I always get confused with the quantity of file types there are. FreeCAD, Salome, Code_Aster, Salome Meca, Calculix, Elmer, Gmsh, NetGen, ParaView, Python, OpenFOAM, … So how can one understand how each of these work and connect to each other?
We divide the file types in 5 categories: • Geometry • Mesh / Model • Boundary Conditions + Model • Solver • Solution
Since these softwares can do a mixture of these 5 elements it’s not that easy to keep up with so many software and so many interconnections.
Another tool in Salome is the ParaView (ParaVis) module for Post processing.
In this segment of Salome and Salome-Meca one can view the results as a normal post processor.
Compared to FreeCAD 0.16 this is a much better environment that allows more control over the results display . FreeCAD 0.17 is much better than it’s predecessor, however ParaVis is still a bit better, the interface is still cleaner and allows more control.
The salome mesh environment also presents many options. It reminds me a bit of LSPrepost in the LS-Dyna product from LSTC or Hyper mesh with some differences. On the example I am showing I fused all the parts toguether since I didn’t know at the time if I could define contacts. The mesh generation algorithm’s come from NetGen it would be nice to see in the future Gmsh support as FreeCad is doing on it’s 0.17 version.
Meshing and viewing in Salome is quite simplistic and non visual. Tools like Ansys give us access to selecting surfaces, edges, and lines to allow us to define what we wanto to do to them. This is a limitation that NetGen, Gmsh and other open software lack. Also to troubleshoot a problem requires some knoledge of the mechanisms behind Salome and NetGen. Rendering sometimes fails to display meshed parts or displays parts of them and this was a bit anoying to me.
With the Salome package we get a geometry creation editor, a mesh generation editor and a post processor analyser but where is the solver? This was something that didn’t feel well when I started with Salome, I knew that eventually I would get into a dead end. And so it was wright! To use a solver I need Code-Aster or if I want the two packages bundled toguether we need to use Saolme-Meca where it intigrates the solver. I will get to that subject in a future post.
I read a lot of information about salome as a pre processor and post processor. Basically you can make a geometry create a mesh and then view results.
The GUI is quite simple at start.
As we start diving into this program we start to see it’s complexity. If we make a new project and open the geometry pane we see myrad of tools.
Although the way we manipulate sketches and solids is way easyier in spaceclaim or RS Mechanical 2 Salome is good enough to make parts. I also think FreeCad isn’t the perfect environment since it also has it’s gaps, however between one and the other I am starting to prefer Salome for its interface looks more clean. A good plus in Salome is that I can define veriables and use them when I create features. Then if I want to change anything it’s plain simple, however if I don’t create the variable and link it there is no other way to change it. This point for me could be improved in the future. Since if we need to change something after it’s done its not that friendly to do it with the GUI.
All in all it is a solid CAD modeler that is very usefull and in my opinion far better then design modeler from Ansys and on par with FreeCAD but way behind payed CAD packages like Unigraphics, Solidworks, Creo, Spaceclaim, … Although not as good as these professional packages I think that there is no shame on using it since it is sufficiently powerfull to build and anlyse models and I also question if it is necessary all the power of those heavy weight tools. Maybe if I was allowed to ask something I would ask for more natural part building and part manipulation and selection.
Life could be so easy, we get an application install it and it works out of the box. Then we use it without reading the instructions and the end result is what we wanted. We save and use the work we produced with no compatibility issues and with the quality we envisioned. This is a perfect scenario.
Now a reality check:
Comercial packages (proprietary) can do what we wan’t them to do, they can have a easy install too. But there will always be compatibility issues with app A and B or we need to read the manual for something specific. And some other problems will appear in the way almost definitely.
But of course things can get even more dirty. Open source software either is super easy to install or super difficult, they can be super static and hard to change or very flexible.
To install these types of software it will depend mostly in what operating system you use and if it already has some binaries that you can double click and install, or if there is a repository with everything you need to have the selected program to work. And here comes the installation roller coster…. No repository for your linux distro, or the specific function isn’t compiled to your version yet, there is no binary file for your OS. These are examples to name a few. When you finally solve all the installation problems, then comes using the app you so passionately managed to install through some nights of hard work. Many open source projects are under active development and the user interface may seem unfinished and difficult to use and understand or although the application works it is cumbersome to use.
Not all is about pain, after the birth and maturation of specific open source softwares comes a stage where you see that everything is as it should have been from the beginning. Good examples are Gimp or Inkscape. You get them practically in any OS and relatively easy to install for most users. Open source software takes it’s time to develop and mature but in no way we can say that it is useless or serves only the need of the home user to play around with.
Many open source project when they reach maturity off good quality are very usable, being open source may not mean the software is free for comercial purposes so special careful should be taking when using for comercial purposes.
There is no good and bad but often open source software give me insight to what communities are building but require hands on effort to make everything work. Commercial software are traditionally easier to use and well documented or no one will buy it and if they do buy it and it doesn’t work we complain about it.
Commercial companies like Ansys are starting to have entry level products for the starter companies to try and compete with competing software adoption. Until now I haven seen much competition from the open source communities since every one was happy in their niche, developing a solver, or a mesher but no or very bad integration. This fragmation and the lack of focus and mature hindered adoption.
A positive evolution from FreeCad that aggregates at least to projects Calculix and Netgen to create an integrated simulation environment as I described on a previous post.
A integrated approach will gain adoption and with it new users that will push interest in development and will motive community effort from individuals, universities, and others…
An also positive shift in FEM integration is CAD evolution from the traditional sketch/feature driven modelling to direct modelling. This is important since it breaks a big barrier in geometry design increasing adoption. (Google summer code project direct modelling for FreeCad)
Not all is just about freecad. A good project needs a good rival and my focus on the next weeks is in presenting you Salome.
Previously I talked about gmsh and NetGen and showed a generated mesh. I did’t go much in detail and will continue to not do so for now. Noticed on a few blogs that FreeCad had a specific FEM environment that supposedly would work connected to Calculix and NetGen.
I found this really good tutorial in https://www.freecadweb.org/wiki/FEM_tutorial
Basically it is a FreeCAD help to get running the FEM module. I did exactly what was here, but not on my mac since I know that I would face eventually some difficulties. I used windows.
I had to install the necessary modules for everything to work.
Calculix, NetGen, Gmsh and a plugin from here https://github.com/psicofil/Macros_FreeCAD
To be honest I didn’t have that many expectations since It is a freeware simulation packages built from many separate projects. I wasn’t expecting much….
The interface was surprisingly easy to use compared to Gmsh or Calculix alone. Take a look bellow.
Meshing wasn’t a trouble but it looked like it created something similar to a spider web.
Before running the resulting mesh with boundary conditions.
The final step was to solve and look at something move or visualize some colors. To visualize the final solved solution was very simple. I just had to press results.
Final comments: simulation starts to become user friendly and looking back there has been remarkable advances in the open community search for a free and open source FEM software. Although far from perfect it is usable and these will be the drivers of a even more persistent and strong effort to match comercial software since more users will start to use these types of FEM packages which would not be possible until today.
So who is the main beneficiary? The hobbyist and the entrepreneur.