If you happened to touch a real punch card in your university time, you probably will be surprised to find out most CAE software companies are touting “easy of use” for their software.
CAE software is still not a mass product for the time being. The required knowledge and input from the user makes it almost impossible to just use fingers. You still need a mouse, for the time being. It is probably impractical to expect dramatic changes in the requirements of the users.
Unarguably, simulation has penetrated into more and more industries. A lot of companies have used it in the very early design stage to shorten the development cycle and to reduce the prototyping costs. Most of them achieved their goals, at least partially. This, therefore, gradually changes the profiles of CAE users.
More and more designers join the of CAE Jihad. Their No.1 demand is ease of use.
In the old days, CAE users were looking for functions, capabilities, accuracy and flexibility. They are willing to learn some strange languages only can be used for specific software, and enjoying to play with the ASCII input files without using any GUIs or UIs.
Ten years ago, if you told your friend “the CAE software is so easy to use even secondary students can master it in a few days”. They would treat it as a joke. But today, if you look at the F1 in Schools Project, you will be surprised that most of these secondary students are using commercial CFD code to design their mini F1 cars.
No CAE software company can afford ignoring the trend of demanding ease of use.
We may attribute this trend to designers and Gen-Y. More and more people get educated and more and more people get university degrees. But this does not necessarily mean the population get smarter. It is easy to fill a designer position with a degree holder. But when you ask them to do CAE simulations, they will just look for the “solution” button. If the problem cannot be solved directly, they will probably just request new features to software vendors and wait for new releases. They will probably never try to “master” the software and find workarounds for the problem.
You will not blame them if you understand their tight job schedule (their manger may check the progress every day, if not every half-day) and high pressure (to launch products before competitors). CAE specialists in big companies usually can work in a far slower pace. You may spend one or two weeks to prepare geometry and mesh for your CFD simulation, but designers seldom have such luxury.
The growth rate of these designers is far faster than that of specialists (analysts). So ease of use can be easily found in almost all CAE software marketing materials.
This is nothing wrong. But we should be aware of possible misuse when we make it so easy to use. Most CAE software in the market now has some “ease of use” offers: from CAD embedded simulation to integrated simulation environment. But what is missing is simulation setup check to prevent or minimize the misuse.
Another problem is how to define “ease of use”. When almost all CAE software companies claim their “ease of use”, are the users really buying their arguments? Most often, ease of use is one factor but not the No.1 decision factor in CAE software purchasing right now. Branding, capability, reputation, support level, integrating with PLM are still playing an more important role. But, the weighting of ease of use is increasing.
To understand what is ease of use, maybe, Steve Jobs had given a better answer in 1998: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” We hope some CAE companies can really deliver such products in the not-far future.