There are a bunch of things we take for granted each day. We pick up our smartphones to check messages or play games. We get in our cars and drive off trusting that it will work as we expect and the building we work in won't collapse. In the past, the designs of those, and thousands of other objects and devices we take for granted, would have been drawn with the complex calculations undertaken by engineers. Today much of that legwork is carried out in software. And it turns out many of the things we depend on where designed using an application called Altair.
Altair is a suite of tools designed to help people solve complex problems. While anyone can imagine anything, the challenge is to take that imagined object and turn it into reality.
While 3D-printing has made the problem of creating and prototyping designs simpler and cheaper, you still need to design viable objects and machines. For example, Elon Musk's company uses Altair to design the Tesla and Ford used the software to design the Ranger in Australia. That's a car designed here and sold around the world.
When we think about a car, there's the body of the vehicle as well the drive train. With the body of the car, it can be made out of a variety of materials, such as carbon fibre or different alloys. Altair has thousands of different materials pre-set so a designer can experiment and model what will happen under different stresses and through different manufacturing processes. So, if a metal is folded or extruded, the software can assist the designers and engineers work out whether what they have imagined will work in the real world.
The software can also be programmed so, if its in-built library of thousands of materials does contain the precise material or alloy you're using, it can be added.
For automotive design, the software has models of different road conditions so different simulations can be conducted before a model or prototype needs to be produced. This is behind the software's design-simulate-produce workflow.
Those simulations aren't just physical. In an engine, there are chemical interactions that are critical. For example, lubricants need to be correctly distributed in order to ensure the performance and protect the longevity of components in the drive train. This is another area where Altair allows designers to experiment and simulate before producing physical components.
As well as working with Ford and Tesla, Altair is used by many other car makers.
The Americas Cup
Brett Ellis has been designing yachts to compete in the Americas Cup. He said, during Altair's recent user conference in Melbourne, that he uses the application to try different designs and simulate what will happen in the water without having to create physical models. As well as saving on costs, there is a significant time saving which means they can dedicate more of the approximately $80m it takes to compete in the world's oldest yacht race to other areas where they can make a difference.
The other advantage, said Ellis, comes when racing. Even very fine changes can make a significant difference when everyone is racing at the edges of what's possible. By being able to test what may look like very small changes, the race team is able to have a better understanding of how their boat will behave under different conditions.
Consumer Electronics And More
While much of the focus during Altair's conference was on mechanical systems such as marine and automotive there was also some discussion about how the software is used by the likes of Apple to create models that can be quickly produced, using 3D printers or other tools, so designers can test their assumptions.
Other machines such as racing bicycles are now being conceptualised and modelled using software. They are then produced using 3D printers. This allows designers to precisely tune the bike for the athlete.