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A Look at Dassault Systèmes’ SIMULIA SLM

Earlier this week, I published a post titled The Misnomer of Simulation Lifecycle Management. There I covered some definitions of both Simulation Data Management (SDM) as well as Simulation Lifecycle Management (SLM) as a baseline to start talking more about the SLM solutions that are offered by different software providers. And if you’re going to talk about specific SLM solutions, there’s no better place to start than SIMULIA SLM from Dassault Systèmes. In this post, you’ll find some background on how this solution developed over time, the capabilities it provides as well as my commentary and analysis.

Background

Dassault Systèmes dove into the deep end of the simulation pool back in October 2005 when they completed their acquisition of ABAQUS (press release from DS). Next in May 2006, although few industry pundits thought it was relevant to simulation at the time, Dassault Systèmes acquired MatrixOne and their PLM solution (press release from DS). Then in January of 2008, Dassault Systèmes launched their SIMULIA SLM solution (press release from DS). But they actually weren’t done. They then acquired Engineous in June 2008 (press release). Overall, these three acquisitions provided critical sets of capabilities to this solution.

Capabilities Provided

So what exactly does SIMULIA’s SLM  solution actually do? As discussed in my earlier post defining SLM, these types of solutions manage simulation data and automate procedural simulation processes. But that doesn’t mean that every SLM solution is the same. And as you’ll see, there’s a lot to SIMULIA’s SLM solution.

Managing Simulation Data

As you can imagine, it’s fairly obvious than you need to manage the versions and iterations of different artifacts that are used as well as generated from simulations including:

  • Original Mechanical CAD model
  • Abstracted Mechanical CAD model
  • Meshed CAE model
  • Variations of the CAE model with different cases, such as loads, boundary conditions, etc.
  • Variations of the CAE model across different domains / disciplines, such as CFD, dynamics, electromagnetics, etc.
  • Results of each simulation

Above and beyond the versions and iterations of each of these different simulation artifacts, there are interrelationships between each of them as well. A change in one will trigger a cascading propagation of change in all of the others. And it is equally as important to be aware of and manage that associativity. If you’re not, then you could run a simulation that you think is the latest, but might already be outdated. Design decisions based on those outdated results cause major downstream errors. As you can imagine, as I published in a post titled The Pitfalls of Multi-Discplinary Simulations: Divergent Model Abstractions, this becomes terribly painful to track, manage and control.

The good news is that SIMULIA’s SLM provides the management capabilities to not only track and control the versions and iterations of those individual simulation artifacts, but also look into those files and understand those associative interrelationships as well. Don’t be mistaken. It won’t propagate those changes in some automated way. But it will let you know what is out of date. And at least that is a step in the right direction.

Setting Up and Executing Simulation Procedural Workflows

As I pointed out before, something else notable about SLM is the capability to automate simulation procedural workflows. Just to be clear, this isn’t a workflow to support a business process like a change management process or a portfolio management process. This is more akin to engineering automation tools where you can plug-in some variables and a complex mechanical CAD model is generated in an automated fashion. Except in this case, the automation task is far more complex.

With SIMULIA SLM, you use something called the Scenario Definition to define your procedural workflow. This tool looks, feels and acts much like a workflow template editor you might find in a PLM solution. However, the tasks in this procedural workflow are simulation oriented. They might be something like meshing a mechanical CAD model, applying loads and boundary conditions to surfaces with predefined tags, passing data or models between applications or running a simulation. These tasks can require manual intervention by a user or be automated in some fashion. This might sound similar to some other technologies that are already available today, however, SIMULIA SLM provides some fairly broad capabilities including:

  • Tasks Across Simulation Disciplines and Domains: There’s a huge push today towards multi-disciplinary simulations. Often those types of simulations require handoffs between applications or even simultaneous exchange of information between running simulations. So as you might expect, you can create tasks in a procedural workflow that spans these simulation disciplines within the ABAQUS suite, which is one of the most expansive. So naturally, there’s pretty broad support for simulation automation within the SIMULIA brand alone.
  • Tasks Across the Ecosystem of other Simulation Applications: But the folks at SIMULIA have realized that they alone don’t cover every single type of analysis that needs to be run. And as such, they’ve made this procedural simulation workflow engine fairly open to 3rd party analysis tools. They have been and will continue to work with their partners to integrate them on an ongoing basis.
  • Tasks Across CAD Platforms and PDM Platforms: It’s not all about simulation however. There are times, even during a simulation procedure, where you need to get information that exists in a CAD model, in a PDM system or in a PLM system. Thankfully, SIMULIA SLM provides tasks to connected to and pull information from such models and systems, even beyond ENOVIA, Dassault Systèmes PLM system.

Once the simulation procedural workflow is built, it can be then be run in the Execution Engine and results are generated. Of course, you can use those results to drive design decisions or any other purpose you might have. However, it doesn’t have to end there. In fact, you could use this type of workflow as the basis for optimizations or use their Automatic Report Generator to drop the results into a pre formatted document report.

Collaboration and Review

So far, we’ve talked about the two common capability areas associated with SLM. But SIMULIA SLM offers a few more capabilities.

One notable one is its sharing capabilities. The idea here is to share any kind of simulation artifact or procedural workflow with others to get feedback. Obviously, they can provide that in a variety of forms. I expect this functionality is common with ENOVIA, which will continue to improve and be upgraded over time. Therein lies one benefit of having a SLM system that is at least in part derived from a PLM system.

Another notable capability is Live Simulation Review, which is an extended version of Dassault Systèmes’ 3DLive offering. Essentially, it lets users visually search and navigate the simulation artifacts managed within SIMULIA SLM. This capability can be used in a wide variety of scenarios where someone needs feedback, ranging from simple feedback from an individual to large review meetings.

Commentary and Analysis

As you can see, there is a lot of capability in SIMULIA SLM. But that in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean it delivers value. Let’s shift gears to that type of conversation.

Back in December 2010, I published a post titled The Very Real Skill set Challenges to Simulation Driven Design. In it, I pointed out that a successful simulation driven design initiative requires users to have four sets of knowledge and skills:

  1. Background in Engineering Science
  2. Understanding of Computational Methods
  3. Familiarity with CAD Software
  4. Knowledge of Simulation Software

Essentially, I was saying that it’s too much to ask any one role in an organization to know all of those things. And no simulation-embedded-in-CAD software will help address that. However, I don’t think it’s hopeless. In a post I published later that same month titled, Is Teamwork the Key to Simulation Driven Design, I suggested that a team could take on those responsibilities instead of any single individual. And interestingly enough, almost 15 months later, I think that the capabilities that SIMULIA SLM provides can help bridge that gap. Specifically, I see the technical capabilities of this solution enabling a different team dynamic in the following ways.

  • Simulation expert analysts can set up simulation procedural workflows. Designers and engineers can run them. That fact alone addresses the requirements that designers and engineers understanding of computation methods and knowledge of simulation software. The degree of success, however, is limited to the degree of automation and scope of simulation. SIMULIA SLM seems broad and deep in that regard.
  • As much as they might hate to admit it, the demands of multi-disciplinary analyses have made novices out of almost every expert simulation analyst. In reality, it’s practically impossible to be an expert in every single simulation domain today. There’s simply too much. It’s simply too broad. The simulation procedural workflows, if setup collaboratively amongst a team of simulation analysts that are each experts in their field, can help address that shortfall. But again, the degree of success depends on the extents of the types of simulation and automation that is provided. And with an openness strategy with 3rd party analysis tools, SIMULIA SLM is providing a means to push their extents out very far.

For the most part, I’m focusing on the simulation automation capabilities here. So let me give the foundation stuff it’s due too. The ability to manage a wide variety of simulation artifacts is a crucial underpinning to this whole thing. And to be honest, I think there is a question of how broadly does it do that today as well as how much further are they going to extend their support for other simulation artifacts in the future. Time will tell. But the traceability of who simulated what with which original CAD model, which abstracted CAD model, which mesh, which boundary conditions and boundary conditions is terribly valuable. You no longer have to worry about the sky falling when a critical simulation analyst leaves the organization… or retires.

Conclusions and Questions

Yes. I know. I know. That was a lot. But what can I say. There’s a lot to talk about with SIMULIA SLM. Here’s the recap.

SIMULIA SLM provides a number of capabilities including:

  • The ability to manage versions, iterations as well as the interdependencies between a wide variety of simulation artifacts.
  • The ability to set up and execute simulation procedural workflows that can include manual or automated tasks that span simulation disciplines, that cut across Dassault Systèmes’ ecosystems of simulation partners and include multiple CAD and PDM platforms.
  • The ability use results from the simulation procedural workflows in optimization or other automated improvement cycles or generation of predefined template reports.
  • The ability to share and collaborate on simulation artifacts or simulation procedural workflows.
  • The ability to visually search and navigate simulation artifacts.

Ultimately, these capabilities provide an answer to issues that I think have stymied simulation driven design efforts for some time. The ability to use simulation procedural workflows reduce the need for designers and engineers to increase their understanding of computation methods and knowledge of simulation software. The degree to success of such an effort, however, will be limited to the extent of SIMULIA’s support for a range of simulation types.

Now that I’ve shared my thoughts on SIMULIA SLM, what are your thoughts? How critical is this ability to run simulation procedural workflows? How important is it to include 3rd party simulation partners? I’m curious to get your thoughts.

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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  • Peter Bartholomew

    Great
    article Chad.  Mind you, my definition of
    a great article is one which reinforces my own prejudices, so there is still room
    for dissent!   Now to the exam questions:

     

    How
    critical is this ability to run simulation procedural workflows?

    The
    critical part is to document the actual process that occurred on the day.  The execution of procedural workflows is
    important if you need a simulation production line, less so if you need top-flight
    craftsman’s work.  As an optimization
    specialist I like automation, provided it is used to empower me and not to
    constrain me.

     

    How
    important is it to include 3rd party simulation partners?

    Every
    system is bounded in time and space.  How
    well the system works with the whole zoo of internal and external applications should
    be a critical factor in its selection. 
    As for time, the questions might be what are the implementation costs
    and how well, if at all, does it deal with legacy data.  Since no system lasts forever the final
    question should be “What is the exit strategy?”  Will I still be able to access my data and my
    processes when the system is no longer available?

    • http://www.engineering-matters.com/ Chad Jackson

      Hey Peter. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Good to get your perspective.

      I agree with you on the need to document what people did. For simulation analysts, I think that is a non-value add activity given their knowledge and skills. The more those activities can be documented in an automated fashion, the better. Hopefully that means they could spend more time doing analysis.

      I think you have a great point about the portability of the data and processes. I imagine this concept is so new to many people that most don’t think about the back end of things. That’s definitely a good suggestion to consider.