Help Customers Realize Innovation with Altair’s Professional Engineering Framework

Recently,I interviewed Mr. Jim Scapa, the CEO and President of Altair Engineering INC, which is a well known specialized CAE software and service company in the world, at their Shanghai office. We talked about the background, the product and service of Altair and the CAE application in China.

Recently,I interviewed Mr. Jim Scapa, the CEO and President of Altair Engineering INC, which is a well known specialized CAE software and service company in the world, at their Shanghai office. We talked about the background, the product and service of Altair and the CAE application in China. Mr. Nelson Dias, executive vice president of Asia Pacific Region, Mr. Herbert Qi, the country manager of Altair China, and Jiyuan Ye, the marketing manager of Altair China, also joined the interview.

Pei Huang: Please introduce the background of you and the history of Altair.

Jim Scapa: I got my bachelor degree of mechanical engineering from Columbia University and MBA degree from University of Michigan. I started my career at Ford in 1978 when I was 21 years old, and founded Altair Engineering INC with two partners in 1985. Initially we did engineering consulting and then we decided to develop our own software. We tried some types of software and then developed HyperMesh as our first product in 1989. HyperMesh became very successful and is now the No.1 Pre- and Postprocessor in Automotive industry worldwide. During 1990 to 2000, we invested lots of our profit in R&D and created several independent products. We also opened many offices around the world. In 2000, we got the idea to group our products to be a suite, we called it HyperWorks. These products became very successful.

We also invented token licensing technology at that time and even got two patents in using this unique technology. Several other software companies also used token licensing but they used stack technology, which was not very powerful for the customers. We developed a unique leveling technology which means that if a customer used several our products simultaneously, we only charged them the most expensive product. This technology brought high value to our customers.

In 1993, we developed another exciting product called OptiStruct for structural optimization. This technology was first developed by Mr. Noboru Kikuchi, a very famous mechanical engineering professor at the University of Michigan. We hired Jeffrey Brennan, who was professor Kikuchi’s graduate student. Mr. Brennan introduced Professor Kikuchi's ideas to Altair and then we commercialized Professor Kikuchi’s code and later released OptiStruct. Jeffrey is overseeing the whole HyperWorks business line now. We invested a lot to commercialize OptiStruct, which is now widely used to do conceptive design in large manufacturing enterprises.

Pei: Please summarize the growing status of Altair INC.

Nelson Dias:We have over $100 Million revenue in 2005, and above 1000 employees to serve over 3500 clients worldwide. Headquartered in Troy, Michigan, with over 33 offices in 16 countries throughout North America, Europe and Asia, Altair Engineering is a leading global product design consulting and technology company. In china, we have office in Shanghai and Beijing.

We have three technology groups:

  • The first is HyperWorks, which is an integrated suite of advanced computer-aided engineering (CAE) software tools delivers advanced technology and functionality to increase efficiency and reduce cycle time in the development of innovative and robust products.
  • The second group is enterprise computing based on grid technology. PBS is the leading workload management solution for HPC systems and Linux clusters. As the market leader, we have over 30,000 deployments worldwide. PBS could maximize the ROI of enterprise IT assets.
  • The third group is Product Design, which is primarily consulting business. Our Product Design service provides high-level product development consulting services, through a simulation driven design process.

With these different technology groups, our customers are now more diversified. Altair serves the automotive, aerospace, heavy equipment, government /defense as well as life sciences/earth sciences, consumer goods, oil and gas markets. We have a lot of successful stories in these industry sectors and also in universities.

Our products are quite open so our customers can easily integrated them with the third party products. And we invested a lot in performance data management, structural and multi-body modeling and visualization, structural analysis and optimization, design process automation and manufacturing process simulation.

In September, 2006, we acquired Mecalog Group and its RADIOSS product family. Mecalog, based in Antony, France, is a leading global developer of transient, nonlinear CAE technology to simulate safety-related performance as well as other impact events. In 2005, 9 of the total 22 vehicles which got the 5 stars in Euro-NCAP were designed by using Radioss technology.

Pei: What’s new in HyperWorks 8.0?.

Nelson Dias:The new products and functionality in HyperWorks 8.0 create the broadest simulation technology suite for PLM. This release targets three main areas to aid manufacturers in bringing innovative products to market faster: it provides an integrated multi-disciplinary framework, enables a CAE-driven design process and improves simulation turn around time.?

  • Integrated, Multi-Disciplinary Framework
    HyperWorks 8.0 broadens application scope, while remaining committed to an open-systems environment. This environment provides clients both flexibility and robust solutions to solve complex problems. And the most important product released in HyperWorks 8.0 is the Altair Data Manager, which is designed to help customers manage their performance data including the CAE simulation data and the test data.
  • CAE-Driven Design Process
    HyperWorks 8.0 introduces new technology for conceptual design, model morphing and multi-disciplinary optimization that further positions simulation as a driver of design. It does this by addressing product performance and manufacturability earlier in the design cycle.
  • Analysis Cycle Time Reduction
    The most time-consuming activities for CAE engineering departments continue to be modeling, visualization and execution of design iterations. HyperWorks 8.0 improves both end-user and organizational-level efficiency.

Pei: What’s the role of OptiStruct in the product innovation process?

Jim: The engineer could start with a package of design space, and define the design target and certain constraints. Then OptiStruct could automatically generate the best shape and layout of the part. Using our unique topology optimization technology, OptiStruct could dramatically cut the weight of structures while reach the performance target.

Having worked with this technology for 14 years, we found it greatly useful in the early stage of conceptive design when the engineers haven’t put the design together. We have linked this most creative part of the whole design phases with simulation solution which drives the geometry of the product, and helped the engineers to optimize the shape and topology. Our solution helped the decision makers of the customer to realize the greatest creativity in designing best products within the shortest period. We will have some very interesting technologies coming soon to improve the function of OptiStruct.

Pei: With these new technologies, will your software be easier to use?

Jim: Ease of use is vital for us to be more successful. The product we are working on has completely new interface, very live. All the controls are in the screen, very intuitive, so our creative users could use it with a very natural way, almost like an extension of their mind.

Pei: Please analysis the positioning strategy of Altair in the global CAE market?

Jim: We provide an open environment of FEA, CFD, multi-body dynamics, etc. Many automotive companies use HyperMesh, MotionView as their main FEA and multi-dynamics tools.

We were not so much as a solver company, but we are quite open, our software could import many types of binary data, and we offer the interface to integrate with many solvers. For example, we could integrate three main solvers in crash community, RADIOSS, Pam-crash, and DYNA. We also have interface with Abaqus, Nastran and Ansys. So, our positioning strategy is to be the main CAE environment of engineers, although they may use several different solvers.

In the last five years, we really invested a lot in solver technology. Now, OptiStruct/Analysis is basically a replacement of Nastran to do linear static, normal mode and frequency response analysis. It is a more efficient solution and could run much faster, so more and more customers are switching from Nastran to OptiStruct/Analysis. Of course one of the reasons is, many customers want to do not only simulations, but also optimization. At multi-body dynamics area, which is primarily dominated by Adams, many customers are exciting to adopt our MotionView technology. Finally, we just acquired Mecalog Group and got the RADIOSS technology, which is the premier safety analysis code used by most companies related to safety controls. For example, every VOLVE car’s design team is using RADIOSS as the crash analysis tool. So, we are a complete CAE solution provider now.

At the enterprise level, we have premier data management solution, job scheduling and grid computing. We really have the broadest and deepest solution to anybody in the CAE world. I think that our open structure is the key for us to evolve so quickly.

With our enterprise level CAE solutions, engineers could do many simulations back and forth doing iterations, managing the simulation data and processes.

We have worked very hard in last 6 years to integrate all HyperWorks solutions together. The users could go from a product to another of HyperWorks to finish the simulation works and link the simulation results with optimization very easily. They could also do optimization study with HyperWorks collaborating OptiStruct, Abaqus, Adams, RADIOSS and DYNA, because HyperWorks very tightly integrates these solutions. So, HyperWorks is the best CAE integrating platform.

With above aspects, Altair has been the fastest growing CAE solution provider in the world. Our solutions have been widely used in many really complex environments, such as large automotive and aerospace companies.

Pei: What will be the trend of CAE technology?

Jim: A very important trend is that simulation technology will couple with innovation technology. CAD is a commodity technology, because it is just used to document the design. Product innovation will driven by CAE and optimization technology.

Pei: Is Altair competing, but also cooperating with other CAE solution providers?

Jim: Yes, because we have customers together with other CAE vendors. Though I think that OptiStruct will replace some other CAE solutions, but the users are using many CAE solutions together. For example, many large automotive companies use Nastran together with our HyperMesh and MotionView products. We have to work together to meet the need of customers.

Pei: Several basic functions of CAE software have been imbedded in CAD software. Do you have similar plans?

Jim: Yes, we do. Some basic functions of OptiStruct have been imbedded in CATIA V5. We call it HyperShape/CATIA. It has been available for two years. We have several customers, like Airbus, using it and some other are interested with it.

But till now, imbedding CAE into CAD is not very successful for any CAE vendors, not as I expected, they may sell some, but still not being widely accepted. I think that one of the reasons is designers don’t have the experience and interest to do simulation, and many CAE applications are too slow to be run in CAD environment. Another important reason is that the technology of CAD is not designed for CAE. CAE has to consider many details and has to face many challenges. However, CAD technology is much simpler and will be commodity product.

Pei: Why did you choose to enter enterprise computing business?

Jim: In HPC area, the fundamental trend is more and more CPUs are linked together to be clusters to finish complicated computing. CAE is a typical HPC application, and it needs to do all sorts of parametric studies. So we got the idea to acquire PBS technology as a midware to manage thousands of jobs to solve enterprise computing tasks based on grid technology.

Pei: Please summarize your Asia and Chinese strategy.

Jim: We started our business in India in 2000. Now we have over 300 employees, including software developers and engineers. We expect that by the end of 2007, our employees there will beyond 400. We have already been the largest CAE provider in India. We built our Chinese subsidiary company in 2001 and we doubled our team in 2005. We will continue to grow our Chinese team with 100% increase in the next few years and improve our infrastructure in China. We are also developing our channel strategy in China. We will continues to invest in China because we see here as a major market in 5 years.

Herbert Qi: Altair INC is continuing to input resource in China to help our Chinese customers to improve their innovation abilities. Not only do we provide cutting edge CAE software, but also we provide technical service to help customers to successfully finish their first project. We are collaborate with media to change our image at Chinese market that now, Altair is no more a niche CAE player, instead, we are now a global CAE leader in many industries. For example, the expense of Altair CAE application of Ford is over two times more than its second largest CAE vendors.

Nelson: We came to China later than some other international CAE vendors, but we are doubling our business in China every year, so we are very optimistic with Chinese market.

From left to right: Nelson Dias, Jim Scapa, Pei Huang, Herbert Qi and Jiyuan Ye

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