important to consider for companies pushing more electronics, especially low power electronics, into their products.
Electronics Heat Dissipation
As requirements mount for smart connected products, manufacturers find they have to pack more and more compute power onto boards. That, in turn, generates more and more heat that has to be dissipated in some way, shape or form.
Icepak is ANSYS’ solver in this domain. It supports conduction, convection, and radiation conjugate thermal simulations. That applies for laminar and turbulent flows, ranging from the lowest levels in ICs through circuit boards through mechanical enclosures all the way up to entire rooms and structures. It includes a library of commonly used components that can be reused.
Engineers are not only designing more sensors and antennas into smart connected products so they can be more aware of their surroundings, they are also incorporating more actuated items like motors so they can exert control as well. These components are often low-frequency electromechanical devices like motors, solenoids, and more. The operation of these items, of course, generate their own electromagnetic fields, which can interfere with circuit boards and other embedded systems.
Simulating those circumstances is the purpose of ANSYS’ Maxwell solver. It supports static as well as transient analyses as such components often pass through different states. This solution utilizes high-performance computing (HPC) architectures to solve analyses in less time.
Having a broad range of physics available is an important issue for those designing electronics and electromechanical components. Developing the finite element mesh has traditionally been a stumbling block. A user can generate a mesh and solve it, sometimes in an automated way. However, they often have little idea of how accurate that result might be. With any hint of accuracy, an engineer can’t know if they should base a design decision on it or not.
That’s where adaptive meshing comes into play with these solvers. Adaptive meshing is a capability where the finite element mesh is not only automatically generated but also can change autonomously to improve accuracy. The mesh is driven towards convergence. This means a simulation is run with the initial mesh and then run again after the mesh is improved. If the two answers are not the same, then the mesh is changed again. This process is repeated until two consecutive answers agree.
Integrated Pre and Post for the Electrical Engineer
Each of these physics domains is important for the design of electrical, electronic and electromechanical systems. However, learning how to use a plethora of different tools is a luxury that today’s electrical engineers can ill-afford.
Fortunately, ANSYS doesn’t require that of their users. It offers the ANSYS Electronics Desktop as the single pre and post processor for HFSS, Icepak, and Maxwell. This presents a single user interface for an electrical engineer to learn about these different types of analyses.
Another advantageous capability to ANSYS Electronics Desktop is its ability to couple analyses across physics domains. This can include the dissipation of heat in an enclosure coupled with heat generation based on running a circuit board. It includes things like the structural deformation of a product based on microwave heating. This solution offers access to multiphysics simulation.
Another key area of functionality is the user interface that conforms to modern standards. It uses ribbon interfaces for both model preparation and results interrogation.
There are a lot of companies trying to figure out how to start developing smart connected products. Many such companies might not know it yet, but working through issues like electromagnetic interference and power integrity are serious performance challenges. Unchecked, such issues can introduce serious delays in development. This kind of simulation truly matters.
ANSYS’ solutions in this space are strong. They are broad in that they cover many of the physics phenomena that plague electronics and electromechanical systems. And while there are a couple other offerings that are as broad, the fact that these solutions are meant to be used by electrical engineers, not just expert analysts, is exceedingly rare. Furthermore, these tools allow co-simulation across physics domains where applicable. These three sets of capabilities, in combination, offer the right functionality for electrical engineers developing smart connected products.
The one drawback is the fact that SIwave does not use a separate as its pre and post processor: it has its own specialized application. While not ideal, I expect ANSYS to move that functionality into ANSYS Electronics Desktop over time, where users will have a single pre and post processor for all of these physics disciplines.
Takeaways and Conclusions
- HFSS is ANSYS’ solver for simulating microwave, RF, electromagnetic and other phenomena for high-frequency and high-speed devices.
- SIwave is ANSYS’s solver for analyzing signal and power integrity in circuit boards and integrated chip (IC) packages. This solver has its own specialized pre and post processor.
- Icepak is ANSYS’ solver for simulating thermal and fluid dynamics for anything from ICs to circuit boards and beyond.
- Maxwell is ANSYS’ solver for analyzing low-frequency electromechanical devices like motors, solenoids, and more.
- ANSYS Electronics Desktop is the common pre and post-processor that is used to develop analysis models and to review simulation results for all these solvers except SIwave. This platform is meant to be used by both the expert analyst and the electrical engineer.
That’s our review of the range of solutions for simulating electronics and electromechanical designs from ANSYS. Share your thoughts or experiences with these solutions in the comments below.