Recommended Free Utilities for the ANSYS User’s Toolbox

free-stuffWhat do you have in your toolbox? The ANSYS suite of tools is pretty comprehensive.  But an efficient user always has a collection of utilities that they use with ANSYS products to automate processes, convert data, and scrub results.  In 2008 we published a list of free and commercial tools that we were using at PADT, and web results show that it is one of our more popular posts. So we thought it was a good time to revisit and update those lists.

We will start with the free tools, well because everyone loves something for free. This is by no means a comprehensive list, these are simply the tools we currently use here at PADT. If you have alternative suggestions, please leave them in a comment.  I tried to put them in some logical grouping, but failed.  So here they are, in no particular order:

untitled python
Scripting Language
www.python.org

Every good simulation user needs scripting.  We spend a lot of time dealing with large amounts of data and setting up all sorts of complicated processes.  Scripting can be used to create, modify, sift through, or translate text versions of our models, loads, and results.  Some users like to stick with APDL and never leave ANSYS, some know Matlab very well.  Others may use newer languages like Lua or older ones like perl.
Here at PADT we have found that python is the best tool for scripting outside of ANSYS MAPDL (we use APDL if we are in the program).  Not only is it easy to learn and use, it has hundreds of free libraries that do almost anything you want. Lots of people know it, and you are not dependent on some other piece of software. Python also works on Linux and Windows. In addition, most CAE tools these days support python scripting.  This is certainly true of the Workbench project page and ANSYS ACT for ANSYS Mechanical. 

Alternatives: perl, Lua, linux shell scripts.

vtk VTK
Visualization Library
www.vtk.org

Did you ever wish there was a toolkit out there that you could use to quickly build a visualization tool?  I know I spent days of my early career writing simple tools from scratch, and spending most of my time on graphics stuff.  Well, VTK is that toolkit.  It consists of C++ class libraries, and includes interpreters for Tcl/Tk, Java, and python.  With python, you can create little applications very quickly without having to know a full object oriented programming language.  The resulting graphics are fast and attractive. If you are going to be writting your own vertical application that works with your FEA or CFD tool, use VTK for the graphics.

paraview ParaView
Visualization Tool
www.paraview.org 

The first time you use ParaView, your response will most likely be OMG. It is a visualization tool written in VTK.  It reads most FEA and CFD formats, along with pretty much any faceted geometry data format.  [Unfortunately it is not reading the current ANSYS ds.dat file that ANSYS mechanical writes (or a cdb file)  I’ll try and submit a bug report. ]  But it does read a CGNS file, which you can export to from Workbench. 

But we don’t use it for working with ANSYS files so much, we have tools for that. We use it to deal with other file formats like STL, NASTRAN, CGNS, ExodusII, etc…  Very handy and intuitive to use. It is also an example of how powerful VTK is.

Alternatives: OpenCascade

notepad  Notepad++
Source Code Editor
notepad-plus-plus.org 

This is a great text editor.  Newer than most, it builds on the dozens of previous text editors out there.  It does syntax highlighting and auto completion for many languages. For ANSYS users, it has a powerful column editing mode, very sophisticated search and replace, and macro recording and playback.  I’m not aware of an APDL syntax highlighter, but you have PeDAL for that. There are a lot of text editors out there, and this one has bubbled to the top as the most popular at PADT.

Alternatives: Notepad, PSPad, TextPad, UltraEdit, and dozens more

vim Vim/GVim
VI Text Editor
www.vim.org 

Some people love VI, the old Unix text editor.  I’m one of those people. I’ve been using VI for over 30 years.  So I have to have a VI editor on my machine and I use it instead of Notepad++ or other text editors. Because I don’t want to touch a mouse, I want to [Esc] jjjj llll .  instead.  Vim is really the only good VI tool out there anymore, and it comes standard on most Linux installs instead of the old Vi.  The windows version works great.

Alternatives: Elvis, Vile, Lemmy

openoffice OpenOffice
Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Slide Shows, Database
www.openoffice.org 

Let’s be honest, MS Office dominates this type of tool. It works, everyone has it, and everyone knows it.  But sometime you don’t want to fork over cash to those guys in Seattle. Or maybe you spend your day on Linux.  OpenOffice is about 90% of what MS Office does, and it is free. It kind of died at Sun when they got bought by Oracle.. Since Apache has taken up the market, it has seen a lot of enhancements.

Many people just think about the word processor, but remember it has a simple drawing tool, an equation editor, a a very good database program.

Alternatives: GoogleDocs, LibreOffice

latex LaTeX
Document Perpetration System
www.latex-project.org 

How do you tell an engineer with an advanced degree from one who just has a BS?  The one with the MS or PhD like LaTeX.

Traditionally the tool of thesis writers, LaTeX has significant utility for the ANSYS user.  It allows you to create nice looking documents by imbedding tags in the document.  A pain when we have WYSIWYG editors, but very useful if you want to use scripting to create a document.  It is also a great way to create very good looking equations and tables.  Think of it as HTML for nice looking documents.

Alternatives: Word Processors

cutepdf CutePDF
PDF Creator/Writer
www.cutepdf.com 

This tool is not as important as it once was, since many programs write to PDF for you. But every once in a while you run across one that does not.  It installs like a printer, so anything program with a print command allows you to save as PDF. 

Alternatives: Adobe Online PDF Creator, PDF reDirect, PDFCreator, and a ton more.

adobe-reader-logo Adobe Reader
PDF Viewer
get.adobe.com/reader 

I almost left this off the list, but to be fair I included this. If you don’t have Acrobat Reader, you must live in a cave.  It is pretty much required to do business in this day and age.

ghostscript

Ghostscript
Ghostview
GSView

PostScript Tools
pages.cs.wissc.edu/~ghost 

Ghostscript is an old Gnu project that contains tools for working with PostScript.  Ghostview is the viewing tool on Linux, although it has been replaced by GV.  GSView is a viewer for Windows.  Look at the website to learn about which tool you should be using.

If you just look at PDF’s, then Adobe Reader is all you need. But if you have an older program that output PostScript directly, or you want to write a tool that create PostScript, then this toolset is for you.

windows-snipping 

Windows Snipping Tool
Screen Capture Tool
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipping_Tool 

This comes with all modern Window’s operating systems.  And, to be honest, this is the one free utility most of us use more than any other.  Who saves images to files any more, we just snip them!  If you don’t have it in your task bar, put it there and get used to using it. 

Your Linux Desktop Environment will have a similar tool: KSnapshot or GNOME Screenshot

camstudio

CamStudio
Screen Capture Tool
camstudio.org 

CamStudio is an open source tool for capturing video and audio off your screen.  Now one may want this to create screen grabs of “Lost in Space” reruns… but what does an ANSYS user need this for.  We use it to make tutorials for other users.  It is a great way to capture what you are doing on your screen for training or to share with co-workers.

Alternatives:  We mostly use commercial tools for this… see the next article.

gimp-logo

GIMP
Image Editing Tools
www.gimp.org 

I hate the name of this product. The politically-correct-Berkley-grad in me finds it very distasteful. But it stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program.  It is not Adobe PhotoShop, but every release it gets closer. And in some areas it is better. It runs on Linux and Windows, always a plus.  We use it on our Unix machines to crop and clean up images. It can also be used to combine a series of images into an Animated GIF.  It is not bad at deleting backgrounds to make images with transparency for presentations as well.  It also has a fairly good vector creation layer.

We used to recommend a mixture of free tools to deal with image manipulation and editing, but now we feel that GIMP does it all.

Alternatives; ImageMagick, MS Paint

Movie to GIF MovieToAniGif
Make Animated GIF’s from AVI’s
www.evanolds.com/movtogifsimple.html

Everyone uses Microsoft PowerPoint to do presentations, and for most things it works great. But one thing is really sucks at is animations: you have to keep the movie files you are showing in the same directory because you can not embed them.  The simplest solution to this problem is to convert your animations into animated GIF files. Then insert those in your presentation. It also solves the problem of putting animations on your website without using YouTube or Flash.

The tool we use mostly is Move to Animated GIF Converter.  It is old, the last version came out in 2010, but it still works just fine.  Not much to it, point it at an AVI file and then save it as an animated GIF.

Alternatives: There are a bunch of tools out there, we have not used any so can’t really recommend an alternative.

engauge-digitizer Engauge
Converts Images of Graphs into Data
digitizer.sourceforge.net

Have you ever asked someone for material properties and you get a scan of a phototcopy of a book page back?  It happens less these days than it used to but you still sometimes get an image of a graph rather than a spreadsheet file.  Have no fear, Engauge is here!  It takes your image and allows you to identify the axis and the scale, then the data.  With a few clicks you have a table of useful data. 

Alternatives: A ruler.

Gnuplot Gnuplot
Plotting Tool
www.gnuplot.info

Most FEA tools have their own 2D and 3D Graphing options, and of course Excel does a pretty good job. But sometimes you need more, or you want a plotting tool you can script. Gnuplot is that tool. It has been around forever and has about every type of graph imaginable. As a command line based program with its own scripting language, it can be generated by your programs to get the exact plot that you want.

Alternatives: Python’s matplotlib or PyQtGraph, Scilab

scilab Scilab
Numerical Computation Tool
www.scilab.org

We don’t us a lot of Matlab here at PADT, we try and beat it out of new grads when we hire them… no not really.  It is a tool that our younger engineers are used to using.  The problem is it is kind of expensive when you use it every once in a while. Scilab is a nice open source alternative.  It works well and runs on Linux and Windows. 

Alternatives: Julia, Sage.

Remote_desktop_connection_icon

Windows Remote Desktop
Remote Desktop Tool
Built in to Windows Operating Systems

This is another “free” utility that comes with the windows operating system. Strictly speaking, it is not free because you paid for Windows, but it is so important, I thought it it was worth mentioning. 

Accessing your a windows computer remotely was something we can now do all the time, even from a mobile device. And internet connections are fast enough to where you can do real work from a coffee shop, home, or even from an airplane with WiFi. 

More importantly, in March of 2014, Microsoft released apps for iOS, Android, and Mac that work really, really well. We had been using 3rd party apps that were OK, but the new MS apps are great and I log on to my desktop all the time from my iPad and work fairly productively.

vnc

VNC
Remote Desktop Tool
www.tightvnc.com
www.realvnc.com

Remote Desktop works great for Windows boxes.  But if you want to do a remote desktop thing with Linux, or cross platform, we recommend VNC.  There are a ton of VNC tools out there, we seem to use tightVNC, and realVNC.  You need a server on the remote machine, and a viewer on the machine you are using. The viewers are free, not all servers are free.  There are also apps for iOS and Android for VNC viewers.

We recommend using VNC only if you are connecting to a Linux machine from a Windows machine and you don’t want to mess with an X11 server on your Windows Machine (See below for X11 servers for Windows).  VNC does a pixel copy across the network, which is not as fast as X11 or Remote Desktop that send primitives back and forth.

We have not had time to investigate VNC tools like TurboVNC that use VirtualGL and other tools to speed up the sending of the graphics window back and forth. NX (see below) uses VirtualGL

Alternatives: Tons, just google.

NX

NX
Remote X11 Desktop Client and Server
www.nomachine.com

Above we talk about Remote Desktop and VNC as ways to see remote machines.  If you want to see a Linux machine the best free way we have found is to use NX. This is one of those open source tools that is free and not free, and can get confusing.  It works like VNC in that you need a server on your remote machine, and a client on your machine. The client from www.nomachine.com is free.  The server is something you need to load on the remote machine, and probably comes in your Linux distribution. FreeNX seems to be the most popular.

You should get very nice performance for 3D graphics on your internal internet, and not bad over the internet either.  We recomend NX over Cygwin if you don’t need a full unix clone on your windows machine, if you are just logging in to a LInux box, use NX.

(and yes, we hate that the name is the same as the CAD/PLM tool… causes great confusion)

Alternatives: Cygwin, VNC

cygwin cygwin
Linux on Windows
www.cygwin.com

If you need more than visualization on a remote Linux machine from your Windows box, you actually want to run Linux on top of Windows without rebooting or using a virtual machine, then you need cygwin.  It is a fairly full linux distribution that runs on Windows, including full X11 capability.  We don’t recommend it for people who are not Linux savvy, but if you are and you want to work in that environment, then it works very well.

putty putty
ssh Tool
www.putty.org

The best, and most secure, way to connect to a Linux machine is through SSH. If you have NX or cygwin you just open up a terminal and connect. But what if you just want a text connection. Putty is a simple tool that will store your connections and let you log right in and provide you with that terminal.  Better yet, it has an SCP tool (ssh copy) that is very handy for transferring files between machines.

dropbox dropbox
File sharing Tool
www.dropbox.com

There are a ton of “cloud” tools out there that let you load a file up on a server in the sky, backing it up or sharing it with others.  We use Dropbox at PADT for a couple of reasons.  The first is that it is more than a cloud solution, the files you put on Dropbox get copied to all of the computers you have that are connected to your Dropbox.  I keep all the essential files I need every day, and for whatever project I’m working on in a Dropbox folder and I have access to it at home, on my laptop, even on my iPad. 

I also use it to transfer files to other people who don’t know what FTP is.

Alternatives: Box, Copy, GoogleDrive (with Sync)

filezilla filezilla
FTP Tool
www.filezilla-project.org

Real simulation users FTP from the command line… and waste time doing so.  FileZilla is a great tool that uses a GUI to connect to FTP servers and transfer files by dragging and dropping.  It makes finding files, transferring multiple files, and monitoring those big transfers a breeze.

Alternatives: ftp command line, cURL,lftp

7zip 7-Zip
File Compression Tool
www.7-zip.org

This is the most capable windows based compression tool we have found.  For many people the built in compression in Windows is fine, but if you want other options, and the ability to work with formats besides .ZIP ( including TAR, GZIP, RAR, LZH) this is the preferred tool.

Alternatives: windows compression, we have not used any other free tools for this

Encryption

I was going to recommend two tools for encryption: TrueCrypt and PGP.  But it looks like both tools are in flux right now. 

TrueCrypt makes virtual drives as files. When you decrypt them they show up as a drive on your machine. Very handy for achieving any special security concerns you may have.  But in march it was mysteriously shut down. They recommend that you use BitLocker which comes free with Windows.  We have not tried it so we can’t recommend it. Too bad, it was a great tool.  An alternative is PGPDisk, but that costs money or you have to compile it yourself.

PGP encrypts files and had great email plug-ins. It was a nice tools for sending customer data back and forth in a secure way.  It was purchased by a series of companies and ended up sort of becoming static. You can read about it on Wikipedia. The good news is that there is an open source version called PGP, available on www.pgpi.org.  You want the GnuPG version which is free.  There are links here to PGPDisk source code as well.

Bottom line, if you need to encrypt, you might as well pay for a commercial version that is supported.

So, that is all of the tools we could think of, a very diverse list.  Remember, put any other suggestions you have in the comments below.

3D Scanning and 3D Printing for Makers

20140623-180851-65331867.jpg

Off to a great start sharing the Capture Scanner and Geomagic Software at TechShop in Chandler. Great group, great questions.

PADT Medical Team at AZBIO Expo 2014

Representatives of the PADT Medical team are having a great day at this years AZBIO Expo in Scottsdale.  We brought along some of the medical device projects we have worked on and have been chatting with past, current, and future customers.

Margaret and our “assistant” posed for this picture of the booth:AZBIO-2014-expo
Insert skeleton jokes here. 

The event is a fantastic reminder of how vibrant the local Bioscience community is in Arizona. From genetics to algae, pharma to med devices, the state has key players in almost every industry. And every year our three state universities make stronger and stronger contributions to basic research in this area.   There is a lot going on and this event is one of the best places to catch up on the wide ranging impact Arizona Bioscience companies are making. 

azbio-expo-icon-2014-long-1024x236

PADT Customer GlobalStar Featured in News Report

We were pleased to hear from customer GlobalStar that two of the products PADT  worked on for them were featured on a New Orleans television station. The Spot Gen3trace_title_banner_atv3 and Spot Trace are great devices that communicate to the GlobalStar satellite network no matter where you are, telling people where you are, that your assets have moved, or informing emergency services that you need help.  We learned in the story that SPOT systems had resulted in over 3,000 rescues world wide.  As the Spot Trace usage grows, we hope to see similar statistics for lost and stolen assets recovered.

View the video here:

You can review the work that PADT did on the Spot Gen3 in a case study here.

They haves some great product videos. Here is one for the Spot Trace and another for Spot Gen3.

why does no1 respon to my request for help (Some Pointers to Students Looking for Help on Forums, Social Media, and Blogs)

xansys.org[Note: I know I misspelled respond… that is the point] As many of you know, PADT hosts a very successful mailing list and forum called XANSYS.org. It is one of the most successful online community help places I have ever seen.  There are a lot of reasons for that success, but the biggest is the moderators and how strongly they enforce rules for those posting.  Especially on using complete sentences, punctuation, showing that you have tried, and fully identifying yourself.

I bring this up because I’ve seen several posts on Facebook and LinkedIn groups for ANSYS users that just don’t get many responses, or don’t get the quality of response that posts on XANSYS get. I thought it might not be a bad idea to make some comments on the subject and share this post on some of those other forums.  Although I’ll focus on the ANSYS community, what is said applies to any community that supports engineering and technology tools.

Show Some Effort 

The thing that posters need to remember is that they are often asking industry experts to take time out of their busy day to help them.  Those experts want to see some effort put in to the question.  It is very important that the requester form the question in proper English, or whatever language the forum uses.  Even if the poster is not a native speaker, an effort needs to be made to use full and complete sentences, even if grammar is a bit off. (I won’t comment about speling, because that is a my weakest area… so I’ll forgive others on that one)

The easiest way to show a lack of respect to the people you want to answer your question is to not use capitalization or punctuation. As someone commented one time on XANSYS

“If you can’t find the time to use a shift key, I don’t have the time to answer your question.”

Do your own Homework/Work 

The most famous “bad post” on XANSYS was something along the lines of:

“i have been told to model a turbine blade in ansys, can someone show me how to do this”

Needless to say, no one helped them.  Before you post a question you need to try and figure things out yourself. Read the manual, search the internet, talk to co-workers. Most importantly, just try it.  Trial and error is a great learning experience. If you can’t get that to work or you still can’t find the information you need, then post your question. But, make sure you let people know what you have already done and tried.

The people who can help you on forums want to help, they don’t want to do your homework or your work for you.

Ask about a Single Item 

The quote above is not just notorious  because it is asking someone to do their work for them, it is also well known because the question is insanely too general.  Questions that are very specific are the ones that are answered the quickest and with the most useful information.  Even if you have lots of questions, break them up – solve one, then try and solve the next.  

Identify Yourself 

Saying who you are and where you go to work or school is huge. It is a professional courtesy that says “I have nothing to hide.”  When you hide your identity, people assume you are trying to get someone else to do your work and that you don’t want your professor or boss to know. Or, more seriously, you could be posting from an embargoed country or using illegal copies of the software. 

Give Back

This is obvious.  Many people who answer a lot of questions also ask a lot of questions. Even if you are new to the tool you are asking about, share what you learned on the thread when you get it all working. And as you get better, go back and answer some other people’s questions. Remember, it is a community.

Learn More

If you want better help from online communities, here are some great links to give you pointers:

The moderators on XANSYS have developed a great set of rules that really work. Follow these and you will do well on almost any site: www.xansys.org/rules.html

A resource that has been around since the dawn of the internet is “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way” by Eric Steven Raymond: www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

And the Venerable Guy Kawasaki has a famous post on emails, that has a lot of tips that apply to online posts as well: blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/02/the_effective_e.html 

Check out the posts on Xansys.org/forum.html and CFD-Online . They are both vibrant and intelligent communities with good posts.

Rep. Grisham Speaks on New Mexico High-Tech Job Efforts

PADT was pleased to be invited to participate in a news conference held by Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham(D, NM 1st Dist) on recent efforts to support tech jobs in New Mexico through the creation of a new Congressional Business Advisory Council.  Held at Emcore, a neighbor in the Sandia Science and Technology Park. Rep. Grisham was joined by several members of the new council to talk about how the team plans to promote businesses in New Mexico.

Rep-Grishan-Speaking-SRP-2014_05_27Read more about it in Albuquerque Business First.

PADT’s very own Jeff Strain was able to attend and reports that much of what was said was encouraging and pointed towards a better focus and momentum for technology companies beyond the National Labs. Technology is  a strong business sector in the state and the council will leverage that.  He was especially encouraged by the comments made by Lisa Adkins from the BioScience Center, someone that is in the trenches working on new discoveries and growing jobs every day.

We hope to see more of this type of activity in New Mexico and applaud Rep. Grisham’s efforts in this area and wish the new council success.

In the Heart of Oil and Gas Simulation: PADT at ANSYS Convergence 2014 Houston

This years ANSYS user group meeting is off to a great start. I need to change gears from electrical stuff that dominated in Santa Clara last week to oil and gas. Some great applications of simulation to really difficult problems.

20140522-085218-31938412.jpg

Color 3D Printing ANSYS ANSYS Mechanical and Mechanical APDL Results

[updated on 6/18/14 with images of an optimized bracket]

When we announced that Stratasys had released a color 3D Printer, I promised that I would figure out a way to get an ANSYS Mechanical or Mechanical APDL solution printed in 3D as soon as possible. Here it is:
3D-Color-FEA-Plot
Pretty cool.  I posted this picture on our social media and it got more retweets-shares-comments-likes-social media at’a boys than anything we have ever posted.  So there is definitely some interest in this. Now that the initial “WOW!” factor is gone, it is time to talk technical details and share how to get a plot made.

Stratasys Objet500 Connex3

There have been some machine around for some time that can print colors. Unfortunately they used a process that deposited a binding agent (fancy name for glue) into a bed of powder. The glue could be died different colors, allowing you to mix three base colors to get a color part. The problem with that technology is that the parts were faded and very fragile. On top of that the machines were messy and hard to run.  

With the Objet500 Connex3 from Stratasys, we now have a machine that makes robust and usable prototypes, that can be printed in color. The device uses inkjet print heads to deposit a photopolymer (a resin that hardens when you shine ultraviolet light on it) one layer at a time. This machine has four print heads: one for support, one for a base material, and two for colored material.   The base material can be black, white, or clear.  Then you can mix two colors in to get a 46 color pallet on a given run.  Download the brochure here for more details on the device, or shoot us an email.

As an example of how to use this technology, we took the results from a modal analysis on a simple low-pressure turbine blade (from a jet engine) and plotted out the deflection results for the 1st, 3rd, and 7th mode. The 7th mode also includes the exaggerated deflected shape.

Turbine-Blade-Modal-s

[Added 6/18/14]  

We recently combined ANSYS and Stratasys products for an optimization test case for a customer. We used Toplogoical optimization to remove chunks of material from an aerospace mounting bracket.  Then we 3D plotted the results to share with the international team looking at using this process to design parts that are lighter because they are not constrained by traditional manufacturing requirements. Here is what the first pass on the part looked like:
TopoOptMount_7

Getting a Printable File 

Almost every Additive Manufacturing machine, from 3D Printers to Manufacturing Systems, use an STL file as the way to define a part to be made.  The file contains triangular facets (a mesh) on the surface. The problem is that this file does not have a standard for defining colors.  The way that we get around this is you make an STL file for each color you want, sort of an STL assembly. Then when you load the files into the machine, you assign colors to each STL object.  That is great if you are printing an assembly and each solid object in you Model is a different color, but gets a bit dicey for a results contour.

So, we need a way to get an STL file for each color contour in your plot.  Right now non of the ANSYS products output an STL file.  Needless to say we have been talking with development about this and we hope there will be a built in solution at the next release.  In the interim, we have developed two methods.

Method 0: Have PADT Print your Part

Before we go over the two methods, we should mention that we offer almost every RP technology as a service to customers, including the new Objet500 Connex3. We have written a tool that converts ANSYS MAPDL models into STL’s that represent color bands.  It comes in two parts, a macro that you run to get the data, and a program we have that turns the data into STL files.

  So the easiest way to get a Color 3D Plot of your results is to:

  1. Download the macro ans2vtk.mac and run it. Instructions are in the header.
  2. Upload the resulting *.vtk file to PADT. Find instructions here.
  3. Email rp@padtinc.com and let us know the name of the file, that you want a Color 3D Print, and what units your part is and scale factor, if any, to apply to your part.  
  4. We will generate a quote.  
  5. You give us a PO or a credit card
  6. We pre-process the part and show you the resulting contours, making sure it is what you want
  7. We print it, then ship it to you.

This is a screen shot of the model in our internal tool:

3d-printing-ansys-results-valve-vtk

Method 0.5: Use the PADT Script

If you own a Connex3 and are not a service provider, we would be happy to share the internal script that we use with you.  You would follow the same process as above, but would run the script yourself to make the STL files. You will need to install some opensource tools as well. Email me to discuss.

Method 1: RST to CFD-Post to Magics 

This is how we did the first sample models, because it works out of the box and required no coding.  To use it you need to have a licence of  ANSYS CFD-Post and Magics from Materialise.  CFD Post outputs a color facet file in the VRML2 format, and Magics can convert that into a bunch of STL file.

NOTE: For this to work you need Magics and your contours need to be pretty simple. A complex part won’t work  because Magics won’t be able to figure out the STL volumes. 

We start by attaching a CFD Post object to our model:

project-page

Open up CFD Post and make a plot you like. If you don’t know ANSYS CFD Post, here is an article we did a while back on how to use it to post ANSYS Mechanical and Mechanical APDL results. 

Set the number of contours to a smaller number. You can have up to 46 colors, but that means you have to make 46 separate STL files by hand. I picked 7 contours, which gives me 6 colors:

plot_in_cfdpost

Now simply go to File > Save Picture and select VRML as your format. Note, it will bury the plot way down in your project directories, so I like to change the path to save it at the top level of the directory:

save-wrl

The next step is to read the file in to Magics.

WRL File in Magics_Color Code

In Magics, you can select facets by color and write each one out as a separate STL file.

Once you have done that, go in to the Objet Studio Software that came with your printer and assign colors to each STL file. We just kind of eyeball the closest color to the original plot:

FEA Objet studio

You can see here that we actually printed 3 at a time, just made copies and we only had to define colors on the original.  Then Print.

Here is what it looks like in the printer when it finished. We ran some other parts next to the three valves:
printing

You’ll notice it looks all yellow. That is the support material. It is water soluble and we just wash it off when the part is done. 

Method 2: Macro for Element Based Contours

That method kind of was a pain, so we decided it would be a good idea to write a little macro in APDL that does the following:

  1. Specify number of colors and value to plot.  (It uses the current selected nodes/elements.)
  2. Select elements by contour range
  3. Create surface elements on those elements
  4. Convert those surface elements in to an STL file for each contour.

The advantage of this approach is that ANSYS MAPDL directly creates the STL files and all you have to do is read that into Objet Studio and assign colors.  The disadvantage is that it is plotting element faces, so if a contour changes across a face, it doesn’t capture it. The way it works now is that the face color is represents the contour color for the lowest value on that face.  Not ideal, but I only had about 3 hours to write something from scratch and that is as far as I got.

This is what it looks like in Objet Studio:

macro-1-in-studio

Here is the macro: mkcolstl_mac.zip

Just run in in MAPDL or put it in ANSYS Mechanical as a post processing command snippet.

3D-plots-table

PADT to Exhibit at NAFEMS Americas Conference 2014

nafems2014

Since this years NAFEMS Americas conference is in PADT’s back yard in Colorado Springs, Colorado, we obtained a booth this year.  Our Colorado simulation team will be there to talk about all things ANSYS, CUBE Simulation Computers, and Flownex.  

If you are gong to be there, stop on by and say hello.  We will be in booth #28.

You can learn more about the conference here: http://www.nafems.org/2014/americas/

PADT in the Press: AZ Republic Article on 3D Printing

Peter Corbett, from the Arizona Republic published a story last week on 3d Printing called: “3D PRINTERS: TURNING SCIENCE FICTION INTO REALITY

Near the end of the article, there is a section called “Tempe Firm a 3-D Leader” where they talk a lot about PADT, what we do here, and the history of 3D Printing.  Always great to get this technology and our company recognized.  

PADT-AZ-Republic-2014_05_10

http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/tech/2014/05/10/3d-printing-touching-layer/8956075/

New Systems, New Logo, and More Accessories for CUBE Simulation Computers

PADT-HPC-Tuning-Simulation-ClusterWe just finished updating the  standard configurations on our line of CUBE high performance computers, and thought it would be a good time to update everyone on some other areas of this product line.  Every week more and more simulation users reach out to PADT and ask us to design custom systems for them to run a variety of simulation tools, and more of our ANSYS customers are bundling hardware with their software purchases.  Our experience in designing, building, and supporting these systems and their users has helped us improve many aspects of the CUBE product.

Branding

We are changing the branding from CUBE HVPC Systems to just CUBE Simulation Computers.  The machines are still high in value and high in performance, but to be honest the whole High Value Performance Computing concept may have been a little too “forward thinking.” In the end, what we are doing is designing computers for people running simulation software. Why not just call them what they are: Simulation Computers.  While we simplify our message, we are also simplifying our logo:


CUBE_Logo_150w
  CUBE-brochure
CUBE-Logo-Square-150  cubebg

Same colors as the PADT logo, and a lot simpler.  Our sales team has assured me that my time fiddling with the logo will result in a significant increase in revenue…we will see. But it is easier to look at on the front of my box.

New Systems

The event that caused us to redo our branding was butting together the new base systems.  We do this to provide potential users with information on what their system could look like, and what it might cost. Our IT Manager and chief system architect, David Mastel, designed eight systems that we feel should serve as good starting points for most users. Three are AMD based for those that have large models that can really take advantage of parallel.  The remaining five are based on the latest Intel processors.

You can view the brochure here, or just review this snap of the 8 systems:
CUBE-Standard-Configs
We now offer two workstations: a base system and one that you can run most FEA and small to medium CFD models on.  The servers are based on systems we just built. The W16i-k server has the latest Intel chip clocked at 3.4GB, plenty of RAM, and a GPU that make this a real screamer for most FEA models and even some hefty CFD runs. It also makes a great head node on a cluster.  It is beefy enough to share across several users.

This year we have pre-configured a mini-cluster because we ran across customers who didn’t have the budget for a full cluster, but needed something to run large jobs on. The larger Mid-Clusters are sized to work for most users, but if you need more we can add nodes to make them full clusters.  The Intel mid-cluster only fills half of a standard rack.

Accessories

When we talk to potential customers, we often find that they do not need a new system, they just need to add some accessories to the systems they have. To help our customers out on pricing, we have signed up to be a reseller with several manufacturers:

3D Mouse from 3DConnexion

We have been using the SapceMouse and SpacePilot devices for years for CAD and Simulation.  If you are not familiar with the product, they are basically pucks on a six axis sensor that you twist how you want the object on the screen to move. No more CTRL-SHIFT-Middle-Mouse.  We started adding these to the workstations and visualization nodes that we sell.  The savings in carpal-tunnel treatments alone are worth the investment. 
3dmouse-products

As you can see from this image, the models vary from the simple SpaceNavigator, to a full control center for your 3D escapades with the SpacePilotPro. The wireless one works great for us on shared computers and on the laptops we demo ANSYS products on.  Take a look on their website to learn more. Just don’t hit the “Buy Now” button, give us a call and we can work a nice deal and help you configure it for your software.

NVIDIA GPU’s

We can’t say enough good things about these. But there is a lot to learn before you invest. Some can do graphics and accelerate your solve, some are dedicated to accelerating.  Also, how much of a speedup you get depends on your models, which ANSYS products you are using, and which solver options within those products you enable.  And that is why PADT is the perfect place to pick out and buy your GPU.  We have extensive experience using them here and in supporting other users. We understand the licencing for ANSYS as well. We might even be able to run a benchmark for you.  

Tesla K20  Tesla K40
Give us a call or shoot us an email and tell us about thy type of simulation you do and the existing machine you want to add a GPU to.   Our experts can make a recommendation and provide you with a very competitive quote that comes with support on getting your ANSYS solver working with your new GPU. If you existing system can’t handle a GPU (they need a lot of power and room) then we can work up an upgrade or a new system so you can take advantage of this real time saver.

Mellanox Infiniband

When you are ready to step up to cluster computing, you will need a high speed interconnect so your solver can talk between nodes directly.  We have had great luck with FDR and QDR systems from Mellanox and have gained significant real world experience getting them to work with the ANSYS Solvers and several flavors of MPI.  Let us know where you are interconnect wise, and where you want to go, and we will work with you and your IT team to give you a cost effective but fast solution. There is no longer any reason why inter-process communication is your bottleneck. 

Hard Drives, Solid State Drives, BlueRay Burners, RAM ,RedHat, or a new Motherboard
The accessories above are what we have been certified on as value-added resellers.  Through our distributors, we can deliver pretty much any piece of computer equipment.  The same stuff you can buy yourself from a dozen websites.  The PADT difference is we know ANSYS software, and we know simulation computers.  We take the guess work out of finding the right solution by taking the time to learn what you have and what you need, then using our experience to get you the best solution.

Time to Step Out of the Box, and Step in to a CUBE

Stop dealing with a giant name brand supplier who wants to sell you a web server renamed as an HPC system. And stop trolling web sites trying to find the right hardware. CUBE computers are fast, they are reliable, they are affordable, and they are configured for nothing but simulation.  Contact our experts and let us run a quote for you. Worst case is you will learn a thing or two about high performance computing for simulation. Best case you will end up with a more productive solution for less money.

3D Printing a Building – An Important Example of the Real Value of 3D Printing

We have recently been asked to present 3D Printing at a variety of events, many not in our traditional mechanical engineering space, and a common theme is emerging.  Once people see through the hype and really understand what the technology can and can’t do, they want to understand what the real long term value is.

I’ve been mulling it for a while, then a Facebook friend of mine sent me the video below of a company in China that has a working 3D Printer for buildings.  It is basically an FDM machine that uses concrete. It is still early days and much work is still needed. But it shows the one key value of 3D printing to the general public:

3D Printing gives people without special training or equipment the ability to make stuff.

Here is the video:


3dprint examplesIf I want to build a sturdy house, I need to know how to lay brick/frame/hang sheetrock/prefab concrete.   I also need all the various tools required to do that.  If I have a 3D house printer, I just need the raw materials and a model of the house I want. Imagine volunteers showing up in a remote village with a 3D Printer on the back of a flatbed.  Those volunteers don’t need to be trained on how to build a house. Just how to run the printer.  If you have ever volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity or a mission that involves house building, you know what I’m talking about. The two real construction workers on the crew do 90% of the work and the rest of you try not to put a nail through your hand.  

There are other applications. Take a military unit that needs to quickly build a shelter at a forward operating base. Instead of requiring experienced combat engineers, hit print.  Or even in your own backyard. Want a small cabana for Grandma to live in.  Hire a contractor and wait six months through delays and cost overruns, or rent a 3D printer – my guess is the 3D printer will show up on time.

Take this thought and apply it to the traditional use of 3D Printers, prototyping in mechanical product development, and it still applies. I ordered that first SLA model of a fan blade way back in 1990 or so because we needed to make sure the turbine engine fan blade shape we redesigned (using ANSYS, of course) was manufacturerable, had no unexpected bumps (trust, me it happened before), and could be assembled into the existing disk. Instead of going to a machine shop and having an expert machine, broach and grind it, we went straight from the solid model to a printed part. No need for experts or the 5 or 6 pieces of special equipment required to machine and broach that blade.

Just a few examples where 3D printing enables end-users of a physical item to make it without expertise, skills, or special equipment: dental implants, jewelry, art work, fixtures or tooling for a manufacturing process, scaffolds for growing new body parts, and even fancy chocolates.  All of these examples show how 3D printing lets the person who needs an object, create that object themselves. This reduces time and distractions from the true focus of their effort.

This is what is really exciting. Not making a replacement part for your washing machine or “bringing manufacturing back to the US (automation and good old fashioned market forces will do that, not 3D printing) but being able to make whatever you really want.  I will sit here and print out my mechanical parts and assemblies, happily avoiding the need to use a machine shop to build a prototype.  And while I do that, I’ll keep get great joy from scanning the interweb to see what new and truly novel applications people will come up with. 

3D Printing Information for 5th Digital Printing Press Conference, 2014

dppcPADT was pleased to give a talk on 3D Printing at the 5th Digital Printing Press Conference on April 30th, 2014 in Scottsdale.  

Any time I get a chance to attend an industry specific conference like this one, it is a real eye opener.  There is a huge amount of work around the world in making digital printers.  I learned a huge amount that is applicable to other things that PADT does. In addition, the audience was very interested in 3D Printing and asked some very insightful questions, and provided some insight in to how ink jet is growing and evolving in additive manufacturing. 

As promised during the presentation, here are some useful links:

ANSYS Acquires SpaceClaim


Big news this morning in the ANSYS world: ANSYS, Inc. has acquired SpaceClaim, makers of a very powerful 3D Solid Modeling tool that has been an add-on for ANSYS products for some time.

Here is the official press release: 

finance.yahoo.com/news/ansys-acquires-spaceclaim-corporation-leading-111400173.html

Here at PADT we have been long time users of the SpaceClaim products, and big fans. This will certainly secure the focus of the SpaceClaim development team on continuing their work on providing simulation users with the tools they need to create, modify, and add intelligence to their geometry.  The debate of DesignModeler vs. SpaceClaim seems to be settled!

This is a great technology fit, and there seem to be some nice business advantages as well.

Still Time to Attend an ANSYS User Group Conference

conference-2014-logoApril is almost over, and you know what that means? It’s time for the ANSYS Convergence Regional Conference to begin.  These free events are held once a year and are an opportunity for the entire spectrum of ANSYS users to get together for one day. Each event is a bit different, but the goal is the same:  Users share presentations on what they have done and the experts from ANSYS, Inc. share what is new and exciting with the products.  

These events are technical in nature, with a general session followed by specific technical tracks.  

conf2And PADT will be at the Santa Clara and Houston events this year, highlighting our services and products and presenting in Santa Clara.

The four US events are:

There are also 12 events in Asia, 12 in Europe, 7 in Latin America, and 7 in  the Africa/Middle East region.
See the full list here.

Remember, it’s free and always educational.  Even in our modern world of blogs, forums, and webinars, it is valuable to just spend some time talking with experts and other users.

PADT is a “Silver Sponsor” so we would love to see you there!