This year Altair Corporation was at AIA National in Denver. Running inside their small booth was a demo of an upcoming application they are working on for doing structural analysis of wind forces on tall structures. We spoke with Dr. Luca Frattari PhD, who is trained as an architect and is Business Development Manager for Altair’s AEC division. Now we realize you may be surprised to learn–as we were also–that Altair even had an AEC division. But this is an important story and one that we believe will play out strongly in years to come.
If there was a silent killer announcement at AIA National this year, it was that Altair has taken aim at the AEC market.
Some Altair Background
Before we talk about what we have learned from Dr. Frattari, let’s do a basic summary of who Altair is beyond the fact they they own solidThinking, Inc., as a key subsidiary in the CAID software market. Altair is a nearly 2,000 employee strong privately held corporation with more than 40 offices in 19 countries around the world. Their more than 3000 corporate clients span key players in automotive, aerospace, government and defense, heavy equipment and consumer product verticals. And the company has a growing presence in electronics, energy markets and–importantly for us–AEC.
With an annual revenue north of $240 million, Altair is a significant engineering software company. Its key products include HyperWorks, a best-in-class computer-aided engineering (CAE) solution, PBS Works, an on-demand cluster and grid computing software environment, solidThinking, its NURBS-based 3d modeling and rendering environment, Business Analytics which comprises HiQube for simulation driven analytics and finally its Altair ProductDesign global, multi-disciplinary product development consultancy.
Altair’s primary strength appears to lie in its software technology HyperWorks. Dr. Luca Frattari noted that the company has leading edge engineering and simulation solutions being utilized by the leading giants in multiple industries and governments. Indeed, its clients include just about every automotive maker in the world, including key innovators like BMW, Porsche, Daimler and more. In aerospace Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whittney and many others are all clients and customers. And it extends down the line to key leaders in life sciences, consumer and heavy equipment. This is a software and consultancy company with deep experience working with global giants pushing the edges of the their industries.
Next Gen Innovation in AEC Software – Engineering
With experience working with industrial giants it makes sense that Altair’s planned approach to targeting the AEC market with its technology solutions is aimed first at big scale companies. Dr. Luca Frattari explained it this way. “We are an unknown company in this market, we can’t just build something and go for mass scale.”
Indeed, Altair a name not at all familiar in the AEC space. Even its subsidiary product solidThinking is not yet well known in AEC circles despite it having some innovative and market-leading technology. Dr. Frattari said the company is currently collaborating with architectural giant SOM with its FEA technology wrapped in new beta software. Partnering and collaborating with an architectural giant makes much more sense for Altair as such a large company like SOM can afford to experiment–and do on a regular basis–with leading edge solutions, services and new workflows. SOM’s work with Altair is in the area of very large and tall structures and where Altair is aiming is in bringing its computational-oriented engineering technologies in Finite Element Analysis (FEA) down to the early stages of design to provide more rapid feedback.
Dr. Frattari said a research report on the work Altair and SOM are doing together is planned but he could not comment further on that information.
solidThinking Turns 9.5
This past spring and early summer the folks at Altair subsidiary, solidThinking, Inc., have spent some time talking to us at Architosh about its new solidThinking version 9.5 and not too far off version 10. For this article we will focus a bit on emphasizing the fact that solidThinking has perhaps the best combination of direct modeling mixed with parametric-based modeling in the market combined with its superb history tree technology for revision and iteration work.
Additionally, solidThinking Inspire 9.5 furthers the company’s utilization of HyperWorks in its OptiStruct technology. Dr. Frattari said solidThinking’s progress demonstrates how and where the company can go in the AEC market by adding advanced engineering computational-based technologies and packing this technology into simplified workflows that designers can interact with in the early and conceptual stages of design.
“In today’s markets whether architectural design or industrial products like jets or tractor trailers, minimizing mass while optimizing stiffness and total structural strength yields environmental and cost benefits,” says Dr Frattari. In the work the company has done so far in helping tall structures withstand wind loads, Altair’s software technologies have helped tune complex geometry in very tall structures to the point where reduction of steel tonnage was precisely measured against aesthetic issues resulting in happy clients who understand the balance between design goals and construction cost goals in a completely numerically controlled way. In one tall structure for an architectural giant steel tonnage was reduced by more than 20 percent, yielding millions of dollars in savings.
“Having the ability to know that kind of information up front in the early design process is very valuable to the architectural office,”said Dr. Frattari. “What Altair wants to do is bring this kind of computationally intensive work down to the earlier stage design processes.” The company feels they are uniquely qualified to do this for AEC firms.