Orbital Sciences Launches Iridium NEXT Production

Orbital-GilbertWe were pleased to note that long time PADT customer Orbital Sciences Corporation is starting production of 81 satellites at its Gilbert, Arizona facility.  This new constellation of satellites will replace the existing constellation of Iridium satellites now in low earth orbit.   It is exciting to see this project moving to this next critical step, and we can’t wait to read about the launches in 2015.  We know that many people at Orbital and at their suppliers have been working hard and long to get to this point. 

AZCentral has a nice video of the ribbon cutting

Satnews Daily has a good article with details about the whole project.

And the Wall Street Journal has a more business look on the project in their article

IridiumNEXTSatConfig
You can learn more about the Iridium NEXT project here

All of us tech-oriented people in Arizona should get excited about this major milestone. Although both Orbital Sciences and Iridium are headquartered in Virginia, both have extensive facilities here in Arizona.  In fact the Iridium business operations is about one quarter of a mile from PADT’s Tempe office  in the ASU Research Park. Satellite design, test, manufacturing and support are big business in the state of Arizona.  Some of the other Arizona based companies involved in making or providing equipment for satellites are: ViaSat, Garmin, General Dynamics, Honeywell Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Paragon Space Development, and many others. Most are PADT customers.  

Congratulations to everyone involved and a big thanks to the people in the state, county, and city that help set up the Free Trade Zone that helped make it possible.

TechShop Chandler: A Place for Makers, Builders, Inventors, and Engineers

The other day some visitors to PADT asked if we wanted to tour their new facility. Some place called TechShop Chandler. I had heard some about them, a place where you can have access to tech tools and technology, but I didn’t know much more than that. Wow, was I pleasantly surprised when we stopped by for a tour. 

Most Everything you Need

The tag line on their website reads: “TechShop is a vibrant, creative community that provides access to tools, software and space. You can make virtually anything at TechShop. Come and build your dreams!”  I have to say, that tag line looks pretty dang accurate.

The facility is located in the ASU Chandler Innovation Center just east of downtown Chandler. A great location close to the 202, and some good food and drink (not that that matters much… but if you are working on a project and need a break… just saying).  The building has been completely renovated and provides a great space.

Even in this new location (there are seven other location) in Chandler, they have fully functioning labs that contain the equipment and software one would need to truly build almost anything.  That in itself is pretty useful, but what is more important is they offer training on all of the tools they make available, often the missing piece in other attempts we have seen to offer technology and tools to people.

The offering of equipment and tools that we saw was very comprehensive and included a computer lab with full CAD software tools, a full wood shop with CNC routers, a full sheet metal shop, welding, machining, injection molding, electronics, laser cutting, 3D printing, and even industrial sewing.  They have lots of room for working and for meeting. 

On top of all that, they host programs for schools as well as meetups for the community. 

How it Works

TechShop describes their membership system like a gym.  You pay a monthly membership fee and, once you have successfully completed the training, you have access to the equipment, computers, and software at the facility.  As you would expect, they have discounts if you sign up for automatic renewal, a yearly membership, or if you add family members.  They also offer students (18 and older) and Active Duty Military a significant discount.  Corporations can negotiate memberships as well.  Check out the costs for TechShop Chandler here.  Just to give you an idea, the basic one month membership with no discounts is only $175/month.  Pretty affordable once you get your head around how many resources you get access to.

What do YOU want to make?

That is the heading at the top of their website, and it fits.  If you are a hobbyist,  inventor,  engineer,  student, or fabricator, you should check out TechShop.  Even if you have equipment at work or at home, it is a great resource to gain training and access to a wider variety of tools and equipment. All in a clean and positive environment working side by side with other like-minded members. 

Check them out on the web:

www.techshop.ws/ts_chandler.html 

Or give them a call and set up a visit: 480 327-0820.

For those of you reading this outside of the Phoenix area, there are locations in:

  • San Carlos, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • San Jose, CA
  • Allen Park, MI (Detroit)
  • Round Rock, TX (Austin)
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Arlington, VA

With many more planned.

Desktop 3D Scanning with Geomagic Capture


Geomagic-Capture

If you have been following PADT closely for a while, you know that we have been working hard to find good scanning solutions for our customers since we started the company twenty years ago.  For many years we recommended professional inspection service providers that used traditional CMM devices to reverse engineer or inspect parts, we just didn’t have a good scanning solution in-house.

A few years back we found a great solution for many of our customers when we started using and selling Cross Sectional Scanners (CSS) from CGI. This technology works great with plastic parts and is highly accurate, especially for parts with internal features. However we still needed a solution for metal parts and parts that you can’t chop up when you inspect them.

sean-head-laser-scanSo we kept looking at scanners, we tried a variety of hand-held laser scanners.  We even made it on the local news using it on a local news anchor to scan his head. But we could not get the ease of use and accuracy we wanted for engineering.

Then Geomagic introduced the Geomagic Capture system and we gave it a try.  We feel that we now have a desktop scanning solution that we can recommend to customers and we have proven we can do engineering services work with. So we now sell the Geomagic Capture scanning system and provide non-destructive 3D scanning as a service.

Here is a great introductory video that shows the system and how it works:

Not a Laser

The big difference with this system is that it is not a laser scanner. It actually is a blue Structured-Light scanner.  Basically it projects a pattern of lines onto an object, and measure how the lines deviate from being straight. That deviation gives a very accurate measurement of the location of points on the surface of the object.  No laser, no reflective dots, no problems with stray data.  
geomagic-capture-scanner

In our testing the system seems to work on a variety of surface types and shapes.  If the object is reflective or too dark, you simply cover it with a chalky powder and everything is good.  Not using lasers, the device is also relatively small and compact.

A System: Hardware and Software

One of the reasons why we like this particular scanner over others is that it is a solution that contains both hardware and software. In fact, the scanner technology itself has been around for some time. What makes this scanner our choice is that Geomagic, experts in dealing with the output from scanners, developed the software that gathers and massages the data coming from the scanner. This makes a huge difference in ease of use.

Our engineers are still learning all the ins-and-outs on the system, but they were able to do productive work with it almost right out of the box.  The software steps you through the process and give really nice visual feedback while you are setting up a scan. This avoid the need to scan, review, fix something, try again, check… round and round.  And once you have good point data, you have the full suite of Geomagic tools to convert it into an STL file or into a usable CAD model.

When you purchase the Geomagic Capture system you have your choice of:

  • Geomagic Capture for SolidWorks
    Add-in software for SolidWorks, that presents the Geomagic tools you need in the SolidWorks interface you are used to working with.
  • Geomagic Capture for SpaceClaim
    Add-in software for SpaceClaim, combining best-in-class scanning, facet, and point cloud tools with a robust direct solid modeler, all in the same interface.
  • Geomagic Capture for Design X
    Powerful and comprehensive advanced reverse engineering that allows you to create feature-based CAD models directly from your scan data.
  • Geomagic Capture for Design Direct
    A bundle that includes SpaceClaim and the Geomagic Capture plug-in as a complete solution for those that do not have a CAD system that supports working with point data. This package is best if you have a CAD package other than SolidWorks or SpaceClaim.

Specifications 

Here are the specifications for the system:

Specification Value
Scan Speed 0.3 sec per scan
Field of View (Diagonal)/Near End – Far End 172 – 260 mm
6.77 – 10.24 in
Field of View (X-Y)/Near End – Far End 123×120 – 192×175 mm
4.84×4.72 – 7.56×6.89 in
Clearance Distance 300 mm
11.81 in
Depth of Field 180 mm
7.09 in
Resolution Average Points 985,000 per scan
Average Polygons 1.97 million per scan
Point to Point Distance 0.162 mm
0.000638 in
(at center of volume)
Accuracy / Near End – Far End 60 – 118 microns
Calibration Pre-calibrated

geomagic-capture-brochureYou can also download the brochure here.

Try it on Your Part

The best way to see if this is the right scanner for you is to contact PADT and have us do a scanning job for you.  As always with PADT we will not just do the work, but we will show you what we did and help you to see what your best solution is.

The Pets of PADT – March 2014

You can tell a lot about a person from their pets.  But what can you tell about a company?  We recently decided to share pictures of everyone’s pet to learn a bit more about each other, and to spend a little bit of time ooh’ing and ahh’ing over how cute some of these guys are. 

Enjoy:

Happy PI Day: 3.14

i 8 sum pi and it was greatBest wishes to everyone who loves math and enjoys being irrational and transcendental.  

Have you ever really thought about the fact that dividing  the distance around a circle by the width of a circle is an irrational number? That means that at least one of the distances can not be a whole number.  Have you ever really thought about that… you know who you are if you have.

A bunch of people brought fresh pies in this morning to share, and we shall all spend a little bit of time celebrating Pi.  We will also make fun of those weird people who somehow think e is a better number to get excited about… losers.

Here are some clever pi Pies I found on the interweb.  My favorite is the book pi pie.
google-pies

Introduction to APDL Book Turns One

PADT-Intro-APDL-coverWe got our monthly report from Amazon on our book  “Introduction to the ANSYS Parametric Design Language (APDL)” and we noticed that it has been one year since we published it.  This was our first foray into self publishing so we thought it was worth noting that it has been a year.

Being engineers, we are kind of obsessed with numbers.  The first number is a bit discouraging, 194 units sold.  That is not going to make any best seller lists (more on lessons learned below).  51% were sold on Amazon.com, 19% by Amazon Europe, and 16% on Amazon UK, with 13% sold by non-Amazon affiliates.  

Lessons Learned

This is our first time doing self publishing we have learned some lessons worth sharing:

  1. You can’t publish a work document as an e-book.  
    We figured we would format it for a paper book, then just publish the same file as an e-book.  WRONG.  The formatting, didn’t translate at all. If it was a novel, it would have worked fine, but with all the figures and code, it was a mess. So we took it off the site.  We have received feedback that this has kept some people from buying the book.
  2. Reviews matter.
    We got one review, and it was not good because they bought the E-Book (see 1).We have resisted the temptation to publish our own review… everyone does it… It would be great if anyone reading this could put up a review.
  3. We should have done this 5 years ago.
    The reality is that APDL usage is down as ANSYS Mechanical keeps getting better and better.  So the need to do advanced APDL scripting is not what it used to be. Plus, many new users are never exposed to APDL.
  4. Amazon fiddles with your price.
    It may or may not be a bad thing, but Amazon lowers your price if their affiliates start selling a book for less than you originally set the price at.  So the initial $75 price has gone as low as $55 when demand was high (several copies a week!).  In that the whole thing is an experiment, this has caused no grief but it is something to be aware of.
  5. Overall, the whole process was easy and a nice business model
    Let’s be honest, there is not a huge demand for a book like this. The CreateSpace.com (owned by Amazon) model is a great model for niche publishing like this. It was easy to upload, easy to monitor, and those fat royalty checks (what is the emoticon for sarcasm?) come in once a month. The best part is that because it is print-on-demand, there is no need pay for an inventory up front.

If you don’t have a copy (and only 190 some of you do so I’m guessing you don’t) head on over to our page on amazon and check it out.  You can spin it around and see the front and back cover!

If you are one of the select few, maybe write a review and help us out a bit?

PADT Turns 20 Today

PADt-20-Logo-Rect-500wAt 11:06 am on March 7, 1994 a clerk at the Arizona Corporation Commission placed their stamp on stack of paper titled: “Articles of Incorporation of Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies, Inc.” and a new company, and a new path in life for many people, was started.

2013-07-29 18.20.36Before that moment it had all been talk and ideas, now it was real. Still working their day jobs, the four founders spent their evenings and weekends trying to figure out how to convince customers to hire them, how to get computers to run ANSYS on, and how to raise money to buy a Stereolithography machine. Friends and Family stepped up and invested their money along with the founder’s savings to fund the crazy idea with an (in hindsight) incredibly long name.

After two decades PADT is now established and thriving, investing in other companies, and expanding into new geographies and businesses.  We could not have done it without all of the employees that have worked here through the years, the support of everyone’s family, our software and hardware partners, and of course our very loyal customers.  

There were a lot of reasons why we started PADT, and everyone that has joined us through the years has had their own impetus.  But, one common purpose motivated us in those early days, and still motivates us today:  to create a place where everyone actually wanted to go to in the morning.  That motivation will not make any business books, it has not made anyone super rich, nor will it make PADT the darling of Wall Street.    

What we can say is that after twenty years of going to work day after day, we can look back and confidently state that it is a motivation that still works today, and still makes for a more rewarding work life than many of our peers have experienced over the same two decades.

PADT-Offices
We want to thank everyone that has been on this journey with us. Everyone that has allowed us to make a living doing what we like to do, learning new things every day, and spending it with such fantastic people. 


#padt20

Comprehensive Online Course on 3D Printing Added to Lynda.com

The other day I got an email from Brenda Newhouse, the very talented owner of Newhouse Studios who helped us design and build the PADT website, on a link she had found on Lynda.com for a course on 3D Printing. Our to-do list always contained “produce comprehensive 3D printing online course” but we never got around to it. Now we don’t have to. (yay!)
up-and-running-with-3d-printing
The people at Lynda.com have created a really nice course that shocked us in its detail and accuracy, at least the parts we could look at for free. The listing of topics backs this up.  With the recent hype around 3D Printing, we often see postings that are mostly hyperbole or just wrong. Kacie Hultgren, the creator of this course, really knows what she is doing and covers all of the bases.  The production looks very professional as well… certainly not someone holding a phone while their buddy talks. 

You can get an overview here:

http://www.lynda.com/3D-Animation-Prototyping-tutorials/Up-Running-3D-Printing/151814-2.html 

It looks like Lynda.com charges $25/month, which is very reasonable.  If you are new to 3D Printing and want to learn more, this looks to be a great place to start.

New Open Position at PADT: Product Design Engineer

PADT Employees

We thought we were catching up by recently filling two open positions: CFD Simulation Engineer and a sales position in Utah.  But then another opportunity opened up to add a full time Product Design Engineer in support of PADT’s line of products for cleaning additive manufacturing parts.  Although this position will work with our Product Development team, it is actually part of our advanced manufacturing group since the role focuses exclusively on a single product line which that group designs, manufactures, and supports.   The job description is listed below, and can be found on our Careers Page along with the other currently open positions:

Electrical Engineer/Project Lead 
IT Support Engineer
Sales Support Specialist, 3D Printing
Product Design Engineer

Follow the directions on the Careers Page to apply. And by all means, feel free to pass this along to anyone you think might be interested.

Product Design Engineer

Job Overview:

This position primarily performs electro-mechanical engineering design, development, and validation for circulating tank products used alongside 3D Printing equipment. The product design engineer reports to the product manager and develops detailed requirements; creates the design in CAD; performs design analyses as needed; selects materials and components; creates component specifications and procures prototypes; works together with other engineering specialties and manufacturing to optimize performance, ease-of-use, reliability, and cost in the context of the overall product requirements.

Specific Tasks:

  • Design and develop new products or improvements to existing products, based on product requirements in collaboration with electrical engineering, industrial design, manufacturing, and other expertise as needed
  • Assist in development of proof-of-concept tests; procure parts and assemble test rigs; perform testing
  • Construct designs and engineering drawings in CAD files used by engineering and manufacturing
  • Generate component specifications, BOMs, and other required product documentation
  • Work with suppliers to develop unique components or understand component limitations
  • Help develop product validation and durability tests
  • Produce and maintain design-related documentation such as design analyses, CAD drawings, BOMs, technical specifications, and test results
  • Troubleshoot production engineering problems when requested; document changes

Desired Skills and Experience:

  • BSME with a minimum 10 yrs experience in electro-mechanical product design
  • Experience with electronic controls, US made band heating elements, motors, fasteners and design for manufacturability a plus
  • Knowledge of manufacturing and assembly processes and variation
  • Comfortable working in a team environment to produce a design
  • Proficient in SolidWorks 3D (preferred) or similar CAD tool
  • Strong written and verbal communications skills

Happy (nerdy) Valentine’s Day

Valentines-day
We could not pass up trying out one of the online aps that generate Valentine’s Day candy hearts. 

Good fun.  It didn’t take long to find a FFT for a standard heart beat (the equation) and maybe only the rotating machinery types among you will get the blue one’s message. 

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!

Time and Date Set for PADT’s 20th Anniversary Party

PADt-20-Logo-Rect-500wPADT’s anniversary party committee (yes, there are some “The Office” similarities) has been busy planning and making preliminary arrangements.  The date and time have been set.

The invitations will go out the first week in March, but you do not have to wait to put it on your calendar:

PADT’s 20th Anniversary Party

When April 10, 2014
5:30 pm – 9:00 pm
   
Where PADT’s Tempe Office
ASU Research Park
7755 S Research Dr, Suite 110
Tempe, AZ 85284

You can enter it yourself or add it via an iCal file with this link.  

You can also learn more at www.padtinc.com/20

We are sampling food from food trucks this week and will be making our choice on the catering soon.  This will be a fun and meaningful event for us, and we hope that as many of you as possible will join.

#padt20

Another Job Opening at PADT: Sales Support Specialist, 3D Printing

PADt-20-Logo-Rect-500wPADT had a record year in 2013 reselling and supporting Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) systems from Stratasys.  So good, that our team was swamped with all of the activity, especially as Stratasys continues to add new systems and materials.  In order to make 2014 another fantastic year in this area, we have opened a new position: Sales Support Specialist, 3D Printing.  This person will work with sales management, the salespeople, our suppliers, and our admin staff to make the whole process more efficient, and to allow us to be more responsive to our customers needs.  Here is the description for the position:

Sales Support Specialist, 3D Printing

PADT, the Southwest’s leading provider of engineering products and services, has an immediate opening within our 3D Printer sales team for the position of Sales Support Specialist.  This position will report to the manager of the team and has three roles focused on helping the sales team run effectively, efficiently, and exceed business objectives. The first role is to maintain the relationship between PADT and the hardware suppliers that PADT resells for by managing and coordinating the flow of information between parties. The second role includes planning and organizing marketing activities for the products being sold.  This includes providing assistance to the sales team across four states by scheduling and managing technical and administrative resources.  The final role is to work as an inside salesperson, frequently contacting existing customers to sell 3D printing material, maintenance contracts, and other services.  Time will be spent evenly working within these three responsibilities. 

Requirements:

  • BS or equivalent degree
  • Inside sales experience
  • Self-directed, proactive, and very organized
  • Able to communicate quickly and effectively both verbally and in writing
  • Enjoys and is good at multitasking
  • Strong Microsoft Office skills
  • Comfortable making a large number of phone calls
  • Experience coordinating marketing activities such as: trade shows, mailing campaigns, seminars, etc…
  • Enjoys being involved in new, leading edge technology

Preferred but not required

  • Outside sales experience

This position is located at PADT’s Tempe, AZ facility and all applicants must be US Citizens or Legal Residents.

You can also see the position, along with our other open postings and how to apply, on our career page.

Our current openings are:

3D Color Printing: Stratasys Publishes Nice White Paper on Maximizing Multi-Material and Color 3D Printing

connex3-machine
Stratasys just released a nice white paper on the uses of their new color technology in the Objet500 Connex3 system.  This machine is more than just a way to print parts in a variety of colors, it allows you to load three different materials, including colors. 
3D-Color-Printing-Colors-1The paper goes in to some detail on how the technology works, what the advantages are, and offers some use cases where beta testers in industry were able to apply the technology on their projects.  If you are interested in 3D Printing in general, and printing color parts in particular, you should download the white paper.

 3D-Color-Printing-Pressure-Contour-1As always, if you can contact PADT at 480.813.4884 or sales@padtinc.com. Or visit our website.

Triplex-Helmet_960x350

Help! My New HPC System is not High Performance!

It is an all too common feeling, that sinking feeling that leads to the phrase “Oh Crap” being muttered under your breath. You just spent almost a year getting management to pay for a new compute workstation, server or cluster. You did the ROI and showed an eight-month payback because of how much faster your team’s runs will be. But now you have the benchmark data on real models, and they are not good. “Oh Crap”

Although a frequent problem, and the root causes are often the same, the solutions can very. In this posting I will try and share with you what our IT and ANSYS technical support staff here at PADT have learned.

Hopefully this article can help you learn what to do to avoid or circumvent any future or current pitfalls if you order an HPC system. PADT loves numerical simulation, we have been doing this for twenty years now. We enjoy helping, and if you are stuck in this situation let us know.

Wall Clock Time

It is very easy to get excited about clock speeds, bus bandwidth, and disk access latency. But if you are solving large FEA or CFD models you really only care about one thing. Wall Clock Time. We cannot tell you how many times we have worked with customers, hardware vendors, and sometimes developers, who get all wrapped up in the optimization of one little aspect of the solving process. The problem with this is that high performance computing is about working in a system, and the system is only as good as its weakest link.

We see people spend thousands on disk drives and high speed disk controllers but come to discover that their solves are CPU bound, adding better disk drives makes no difference. We also see people blow their budget on the very best CPU’s but don’t invest in enough memory to solve their problems in-core. This often happens because when they look at benchmark data they look at one small portion and maximize that measurement, when that measurement often doesn’t really matter.

The fundamental thing that you need to keep in mind while ordering or fixing an HPC system for numerical simulation is this: all that matters is how long it takes in the real world from when you click “Solve” till your job is finished. I bring this up first because it is so fundamental, and so often ignored.

The Causes

As mentioned above, an HPC server or cluster is a system made up of hardware, software, and people who support it. And it is only as good as its weakest link. The key to designing or fixing your HPC system is to look at it as a system, find the weakest links, and improve that links performance. (OK, who remembers the “Weakest Link” lady? You know you kind of miss her…)

In our experience we have found that the cause for most poorly performing systems can be grouped into one of these categories:

  • Unbalanced System for the Problems Being Solved:

    One of the components in the system cannot keep up with the others. This can be hardware or software. More often than not it is the hardware being used. Let’s take a quick look at several gotchas in a misconfigured numerical simulation machine.

  • I/O is a Bottleneck
    Number crunching, memory, and storage are only as fast as the devices that transfer data between them.
  • Configured Wrong

    Out of simple lack of experience the wrong hardware is used, the OS settings are wrong, or drivers are not configured properly.

  • Unnecessary Stuff Added out of Fear

    People tend to overcompensate out of fear that something bad might happen, so they burden a system with software and redundant hardware to avoid a one in a hundred chance of failure, and slow down the other ninety-nine runs in the process.

Avoiding an Expensive Medium Performance Computing (MPC) System

The key to avoiding these situations is to work with an expert who knows the hardware AND the software, or become that expert yourself. That starts with reading the ANSYS documentation, which is fairly complete and detailed.

Often times your hardware provider will present themselves as the expert, and their heart may be in the right place. But only a handful of hardware providers really understand HPC for simulation. Most simply try and sell you the “best” configuration you can afford and don’t understand the causes of poor performance listed above. More often than we like, they sell a system that is great for databases, web serving, or virtual machines. That is not what you need.

A true numerical simulation hardware or software expert should ask you questions about the following, if they don’t, you should move on:

  • What solver will you use the most?
  • What is more important, cost or performance? Or better: Where do you want to be on the cost vs. performance curve?
  • How much scratch space do you need during a solve? How much storage do you need for the files you keep from a run?
  • How will you be accessing the systems, sending data back and forth, and managing your runs?

Another good test of an expert is if you have both FEA and CFD needs, they should not recommend a single system for you. You may be constrained by budget, but an expert should know the difference between the two solvers vis-à-vis HPC and design separate solutions for each.

If they push virtual machines on you, show them the door.

The next thing you should do is step back and take the advice of writing instructors. Start cutting stuff. (I know, if you have read my blog posts for a while, you know I’m not practicing what I preach. But you should see the first drafts…) You really don’t need huge costly UPS’, the expensive archival backup system, or some arctic chill bubbling liquid nitrogen cooling system. Think of it as a race car, if it doesn’t make the car go faster or keep the driver safe, you don’t need it.

A hard but important step in cutting things down to the basics is to try and let go of the emotional aspect. It is in many ways like picking out a car and the truth is, the red paint job doesn’t make it go any faster, and the fancy tail pipes will look good, but also don’t help. Don’t design for the worst-case model either. If 90% of your models run in 32GB or RAM, don’t do a 128GB system for that one run you need to do a year that is that big. Suffer a slow solve on that one and use the money to get a faster CPU, a better disk array, or maybe a second box.

Pull back, be an engineer, and just get what you need. Tape robots look cool, blinky lights and flashy plastic case covers even cooler. Do you really need that? Most of time the numerical simulation cruncher is locked up in a cold dark room. Having an intern move data to USB drives once a month may be a more practical solution.

Another aspect of cutting back is dealing with that fear thing. The most common mistake we see is people using RAID configurations for storing redundant data, not read/write speed. Turn off that redundant writing and dump across as many drives as you can in parallel, RAID 0. Yes you may lose a drive. Yes that means you lose a run. But if that happens once every six months, which is very unlikely, the lost productivity from those lost runs is small compared to the lost productivity of solving all those other runs on a slow disk array.

Intel-AMD-Flunet-Part2-Chart2Lastly, benchmark. This is obvious but often hard to do right. The key is to find real problems that represent a spectrum of the runs you plan on doing. Often different runs, even within the same solver, have different HPC needs. It is a good idea to understand which are more common and bias your design to those. Do not benchmark with standard benchmarks, use industry accepted benchmarks for numerical simulation. Yes it’s an amazing feeling knowing that your new cluster is number 500 on the Top 500 list. However if it is number 5000 on the ANSYS Numerical simulation benchmark list nobody wins.

Fixing the System You Have

As of late we have started tearing down clusters in numerous companies around the US. Of course we would love to sell you new hardware however at PADT, as mentioned before, we love numerical simulation. Fixing your current system may allow you to stretch that investment another year or more. As a co-owner of a twenty year old company, this makes me feel good about that initial investment. When we sick our IT team on extending the life of one of our systems, I start thinking about and planning for that next $150k investment we will need to do in a year or more.

Breathing new life into your existing hardware basically requires almost the same steps as avoiding a bad system in the first place. PADT has sent our team around the country helping companies breath new life into their existing infrastructure. The steps they use are the same but instead of designing stuff, we change things. Work with an expert, start cutting stuff out, breath new life into the growing old hardware, avoid fear and “cool factor” based choices, and verify everything.

Take a look and understand the output from your solvers, there is a lot of data in there. As an example, here is an article we wrote describing some of those hidden gems within your numerical simulation outputs. http://www.padtinc.com/blog/the-focus/ansys-mechanical-io-bound-cpu-bound

Play with things, see what helps and what hurts. It may be time to bring in an outside expert to look at things with fresh eyes.

Do not be afraid to push back against what IT is suggesting, unless you are very fortunate, they probably don’t have the same understanding as you do when it comes to numerical simulation computing. They care about security and minimizing the cost of maintaining systems. They may not be risk takers and they don’t like non-standard solutions. All of these can often result in a system that is configured for IT, and not fast numerical simulation solves. You may have to bring in senior management to solve this issue.

PADT is Here to Help

Cube_Logo_Target1The easiest way to avoid all of this is to simply purchase your HPC hardware from PADT.  We know simulation, we know HPC, and we can translate between engineers and IT.  This is simply because simulation is what we do, and have done since 1994.   We can configure the right system to meet your needs, at that point on the price performance curve you want.  Our CUBE systems also come preloaded and tested with your simulation software, so you don’t have to worry about getting things to work once the hardware shows up.

If you already have a system or are locked in to a provider, we are still here to help.  Our system architects can consult over the phone or in person, bringing their expertise to the table on fixing existing systems or spec’ing new ones.  In fact, the idea for this article came when our IT manager was reconfiguring a customer’s “name brand” cluster here in Phoenix, and he got a call from a user in the Midwest that had the exact same problem.  Lots of expensive hardware, and disappointing performance. They both had the wrong hardware for their problems, system bottlenecks, and configuration issues.

Learn more on our HPC Server and Cluster Performance Tuning page, or by contacting us. We would love to help out. It is what we like to do and we are good at it.

ANSYS & 3D Printing: Converting your ANSYS Mechanical or MAPDL Model into an STL File

image3D printing is all the rage these days.  PADT has been involved in what should be called Additive Manufacturing since our founding twenty years ago.  So people in the ANSYS world often come to us for advice on things 3D Printer’ish.  And last week we got an email asking if we had a way to convert a deformed mesh into a STL file that can be used to print that deformed geometry.  This email caused neurons to fire that had not fired in some time. I remembered writing something but it was a long time ago.

Fortunately I have Google Desktop on my computer so I searched for ans2stl, knowing that I always called my translators ans2nnn of some kind. There it was.  Last updated in 2001, written in maybe 1995. C.  I guess I shouldn’t complain, it could have been FORTRAN. The notes say that the program has been successfully tested on Windows NT. That was a long time ago.

So I dusted it off and present it here as a way to get results from your ANSYS Mechanical or ANSYS Mechanical APDL model as a deformed STL file.

UPDATE – 7/8/2014

Since this article was written, we have done some more work with STL files. This Macro works fine on a tetrahedral mesh, but if you have hex elements, it won’t work – it assumes triangles on the face.  It also requires a macro and some ‘C’ code, which is an extra pain. So we wrote a more generic macro that works with Hex or Tet meshes, and writes the file directly. It can be a bit slow but no annoyingly slow.  We recommend you use this method instead of the ones outlined below.

Here is the macro:  writstl.zip

The Process

An STL file is basically a faceted representation of geometry. Triangles on the surface of your model. So to get an STL file of an FEA model, you simply need to generate triangles on your mesh face, write them out to a file, and convert them to an STL format.  If you want deformed geometry, simply use the UPGEOM command to move your nodes to the deformed position.

The Program

Here is the source code for the windows version of the program:

/*
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

 PADT--------------------------------------------------- Phoenix Analysis &
                                                        Design Technologies

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
                             www.padtinc.com
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

       Package: ans2stl

          File: ans2stl.c
          Args: rootname
        Author: Eric Miller, PADT
		(480) 813-4884 
		eric.miller@padtinc.com

	Simple program that takes the nodes and elements from the
	surface of an ANSYS FE model and converts it to a binary
	STL file.

	USAGE:
		Create and ANSYS surface mesh one of two ways:
			1: amesh the surface with triangles
			2: esurf an existing mesh with triangles
         	Write the triangle surface mesh out with nwrite/ewrite
		Run ans2stl with the rootname of the *.node and *.elem files
		   as the only argument
		This should create a binary STL file

	ASSUMPTIONS:
		The ANSYS elements are 4 noded shells (MESH200 is suggested)
		in triangular format (nodes 3 and 4 the same)

		This code has been succesfully compiled and tested
		on WindowsNT

		NOTE: There is a known issue on UNIX with byte order
				Please contact me if you need a UNIX version

	COMPILE:
		gcc -o ans2stl_win ans2stl_win.c

       10/31/01:       Cleaned up for release to XANSYS and such
       1/13/2014:	Yikes, its been 12+ years. A little update 
       			and publish on The Focus blog
			Checked it to see if it works with Windows 7. 
			It still compiles with GCC just fine.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
PADT, Inc. provides this software to the general public as a curtesy.
Neither the company or its employees are responsible for the use or
accuracy of this software.  In short, it is free, and you get what
you pay for.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
*/
/*======================================================

   SAMPLE ANSYS INPUT DECK THAT SHOWS USAGE

finish
/clear
/file,a2stest
/PREP7  
!----------
! Build silly geometry
BLC4,-0.6,0.35,1,-0.75,0.55 
SPH4,-0.8,-0.4,0.45 
CON4,-0.15,-0.55,0.05,0.35,0.55 
VADD,all
!------------------------
! Mesh surface with non-solved (MESH200) triangles
et,1,200,4
MSHAPE,1,2D   ! Use triangles for Areas
MSHKEY,0      ! Free mesh
SMRTSIZE,,,,,5
AMESH,all
!----------------------
! Write out nodes and elements
nwrite,a2stest,node
ewrite,a2stest,elem
!--------------------
! Execute the ans2stl program
/sys,ans2stl_win.exe a2stest

======================================================= */

#include 
#include 
#include 

typedef struct vertStruct *vert;
typedef struct facetStruct *facets;
typedef struct facetListStruct *facetList;

        int     ie[8][999999];
        float   coord[3][999999];
        int	np[999999];

struct vertStruct {
  float	x,y,z;
  float	nx,ny,nz;
  int  ivrt;
  facetList	firstFacet;
};

struct facetListStruct {
  facets	facet;
  facetList	next;
};

struct facetStruct {
  float	xn,yn,zn;
  vert	v1,v2,v3;
};

facets	theFacets;
vert	theVerts;

char	stlInpFile[80];
float	xmin,xmax,ymin,ymax,zmin,zmax;
float   ftrAngle;
int	nf,nv;  

void swapit();
void readBin();
void getnorm();
long readnodes();
long readelems();

/*--------------------------------*/
main(argc,argv)
     int argc;
     char *argv[];
{
  char nfname[255];
  char efname[255];
  char sfname[255];
  char s4[4];
  FILE	*sfile;
  int	nnode,nelem,i,i1,i2,i3;
  float	xn,yn,zn;

  if(argc <= 1){
        puts("Usage:  ans2stl file_root");
        exit(1);
  }
  sprintf(nfname,"%s.node",argv[1]);
  sprintf(efname,"%s.elem",argv[1]);
  sprintf(sfname,"%s.stl",argv[1]);

  nnode = readnodes(nfname);
  nelem = readelems(efname);
  nf = nelem;

  sfile = fopen(sfname,"wb");
  fwrite("PADT STL File, Solid Binary",80,1,sfile);
  swapit(&nelem,s4);    fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);

  for(i=0;i<nelem;i++){ 
      i1 = np[ie[0][i]];
      i2 = np[ie[1][i]];
      i3 = np[ie[2][i]];
      getnorm(&xn,&yn,&zn,i1,i2,i3);

      swapit(&xn,s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      swapit(&yn,s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      swapit(&zn,s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);

      swapit(&coord[0][i1],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      swapit(&coord[1][i1],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      swapit(&coord[2][i1],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);

      swapit(&coord[0][i2],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      swapit(&coord[1][i2],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      swapit(&coord[2][i2],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);

      swapit(&coord[0][i3],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      swapit(&coord[1][i3],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      swapit(&coord[2][i3],s4);	fwrite(s4,4,1,sfile);
      fwrite(s4,2,1,sfile);
  }
  fclose(sfile);
    puts(" ");
  printf("  STL Data Written to %s.stl \n",argv[1]);
    puts("  Done!!!!!!!!!");
  exit(0);
}

void  getnorm(xn,yn,zn,i1,i2,i3)
	float	*xn,*yn,*zn;
	int	i1,i2,i3;
{
	float	v1[3],v2[3];
	int	i;

        for(i=0;i<3;i++){
	  v1[i] = coord[i][i3] - coord[i][i2];
	  v2[i] = coord[i][i1] - coord[i][i2];
	}

	*xn = (v1[1]*v2[2]) - (v1[2]*v2[1]);
	*yn = (v1[2]*v2[0]) - (v1[0]*v2[2]);
	*zn = (v1[0]*v2[1]) - (v1[1]*v2[0]);
}
long readelems(fname)
        char    *fname;
{
        long num,i;
        FILE *nfile;
        char    string[256],s1[7];

        num = 0;
        nfile = fopen(fname,"r");
		if(!nfile){
			puts(" error on element file open, bye!");
			exit(1);
		}
        while(fgets(string,86,nfile)){
          for(i=0;i<8;i++){
            strncpy(s1,&string[6*i],6);
            s1[6] = '\0';
            sscanf(s1,"%d",&ie[i][num]);
          }
          num++;
        }

        printf("Number of element read: %d\n",num);
        return(num);
}

long readnodes(fname)
        char	*fname;
{
        FILE    *nfile;
        long     num,typeflag,nval,ifoo;
        char    string[256];

        num = 0;
        nfile = fopen(fname,"r");
		if(!nfile){
			puts(" error on node file open, bye!");
			exit(1);

		}
        while(fgets(string,100,nfile)){
          sscanf(string,"%d ",&nval);
          switch(nval){
            case(-888):
                typeflag = 1;
            break;
            case(-999):
                typeflag = 0;
            break;
            default:
                np[nval] = num;
                if(typeflag){
                        sscanf(string,"%d %g %g %g",
                           &ifoo,&coord[0][num],&coord[1][num],&coord[2][num]);
                }else{
                        sscanf(string,"%d %g %g %g",
                           &ifoo,&coord[0][num],&coord[1][num],&coord[2][num]);
                        fgets(string,81,nfile);
                }
num++;
            break;
        }

        }
        printf("Number of nodes read %d\n",num);
        return(num);

}

/* A Little ditty to swap the byte order, STL files are for DOS */
void swapit(s1,s2)
     char s1[4],s2[4];
{
  s2[0] = s1[0];
  s2[1] = s1[1];
  s2[2] = s1[2];
  s2[3] = s1[3];
}

ans2stl_win_2014_01_28.zip

Creating the Nodes and Elements

I’ve created a little example macro that can be used to make an STL of deformed geometry.  If you do not want the deformed geometry, simply remove or comment out the UPGEOM command.  This macro is good for MAPDL or ANSYS Mechanical, just comment out the last line  to use it with MAPDL:

et,999,200,4

type,999

esurf,all

finish ! exit whatever preprocessor your in

! move the RST file to a temp file for the UPCOORD. Comment out if you want

! the original geometry

/copy,file,rst,,stl_temp,rst

/prep7 ! Go in to PREP7

et,999,200,4 ! Create a dummy triangle element type, non-solved (200)

type,999 ! Make it the active type

esurf,all ! Surface mesh your model

!

! Update the geometry to the deformed shape

! The first argument is the scale factor, adjust to the appropriate level

! Comment this line out if you don’t want deformed geometry

upgeom,1000,,,stl_temp,rst

!

esel,type,999 ! Select those new elements

nelem ! Select the nodes associated with them

nwrite,stl_temp,node ! write the node file

ewrite,stl_temp,elem ! Write the element file

! Run the program to convert

! This assumes your executable in in c:\temp. If not, change to the proper

! location

/sys,c:\temp\ans2stl_win.exe stl_temp

! If this is a ANSYS Mechanical code snippet, then copy the resulting STL file up to

! the root directory for the project

! For MAPDL, Comment this line out.

/copy,stl_temp,stl,,stl_temp,stl,..\..

An Example

To prove this out using modern computing technology (remember, last time I used this was in 2001) I brought up my trusty valve body model and slammed 5000 lbs on one end, holding it on the top flange.  I then inserted the Commands object into the post processing branch:

image

When the model is solved, that command object will get executed after ANSYS is done doing all of its post processing, creating an STL of the deformed geometry. Here is what it looks like in the output file. You can see what it looks like when APDL executes the various commands:

/COPY FILE FROM FILE= file.rst

TO FILE= stl_temp.rst

FILE file.rst COPIED TO stl_temp.rst

1

***** ANSYS – ENGINEERING ANALYSIS SYSTEM RELEASE 15.0 *****

ANSYS Multiphysics

65420042 VERSION=WINDOWS x64 08:39:44 JAN 14, 2014 CP= 22.074

valve_stl–Static Structural (A5)

Note – This ANSYS version was linked by Licensee

***** ANSYS ANALYSIS DEFINITION (PREP7) *****

ELEMENT TYPE 999 IS MESH200 3-NODE TRIA MESHING FACET

KEYOPT( 1- 6)= 4 0 0 0 0 0

KEYOPT( 7-12)= 0 0 0 0 0 0

KEYOPT(13-18)= 0 0 0 0 0 0

CURRENT NODAL DOF SET IS UX UY UZ

THREE-DIMENSIONAL MODEL

ELEMENT TYPE SET TO 999

GENERATE ELEMENTS ON SURFACE DEFINED BY SELECTED NODES

TYPE= 999 REAL= 1 MATERIAL= 1 ESYS= 0

NUMBER OF ELEMENTS GENERATED= 13648

USING FILE stl_temp.rst

THE SCALE FACTOR HAS BEEN SET TO 1000.0

USING FILE stl_temp.rst

ESEL FOR LABEL= TYPE FROM 999 TO 999 BY 1

13648 ELEMENTS (OF 43707 DEFINED) SELECTED BY ESEL COMMAND.

SELECT ALL NODES HAVING ANY ELEMENT IN ELEMENT SET.

6814 NODES (OF 53895 DEFINED) SELECTED FROM

13648 SELECTED ELEMENTS BY NELE COMMAND.

WRITE ALL SELECTED NODES TO THE NODES FILE.

START WRITING AT THE BEGINNING OF FILE stl_temp.node

6814 NODES WERE WRITTEN TO FILE= stl_temp.node

WRITE ALL SELECTED ELEMENTS TO THE ELEMENT FILE.

START WRITTING AT THE BEGINNING OF FILE stl_temp.elem

Using Format = 14(I6)

13648 ELEMENTS WERE WRITTEN TO FILE= stl_temp.elem

SYSTEM=

c:\temp\ans2stl_win.exe stl_temp

Number of nodes read 6814

Number of element read: 13648

STL Data Written to stl_temp.stl

Done!!!!!!!!!

/COPY FILE FROM FILE= stl_temp.stl

TO FILE= ..\..\stl_temp.stl

FILE stl_temp.stl COPIED TO ..\..\stl_temp.stl

image

The resulting STL file looks great:

image

I use MeshLab to view my STL files because… well it is free.  Do note that the mesh looks coarser.  This is because the ANSYS mesh uses TETS with midside nodes.  When those faces get converted to triangles those midside nodes are removed, so you do get a coarser looking model.

And after getting bumped from the queue a couple of times by “paying” jobs, our RP group printed up a nice FDM version for me on one of our Stratasys uPrint Plus machines:

image

It’s kind of hard to see, so I went out to the parking lot and recorded a short video of the part, twisting it around a bit:

Here is the ANSYS Mechanical project archive if you want to play with it yourself.

Other Things to Consider

Using FE Modeler

You can use FE Modeler in a couple of different ways with STL files. First off, you can read an STL file made using the method above. If you don’t have an STL preview tool, it is an easy way to check your distorted mesh.  Just chose STL as the input file format:

image

You get this:

image

If you look back up at the open dialog you will notice that it reads a bunch of mesh formats. So one thing you could do instead of using my little program, is use FE Modeler to make your STL.  Instead of executing the program with a /SYS command, simply use a CDWRITE,DB command and then read the resulting *.CDB file into FE Modeler.  To write out the STL, just set the “Target System” to STL and then click “Write Solver File”

image

You may know, or may have noticed in the image above, that FE Modeler can read other FEA meshes.  So if you are using some other FEA package, which you should not, then you can make an STL file in FE Modeler as well.

Color Contours

The next obvious question is how do I get my color contours on the plot. Right now we don’t have that type of printer here at PADT, but I believe that the dominant 3D Color printer out, the former Z-Corp and now 3D Systems machines, will read ANSYS results files. Stratasys JUST announced a new color 3D Printer that makes usable parts. Right now they don’t have a way to do contours, but as soon as they do we will publish something.

Another option is to use a /SHOW,vrml option and then convert that to STL with the color information.

Scaling

Scaling is something you should think about. Not only the scaling on your deformed geometry, but the scaling on your model for printing.  Units can be tricky with STL files so make sure you check your model size before you print.

Smoother STL Surfaces

Your FEA mesh may be kind of coarse and the resulting STL file is even coarser because of the whole midside node thing.  Most of the smoothing tools out there will also get rid of sharp edges, so you don’t want those. Your best best is to refine your mesh or using a tool like Geomagic.

Making a CAD Model from my Deformed Mesh

Perhaps you stumbled on this posting not wanting to print your model. Maybe you want a CAD model of your deformed geometry.  You would use the same process, and then use Geomagic Studio.  It actually works very well and give you a usable CAD model when you are done.