Maxed Out: Cadence Acquires NUMECA and Pointwise: The Future of CFD is Now

We all know Cadence Design Systems as a leader in the EDA domain. The design, analysis, and verification tools and technologies from Cadence are used to develop the most advanced silicon chips, packages, modules, circuit boards, and electronic systems known to humankind. 

Bearing this in mind, did you perhaps raise a quizzical eyebrow when Cadence acquired NUMECA International in February 2021, noting that one of NUMECA’s claims to fame is its computational fluid dynamics (CFD) package that is used to design things like boats? For example, the hull and hydrofoils of the boat that won the America’s Cup in March 2021 were designed, simulated, and refined using NUMECA’s FINE/Marine CFD tool. 

What about Cadence’s purchase of Pointwise Inc. in April 2021? Are you aware that Pointwise is an industry leader in mesh generation for use with CFD tools? In fact, Pointwise has a huge following in aerospace and defense. For example, every U.S. fighter plane for last couple of decades has been meshed using Pointwise. 

Obviously, this raises a bunch of questions, not least that—since Cadence already has a CFD solution as part of its Celsius thermal solver—why did it purchase NUMECA and Pointwise? Are we to expect to see Cadence in the business of building boats and planes now? 

Fortunately, I’m in the mood to expound, elucidate, and explicate (don’t worry, I’m a professional, but don’t try this at home). 

Multifaceted Multiphysics
Everything we create—including computers, robots, automobiles, boats, and planes—is becoming ever-more sophisticated and complex. The result is a hyperconvergence of design domains. Since we are increasingly pushing the boundaries of what is possible, it is no longer feasible to design products and systems based on “intuition” alone. Furthermore, cost, time, and resource limitations mean that evolving a series of physical prototypes is no longer a viable design strategy. The solution is to employ appropriate computer simulations to investigate the behavior of the system in the virtual world. 

In physics, the term “field” refers to a physical quantity that has a value for each point in space and time. Meanwhile, the term “multiphysics” is defined as processes or systems involving multiple simultaneously occurring physical fields. In addition to standing for “physical field,” the “physics” portion of the “multiphysics” appellation also refers to common types of physical processes, including heat transfer (thermo-), water movement (hydro-), stress and strain (mechano-), dynamics (dyno-), electrostatics (electro-), and magnetostatics (magneto-). Multiphysics spans many science and engineering disciplines, and multiphysics simulations use computers and software to predict and/or validate what will happen in the real-world. 

Cadence already has a strong presence in the multiphysics simulation world with tools like the Clarity 3D Transient Solver[1] and the Celsius Thermal Solver[2]. Clarity and Celsius support electrical-thermal co-simulation; that is, performing electro-magnetic analysis using Clarity in conjunction with thermal analysis using Celsius. 

If It Flows, It's a Fluid
The term “fluid” refers to any substance that flows. Although liquids are the most commonly recognized fluids, gasses are also fluidic in nature. CFD is a form of multiphysics simulation that is used to simulate the flow of fluids (liquids and gasses) and their interaction with solid surfaces. Applications range from the design of computer cooling systems to automobile bodies to boat hulls to aircraft wings. 

What the Mesh?
One of the things we’re going to need if we intend to perform a CFD simulation is one or more meshes. This involves representing 2D surfaces as collections of triangles and quadrilaterals and/or 3D volumes as collections of tetrahedrons, quadrilateral pyramids, triangular prisms, and hexahedrons. 

max_fig1.jpg
Figure 1: A few common examples of 2D and 3D shapes. 

Note that the “2D” qualification may be a bit confusing in this context. Take a hydrofoil “flying” through water, for example. If the speed is low enough such that the water doesn’t distort the shape of the hydrofoil, then this can be modelled by “wrapping” a 2D mesh over the hydrofoil’s 3D envelope. On the other hand, if the speed is such that the pressure of the water distorts the physical shape of the hydrofoil, then this will affect the flow of the water, which means the hydrofoil will have to be modeled as a 3D volumetric mesh. In both cases, the flowing water will be modeled as a 3D volumetric mesh. 

In the case of a solid or a surface, a meshing tool accepts a 3D CAD model as input and generates corresponding 2D and/or 3D meshes as required. This is much harder than you might suppose because the quality of the mesh directly affects memory utilization along with the speed and accuracy of the results from the multiphysics simulation. Apart from anything else, there’s the sheer size and complexity involved (meshes can contain hundreds of millions or billions of cells), and while it’s relatively easy to create “any old mesh,” generating the most appropriate mesh for the task at hand is much harder. 

So, What’s with NUMECA and Pointwise?
If you look at Cadence’s current high-level positioning, you will see themes like “systems innovation” and “intelligent systems design” and the fact that “Cadence is a computational software company.” You will also note that none of these high-level themes specifically say “electronics” or “EDA.” Although it’s true that the majority of Cadence’s current $2.5 billion annual income comes from EDA, the company is looking to the future and growing the scope of the systems its tools and technologies are capable of designing, analyzing, and optimizing. 

Today’s automobiles, tanks, planes, boats, and submarines are essentially rolling, flying, swimming computers. These mega-systems, which have traditionally been thought of as predominantly mechanical, are currently experiencing an electrical-mechanical convergence that is no longer optional in product design. 

Existing NUMECA offerings such as FINE/Marine, FINE/Turbo, FINE/Design3D, FINE/Acoustics, etc. will continue to be supported. However, Cadence’s next generation CFD platform, which is based on NUMECA’s technology, is called Omnis. 

Omnis is something completely new and exciting. It’s an end-to-end CFD platform that gathers the capabilities of all the earlier disparate products and presents these capabilities as features that can be activated as required. Cadence has a huge amount of expertise in scalability, with multiphysics simulations scaling from the workstation to the cloud, and all of this expertise is being applied to Omnis. Some multiphysics simulation vendors provide one or more standalone tools that must be run in isolation. Others allow their tools to be daisy-chained together, with the output of one tool feeding the input of the next. Omnis takes things to the next level, providing a single interface that allows users to perform all the tasks they require. To put this another way, Omnis is a CAD-centric CFD platform in which the CAD model is at the center and all of the physics is added around it, thereby providing a better, more intuitive, and more continuous user experience. 

Using Omnis, analysts can 2D/3D mesh their CAD models and solve them. Omnis can also refine and optimize the meshes based on its simulation results. Now, Cadence is bringing its brand, expertise, and investment to new spaces with a technological champion in the form of Omnis. With Omnis, Cadence is going to take what was essentially a cottage industry and take it mainstream. 

In contrast to products like Omnis, which combine a 2D/3D mesher with a solver, Pointwise is a 2D/3D mesher that provides meshes for use with over 40 CFD solver solutions. From a vertical perspective, the tools from NUMECA and Pointwise are complementary with very little customer overlap. Cadence will continue to offer Pointwise to designers using CFD solvers from third-party vendors. However, Cadence will also make the world-class Omnis solver (you know, the one that boasts the same technology that was used to design the boat that won the America’s Cup) available for use with Pointwise. This is going to be good news for those users who are happy with their existing Pointwise meshing solution but wish they had access to a better CFD solver. 

The Future is Now
In summary, the acquisitions of NUMECA International and Pointwise build on Cadence’s existing innovative multiphysics products, which include the Clarity 3D Solver for electromagnetic (EM) simulation, the Clarity 3D Transient Solver for finite difference time domain (FDTD) system-level EM simulation, and the Celsius Thermal Solver for electrothermal co-simulation. 

The point is that Cadence didn’t acquire NUMECA to design boats or, at least, not only boats, and it didn’t acquire Pointwise to design planes or, at least, not only planes. In reality, Cadence is interested in addressing anything that requires CFD, from the blood in our veins to industrial robots to the aerodynamics of a car to the hydrodynamics of a submarine. Whatever designers are working on, Cadence wants to help. 

Legacy players in multiphysics simulation space (where no one can hear you scream) are thinking, “How do we slowly advance?” Meanwhile, the technologists at Cadence are thinking, “How do you put the pedal to the metal and redefine what’s possible in the multiphysics simulation domain?” 

With Cadence’s acquisitions of NUMECA and Pointwise, the future of CFD is now! 

References

  1. Cadence’s Clarity: 'I Can See Clearly Now'
  2. Cadence’s Celsius: Don’t End up Holding the Hot Potato!
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