ALGOR InCAD Designer/SolidWorks31 Dec, 2004 By: Joe Greco
Flexible FEA program supports mixed elements to speed up analysis.
ALGOR is older than most CAD companies, but at 25, it's just middle-aged in the CAE world. It released its first PC product way back in 1985, and the InCAD series debuted in 1999. Let's take a closer look at this product, now in its 16th release, and evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of ALGOR's philosophy to upfront CAE.
Different ApproachALGOR takes a different approach to upfront CAE when compared with a product like COSMOSWorks, which is fully integrated inside SolidWorks. InCAD Designer is clearly a separate product that communicates with SolidWorks using a process called DMIT (Direct Memory Image Transfer).
Algor Incad designer/solidworks
After installing the software for SolidWorks and then using that program's Add-in command, a new ALGOR menu appears in SolidWorks. It presents two choices: Feature Control and Mesh. The former is for eliminating model features not necessary for the analysis. The latter command transfers the model out of SolidWorks into InCAD Designer, using DMIT's direct CAD/CAE data exchange. This method takes just a few seconds and ensures an accurate model because no geometry translation is done.
According to ALGOR, by moving the model out of SolidWorks, the user gains access to a full suite of analysis tools and options, enabling more sophisticated simulations. For instance, different finite element types, such as bricks (solids), shells (plates) and beams (lines), can be used together to analyze the same model. This is important because when evaluating a pulley system, for instance, the cables should be meshed as beam elements and the pulleys as bricks. In addition to modeling flexibility, ALGOR claims its technique analyzes models much more quickly because often fewer finite elements are created.
COSMOSWorks representatives said that mixing finite elements is useful and they plan to incorporate mixed elements in all three levels of their COSMOSWorks products. Still, with today's computers, the addition of extra elements may not increase calculation time significantly.
Using InCAD DesignerCOSMOSWorks' user interface advantage is that its FEA tools are available directly from the SolidWorks FeatureManager. This is nice because users remain in a familiar environment. ALGOR's answer to this is that it doesn't really matter once you spend about an hour to learn the InCAD Designer interface. I found this estimate of the learning curve to be accurate.
The first time I ran InCAD Designer, I didn't go through SolidWorks. Instead, I launched InCAD Designer directly and used the standard Open icon to load a SolidWorks assembly. This launches SolidWorks in the background and does the memory transfer.
Before the model opened, a dialog box called Model Mesh Settings appeared (figure 1). After I accepted the defaults, a meshed model displayed on the screen in an MCAD-style environment. Navigation shortcut keys are the same as in SolidWorks, and a familiar browser tree on the left shows the separate components of the assembly. At the bottom of this tree are four tabs, with only the first one, called CAD Solid Model, highlighted. Refinement of the mesh is possible at this stage.
Figure 1. An interactive slider sets the mesh density in InCAD Designer/SolidWorks. The program features a single user interface familiar to MCAD users. In fact, the software also works with programs such as Pro/ENGINEER, Solid Edge, Inventor and others.
The next tab, called FEA Editor, is where the materials, loads, constraints and other criteria are added. Looking at the expanded tree, I noticed that each part had three categories underneath it:
- 1. Element Type (brick, shell, beam, etc.)
- 2. Element Definition (Isotropic, Orthotropic, etc.)
- 3. Material (steel, etc.)
Only the material category had an X next to it. By window-selecting the entire model, I was then able to right-click and pick the material for all three parts.
To apply the load to the desired faces, I selected the tool that picks only faces and used it in conjunction with the <Ctrl> key. Next, a right click allowed me to assign the load, and InCAD Designer displayed the visual feedback (figure 2). The constraints (boundary conditions) were added in the same way.
Figure 2. This image shows the setting up of the loads, with the Surface Loads dialog box displayed in the lower right. In this portion of the program, simple sketching, modeling and structured meshing tools are also available to create geometry from scratch or add FEA geometry to the base CAD model.
The next step was to perform the analysis. This took about 20 seconds and also made the third tab, called Results, active. Now the model's deformation, displacement, strain and stress are viewable simply by clicking an area of the tree called Saved Presentations (figure 3). InCAD Designer allows users to cut sections to view what's happening inside, although default cut planes are limited to global axes. Users can also add transparency and annotations as well as create animations. The fourth tab on the tree is for viewing the automatically created report, which is saved in HTML format. PDF would be a nice addition.
Figure 3. This image shows the displacement analysis of the model, complete with an annotation. If edited in SolidWorks, the model would simply need to be remeshed. There is no need to redefine loads, constraints, materials and other data.
Bottom lineWith ALGOR InCAD Designer, you get mixed-element capabilities, which COSMOSWorks currently lacks, and advanced linear dynamic analysis tools, but lose the full SolidWorks integration. If you need nonlinear analysis or fatigue, the more advanced version of COSMOSWorks is not as fully integrated into SolidWorks as is InCAD Designer. If you use other mechanical CAD products in addition to SolidWorks, the InCAD Designer series could be a much better value because it includes support for multiple CAD programs, such as Alibre Design, Inventor, CADKEY, KeyCreator, Mechanical Desktop, Rhino, Solid Edge and SolidWorks as well as reading ACIS, IGES and STEP files. Your choice may depend on which works best with your CAD program, but InCAD Designer is certainly worth your evaluation.
Joe Greco was a freelance CAD writer, consultant and trainer. He passed away on December 7, 2004.