Hundreds Talking Altair Tech At User Conference

DEARBORN — Altair, the Troy-based engineering software and services provider, is gathering more than 1,000 of its users this week at the Ford Conference and Event Center for its 2015 Americas Altair Technology Conference.

Altair CEO James Scapa kicked off the conference with an overview of trends in technology and manufacturing, where Altair technologies provide users important advantages.

And yes, Scapa said, “we still do services.” While not as profitable as software sales, Scapa said Altair believes “it’s very synergistic to have staff continuing to learn with clients There are still over 700 engineers and designers in this company that are doing project work.”

Scapa’s presentation featured testimonial after testimonial about the power of Altair software in design optimization and lightweighting, from a 25 percent weight reduction in aircraft parts to a 1.8-kilogram weight reduction in a child car seat.

Scapa said the hottest trends today in technology are 3d printing, the Internet of Things, and cloud computing and analytics. “We’re really in the middle of all of these things,” Scapa said.

In computer-aided design and engineering, collectively known as product lifecycle management, Scapa pointed out several trends — complicated mechanical-electronic systems being simplified into easy-to-use appliances, the rising importance of ergonomics and aesthetics in design, many new manufacturing methods besides 3D printing, and the promise of virtually unlimited computing resources in the cloud.

Altair’s focus, Scapa said, will be on making design synthesis easier,
providing better simulation, and better access to advanced computing.

In other Altair presentations:

* Ford Motor Co. director of vehicle and enterprise science Mike Whitens outlined the automaker’s efforts in vehicle lightweighting, sustainable transportation and advanced electronics. Highlights included an engineer adapting a video game controller into a haptic feedback system, making a Mustang shift knob vibrate to let the know it’s time for the driver to shift. Whitens also outlined Ford’s work in autonomous vehicles and connectivity. Ford’s pillars in an increasingly crowded future in need of sustainability, Whitens said, are “drive quality, drive green, drive safe, drive smart.”

* Franck Mouriaux, general manager of structures at RUAG Space AG, spoke about how his company used Altair technology to design the largest 3D printed part to fly on a satellite. He said 3D printing, which he called by its more technical name additive manufacturing, offers less-expensive design complexity, manufacturing complexity, mass reduction and lead time reduction. His team used additive manufacturing to turn an antenna support bracket from a riveted aluminum structure weighting 1.6 kilograms into a one-piece part weighing 0.9 kilograms. RUAG Space is Europe’s largest independent supplier of space products, with locations in Switzerland, Sweden and Austria.

* Kevin Kerrigan, senior vice president of the automotive office at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., told attendees about the state’s “We Run On Brainpower” automotive initiative. He said the state has major opportunities in technologies like vehicle lightweighting, autonomy and green-friendliness. The state is challenged, however, by the fact that most of the growth of the world in population and wealth in the decades ahead will be in China and India. There’s also an increasing trend toward using vehicles by subscription rather than ownership that Michigan will have to adjust to. The key for Michigan in the industry, Kerrigan said, remains attracting and keeping top talent. Kerrigan also predicted there wouldn’t be rapid growth in electric vehicles in the United States because of low gas prices, although they will be more popular overseas due to severe pollution in places like major Chinese cities.

* Kenneth Dudley, senior researcher at NASA Langley Research Center, described how his team created a “smart skin” for aircraft made of carbon-fiber composite that protects the aircraft from lightning damage and detects other kinds of damage as well. Dudley said that all-aluminum aircraft are immune to damage from lightning strikes because the metal creates a cage of safety within it. However, he said, “lightning strikes can be catastrophic to the carbon fibers of a composite aircraft.” So his team designed a “smart skin” for aircraft made up of spiral-shaped patches that both protect the aircraft from lightning damage, and measure changes in magnetic field to detect other structural problems, such as impact damage from objects in the air and carbon-fiber delamination. The spirals use the physical properties of charged particles to protect the aircraft; Dudley noted that “it’s really kind of like a Star Trek shield.” It also protects equipment inside the plane from damage from electromagnetic fields.

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