Design for winners

While debate rages about acceptable limits to sports technology, manufacturers are pushing on with ever more inventive simulation solutions. Charles Clarke reports


The Speedo LZR Racer Swimsuit, designed with Ansys Fluent CFD software with a little help from Nasa, is not only creating a stir in competitive swimming but has also ignited a fierce debate about how much is too much technology in sport.

Arguments rage in F1 that the team with the most money to throw technology at the sport usually ends up on top.

But in swimming the discussion involves ethics and whether it is right, in a field that usually pits people against the elements unaided by technology, for elite athletes with plenty of sponsorship money to claim world records against others not sporting the latest hi-tech swimwear.

The LZR suit has been worn for 18 of the 19 world records set since its introduction in February.

And since its use has been blessed by swimming’s governing body, the International Swimming Federation (FINA), it has already spawned copycat suits and a possible return to disputes such as the ‘sport shoe wars’.

Here the fierce competition for market share among athletic shoe makers and innovation by other companies, such as Reebok and Adidas, has kept pace with Nike and allowed runners to have a more or less a level playing field.

In response to the LZR and the FINA ruling, Arena International has launched a prototype super suit, complete with plastic inserts and other clever additions.

‘A new era in the sport kicks off today,’ said Christiano Portas, the head of Arena.

‘We can fight for ethics but we stood alone when it came to everyone saying that the word “fabric” in the rules was just a generic term. Now we explore many other things.’

This is in stark contrast with objections to Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee, who has set 100m, 200m and 400m Paralympics world records, running in the regular Olympics. Pistorius uses the Cheetah Flex-Foot, a carbon fibre prosthetic that has been designed to allow lower-limb amputees enjoy activities that involve running. Some claim, however, that it gives amputees an advantage over able-bodied competitors.

So how much simulation is acceptable in sport, or can every discipline be continually refined? The Ansys Fluent software has been used by the British Olympic teams for cycling, bobsleigh, yachting and paralympic wheelchair racing. It is also staple software for F1 and NASCAR teams and has been used to great effect in America’s Cup racing.

Just as simulation is no longer a point solution with the popularity of multi-physics codes from Ansys, Comsol and even relatively low-cost suppliers such as AMPS, traditional vendors such as MSC Software are adapting their approach.

MSC continues to offer its scalable ‘solution stack’, centred around a base of engineering/simulation technology products such as MSC Nastran, Adams and Marc, with their foundation solvers and other tools.

These are established products and brands in their own right and many are considered as standard in the aerospace and automotives industries. The products are available as standalone licences or as a ‘collection’ using the flexible token licensing system called Masterkey.

However, while new technologies (solver algorithms, elements, material models and composites) are always being developed, customers are regularly telling MSC that the biggest potential commercial gain today is in the rationalisation and harmonious integration of existing technologies.

MD Nastran, part of a family of multi-discipline products, was first released a few years ago but is now a fully mature and widely adopted solution.

It combines all the common solution types (from the foundation technologies) into a single fully integrated solution.

In addition to eliminating the data and model translation time and errors normally associated with traditional analysis ‘chaining’, the single model MD solution allows fully coupled physics to be simulated more accurately and rapidly. There are many applications in industry where multi-discipline simulation is now commonplace.

The next ‘big thing’ for MSC is its SimEnterprise solutions, which are an enterprise-wide portfolio of simulation management applications. SimXpert is a new user environment for the MD solutions. Although it does have pre- and post-processing functions (built around customisable workspaces for different simulation disciplines), its main purpose is as an environment for knowledge capture and re-use.

It uses a template approach whereby the inherent knowledge can be captured into a best-practice process. This process can then be adapted, automated, shared and replayed. There are many advantages, including time and cost savings, quality improvements and ease of collaboration.

Templates can also be replayed in other products such as SimDesigner (which delivers the solution technology inside CATIA V5) to drive a quality simulation approach into the design community and earlier into the design process.

The application has a major influence on the efficiency of the simulation process. It was released more than a year ago but in the R3 release (to be announced soon) has reached a new level of maturity and has been adopted by Airbus and Boeing and companies in the automotive and other industries.

SimManager is the ‘content management’ system, which wraps around the whole simulation environment.

The key benefit is productivity. SimManager manages the data and the process, and this in-context feature provides the value, and distinguishes it from, for example, standard (non-simulation specific) PDM systems.

The simulation process is captured through a simple process block-builder, each with inputs, outputs and dependencies. These can be MSC product related but can also include products or processes from other suppliers, which helps integrate the whole environment. SimManager integrates well with existing PLM systems.

In the past it was mostly suitable for large-scale simulation environments with thousands of simulations and large numbers of data objects and processes.

However, the forthcoming release now has a Workgroup edition that adds a downwards scalability and is much more suitable as quick-start management environment for smaller simulations.

Simulation has changed forever — true multi-physics/multi-discipline analysis can be automated and integrated into a single run.

This means solution times have compressed significantly, paving the way for meaningful multi-physics/ multi-discipline analysis as a design tool and not just a design checker.