Doug Bartholomew, Samuel Greengard, Glenn Hasek, John Jesitus, Scott Leibs, Kristin Ohlson, Robert Patton, Barb Schmitz, Tim Stevens, and John Teresko contributed to this article. Designing complex systems can be a repetitive task -- inputting parameters, running a program, evaluating results, inputting new parameters, etc. In addition, complex systems often have design objectives that are in conflict with one another -- for instance, high strength, yet low weight. With iSIGHT 3.0 -- dubbed a software robot -- from Engineous Software Inc., repetitive design and analysis iteration can now be automated at the same time that designs with conflicting objectives can be optimized. "iSIGHT does not evaluate anything," says Siu Tong, Engineous president. "It is a program that fits on top of other programs." As a designer decides how to evaluate different parameter scenarios to optimize a certain facet of a product -- structural performance, aerodynamics, thermal performance, cost -- iSIGHT watches, by following the manual clicks. "iSIGHT 3.0 then will capture all the steps and automatically generate a controlling program behind the scenes, with very little programming." Variables used to drive the program are selected, as are constraints that must be honored in the finished design. Then iSIGHT 3.0 automatically exercises the program, without human intervention, running through the iteration sequence and seeking the optimum design. "Just like a robot controls other devices in a factory, iSIGHT runs the program for you," says Tong. "It eliminates the need to pound the keyboard and [to do] trial and error by hand." In fact, running just one program is not the way people design, because it does not reflect real life. For instance, the airfoil properties of an airplane wing may change under flexural or torsional stresses. "What you need is an optimum design, but it will be a compromise design within any specific discipline [structural, aerodynamic, thermal, etc.]," says Jack Finnigan, manager of the mechanical design methods and processes program at GE Research Center, Schenectady, N.Y. (The center has used iSIGHT and its forerunners in engine, turbine, lighting, transformer, and locomotive design applications.) "So you want a design that satisfies the constraints in all the different disciplines and at the same time is the best overall design. This is the kind of thing iSIGHT is driving toward." Optimizing multiple disciplines simultaneously is accomplished by placing iSIGHT on top of each individual analysis or design program and then applying a higher-level iSIGHT on top of that. "This simultaneous optimization is what all the excitement is about," says Tong. In practice, optimized design across a number of disciplines "requires a lot of verbal communication between the different design functions to come up with a manually optimized design," says Finnigan. "By linking the programs together in the different disciplines, you have at least created a formalism about how you can carry that process out." None of the programs used to evaluate design parameters is changed, so iSIGHT is leveraging existing systems that have trust and design history behind them, be they proprietary or third-party code. Supported by a $7.2 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Engineous is now working to add a collaborative optimization capability that works across companies. "A lot of military products have many subcontractors," says Tong. "Lockheed may do the airframe, GE the engines, and someone else the guidance system. Put together, the final result may not work well, and there is a lot of finger-pointing. So under the DARPA grant we are looking at a way to link product design across organizations and locations, a system that allows you to optimize the design together, across multiple companies." The focus of Engineous efforts is in aerospace, automotive, defense, power and utilities, and industrial manufacturing, says Tong.
Engineous Software Inc.Morrisville, N.C.
iSIGHT 3.0 computer-aided optimization