Adam De Cruz, Marketing Assistant
phone: 781-273-3322 fax: 781-273-6603
FEMLAB Goes 3-D,
Adds a New Dimension in Ease of Use
to Multiphysics Modeling
Burlington, MA, October 2000—The real world is three-dimensional. Therefore, if a software package is to let users model any problem in science or engineering, it must offer 3-D capabilities. In addition, users demand quick, easy access to these features. The newest release of FEMLAB, Version 2.0, takes an enormous leap in functionality to reach this goal—it now handles virtually any model a scientist or engineer can describe with partial differential equations (PDEs), in any dimension. These users can create and analyze models in full 3-D, and by employing the software's dynamic solvers they can even augment their analyses with the added dimension of time.
Furthermore, COMSOL is particularly proud of the upgrade's significantly enhanced graphical user interface. It adds tools that make 3-D multiphysics modeling easier than with any other software of its type. This interface, combined with FEMLAB 2.0's underlying solvers and multidimensional visualization tools, allow users to create model geometries and solve them on desktop machines in a fraction of the time they would need with other tools. Thanks to this major upgrade, they can now tackle tasks that just a few years ago would have required at least a powerful workstation if not a mainframe.
This functionality integrates tightly with the package's outstanding multiphysics capability, whereby users can solve a problem while employing PDEs from multiple branches of physics, and the software solves them all simultaneously and automatically without any user intervention. For instance, an electromagnetics problem will generally involve heat flow due to the currents running through various components, and that heat in turn could have an effect on the physical structure of the device or subsystem under analysis. FEMLAB handles all these aspects simultaneously and with ease, and now in three dimensions. Users have never had this amount of analysis power so handy and easy to use.
"Obviously, Version 2.0 allows our users to model problems that they could never dream of tackling before," comments Lars Langemyr, COMSOL's Vice President of R&D. What many people might not appreciate, though, is that this release also takes a considerable burden off people who have been trying to use available 2-D packages to tackle some of the more complex real-world applications. Certainly, 2-D multiphysics modeling software can prove quite useful for certain classes of problems. Further, users are able to make appropriate assumptions and simplifications could also do a reasonable job of approximating a 3-D problem with existing packages. But making these assumptions correctly and intelligently sometimes takes considerable knowledge, skill and experience. For instance, users might have to ask themselves, ´Where in the model should I take a 2-D cross-section? How do I handle boundary conditions?´
"With the release of FEMLAB 2.0, users no longer need worry about such issues," adds Langemyr, "because they can create a full 3-D model in a fraction of the time it would take them to make intelligent decisions about the simplifications and assumptions involved in setting up a 2-D model."
Enhancements at each stageIn creating the 3-D version of FEMLAB, COMSOL's development team had to significantly enhance the modules that come into play at each stage of the modeling process:
1. Draw the geometry—The first step in a modeling session is to describe the physical system with the package's built-in CAD tools. Although the software can work with 3-D objects, the PC's screen remains a 2-D display. Thus users build and modify problem geometries in 2-D work planes that the software afterwards joins into composite 3-D objects. It's thus as easy to draw 3-D objects as it has always been to draw a 2-D object.
To ease the development of geometries, FEMLAB 2.0 introduces a new class of 3-D primitive objects including blocks, spheres, ellipsoids, cones, and cylinders. In addition, special commands and functions such as Extrude, Revolve, and Embed make it a breeze to build 3-D objects from their 2-D counterparts. Yet other commands allow the software to take a 3-D solid and coerce it to a 3-D face object or vice versa.
|A toolbar dedicated to Draw mode makes it easier than ever to create and manipulate 3-D geometries.|
For users who wish to define or manipulate certain subdomains of a 3-D object, FEMLAB features a new array of interface capabilities and toolbars. They make it easier to select objects or subdomains in 3-D than with any other multiphysics package on the market, some of which require users to traverse deep into a menu tree for a simple operation. With FEMLAB, users can take the mouse and interactively select one or more faces, edges, or vertices. They can additionally highlight any combination of them, select all adjacent objects or cycle through them with a mouse click.
In creating a complex 3-D object it's not unusual to want to change how various objects appear or modify the viewpoint. For this purpose, FEMLAB allows users to suppress the display of geometry objects, boundaries or subdomains. They can also view a model from a different perspective by orbiting, panning, zooming or dollying the viewpoint.
2. Solve the model—As before, users interact with modal dialog boxes to define the properties and characteristics of the solids they've drawn. Then a click on a button in the graphical user interface instructs FEMLAB to create the mesh and solve the problem. The package's new 3-D Delaunay-based mesh generator either runs with default settings or allows the user to control mesh size explicitly, either globally or selectively by subdomain, face, edge, or vertex.
Now the solvers come into play, and this upgrade's vastly improved iterative solvers consume less memory and therefore can handle larger models with more tetrahedrons in the mesh, thereby leading to higher accuracy in the results. Specifically, the package handles between 5x and 10x more mesh elements within the same amount of PC memory compared to software not using iterative solvers.
Note also that the package supplies state-of-the-art iterative solvers based on sophisticated algorithms and preconditioners that model two general types of problems:
- static (also known as 'steady' depending on the technical discipline)
- time dependent (also known as 'dynamic' or 'unsteady')
and they all operate in any number of dimensions. The package can select a default it deems most appropriate to a given problem or users can specify which solver it should employ.
3. Visualization and post-processing of results—It's much easier to understand a system or analyze its performance if you can visualize various properties of the solution for different parameter values. Here FEMLAB 2.0 adds yet more functions to its already considerable array of existing visualization options.
|When you enter FEMLAB 2.0's Plot mode, a dedicated toolbar appears in the graphical user interface. With a click of a button you can perform sophisticated visual analyses.|
The click of a button can, for instance, call up a color-coded slice plot, an isosurface plot, a tube plot or a 3-D plot with cones or arrows. As before, the software can automatically create an animation that displays frames of a movie to illustrate dynamic effects.
It's also important to note that the mesh generator and solvers all employ MATLAB as their computational engine. Thus, as before, users can create a model exclusively with the graphical user interface, yet later export it as a series of command-line functions. In that way they can create instant documentation as well as access all of the sophisticated power of MATLAB to meet even the most demanding post-processing requirements.
3-D features in actionWith all of these features, scientists and engineers can now model and analyze systems that were beyond the scope of any software running on desktop machines. Consider one example: To protect equipment immersed in seawater from corrosion, engineers often apply an electric current to the object and then place anodes nearby. Just how effective these anticorrosion efforts are depends greatly on the relative locations of the anodes with respect to the equipment. Clearly, without 3-D capabilities it would be impossible to model and compare schemes that place the anodes in various locations.
It's important to note, though, that FEMLAB 2.0 also considerably improves the results for models that users could handle in 2-D. Briefly examine the case of an electrostatic precipator, which cleans particulates from dust-laden air. It consists of electrodes situated between parallel plates. The electrode is often helix shaped, making the precipator's geometry inherently 3-D. However, a 2-D model of the system can give vital qualitative information that in turn allows an engineer to build a simplified 3-D model that focuses on the most critical parts of the design.
System requirementsFEMLAB 2.0 runs under Windows 95/98, NT 4.0, and versions are available for Solaris, Linux, AIX, Digital Unix, HP-UX and IRIX. It also requires that MATLAB 5.3 be installed. The recommended hardware configuration is 128M bytes of RAM for modeling in 2-D, 256M bytes of RAM for modeling in 3-D, and 16-bit color graphics.
Price and availabilityThe package is shipping from stock. A single-user license for Windows costs $3995, and the package is also available for Unix under a network license. Educational discounts are available.
About the companyCOMSOL, Inc. is located at
1 New England Executive Park, Suite 350
Burlington, MA 01803
Web sites: www.comsol.com, www.femlab.com
COMSOL Inc is the US subsidiary of COMSOL AB, with headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. The privately held firm was initially founded in 1986 by Svante Littmarck and Farhad Saeidi as a software distributor specializing in products from The MathWorks Inc (Natick, MA). In 1995 the principles started writing and distributing specialized add-ons for MATLAB, chief among them the PDE Toolbox. Most recently the company introduced FEMLAB, a MATLAB-based tool for the graphical modeling of complex problems built around partial differential equations.
What FEMLAB Users Are Saying
"I was impressed with how smoothly the program operated from start to finish."
Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
The Catholic University of America
"The flexibility and generality of FEMLAB is unique, and it has allowed us to solve problems that were almost impossible or extremely time-consuming to solve with other packages."
Team Leader, Modeling Group
"Without this package we'd have to purchase dedicated programs for each task and struggle to get them to work together"
"I can't live without it!"
Senior Engineer, R&D Department
FEMLAB BackgrounderFEMLAB is a modeling and analysis package for virtual prototyping of physical phenomena. FEMLAB can model virtually any physical phenomena an engineer or scientist can describe with partial differential equations (PDEs) including heat transfer, fluid flow, electromagnetics and structural mechanics. Specifically, FEMLAB supports the integration of problems from different fields—Multiphysics.
Easy-to-UseFEMLAB makes its considerable computational power available to users through an easy-to-use graphical user interface that allows them to solve complex problems by describing these problems with drawings rather than entering many lines of involved equations. It can also import DXF drawing files from popular CAD software including AutoCAD and CATIA.
Making it even easier to develop applications, FEMLAB bundles a Model Library that shows ready-to-run examples for common situations in multiple application areas. Thus users aren't required to have in-depth knowledge of mathematics or numerical analysis. In fact, they can build many models by means of the physical quantities involved rather than by writing the equations that describe them. Examining these models is also an excellent way of learning how to exploit the full power of FEMLAB within the various application areas.
Open and ExtensibleUsers can extend FEMLAB's standard capabilities through simple script programming. At any point while a preconfigured modeling method is running, researchers can pause the process, evaluate its progress and methodology, and proceed either with the standard method or branch off into a new modeling approach. This combination of easy modeling, easy customization and quick improvisational ability make FEMLAB a tool useful for both nonstandard computations as well as for quick research into physics, models and parameters.
Solid Mathematical FoundationThe underlying mathematical structure upon which FEMLAB is based is a system of partial differential equations (PDEs), a mathematical description of some physical phenomena based on the laws of science (see the accompanying white paper, "Differential Equations: The Original Enabling Technology"). Anyone who is an expert in his or her field and knows how to set up simulations using PDEs can extend those systems by explicitly modeling in terms of these types of equations.