ANSYS Discovery Live: Observations on What it Is and Suggestions for Trying it Out

Yesterday ANSYS, Inc. did a webinar about a technology that was going to “Change the way simulation is done.”  If you have been around the world of FEA and CFD for the 30+ years I have you have heard that statement before.  And rarely does the actual product change match the hype.  Not true for ANSYS Discovery Live.  If anything, I think they are holding back.  This is disruptive, this is a tool that will change how people do simulation.  In this post I’ll share my thoughts on what it is and why I think it is so transformative, and then in the second half (go ahead, if you don’t want to listen to me go on and on about how much I like this tool, skip ahead) there are some tips on how to get your hands on it to see for yourself.

What is ANSYS Discovery Live?

ANSYS Discovery Live is a new multiple physics simulation platform that combines several key ingredients to produce a software tool that engineers can use to do almost instantaneous virtual prototypes of the behavior of their designs directly from their solid models. The developers at ANSYS, Inc. have combined their knowledge of advanced solver technology, making solvers parallel for Graphical Processor Units (GPUs, high-end graphics cards), direct solid modeling (SpaceClaim), and some advanced stuff on the discretization side I don’t think I can talk about. All of those things embedded inside SpaceClaim make ANSYS Discovery Live.

Once you have a solid model in the tool, you simply define what physics you want to solve and some boundary conditions, then it solves.  In almost real time. Right there in front of you. The equivalent steps of meshing, building the model, solving it, extracting results, and displaying the results are done automatically. It may iterate a few times to converge on a solution, but in a few seconds, you will have a good enough answer to give you insight into your design.

And that is the key point. This is not a replacement for ANSYS Mechanical, FLUENT, or HFSS. It is a tool for exploring your designs and gaining insight into their behavior. It allows the design engineer, with very little training or expertise, to exercise their design and see what happens.

The product lives inside ANSYS Spaceclaim and can be installed on its own.  It runs on Windows and requires a NVidia graphics card with a newer GPU (see below for more on that).  Right now the product is in pre-release mode and anyone, yes anyone, can go to www.ansys.com/discovery and download it and try it out. And please, share your feedback.  Expect the product to be released in the first quarter of 2018. Pricing and bundling have not been firmed up yet, but from what we have seen the plans are reasonable and make sense.

Why is it Unique in the Industry?

Some of the first comments I saw on social media about ANSYS Discovery Live after the webinar were that it is not a unique tool.  There are other GPU based solvers out there. That is true. But even though those tools are super fast at solving, they have not been widely adopted.  The ANSYS product is unique because it: 1) combines GPU based solvers for multiple physics and 2) is built into a fully functioning solid modeling tools.  A third might be that it is also an ANSYS product, which means it will be backed technically and supported well.

Why I think that the Simple Fact that it Exists is Important?

During an interview for a magazine article about innovation in product development this week I was asked what is keeping innovation from happening more often.  My answer was that most companies with the resources, both money and people, to innovate are choosing to acquire rather than innovate internally.  They let others raise money, take all the risk, work out all the problems, deal with all the issues of trying to make something new. And then when they succeed, they buy them. There is nothing morally wrong with that approach, it is just inefficient and inaccurate.  Every innovation has to not only survive its technical challenges, it has to survive being a startup.

What ANSYS, Inc. has done is the opposite. They could have purchased a GPU based solver startup and checked the box. But instead, they took people from different business units, several that were acquired, and put them together and said: “innovate… but make it something very useful.”  And they did.  The fact that they executed on the logistics of a new product that used new and old technology across physics and across software development realms, is fantastic.  It makes me feel good about ANSYS, Inc’s true dedication to improving their products.

How will it Change Simulation?

In my career, I have had the same conversation dozens of times “Let me go out to the lab and tinker with it, I’ll figure out what is going on.” That is the way you had to explore your product to get a “feel” for what is going on. Simulation took too long and you became so wrapped up in the process of building and running a model that you could not really explore the behavior of your product. Now we can.

ANSYS Discovery Live is called Discovery Live not because anyone at ANSYS is a marketing genius (sorry guys…) but because that is what it lets you do. Discover the behavior of your product live. You simply play with it and see what happens. And this will change simulation because we know can move from verification or optimization to simply experimenting and gaining a deeper understanding, early in the design process. We will still do what is now I guess called traditional simulation.  We will need more accuracy, more complex physics, loads, and behavior.  But early on we can learn so much by virtually experimenting.

Is it the Perfect Tool Right out of the Box?

This is not a perfect-does-everything tool.  First off, it is a pre-release.  The basic functionality to make it useful is there.  More than I thought would be available in a first release. But there are limitations because it is new, or because of the approach.  It is not as accurate as more traditional approaches. The way it works takes some shortcuts on geometry and can’t include some behaviors. This should improve over time but it will never be accurate as more time-consuming approaches that simply have more functionality.

Over the next two to three years we will see it mature and add functionality and accuracy. The GPU’s the tool depends on will offer more performance for less money as well. This is a journey, but right now everyone I have talked to who has actually played with the pre-release is very happy with the functionality and accuracy that is there now. Because it is sufficient to do the experimentation and exploration it was designed to allow.

How do you Try it Out?

ANSYS, Inc. realized that this type of tool demos so well, and is so different, that a skeptical group of engineers will not accept what they see in a webinar as accurate.  So they have made the pre-release available for use. You can download it and install it, or explore with it in the cloud through your browser.

  • To get started, go to www.ansys.com/discovery and look around. The videos are awesome!  When you are ready to try it out, click on Download Now. Fill out the form. Don’t complain.  Yes you will get a few emails and a salesperson (gasp!) may call you. It’s worth some emails and maybe a phone call.
  • Set yourself up there.  There is a verification code step and once you put that in and create your login, you have to click on some legal agreements, including export controls.  Save your login info, you will need it to get back in.
  • After that either start the download or the Cloud Trial Option.  The cloud trial didn’t work for me, read below how I got to that function.
  • If you chose download it will download a big Zip File, over 1 GB. It is a full solid modeler and CFD/Structural/Thermal solver…  so it is big.
  • Once it is there, unzip, and  run Setup.exe. follow the steps and you will be there.
  • If you don’t have a graphics card that will run this, then use the cloud demo.  Like I said above, the button didn’t work for me.  If you have that problem or you want to use it after your first login, go to:
  • https://discoveryforum.ansys.com/ and click on “Getting Started.”
  • Scroll down a bit and find the “Cloud Trial” post. That one takes you to the page where you can find a server near you to try things out on. It’s pretty slick.
  • If you need to get back here, use https://discoveryforum.ansys.com/ and log in with the email and password you gave at registration,
 Here is a PDF Guide with even more details and a quick start.

Hardware Requirements

The only sticky bit about this whole thing is that it run a subset of Nvidia graphics cards. So you have to have one of those cards. According to the information in the forum:

ANSYS Discovery Live relies on the latest GPU technology to provide its computation and visual experience.  To run the software, you will require:

– A dedicated NVIDIA GPU card based on the Kepler, Maxwell or Pascal architecture. Most dedicated NVIDIA GPU cards produced in 2013 or later will be based on one of these architectures.
– At least 4GB of video RAM (8GB preferred) on the GPU.

Also, please ensure you have the latest driver for your graphics card, available from NVIDIA Driver Downloads.  You can also refer to the post on Graphics Performance Benchmarks. Performance of Discovery Live is less dependent on machine CPU and RAM.  A recent generation 64-bit CPU running Windows, and at least 4GB of RAM will be sufficient. If you do not have a graphics card that meets these specifications, the software will not run. However, you can try ANSYS Discovery Live through an online cloud-based trial, which requires only an internet browser and a reasonably fast internet connection.

I didn’t know if my GPU on my laptop would work, so I went to https://www.techpowerup.com and put in my card model (nvidia m500m) and it told me it was Maxwell technology.

Go Forth and Discover, and Share

Don’t hesitate, download this and try it out.  Even if you are a high-end combustion simulation expert that will never need it, if you are interested in Simulation you should still try it out.   Use the forum to share your thoughts and questions.  The gallery is already filling up with some fantastic real world examples.