Using cloud computing for engineering simulation

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As companies collaborate more with one another, require complex IT management, and seek to network with external businesses, many are now tapping into the computing power of the cloud. Media research organization International Data Group expects more than 95% of companies to be using the cloud for its applications and infrastructure by 2021.

For engineering teams that require virtually unlimited power to run simultaneous simulations in complex environments, tapping into the cloud enables them to shorten their product development times, particularly for parts in the automotive industry. It also enables them to undertake more complex projects and work with standardized software tools. In IT terms, firms believe simulation software will help them become more competitive, react to changing markets, save on expenditure, and transform their digital business.

In the spring of 2019, Peerless Research Group conducted a cloud-enabled simulation study for simulation software provider ANSYS and discovered that only 17% of respondents used the cloud for engineering simulation, with another 20% aiming to use it in 2020. The benefits cited included the ability to scale quickly and reduce costs.

Indeed, Wim Slagter, ANSYS’s director for high-performance computing (HPC) and cloud alliances, believes that being able to expand compute capacity almost immediately is a clear advantage of using the cloud. “According to the survey, the top three engineering benefits are increasing the speed of product development, improving engineering productivity, and accelerating innovation,” he says.

“This wasn’t a huge surprise because when we asked how often respondents encountered peak capacity that a cloud-based solution could address, more than a third said they reached peak capacity at least a few times each month. The additional benefit of cloud computing is that you get the right HPC resources when you need them, and you only pay for what you use.”

In the last two or three years, cloud simulation has transformed from being a domain for product verification used by a few experts to a tool to evaluate the entire development process for products and services. “It’s also moving downstream of the product lifecycle process to analyze real-time operational data from connected machines to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT),” Slagter adds.

“At ANSYS, we call this expansion ‘pervasive engineering simulation’, or the ability to deliver analysis for a broader engineering audience throughout the design process. To reinforce that vision, we developed and released ANSYS Cloud, a capability that delivers easy access to on-demand HPC in the Microsoft Azure Cloud from the ANSYS Desktop. Engineers work within their familiar desktop simulation environment and log into their cloud account. From there, they can create new jobs, choose the closest available data center, pick from a set of pre-defined hardware configurations that are optimized for the solver they are using, and then submit the jobs. The files are automatically encrypted, sent to the cloud, and HPC resources are provisioned on demand.

“Once the job is running, engineers can monitor the simulation from their desktop, mobile app or from the ANSYS Cloud portal. When the job is complete, they can return to the web portal to visualize and interact with the 3D simulation results while the data is still stored in the cloud. The simulation results can also be downloaded to the local workstation to perform detailed post-processing analysis,” Slagter continues.

The goal of using cloud-based simulation is to increase productivity and competitiveness, reduce complexity and accelerate innovation, but rapid advances in technology mean that engineers face a constant battle with the limitations of their computer network. “High-performance computing can improve the speed of product development and innovation by helping engineers conduct more challenging simulations,” Slagter explains.

“It also offers high fidelity into how the design will work in the real world. It even allows organizations to centralize and consolidate their compute resources. This means greater IT agility, which can be managed from a single location. While hardware and software enhancements have enabled HPC to deliver significant value to engineering simulation users, cost and lack of HPC skills often hinder adoption rates. Cloud HPC services provide a turnkey way to access the power of HPC as an alternative to, or to complement, capital expenditure for on-premises hardware and software.”

Slagter believes that using cloud-based simulations can also help the automotive industry accelerate its development of connected vehicles and autonomous driving technology: “We have just released ANSYS Autonomy, which enables engineers to develop safer autonomous vehicles through advanced closed-loop scenario simulations, automated driving, and control software development. It also enables functional safety analysis along with sensor, camera, lidar, and radar simulation.

“As fully autonomous vehicles edge closer to real-world deployment, operating safely becomes even more critical. AVs require rigorous testing in complex environments and under variable conditions. Physical testing would require billions of miles of driving, which would be too time-consuming and cost-prohibitive. Using simulation testing is the only viable option for validating systems safety and accelerating development.

In addition, ANSYS SCADE Vision enables engineers to evaluate the safety of AI-based perception software systems and reduces object detection defects in autonomous systems. This drastically reduces the cost of AV perception software testing, enhances safety, and drives high value from AV data.

ANSYS 2019 R3 meanwhile, introduces a multi-physics collaboration with ANSYS Minerva, which is powered by Aras’s resilient platform. “This centralized knowledge-management application provides a single repository of critical simulation data so Minerva can help AV engineers deliver next-generation products to market faster and cheaper. This family of applications enables AV engineers to optimize the distribution, management, and solve times of various compute resources,” Slagter comments.

According to the survey, businesses that haven’t adopted cloud simulation systems claim that cybersecurity, data storage, and performance are their biggest concerns, but cloud providers’ security policies are invariably stronger than the computing environments and procedures employed by the organizations using the cloud in the first place.

Researching the processes, understanding the risks and safeguards, and enlisting IT companies to rate cloud providers’ security protocols will all help businesses realize the benefits of engineering simulation via the cloud as the technology advances.

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About Author


Liam is a freelance writer and sub-editor for The Daily Telegraph. He has written 70 books on subjects ranging from the history of Ferrari and Formula 1 to the world’s most famous TV cars. He has edited another 40 books, including the Discarded Science series by Hugo Award-winning author John Grant. He is also the author of eight screenplays, two of which are now in pre-production.

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