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Exa’s Power Suite: Focusing on the CFD Specialist

References Cited

Mechanical Computer Aided Engineering (MCAE)

Sometimes, it seems like everyone is caught up in giving simulation tools to everyday engineers. Its good, however, that some software providers are still focused on the simulation experts. Exa Corporation is one of those that falls into that category. And more specifically, they focus on computational fluid dynamics. In this post, you’ll find an overview of Exa’s Power suite of software products as well as my commentary and analysis.

Capabilities of Exa’s Power Suite

Let’s start at the top with a high level overview of what Exa’s Power set of simulation tools do.

Within the POWER suite, you have PowerDELTA, which is the pre-processor used to setup simulation models.

These concepts can be very powerful in that they enable quick changes to the CFD setup. Many simulation tools, however, have similar parameterized variables that control the simulation model.

A real difference with Exa’s tools lie in the method used to calculate simulation results.

For those of you not familiar with it, Navier-Stokes is the set of equations commonly used to calculate the characteristics of fluid flow. It is the standard that every engineer learns while earning a bachelor degree. You can find more about it on wikipedia. Now, that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the Lattice-Boltzman method. In fact, one can be mathematically derived from the other. There are advantages to each.

Once a simulation model is setup, tweaks can be made to the simulation model.

Using the Lattice Boltzman method generates more accurate results. That accuracy, however, requires more time and more hard disk space. This last fact can pose challenges in terms of visualizing the results. Exa, however, has developed their own results visualization tool to address this problem.

Lastly, Exa doesn’t just sell the software as a turnkey solution. Selling the software is actually the last step of an engagement that involves services that refines specific simulation setups, such as granularity of resolution for specific applications, to match testing data. For example, resolution for a brake cooling simulation requires a different kind of setup and resolution compared to a reentry vehicle stability simulation.

Commentary and Analysis

OK. So those are the facts about what Exa’s software tools can do.

What do I think about them? Let’s tackle that next.

Experts Only

First off, be very clear that these tools really are for dedicated experts. This really isn’t software you plop down in front of engineers that will be chasing down all sorts of different design issues. This set of software tools needs dedicated experts. The reason isn’t necessarily ease-of-use issues. The reason is the need to tightly correlate test results against these simulation results. Again, this isn’t a directional type of CFD simulation: its dead on accurate.

Second, to consider this kind of software tool, fluid dynamics must be highly influential for your company’s products. Now, its absolutely true that fluids affect many more products that are being simulated today. I’ll give you that. However, for this software toolset to make an impact, an organization needs to be pretty mature in their understanding of how fluid dynamics affect their products.

Note: Exa reached out to me after the publication of this post on this point. In their view, their solution offers several advantages for common engineers to leverage their software. Their solver does not require tweaking, as some solvers require modifications to their parameters to get accurate results. Furthermore, best practices can be captured in templates that engineers can leverage for reuse. I advise that those considering fluid dynamics simulation software to assess this point and the fit to their organization and personnel.

Integrated Simulation Setup and Direct Modeling

One big advantage I see with this set of tools lies in the PowerCLAY offering. In essence, it allows for direct modeling manipulation of the simulation model without going back to the CAD application used to originally build the geometry. This sort of approach makes nothing but sense to empower simulation analysts to run more simulations. It will be important, however, to find a way to track what configurations were simulated, even if there isn’t a 3D model in CAD that represents it.

Prove It, Buy It

I have to admit that I’m impressed with the services approach. Given the context, though, it makes sense. Organizations  that consider purchasing this kind of software aren’t looking for simulations that are close enough. They want simulations that are dead on accurate. The proof required to build confidence in the simulation tool isn’t easily gained. In fact, calibrating such simulation tools can be quite an endeavor. That is why Exa offers services to enable such activities.

Recap and Summary

  • Exa provides a suite of software products for fluid dynamics simulations.
  • Exa’s PowerDELTA imports CAD models and enables pre-processing with parametric simulation features.
  • Exa’s PowerFLOW solver uses the Lattice-Boltzman method instead of Navier-Stokes to generate more accurate but larger results.
  • Exa’s PowerCLAY provides direct modeling manipulation of the simulation model for changes.
  • Exa’s PowerVIZ allows users to view and interrogate large scale simulation results.
  • Exa provides services to prove out the simulation software, matching simulations up to test results.

That’s my deep dive into Exa’s simulation software for CFD. I’m curious to ask a few questions. Do you think more software providers of simulation tools should offer similar services to prove out their tools? What sort of split does your company have between directional and accurate-to-test simulations? Sound off and let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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.

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