It's true, says Ted Pawela, an application engineer with MSC.Software, Santa Ana, Calif. (mscsoftware.com). "By taking advantage of Microsoft developments, in particular its Web-based platform and software called .net (dot net), other software developers like us can link Excel spreadsheets to FEA programs, such as our SimOffice. This lets less-experienced engineers analyze several versions of the same part. It lets companies build macros that capture inhouse experience."
It works like this, he says: An experienced analyst would hit a macro-record button in Visual Basic and run through the steps for simulating a part using SimOffice. This FEA program runs the company's MD Nastran in the background. The macro records all steps for analysis and post processing. Then the analyst would add names to the inputs on a spreadsheet list of variables and similarly identify the outputs on another spreadsheet. The analyst would then pass the input spreadsheet to engineers designing some variation of the part in the simulation. They would type in new dimensions and loads, identify a material, and hit the run button. A short while later the user would read outputs in a similar spreadsheet. Pawela says engineering companies with programming departments will find it relatively easy to setup such simulations.
That alone would be useful, but .net is said to have other advantages. For example, many engineering companies have older in-house-generated analysis programs written in Fortran that captured their years of experience. But those programs have probably been underused because more-recent software does not run Fortran. The .net platform, however, has a Fortran compiler so after the FEA finishes, the recompiled Fortran program can be called to examine results for additional information that guides the design.
In addition, Pawela says using FEA like this, from macros and including older analysis, helps companies meet the trend of delivering an analysis model along with design work. "Larger companies want suppliers involved in design. So when a supplier provides simulation results, the client can examine them and be assured that the design will work as specified," he adds.
MSC.Software Marketing Manager Hal Hakita says one Asia-based shipbuilder is distributing frequently encountered simulations this way. "That company is focusing on frames, spacing, braces, and so on. It has been able to automate simulations for many structures using VB scripting," he says.
And lastly, .net is becoming more prevalent in the Windows world, says Hakita. "That makes it easier to collaborate and share data. For example, V8 of Adobe .pdf uses Web-compatible software called 3D XML that lets the previously static 2D documents now hold 3D CAD or FEA results." For an example, link over to machinedesign.com/MD/misc/brake_disassembly.pdf to see a 3D model in Adobe's V8 of .pdf. Users can turn, spin, and take the model apart.