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New CAD method shortens the path to engineering analyses

Vadim  Shapiro

Vadim Shapiro (large image)

Vadim Shapiro likes to say that his engineering friends regard him as a computer scientist and his computer science friends think he's an engineer.

Shapiro views himself as both. Either way, he's on the cutting edge of research aimed at using computer software to analyze and engineer materials and objects.

Shapiro, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, was recently awarded $195,000 from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to continue developing computer-aided design (CAD) software for "mesh-free" analysis of materials and objects. The NIST award comes on top of two previous National Science Foundation grants that Shapiro has used to develop mesh-free CAD software.

Typical CAD software requires analyzing materials and objects on a grid, or mesh. This means that every geometric CAD model must be converted into a mesh consisting of thousands of interconnected elements before any analysis (for example, thermal or stress) can be performed. The tedious and time-consuming conversion procedure, called meshing, is only partially automated and often dominates both manual and computer processing time.

Shapiro, who directs the College of Engineering's Spatial Automation Laboratory, is developing a mesh-free approach to modeling and analysis that liberates the users and software applications from dependence on the mesh, thereby increasing flexibility, ease, and automation of computer-aided analyses.

According to Igor Tsukanov, an assistant scientist at the Spatial Automation Laboratory who has worked with Shapiro in developing the new software, their mesh-free approach applies to most engineering analyses and can be combined with many traditional solution methods.

"The analysis can be performed directly on the original CAD model," added Shapiro. "This seamless integration of design and analysis eliminates the difficulties and pains of meshing."

The meshfree software allows engineers or designers to essentially sidestep the process of generating a mesh. Instead, engineers work directly with the native CAD geometry, boundary conditions, and design parameters. Changes in the CAD model are reflected instantly in the analysis model that is ready to run at a push of the button, he said.

"We're talking about broad computational capability for all kinds of engineering problems," he said. "This level of automation should really change the way parts are designed, because you can literally analyze them as you design them."

Shapiro added that the mesh-free approach is particularly effective in many emerging areas of engineering where the traditional mesh-based tools have not been sufficiently developed. These include heterogeneous material modeling, layered manufacturing, and miniature-scale systems.

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11/25/2002