Concept design. Detailed design. Verification and validation. Prototype and test. Today, simulation can be used in each of these areas to great benefit. However, that doesn’t mean you can simply create one simulation solution to cover all of them. There are distinctly separate roles that would apply simulation in each of those phases of development. Each of those roles will have varying knowledge and skills with respect to engineering physics, analysis methods, CAD software and simulation software.
Given such variation, it is tempting to build a myriad of software applications, each tailored for different roles and needs. But here’s the conflict, software providers want and need to leverage and reuse the same simulation technology. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time a new role that needs simulation pops up. So what should a software provider do?
Build a platform.
And therein lies the reason that I’m starting a series of reviews on ANSYS offerings with a look at their platform Workbench. In this post, you get a review of the capabilities it provides and my take on its positives and negatives. Ready? Lets get started.
An Overview of Workbench Capabilities
The best place to begin to understand this solution is with Workbench. ANSYS’ intent is that Workbench becomes the ‘Operating System’ for simulation within an engineering organization. That means it is a platform upon which other software applications can be built. Specifically, it is composed of several buckets of functionality, including:
- Workflow Capabilities: Workbench and its applications don’t just execute individual analyses; they can execute them in an automated fashion. It is best to think of this as a block diagram or schematic, with information flowing from one box to another. There are essentially three types of boxes in these workflows: geometry (more on this later), simulations (again, more detail later) and parameters (yes, more later). These boxes can be strung together in practically any order, even with parallel paths, with stuff (geometry, analysis results, parameter values) passed from one box to another. The entire workflow can be executed in an automated fashion with no or little input from a user. In my mind, this is the core and central concept behind Workbench.
- Geometry Integration Capabilities: Like I said, geometry is one of the three types of boxes that can be inserted into a workflow. This set of capabilities essentially allows models from other CAD applications to be brought into Workbench and its simulation applications. Furthermore, it exposes the dimensions and parameters used to control the geometry of those models in their original CAD application to Workbench. This means that a user can vary a dimension for the CAD model, have the CAD application regenerate the geometry and pass it back to Workbench. And, of course, the opposite is true: changes made in the CAD application will be propagated into Workbench. This sort of bi-directional associativity is key for design studies (yep, we’ll get to that later).
- Analysis Capabilities: Another type of box in these workflows are analyses. The functionality here exposes all of the analysis capabilities that ANSYS has developed and acquired for use within Workbench and its applications. These tools cover an incredibly broad range of engineering simulation, including systems, fluids, structures, electronics, semiconductors and embedded software. Ultimately, this is one of the broadest, if not the broadest, offering in the industry. It is critical to note that results from one analysis can be passed to another, mapping those results in an automated fashion. So, for example, electro-magnetic forces might induce a deformation on a part, which in turn, induces structural stresses. Or a fluid flow around a body might result in a pressure gradient across a wing, inducing deformation in it. Or, raising the temperature of a component combined with material expansion rates will also induces stresses. Each of these analyses requires a different mesh for accurate results. Workbench maps those results across those different mesh models seamlessly.
- Parameter Control Capabilities: The third type of box in these workflows allows users to control the parameters of their designs. Yes, this includes control over the dimensions and other characters of geometry in CAD models. But it goes beyond that. Parameters might also be material properties like a coefficient of friction as different lubricants are explored, thermal conductivity as different coolants are explored or tensile strength for material selection. Essentially, this could be any non-geometric parameters critical to the design. This goes far beyond CAD.
- Templating Capabilities: Workflows made of a mixture of geometry, analyses and parameters can be executed in an automated fashion in Workbench. That’s powerful. However, users will need some means of varying parameters so they can explore design alternatives. In this context, it is critical to allow the inputs to such workflows to be standardized and presented in an easy-to-use interface. That is where Workbench’s templates come into play. They offer standard fields and selection options where the workflow can be varied, allowing different design alternatives to be explored and automate the generation of simulation results.
- Configuration Management Capabilities: Design is not always freeform, where any combination of design parameters is feasible. In many cases, certain parameter values are only compatible with other parameter values. That translates to certain feasible configurations of parameters that represent distinct designs. In Workbench, these parameter configurations are represented by Design Points. In a table-like interface, users can define a large number of these Design Points and then execute the workflow in batch for all of them. Results are tracked and recorded. Users can then switch between these Design Points by selecting them from a drop down menu.
- Design Study Capabilities: As you can see, Workbench provides a number of different ways to vary parameters manually. But there are capabilities in Workbench to vary them in an automated fashion. Capabilities included here cover sensitivity studies (tracking the impact of a varying parameter on a simulation result), optimization (gradient-based to minimize or maximize a measure by varying inputs) and design of experiments. Each of these capabilities executes the workflow and record the results of the included analyses.
- Simulation Data Management Capabilities: Another category of functionality built on top of the workflow capabilities is file management. When you can automate simulations through workflows, users can generate a lot of files. In those circumstances, users need to understand which result corresponds to which design configuration. Workbench has the capabilities to automatically track, manage and control all of these files, even providing functionality to compress and archive them together. Much of this functionality is expanded upon as part of the ANSYS Engineering Knowledge Manager offering, which also acts as an archival tool, batch solve manager, and cloud manager.
Note that no button or module within Workbench go by these specific names. These are lumps of capabilities categorized by how I think of them.
All of this functionality was used to build the ANSYS AIM solution, which enables engineers to conduct simulations during the design cycle. But over time, more and more apps can and will be built for different roles and needs on the Workbench platform.
Now, make no mistake: Workbench is not just a platform to build applications. It can actually be used to conduct simulations. So it is a functional app as well as a platform.
Commentary and Analysis
- Interchangeable Data: As noted earlier in this post, many different users can use simulation in many different stages of the development cycle. If they each use their own tools that each use proprietary formats, data interoperability becomes a major issue. The expert analyst running a detailed simulation during verification and validation can’t review the quick analysis that the engineer ran in detailed design. That becomes a big problem because different roles will end up duplicating work that has already been completed. If those roles use different applications based on Workbench, the simulation analyst can review the work the engineer completes in full detail, even if they use two different Workbench applications. Furthermore, this is critical in organizations where expert analysts mentor engineers who are casual users. The expert can review the work of the engineer without switching tools.
- Leveraging Automation: Different roles have different needs for automation. Expert analysts need it because they are buried under long queues of analysis requests. Common engineers need it because they don’t have the expertise to fill out all the fine details required by some analyses. The automation and template functionality in Workbench addresses both needs. But furthermore, the same functionality available in the platform can be exposed in dramatically different ways to the two different users in two different applications.
- Embedded Data Management: I’ve written before about how managing files is a necessary but non-value added activity, yet managing simulation artifacts is incredibly complex. The good news is that because the functionality is automatic within the Workbench platform, the resulting simulation applications can have those capabilities built into them seamlessly.
- Web and Cloud Implications: Through a web interface, the ANSYS Engineering Knowledge Manager (EKM) can start Workbench analyses and view results. It provides a powerful ‘access anywhere’ paradigm. Additionally, the entire infrastructure of this solution can be hosted through the private cloud option with Amazon, making for an intriguing option for those interested in expandable computing power. If I were to have any criticism of this platform, it would be that I wish the entire offering were available as a multi-tenant cloud native app. This, though, is a minor criticism.
Recap and Takeaways
- Workbench is a simulation platform that ANSYS, partners and customers can use to build applications.
- It provides a wide range of functionality, including CAD integrations and interactions, access to a wide range of engineering physics, automated workflows and templates, design studies and data management. Applications are built through the ANSYS Customization Toolkit (ACT).
- The Workbench platform offers some significant advantageous capabilities, including:
- Users utilizing different apps based on Workbench can review and work on each other’s files.
- Simulation automation through workflows and templates that can be utilized in Workbench applications.
- Data management that can be embedded within Workbench applications.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a deeper dive into ANSYS AIM solution, their solution to enable simulation driven design by engineers.
In the meantime, leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below.
Take care. Talk soon. Thanks for reading.