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Product Review: solidThinking Inspire 2014

In this product review, Architosh looks at the unique solidThinking Inspire 2014 CAE-based industrial design and architecture design tool for optimizing parts and structures for weight and strength. Using the company’s unrivaled “morphogenesis” technology designers see inspiration in unique responses to forces and stress that minimize mass while retaining strength responses to loads and forces.

In this feature, the first time this publication has reviewed this particular software, we aim to introduce Inspire 2014 to readers who have an active interest in industrial and product design or architecture and environmental design.

As it turns out, Altair Corporation has some of the world’s leading multi-physics CAE software technology, deployed via an open-architecture, cross-platform set of solutions. HyperWorks, now at version 13, is the hub product of those solutions and runs on Windows and Mac and features a series of “solver” solutions. One of the key solver solutions is OptiStruct, an award-winning conceptual design and structural optimization technology. It’s this technology that is closely tied to the unique features of solidThinking Inspire 2014.


When we originally set out to review this product the aim was to focus specifically on the exploratory architectural aspects of its use. However, as luck would have it, our review grew too large. Therefore, we decided to publish a general review with a companion special feature article on the use of Inspire 2014 for generative and conceptual architectural and civil design. (article coming in a few days). It’s important to expand the notion of this tool beyond architecture. As you will see, both here and in the special companion article, Inspire has wide applicability to structures of all types.

This review will contain three main parts. Part 1 will detail the features that are new to solidThinking Inspire 2014 and cover the general workflow within the program. Part 2 will then take the reader through some sample problems to familiarize the reader with the nature of the program. Finally, Part 3 will briefly touch on the architectural aspects of the program and offer conclusions. The companion feature will delver deeper into the architectural nature of the program through case studies of how to use Inspire 2014 to ideate, to generate inspiration, and even to solve particular real-life workflow challenges.

Part 1: New in Inspire 2014 and General Workflow

solidThinking Inspire 2014 gained more power in this release in the areas of computational analysis germane to the nature of the program. More specifically, more solver technology is onboard Inspire 2014 than in previous versions. Here is a brief run-down:

  • Linear Static Analysis — You can now run linear static and “normal modes analysis” on your model. Architects will be familiar with the concept of linear static analysis on structures but normal modes analysis is less familiar to them.
  • Geometry Simplification Tools — Less important for architects than mechanical and industrial designers, these new Simplify/Patch tools help clean-up areas in the geometry prior to establishing the key “design space” required for the analysis and mass optimization. With it you can remove holes, rounds, fillets, et cetera.
  • Concentrated mass parts — are used to account for the mass of a part when running an optimization using frequency constraints or when analyzing for normal modes.
  • Smoothing options – used for smoothing the optimized mass in preparation to sending it out to other programs for refinement modeling and design.

A significant change in Inspire 2014 is that you can now make new parts from solids. Coming from more of the architectural world, this author found this tool quite familiar and different at the same time. The push/pull modeling tools in Inspire 2014 are really quite nice. And they work particularly well in conjunction with the way in which one orbits, pans and zooms the model. (see image 01)

03 - Inspire 2014's Push-Pull tools have a nice feel and features for accuracy, affordances, and ease-of-use.

01 – Inspire 2014’s Push-Pull tools have a nice feel and features for accuracy, affordances, and ease-of-use.

It won’t be possible to create very complex massing models for your parts in Inspire 2014 and that’s actually a good thing. It turns out that when it comes time to optimizing parts and structures for minimizing mass, the “design space,” which you use and we’ll discuss in a minute, benefits from simplicity. It may be common for users to struggle with this general idea, perhaps more so if they are in the architectural world as this author is. What happens when parts are too complex is that the optimizations either fail or simply take too long to run.


There are definitely cases where particular shapes, that are not necessarily too complex to be good candidate “design spaces,” will need to be generated in other CAD software. This is fine. We brought in several test models. Inspire can bring in models from all the major MCAD players and also open industry standards like IGES as well as geometry kernel file types such as ACIS and Parasolid. This means architectural tools are also very well suited to sending models to Inspire 2014.

In fact, this is why there are the geometry simplification tools. If you have designed a part prior and now want to see how to evolve that design part so that you can reduce its weight while making it stronger, simply bring that model into Inspire 2014 and clean it up using the geometry simplification tools.

General Workflow

Before we launch into explaining how one works in Inspire a quick word or two about the program’s general environment is due. solidThinking Inspire 2014 doesn’t share the same UI as solidThinking Evolve, another program we have recently produced a feature on. For those who have read our feature on Evolve you may notice this immediately from the screenshots below.

MORE: solidThinking Evolve for Architectural Design Modeling – Part 1

Inspire’s technology, while related to solidThinking Evolve, was fully developed by Altair Engineering. The two products share the same “solidThinking” brand name but their program origins are quite different. And so are their user-interfaces. I bring up solidThinking Evolve because it is germane to the discussion of the workflow in Inspire.

02 - Inspire 2014's user-interface, toolbar at top features intuitive icons.

02 – Inspire 2014’s user-interface, toolbar at top features intuitive icons, with property editor to the left where edits can be input on values. A sample beam problem is shown above.

The general idea is that a product or industrial designer would sketch out ideas and bring those rough ideas into Inspire. Knowing how the product is meant to function and what forces it must deal with, including gravity, the part or product would go through a mass optimization process whereby Inspire generates an “optimized mass” and often organic-looking revised part. This more organic result is meant to inspire the designer and not necessarily be taken literally. Rough structural analysis of the part or product can be run in Inspire, further informing the designer and his or her process. That specific information can be shared with product engineering or in the case of civil or architectural design with a civil or structural engineer.

With engineering input, a further iteration may take place again through Inspire or the resultant work may move onto another program for further evolution, such as solidThinking Evolve. This is the general Inspire workflow.

next page: Part 2: Sample Problems and Workflow

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