ICEM CFD as a Data Compliant System in ANSYS Workbench

ICEM CFD is probably the most capable mesher on the planet. Not only do we here at PADT use it as our preferred tool for creating complex hex meshes, it has a whole host of other capabilities and controls that make it the power users choice. But one thing that has been frustrating for some time is that we could not easily add it into a project that automatically updates. At 14.5, ICEM CFD is now data compliant and you can use it in a project with parameters.

ICEM-CFD-System-ANSYS-Workbench

If you know ICEM CFD well you know that there are many aspects of it that do not fit into a project flow, but the most commonly used capabilities do: read in geometry, mesh it, output nodes and elements into a solver or node/element based pre-processor. Because it is node/element based it does not work with ANSYS Mechanical or other tools that require surface or solid geometry, but it does work with FLUENT, CFX, ANSYS Mechanical APDL (MAPDL) and Polyflow, the ANSYS solvers that can work directly with nodes and meshes. Once put into your system, you can modify geometry or ICEM CFD parameters and then update your system to get a new solution.

In this article we will focus on using ICEM CFD with ANSYS MAPDL. That is because 1) most of our readers are ANSYS Mechanical/MAPDL users and 2) it is what I know best. But most everything we are talking about will work with FLUENT, CFX, and Polyflow.

Why is this a Big Deal?

For the vast majority of users, this is not such a big deal because they can do all their meshing with ANSYS MAPDL, ANSYS Mechanical, ANSYS Meshing, or FLUENT (with TGrid meshing). But if you can not, then this is an awesome new capability. This is especially true if you need to use the blocking based hex meshing built into ICEM CFD.

Getting Started and Things to Know

Frist thing we recommend you do is read the help on the ICEM CFD System:

Workbench User Guide // User’s Guide // Systems // Component Systems

Click on ANSYS ICEM CFD and read the whole thing. There are lots of little details that you should be aware of.

The first thing you should note is that if you want to use it with Mechanical APDL you need to turn on Beta Features: Tools>Options>Appearance scroll down and check “Beta Options” to be on.

The next thing is to realize that from a project standpoint, you can feed an ICEM CFD system with any system that has a geometry module. Although ICEM CFD will read a mesh in and use the external surface of that mesh as geometry, that capability is not currently implemented in Workbench. This means if the source mesh changes, you can not automatically update your mesh if the “geometry” mesh changes. See below for a work around.

You do need to make sure that your ICEM CFD model is setup to output to your solver type. Make sure you check this when you are setting up your mesh.

If you have worked in Workbench with legacy mesh you know that named selections can be very important. I did not have enough time to play with all the different options, but it looks like named selections come in from DesignModeler, and if they define a solid, the resulting nodes that are in that solid get written as a component that goes to the MAPDL solver. However, surface, edge, and vertex named selections do not seem to get passed over at this time. I am contacting ANSYS, Inc. to see if there is a way to turn that on.

It also looks like if you are using blocking only the solid elements are written, and no corner, edge, or surface elements are output. I will also be checking on this.

The last, and most important thing to know, is that your ICEM CFD model needs to be robust. Anyone that spends a lot of time in ICEM CFD already knows this. If you make a change to geometry or a parameter, then it needs to update reliably. The key to success with this is to just do your meshing with updates in mind and make it as simple and flexible as possible, especially if you are blocking with HEXA.

A Simple Example

I made a very silly model, because these Focus articles are always about silly models, that sort of shows the process you can use. It is not a flat plate with a hole in it, but it is a block with a cylinder on top.

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Nothing too fancy. I made the block dimensions, the cylinder diameter, and its offset parameters.

This system feeds the ICEM CFD system where it comes in as points, lines, and surfaces.

image

I then blocked it out:

image

And specified meshing sizes:

image

And generated the mesh:

image

Like I said, a simple model.

Parameters are supported for meshing controls, any user parameters you want to make that you will use in Tcl scripts, or meshing diagnostics.

I made the number of nodes across the width a parameter:

image

Values that you can make into parameters have little white boxes next to them. To make them workbench parameters click on the box and you get the “Blue P” that everyone should know and love from all of the other ANSYS, Inc. applications.

I also wanted mesh parameters so I went to Settings->Workbench Parameters->Workbench Output Parameters and set some of those:

image

Now when I go back to my project and check out the parameters for my ICEM CFD system I get:

image

Now it is time to add the ANSYS Mechanical APDL system. You will want to write a macro that defines material properties, constraints, and loads. Mine also has some output parameters and makes some PNG plots.

This is the mesh I get in MAPDL:

dp0_000

and here are the results. Exciting:

dp0_001

To try the whole thing out I made a design study:

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Everything updated just fine and I got all my output parameters and my plots in my MAPDL directory for each design point (remember to tell it to save all the design points or it deletes them, or use a macro like the one discussed in the bonus article from this posting).

I made an animated GIF of the different meshes for fun:

DesignPoints_ICEM-CFD-1

Here is a link to an archive of the project I used:  ICEM-wb-1.wbpz

Doing more with ICEM CFD in a Project

This was a basic example. But the cool thing about the implementation is that it will do much more. If there is a replay file, it will execute the file and run whatever scripts you specify in the file. This is how you can get it to work with existing meshes as geometry. And you can do whatever else you want to do.

On an update ICEM CFD does the following:

  1. Update geometry if Tetin file changed
  2. Runs tetra default meshing, if no blocking file and no replay file
  3. If a replay file, run the replay file
  4. Runs Hexa default meshing if a Blocking file exists
  5. Convert any blocked mesh to unstructured mesh file
  6. Convert unstructured mesh file to solver input file
  7. Save the project

So you just need to be aware of this order and plan accordingly. There really is no limit to what you can do.

Next Steps

If there was ever a place to use Crawl-Walk-Run this is it. Make yourself a very simple model and get a feel for things. Then work with your real geometry doing some simple meshing, maybe just blowing a TET mesh on it, then set up you full run. Also, keep the simple model around to try stuff out when you are working with the big model.

The help was very helpful, I recommend that you read it once then reread it after you have played around with this feature a bit.

Saving Mechanical APDL Plots in a Design Study

One of the cool features in the ANSYS Workbench is the ability to set up a design study and kick off a bunch of runs that bring back key parameters.  This is great for a design exploration but sometimes you actually would like a result plot, or maybe the info in a text file as well.  When a design study is done, unless you tell Workbench to save all your run files, it deletes all the files.

To do the posting on ICEM CFD in the workbench project page, I needed to do just that, so I thought I would share my method in case others want to use it.

The way I do it is pretty simple:

  • Use a /INQUIRE to get the directory the run is running in
  • Use some string functions to get the name of the design point from the directory name
  • Temporarily change the jobname
  • Save my plots
  • Change the jobname back to file
  • Copy the files to the User_Files directory.

Here is what it looks like:

   1: /post1

   2: set,last

   3: finish

   4: /inquire,aa,directory

   5: ii = strpos(aa(1),'\dp')

   6: ij = strpos(aa(ii+1),'\')-1

   7: dpn = strsub(aa(1),ii+1,ij)

   8: dpn = strcat(dpn,'_')

   9: /file,dpn

  10: /post1

  11: /view,1,1,1,1

  12: /vup,1,z

  13: /show,png

  14: eplot

  15: plnsol,u,sum

  16: /show,close

  17: /sys,copy *.png ..\..\..\user_files

  18: finish

  19: /file,file

See how it uses /inquire to get the directory, then strpos(), strsub(), and strcat() to get the design point name.  Then it simply changes the file name, does a /show,png and plots. The results are copied using a system command.

Two important things to note:

  1. You have to do the set command before you change the jobname, otherwise your RST files will not work
  2. This version is written for windows, you need to use forward slashes and cp for Linux.

You can attach this to a MAPDL system or as a code snippet.

Startup Lesson Learned 3: Be Honest and Open about your Strengths and Weaknesses

10_Tech_Startup_Lessons_Learned-1_thAbout the Series “10 Tech Startup Lessons Learned”
PADT is a company focused on helping companies bring their physical products to market. As “We Make Innovation Work” for our customers, we learn a lot about what does and does not work in technology startup companies. In addition, we were once a startup ourselves and we now participate in Angel investing.  All of this has taught us a lot of valuable lessons.
In this series we will share some of those lessons learned and explore the basic concepts and ideas that will help startups overcome the odds and become successful.

This posting is the second installment for our series. The previous postings were: “If You Build It, They Will Not Come” and “Stay Focused, Be Flexible, Set and Use Goals.”

We hope that you find it useful and we look forward to sharing our thoughts on this topic with you.

If you spend time around startups you have seen it before.  Someone comes up with a great idea and they have the technical understanding, the connections, the money, or the drive that allows them to start a business around the idea.  But then the business fails because some important skill or capability was missing and the founders could not, or would not, recognize and deal with the need. On the other side of things, we have all seen a company stumble because they spent a large amount of time and money trying to accomplish something using expensive outside resources that the founders could have easily done themselves.

Both of these situations stem from the inability of people who start a technical company to be honest and open about their own strengths and weaknesses.  They end up not doing what they can do, and doing what they should not be doing.  Both can waste time and money and even bring the company down.

The Technologist Trap

BearTrap_Active_TexturedSpotlightThe most common manifestation of this problem, so much so that it is has become a stereotype, is the technologist that tries and fails to start a company because they did not understand business, sales, marketing, or manufacturing.  It is an unfortunate reality that the capabilities that make a person a great innovator are not the same capabilities that make someone a great CEO or even a good manager.  There are exceptions to this, but more often then not if you look at successful technology startups there is usually the “the technology person” and “the business person” Only rarely are they the same person.

What does this mean, because this certainly does not apply to you? It is your idea, your understanding of the science behind the idea, your intimate knowledge of the market that created the company.  Doing that other stuff required to get things off the ground is simple by comparison.  But the hard reality is that a technically capable person usually does not have the skills, experience, knowledge, or desire to do that other stuff. And even if they do, they usually do not have the bandwidth to get it done. And that other stuff is required to build a company.

To deal with this trap, the best place to begin is with the assumption that the you, the technical innovator, should start in the founder and chief technologist role. Just plan for that when you start a company.  It is much easier on everyone involved for you to add roles then for you to have to give them up.  Stepping forward is much more pleasant than stepping back.  And it is much easier to be honest about what you are good at when you are looking at it as adding responsibility, rather than giving it up. Human nature, no matter how hard you try, will always tint your self-view when you have to admit to others that you can not do something.

Even if you retain control of your company, delegate as much decision making responsibility as possible to those who are best suited to make the decisions. 

Taking Advice

adviceSo far I have been focusing on skills and capabilities. But another area where the founders of a startup have to be brutally honest with themselves is in taking advice from others.  This is not the same thing as just doing what others tell you. It is about being able to put your preconceived ideas aside, leave your pride at home, and really listen to what other people are advising you. 

If you have ever spent time around a great leader you will notice that they are masters at soliciting input from others, reviewing it, and turning it into the right decisions.  As a leader in a technology startup, you have to also grow this ability to first actually listen, then make honest and accurate assessments of the advice.  The first step in doing so is letting go of ownership on ideas. 

When you internally claim ownership of an idea it is hard to accept that someone else’s ideas might be better, because that implies that yours is wrong. So start off by letting go of the ownership and evaluate each idea on its own merit and not based on who it came from. Learn to be honest with yourself about the fact that your ideas may not always be the best and that in most cases, a combination of multiple ideas from multiple sources is the best solution.

Confidence, Not Arrogance

self-confidence-300x300To be successful in a small business you must be confident. Without significant confidence you can never survive all of the obstacles that face you.  But if you are not honest in your view of yourself, that confidence can turn to arrogance, and arrogance leads to making bad decisions that can ruin your company.  Confidence is telling yourself “yes, I can make this happen.”  Arrogance is telling yourself “yes, I am always right.”  A confident leader in a technology startup knows that they can make the journey to success regardless of where the path leads, the arrogant leader thinks that they already know the path to success.

The way to avoid slipping into an arrogant stance is to really be honest and look at how you make decisions.  Are your decisions based on the facts you have in hand and maybe some intuition, or are you making decisions based upon what you want the answer to be, or how the decisions make you look?  You should be using facts and intuition.

We have actually had situations where we have told customers that their idea has a significant problem that needs to be dealt with. And their response was “I don’t want to hear negative information.”  That is taking confidence into arrogance if not just plane crazy.  A confident leader will take in the information and say “what do we need to solve this problem, I know we can overcome this obstacle.”

Being Honest is also about Strengths

strengthAnecdotes about startups that failed because the owners just did not listen to others, or tried to do things they were not qualified to do only show part of the story. Being honest about your abilities is a two edged sword.  Not leveraging your strengths can be just as deadly for a startup, especially if a founder considers themselves too much of a nerd or a “techie” to do non-technical things.  Or if they lack the confidence to assert their point of view when they should.

Many innovators are multi-talented and they may have chosen a technical path for their education or career.  This does not automatically disqualify them from being a successful business person, it just requires that they follow the advice above and work to have an honest understanding of what their skills and abilities are, and work to make the right choices in filling in the missing pieces. 

Look in the Mirror

dog-mirror1Let’s be honest, it is very hard to be honest with yourself.  Your thought process on which accounting package to use probably has more to do with the way your mother responded to the finger-painting you brought home from kindergarten then any of us want to admit.  We are complex creatures with conflicting emotions, memories, and desires. And they are very hard to see from inside, and even harder to adapt to.  Most of the time this does not matter, but when you are trying to do something as hard as start a technology company, it is a big deal.

The best way to deal with this honesty stuff is to learn to really look at yourself in the mirror, make it part of your normal process. When you are making a big decision, ask yourself why you decided to go a certain way. When you take on a task, look at yourself in that mirror and ask if you are the right person for the job.  When you are looking to bring in an outside expert, make sure you really need them.

Just be honest with yourself, and success will be a lot easier to find. 

 

[A Note on the cheesy images: 
Sorry. I know they kind of suck but I’ve taken it as a mission to find the most stereotypical business images to highlight the message of each paragraph. Hopefully you will find them somewhat funny… or at least not too annoying…]

Suite Available in PADT’s Building at the ASU Research Park

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We have a suite opening up on May 1, 2013 in the PADT Innovation Center at the ASU Research Park in Tempe.  Everyone drives through this business park and says to themselves “I’d really like to locate here some day.”  Well now is your chance.

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Located just off Elliot and the 101, the suite is just a hair under 7,000 square feet.  It is a good mix of office and lab space and is fully air conditioned with a lot of amenities that are perfect for a high-tech company. The previous tenant designed and tested high-end smart meters from this facility.  So if you make electro-mechanical type stuff, or are a medical device company, this suite would probably be perfect. Another advantage is that PADT is one of your neighbors, and your landlord.

image

If you are interested, or if you know of someone that is interested, give Scott Rand a call at 480.813.4884 or drop him an email at scott.rand@padtinc.com.  He would be more than happy to show it to you and show you around.

Stratasys and Objet Merger Complete

Stratasys

It is now official. Stratasys and Object have completed their merger to form a company worth over $3.0 Billion.  Actually, as we prepare this update it is up to $3.37B.  Obviously the markets thing this merger is a good thing.

And now Stratasys has a new logo and what we think is a great slogan: “For a 3D World”

You can read the press release here.

As a long time Stratasys distributor and a user of Objet’s and Stratasys systems in our rapid prototyping services business, we are very familiar with both product lines and look forward to the synergy of the merger.  These are two truly complimentary product lines.

Right now this merger will have no impact on how we do business with our existing customers for any of the product sales or services we offer, including sales of new systems, maintenance of existing machines, material ordering, or prototyping services with either FDM or PolyJet.  As the two companies combine organizationally we will keep everyone informed.

Learn more about the Stratasys line of Mojo, uPrint SE, Dimension, and FORTUS 3D Printers here.

Writeup on PADT Customer Ulthera in BizJournal

We just noticed a nice write-up in the Phoenix Business Journal on one of PADT Medical’s customers: Ulthera.

We are pleased to see them get the recognition they deserve for the success they have worked so hard to obtain.

Registered: We Make Innovation Work

PADT-We_Make_Innovation_Work-Trademark_Certificate-800wIt is official. We just got a letter from the US Patent and Trademark Office that “We Make Innovation Work” is now a registered trademark for PADT.

Here it is for the first time with the special r-in-a-circle:

We Make Innovation Work®

This new slogan for PADT was born out of being involved in applying for a couple of industry awards in 2011, doing a bunch of networking events, and starting the design of the new web site.  All at once I was being asked what it is we do and what makes us different.  Actually, I found the original email I sent when the idea for changing the slogan popped into my head, sent to Brenda at Newhouse Studios early in the design process:

image

And there it was born. We used it in the acceptance speech for a couple of awards we won that year and then started using it on our literature. Hopefully it will serve us as well as “We Bring Dimension to Your Ideas” did for the first 10 or so years of PADT.

A big thanks to all of our customers out there who pay us to do what we truly enjoy doing and giving us the opportunity to, well –  “make innovation work” for them.

Arizona Innovation Grant Winners Announced, Three are PADT Related

 

imageThe Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) finished up the Fall 2012 Arizona Innovation Challenge Grant by announcing the six winners:

  1. Athena Wireless Communications, Surprise, AZ
  2. Instant BioScan, Tucson, AZ
  3. Post. Bid. Ship, Tucson, AZ
  4. Serious Integrated, Chandler , AZ
  5. Stat Doctors, Scottsdale, AZ
  6. Stimwave Technologies, Scottsdale, AZ

This is a great collection of companies that show a lot of promise. We are pleased to see the ACA making strong investments in the state’s technology sector. The bi-annual business plan competition awards qualified, innovative startups and early stage companies up to $250,000 in grant funding capital to grow their business, ultimately advancing innovation and technology commercialization opportunities in Arizona. Winning companies were selected from a pool of more than 200 applicants and 25 semifinalists.

PADT is very honored to note that we have connections with three of the winners:

Serious Integrated is a company that PADT has made several investments in and we are also proud to have them as a customer.  We just recently covered them in this very blog.

Post. Bid. Ship. is another company that PADT has invested in, in this case through the ATIF Sidecar Fund 1. 

Stimwave Technologies is one of PADT’s rapid prototyping customers.

Several of PADT’s owners also participated as early round judges to help select the semifinalists.  We had to recuse ourselves from a large number of applications because so many of our customers are involved, which is great to see.

Congratulations to all the finalists and to the winners, and we look forward to meeting new companies in the next competition.

Serious Integrated: Modular Touch Screen Panels

image_thumb1PADT Angel Investment Profiles
Giving back to the community you come from is something that PADT strongly believes in. We extend this belief not just to charities, but also to the technology business community that helped to create the company we are today.  One way in which we do that is through strategic Angel investments in local technology startup companies.
In this series, we will take a look at the companies that PADT has invested in, where they are in the startup process, and why PADT invested in them.  Hopefully we will cover two a month.  To learn more about PADT’s investment program, visit our Technology Investing page.  You can also read about the first investment we covered, Veebow.com.

 

imageSerious Integrated, Inc. is a company focused on one simple mission: doing away with buttons on machines.  Most mechanical systems need some sort of human-machine interface, and in the past this has consisted of buttons in some sort of control panel with a small monochrome screen that is hard to read and does not give enough information.  The current trend is to replace this interface with a color touch screen that can be programed to have whatever interface the equipment manufacturer want.  The problem that the manufacturer faces is that they have to design the screen and all the electronic hardware behind it, source it, program it, and integrate it with their system. Serious Integrated has solved this problem with a family of modular interfaces and a GUI development environment.  A six month development process to just get a prototype can now be done in a few weeks.

The Company

Serious Integrated was founded by Terry West and Gregg Lahti because they saw a need in the market.  With experience from RIM, Intel, Microchip and Sun Microsystems, along with a few startups, they knew how to take this need and build a product and services around it.  They are currently growing at the Chandler Innovations Incubator in Chandler, AZ by adding other seasoned professionals to their staff.

Serious Integrated Inc.
Terry and Gregg Show off two Modules

It is truly rare to sit in a room at a startup and be surrounded by people with as much experience as Serious Integrated brings to the table, and not just on the technical side, but also in operations, legal, and finance.  One of the ways that this has manifested itself is in establishing partnerships with a suppliers like Renasas and Microchip.  This also showed in the quick selection of the Serious modules as listed products by heavyweight distributors Arrow Electronics and Digi-key along with a host of well respected electronics manufacturers’ representatives.

The management team has been able to grow quickly and efficiently through many obstacles and are already generating revenue, delivering multiple product options, releasing software, and finding time to do custom design work.  Such a strong start is a good indicator of a very successful future.

The Technology

imageThe technology that Serious Integrated offers is an off-the-shelf solution that consists of already assembled components on a custom board with a standard operating system already installed.  This is combined with a GUI development environment created by the company to offer a complete modular solution that eliminates the lengthy development process required if you decide to roll your own interface.

If you want to know more specifics about the hardware technology, you need to contact Serious Integrated. Because I am a mechanical engineer, much of what they do in these modules is black magic to me. I do know it works, and if I want to use it on one of our projects, I do not have to budget for an electrical engineer to spend 3 months designing it for me.  Modules cost between $120 and $200 depending on size and features in small quantities, which is such an affordable price point it makes sense to just try one out.

imageI can speak to the software, which was just put out in beta release.  Ship is a complete rapid GUI development system that uses a WYSIWYG interface (SHIPTide) that allows you to design your interface in a virtual space by dragging-and-dropping components.  You can layout your GUI, define events or actions, build your resource library, and create a package that you can upload to your hardware with ease.  Something even a mechanical engineer can use.

SHIPEngine is the runtime engine that sits on the board. It can be loaded on a Serious Integrated module, or on your own hardware.  It takes the package you make with SHIPTide and runs your GUI.  No need to write for a specific microcontroller and/or RTOS.  Serious Integrated also offers services to help with the GUI design or to help with custom content for your GUI.

So you can go with their modules, or your own hardware, and use the SHIP environment to drastically reduce your development time. Many companies consider the use of a Serious Integrated module for their product development phase, and then going to their own hardware for mass production. With Serious Integrated, you have the option to do it whatever way is best for your needs.

SBX200PADT’s Interest

The current trend in product development is smart products. Everything has some sort of controller and a way to interface with it far  beyond on-off switches and simple buttons or dials.  New products must not only have more sophisticated controls, they must have human-machine interfaces that are robust, easy-to-use, and easily configured.  Serious Integrated has created a hardware and software solution that has huge advantages over developing your own interface. This is a product we recommend to our customers.

We also really like the team. They are smart, experienced, and very knowledgeable.  They also have contacts in the world of machine interface and control that we find very useful.  Our involvement with them has already been beneficial and we learn things every time we interact.  As Serious Integrated grows we hope to be able to offer PADT’s services to some of their customers, and we will continue to introduce our customers and vendors to their technology and services.

All and all, this has been one of the more beneficial partnering relationships that PADT has done through an angel investment.

imageStatus

Serious Integrated is currently in a great place for a new startup – they have orders with revenue coming in the door, product shipping, new products in the pipeline, and are building a positive reputation in the market.  Their focus right now is on raising the funds needed to meet the demands of their growing market and on executing their plan efficiently.  So far things have gone well and they have been able to verify their initial assumptions about the market and the features/functions of a product that will meet those needs.

If you have a need for a human-machine interface, you can help yourself and PADT out by taking a look at Serious Integrated and trying one of their modules and the GUI development environment.  Let us know what you think.

Happy Holidays and Merry New Year from The Focus

Here we are again. At the end of another year.  It has been a big year for The Focus, PADT, and for ANSYS in general.  It is our last full week of work for 2012 here at PADT so we always like to finish up the year with a summary article, looking back and looking forward.

VibratingSnowFlake3The Focus

We published 48 articles to The Focus blog in 2012, well 49 if you count this one.  That brings the total on the blog to 194, but the real number is higher because the old newsletters show up as one posting, and not the 3-4 articles per issues that they contain.

Which reminds me, a big THANK YOU to everyone who sends emails or leaves comments thanking us for doing The Focus.  We do enjoy doing it and getting a note now and then is frosting on the cake.

The biggest change to The Focus was the fact that it has a new home and it is no longer alone. With the launch of our new website we moved to a WordPress server for our blog, and we have added other non-ANSYS topics to the blog. So now our customers in the product development and rapid prototyping world can enjoy our immature wit and pseudo-wisdom.

We were also able to get more than a few Webinars out there.  In fact, we did 16 Webinars on topics from new tools we resell (VCollab and Flownex) to introductions on EKM and how to do a user routine in ANSYS Mechanical APDL.  All of the webinars can be viewed as recordings.

VibratingSnowFlake4PADT

The year of 2012 was not a year of big changes for PADT, but a lot of little ones that added up.  We continued to grow our presence in our corner of the US with growth at our Colorado office and salespeople in New Mexico and Utah.  We also completed all of the modifications to our main facility in Tempe, AZ and have been enjoying an almost construction free work environment for most of the year.

The big change was our new website.  But I mentioned that already…

It has been a good year for compute power at PADT.  Our sales of CUBE HVPC systems has been picking up and we have added more of these awesome systems to our own pool of servers.  It was a bit of a risk to start building custom computers for simulation users, but we have been able to make our customers happy and deliver some truly fast boxes for very reasonable prices.

We continue to see growth across all three of our business units: Simulation, Product Development, and Rapid Prototyping. Our prototyping group had a true breakout year with record numbers of prototypes delivered to customers and big growth in the sales of our Support Cleaning Apparatus.  We also completed a couple of very large injection molding jobs that we helped set up.

On the community front we continue to support STEM education efforts, with some new efforts in the Denver area and more support Arizona. We have also participated in more Angel investments and PADT is now a regional sponsor of the Cleantech Open.  We are also proud of our very own Jen Ayers who has stepped up to be the president of the local chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

VibratingSnowFlake2ANSYS

We started out 2012 getting up to speed with ANSYS 14.0, which was introduced at the end of 2011.  There was so much new stuff that we barely got it all under our built when we got 14.5 last month.  We have been very pleased with the efforts of the development teams during the year, especially in meshing, load mapping, and advanced blade row capabilities, just to name a few.

And ANSYS, Inc. as a company did well, they started 2012 at $57.39, look to be finishing at around $70 with a worst at $55.21 and a peak of $74.37.  22% growth if it finishes at $70/share. Not a bad year, better than the DJI or NASDAQ.  This puts the market capitalization at around $6,400,000,000. I put the zeros in there for effect.  It is very impressive for those of us who were around when they  first went public.  Their 10 year performance is far and away above any other company in the space.

And speaking of growth, ANSYS, Inc. acquired Esterel Technologies, expanding their footprint in simulation to simulating imbedded systems.  We also saw further integration of all of the acquired products under the Workbench and organizationally.  The thing that still amazes us is that with all this growth we still see the same vision and focus, and still the attention to the little features and functions that users ask for.  We deal with a lot of software companies and have seen a lot of acquiring. No one stays as focused as ANSYS, Inc.

VibratingSnowFlake12013

This coming year is looking good.  Here in the US we may finally get out of our slow growth period and see some robust expansion… if our politicians can stop fighting and end the uncertainty.  PADT is ready for some good growth and we hope to get into some new technologies, meet some new customers, and see some new business.

The folks at ANSYS, Inc. are working away at ANSYS 15.0, which is going to be another major release. We will be here for our customers as we all learn 14.5 and funnel feedback to the proper channels to help make 15.0 even better. We also hope to see a growth in our usage of other physics in 2013 and more advanced materials, it seems like our customers are headed that way so we want to get there first.

And for The Focus, expect more of the same. We have a whole list of posting ideas and will try and hit the ground running when we get back from the holiday break. Maybe in 2013 we can break that 50 article threshold.

W want to wish you, your co-workers, your family, and your friends a very happy holiday season and we hope to prosper with you in the new year.

PADT Sign at the End of the Rainbow

Ted Harris captured this picture when going home last Friday.  This is what you find at the end of a rainbow.

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It is a long exposure to get the colors in the rainbow, so the sign is a bit bright.  But not bad for holding an iPhone steady.

Christmas Right–Left Gift Exchange Story: Romance Style

For our Christmas parties at PADT we generally have over 40 employees so a traditional secret Santa gift exchange takes to long. So a couple of years ago we downloaded a right-left gift exchange story from the internet and it was a big hit. We ran out of stories on the internet, so we started writing our own, usually in some sort of over-the-top style.  This year it was sort of a romance story with an Italian lover, a green dress, sword play, and a angry suitor.  It takes place at Christmas time… so there is the rather weak tie to Christmas.

If you have never played this game before it is simple. Everyone gets their gift and forms a big circle in the middle of the room.  Someone with a strong voice reads the story and every the world LEFT is read, everyone passes the package they have to the left. Every time the world RIGHT is read, everyone passes the package they have to their right.  You should pause a bit at each LEFT/RIGHT to give people a chance to pass.  Using funny voices for the dialog also helps.

We hope you get as many laughs out of it as we did.

You can find our Film Noir style story from last year here.


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Silvia LEFTwater lounged in her chair and watched Sir Robert St. RIGHTman stride across the portico, from LEFT to RIGHT into the LEFT wing of the LEFTwater mansion. She fluttered her eyes and inhaled a deep breath that stretched the bodice of her deep green satin dress. She held it for a time till it LEFT her a little light headed. She then let out a long, sad sigh.

RIGHT now, based upon the sigh that just LEFT your body, I am guessing that your heart is once again RIGHT where I… last enjoyed your embrace.

Hearing Alberto’s voice coming from the doorway startled Silvia RIGHT out of her deep contemplation. During the summer they had enjoyed a brief, deep and passionate romance, stolen moments together RIGHT here in her Writeing study, that had LEFT her wanting more. If she was honest with herself, it had LEFT her devastated. But he had… gone away without saying a word, only WRITEing her a single note that explained he would return RIGHT before Christmas. She had moved on, or so she thought. She didn’t want to think about the complications that Alberto LEFT in his wake; she wanted to focus on Sir Robert RIGHT now.

“Alberto, it is such a pleasure to see you standing RIGHT here, you LEFT in such a hurry this summer.” She presented her RIGHT hand to him, which he took in both his LEFT and RIGHT hands, brushing his lips RIGHT against the top of her knuckles. “I am so glad you could be here for Christmas, it would not be RIGHT to celebrate it without you.”

Alberto looked down on her, gazing into her eyes in a way that LEFT her a bit breathless. “My dearest Silvia, you must be angry with me, and RIGHTly so. But it is now Christmas time and I want nothing LEFT to chance. So I have returned to RIGHT here, RIGHT now, to make things RIGHT. “

Silvia felt her heart leap RIGHT out of her chest. He had LEFT her depressed and forlorn and now he marched RIGHT in at Christmas to declare something. And RIGHT after Sir Robert had LEFT this very same room after making a proposal of marriage. In fact, she realized that Sir Robert had declared his love to her standing in the same place Alberto stood now.

“Silvia, my peach, my desire, when I , LEFT here this summer I feel I did it for the RIGHT reasons. I bought property on the LEFT bank of the seine and opened an art auction house. And I sold pictures that my aunt had LEFT in plain sight, RIGHT above the LEFTmost window of our country estate. They were rare examples of the REITenhouser school of portraiture, painted by REITenhouser himself and his students. I sold them for a fortune, which has LEFT me with enough money to do RIGHT by you.”

Just then, Silvia saw Sir Robert over Alberto’s LEFT shoulder, standing in the door that had been LEFT open. His RIGHT eye twitched as his RIGHT hand slowly moved to his RIGHT hip where his sword was secured to his belt. “Alberto!” he yelled with RIGHTeous indignation. “By all that these mad days have still LEFT holy in this world, you have given up your RIGHT to Slivia’s attention. I have stood RIGHT by her side when you LEFT her crying, RIGHT here on this couch. Draw your sword, and we shall see who is LEFT standing!”

Alberto stood at attention, he looked RIGHT into Sir Robert’s eyes and said “You have LEFT me with no choice, we shall set this RIGHT….” He paused and drew his sword with his LEFT hand, for Alberto was not only Italian, he was a LEFTy, “… here and now”

And then they battled, back and forth, parry and thrust, thrust and parry. Silvia stood speechless, clutching her hands to her LEFT chest against her pounding heart. As the men fought, she was LEFT with a feeling of exhilaration. She knew it was… wrong… and not RIGHT, to find pleasure in their struggle. But she could not help herself. He chest heaved, covered with dewdrops of sweat as she watched them struggle.

Without warning, when they stood RIGHT in front of Silvia, Alberto slashed across Roberts LEFT cheek, which LEFT a long red streak under his eye. It also splashed blood RIGHT on Slivias RIGHT hip, RIGHT above her hand tooled leather belt.

“STOP THIS RIGHT NOW!!!” she shouted. Her outburst LEFT both men stunned and they stood there in front of her, looking RIGHT at her. “It is Christmas and this is not RIGHT. Although I am honored by your gallantry and willingness to fight for my love, the decision shall be LEFT to be to decide what is RIGHT for me.”

She took a deep breath and both men admired her long auburn hair, tied into a braid that sat on her RIGHT shoulder. She looked fierce, and beautiful. Then the word leapt RIGHT out from her “I love you Alberto, I always will. I would have rather you not LEFT me, and what you did was not RIGHT. But I forgive you. I’m sorry Sir Robert, it would be best if you LEFT now.”

Sir Robert dropped his sword and turned to leave. He walked through the door he had LEFT open only minutes before when he had LEFT after he had proposed to her, and walked down the hallway and… across the courtyard to his waiting carriage.

Which LEFT Silvia once again alone with Alberto, and it felt RIGHT. “Oh Alberto!” She felt his LEFT and RIGHT arms tight around her, which LEFT her no option but to collapse into his warm body. “This will be the Best Christmas Ever!” she said. Alberto leaned back and said. ” My Dear, Silvia, my love, my desire, my passion. You are…….. correct”

Webinar Info: New and Cool Stuff in ANSYS R14.5 Mechanical Products

 

This Wednesday we had our last PADT ANSYS Webinar Webinar of 2012 on the cool stuff in the just released 14.5 version of the ANSYS Mechanical products.  As promised, here are links:

The recording can be found at:
https://padtincevents.webex.com/padtincevents/lsr.php?AT=pb&SP=EC&rID=6160237&rKey=0a380a100d1db557

And a PDF of the presentation can be found at:

PADT-Webinar-R145_Important_Stuff-Mechanical-2012_12_12.

Enjoy!

Startup Lesson Learned 2: Stay Focused, Be Flexible, Set and Use Goals

10_Tech_Startup_Lessons_Learned-1_thAbout the Series “10 Tech Startup Lessons Learned”PADT is a company focused on helping companies bring their physical products to market. As “We Make Innovation Work” for our customers, we learn a lot about what does and does not work in technology startup companies. In addition, we were once a startup ourselves and we now participate in Angel investing.  All of this has taught us a lot of valuable lessons.
In this series we will share some of those lessons learned and explore the basic concepts and ideas that will help startups overcome the odds and become successful.

This posting is the second installment for our series. The first posting was “If You Build It, They Will Not Come.”

We hope that you find it useful and we look forward to sharing our thoughts on this topic with you.

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There is a reason why so many business books and presentations use a picture of a guy on a tightrope.  Business is all about balancing.  But if you dig deeper, you find that in order to balance you have to do two things that are often in conflict – you must stay very focused on what you are doing while being flexible in how you react to things.  Getting the right balance between these two approaches is critical to success in any business, but especially for a technology startup.

To understand why focus and flexibility are so important it is a good idea to remember that doing a startup is a process that involves many steps, often executed at the same time.  The execution of each step costs time and money, and a startup has a limited amount of both. Therefore it is critical that you only execute the steps that will lead you to your goals. Doing anything else will lead to a squandering of precious resources and will result in your startup running out of funding or not getting to market in time.

The path seems obvious: come up with a plan, then follow the plan.  Easy.

The problem is that no one knows what steps are needed when they start, and even if you have a good idea, everything changes all the time. There are a host of external factors that impact what you are trying to achieve. Things like the economy, competition, changes in laws, shifting consumer trends, and new technologies.  You can plan for some of this, but not all of it. When circumstances change, successful startups react in a controlled but effective manner.  This requires focus, flexibility, and the effective setting of goals.

Focusing on Focus

image_thumb3Being focused is not the same thing as making a plan and sticking to it.  Focus is all about making sure you are paying attention to what is important, thinking about why it is important, and prioritizing your actions.  It is about having an inner dialog with yourself and within your organization that directs your actions, allowing you to keep moving towards your goals as things change.

Sometimes it is easier to understand the importance of a concept by looking at its opposite.  The opposite of focus, in this context, is distraction.  In the world of startups distractions are often deadly.  They sap resources and move your team away from what they should be doing.  They can also lead to making the wrong decisions because you loose site of priorities.

By concentrating on your companies goals and relating decisions back to those goals, you can stay focused and avoid distractions.  To do so we recommend the following steps:

  1. Any time you need to make a decision on if you should do an activity stop and assess it.
  2. Look at the activity in relation to your startup’s goals and decide if it moves you towards those goals and use that decision to label the activity as something to focus on, or as a distraction.
  3. Track the distractions for review in the future, they may become aligned with your goals as other things change.
  4. If it is worth focusing on, prioritize the effort required to complete the activity with respect to meeting your goals.  Not just what the impact is, but the impact relative to the effort required.
  5. Continue to monitor actives with respect to your goals and their progress. Make sure that you lower the priority on activities that are not moving you towards your goals or that no longer address shifting goals.

In the end, you just need to have the discipline to keep your whole team focused on what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and how you are going to do it.

Stretching for Flexibility

image_thumb5Way back around 500 BCE, a Greek guy name Heraclitus said “Nothing endures but change.”  It was true then, it is true now.  When creating a startup there is only one thing that is a sure thing – that things will change.  The unexpected will happen and things you predicted will not. Worst of all, there is no way to avoid change.  You have to accept that it will happen, and when it does happen you have several choices on how to deal with it.

You can resist it, push back, fight the change.. But in doing so you can often loose your focus and create resource sapping resistance.  Another option is to ignore it, which is often the easiest response.  The problem with ignoring change is that your startup’s goals may actually change and you do not even know it.  Lastly, you can meet change proactively, embrace change, and adjust your activities to make the best of it. The issue with this approach is that you may make the wrong adjustments and stop doing what you should be doing.

As with most things, the best answer is a combination of all three of these responses, controlled by each unique circumstance.  That is why a startup needs to be flexible.  When change happens you need to stretch your perceptions and maybe your knowledge till you truly understand the change and how it effects your startup.  Once you understand it in the context of your business, you can devices a plan for dealing with the change, or decide you can ignore it.

The most important part of flexibility is being able to honestly look at your product and your organization and change your views, your activities, and maybe even your organization itself.  Being flexible is all about using change to deal with change.  It is about being open minded.

Having an open mind and being able to listen to other peoples ideas is a critical step towards being flexible.  This is often difficult for those with the drive and passion to create a startup. The self-confidence and determination that keeps them moving forward makes it difficult for them to except that change needs to happen or to let others decide what that change needs to be.  Entrepreneurs need to be open to the ideas of others and step up as leaders to modify their plans based on outside input.

For an organization to be flexible, it must constantly stretch and push its flexibility, just like with muscles in the body.  If a company is rigid and then tries to make a big change out of the blue, pain will result.  A startup that has flexibility as part of its standard way of doing things can bend and twist as needed, when needed, without stretching things beyond limits.

Goals

image_thumb7The key to staying flexible and focused at the same time is setting usable goals and effectively using them. Goals are the tool that a startup can use to find that balance between focus and flexibility.  They give everyone in the organization a shared set of guidelines to evaluate decisions with.  If you have clear goals, your team can look at change, assess its impact on goals, and make intelligent changes.

Easy to say, hard to do.  Setting up a concise set of goals and objectives is hard enough, but sticking with them and adapting them as the world around you changes is even more difficult.   Whole books have been written on the subject of business goals and objectives.  If you have not done so, it is probably a good idea to read one or two or read some articles on the web.  Inc. Magazine has a good article from 2010 on the subject.

Some of the rules we use for establishing goals are:

  1. Goals must be real and achievable
  2. Chose goals that can be measured
  3. You should be able to explain why each goal is important to your company in one simple sentence
  4. Keep goals as simple and practical as possible
  5. Do not word your goals for outside consumption, they are tool for you and your team.

Whatever method you use, identify real world long-term and short-term goals that everyone in your organization can understand.  Once established, make sure you review them and change your goals as you learn more and as things change. Then use your goals as a tool to help make decisions and guide your company through its growth towards success.

Thoughtful Controlled Adaptation

image_thumb9A common term in the world of startups these days is “pivot.”  Do a search online for “business pivot” and you will be shocked at how many articles and blog entries are written on the topic.  It is an idea that has come out of the observation many of today’s very successful software startups ended up being successful in areas they did not expect or initially go after.  Fast Company has a good article on the whole “pivot” thing and where it came from.

Doing a pivot in a business is being flexible and making changes to address changing goals. That is good.  However, what we see again and again is people justifying lack of focus or chasing after wild geese as a “pivot.”   We know, YouTube started as a video dating site.  Great for them.  That does not excuse your shift from bio-contaminant detection to making custom dog collars.

If you pivot without control, without looking at what is going on around you, you will fall over.  If you pivot away from your goals, then you will miss your target. The answer is to think and adapt to changing situations with control.  Assess the change you are looking at, compare it to your goals, and if it make sense, plan the proper effort to implement the needed change.  Make a conscious effort to thoughtfully work out your decisions.

The journey to success is a long one, with many distractions along the way.  You can complete that journey if you stay focused, be flexible, and set and use goals.

A Guide to Creating Good STL Files

imageThe STL file is the linqua-franca of the prototyping world, the file format that all geometry creation tools write, and that all prototyping systems read. When you make a prototype it will be an exact copy of your STL file. If your file is not accurate, then your prototype will not be accurate. If there are errors in your file, you may not be able to get a prototype made. Therefore, a little bit of time understanding STL files and how to create a good one is a good investment that will pay off in the long run.

About STL Files

When additive manufacturing was just starting the manufacturers of machines faced a problem – they needed a way to get 3D solid models from a large number of CAD systems to their machines for processing. The common file format for geometry interchange, IGES, was not robust enough because of toleranceing issues. Writing a program to slice up each CAD format was also not practical. So they looked at the problem and realized they did not need exact mathematical models made up of NURB, Bezier, or analytical geometry. The algorithm that sliced up each layer just needed polygons on the surface. So the STL file just needed to have those polygons. And the STL file was born.

Lets talk about that slicing process. If you remember, almost all additive manufacturing processes work by creating stacked layers that are a cross section of the part you want. To build the part you must slice the geometry in software, calculating that cross section. Doing the intersection of a plane with a complex NURB surface is hard math, but the intersection with a triangle is very easy and results in a line segment. This makes creating the path for each layer much easier.

STL stands for STereoLithography, or Standard Tessellation Language, depending on which source you check. It was invented for 3D Systems by the Albert Consulting Group way back in 1987 to support the first Stereolithography machines. The format describes a collection of facets, or polygons. Each polygon is defined by a normal “outward” vector and the vertices that define it. Although the format supports more than three vertices per facet, in practice everyone uses three, defining a triangle. The file can be a text file (ASCII) or a binary file.

Users almost never have to worry about the file because the programs they use to create their geometry automatically generate STL files in the proper format. If you do need to write your own routine to output an STL file, it is fairly simple.

Faceting

clip_image001 The way an STL file is made is the program that creates the STL file goes through the topology of the model and meshes it:

1: First it puts points on all of the shared edges of all the surfaces
2: Then it creates triangles on each surface

The algorithm used to create the facets varies from program to program, but most of them use the same routines they use to make facets for the 3D graphics you see on your monitor.

There are two things to note about faceting. The first is that each corner must be coincident with at least one other corner. No corners can touch the edge of another triangle. The second is that a triangle is flat and your surface can be curved. To make your curved surface look curved you need enough triangles to make it appear like a continuous surface.

Leaky Geometry

The most common problem these days with STL files is leaky geometry. When your CAD tool creates the STL file your solid may not be a true solid in that you have holes in your topology. This can be caused by gaps, ill-defined curves and surface, or corners (vertices) not lining up. If you cut out the triangles and glued them together then filled the resulting object with water, the water would leak out.

You CAD package can make leaky STL files if it has loosened up the tolerances on the geometry modeling to the point where edges on its surface do not really line up. They trick themselves into accepting this through some hand waving inside their database, and it really is not a problem till you want to do something with the surfaces. Something like make an STL file.

One way to fix this problem is to clean up the original geometry. Run diagnostics on it and see where there are holes. You should do this anyway because in the end, a messy solid will cause problems when you make your drawings, calculate tool paths, or try and do simulation.

If that is not an option, you can use repair software. If you use an RP service provider, they should be able to repair most STL files. But if you constantly need them to do so, you should really look at changing your modeling practices or investing in some repair tools.

If you are doing your own prototyping, you have two good options. The first is free: Meshlab. It is an open source tool for working with faceted geometry and has repair and diagnostic capabilities. It does a lot so the interface can be a bit confusing, but it is free. If you want to save time and probably money in the long run, we recommend that you purchase a copy of SolidView. It is purpose built for repairing STL files and can really cut down on your repair time.

Faceted Geometry

Even if your prototyping tool can read your geometry and make a valid part, it may come out looking all clunky because your geometry is to faceted. As discussed above, the STL file is made up of triangles. If you have too few triangles on a curved surface then it comes out looking all flat and ugly. Here is a simple example:

The key to controlling this is to set the options in your CAD package to create more facets.

This is such an important topic, we actually have a whole posting dedicated to it:

STL File Tolerance: A Short Explanation of Faceting and Chord Height

In the old days we tried to minimize the number of triangles in an STL file because that file had to be uploaded, often via a modem.  But now we can email very large files, so you can make some pretty big STL files. Don’t go crazy, but don’t sacrifice surface quality either.

Degenerate Triangles and Inverted Faces

It is very rare for a CAD tool to create bad triangles, but it happens every once in a while. When trying to create a build from an STL file you might get a “Degenerate Triangle” or “Inverted Faces” error message.  There is not much you can do with this other than try one of the repair tools mentioned above or try and fix your underlying geometry.  If you get this type of error, there is something very wrong with your solid model.

Feature Sizes

Another problem that people often run across is that some of their small features do not show up on their prototype.  This can be because their STL file is not refined enough and that can be solved by tightening up the tolerance on their STL file creation.  If that does not work, the feature may just be too small for the technology.  Take a look at what the true machine resolution is. Make sure that is is smaller than your smallest features.

Make an Investment in Productivity

Having a bad STL file can really slow down the rapid part of Rapid Prototyping.  That is why PADT recommends that you take the time when you create your solid models to make good, robust, water tight solids that can be used down stream.  If you have nasty geometry or a less than precise CAD tool (can anyone say CATIA) you may have to invest in a repair program like Meshlab or SolidView.  Some up-front investment will pay in the long run, especially when you need that prototype first thing in the morning.