Dear COMSOL,

Comsol. If you are like me than you know the name, know it’s a CAE company, but after that things start to get sketchy.

I routinely run across their ads in all the major printed and online outlets. Their business must be growing because they spend a lot of money on promotion. On the Comsol web site the company states it has 200 employees which suggests to me they have $35 – $50 million in annual Sales.

A couple years ago when I was at Blue Ridge Numerics I phoned up one of my peers at Comsol to kick around the idea of collaboration but I was told a message had come from the top to terminate all dialogue because I was a competitor. Seemed kind of paranoid to me but to each his own.

Last week my curiousity got the better of me (again) so I sent an e-mail to the designated conatct at Comsol requesting a 10 minute phone conversation to discuss a few basic questions on dealing with complex CAD geometry and meshing techniques — so far, nothing. I also sent a similar request to one of the Authorized consultants listed on the Comsol web site but they blew me off too. Such is the life of a rookie blogger.

A thermoacoustics simulation of an ear canal simulator with a damped Helmholtz resonator. The model includes thermal conduction and viscous losses and allows for customizing the acoustic response.(Image courtesy of COMSOL Inc)

The Comsol product line is jaw dropping. These guys do it all! Their flagship product is Comsol Multiphysics which appears to provide a ton of openess and flexibility to set up a simulation consisting of just about any combination of physics. They also provide a tantalizing set of add-on simulation modules to tackle all kinds of extreme realities that only an engineer could love: CFD, microfluidics, subsurface flow, chemical reaction, electrodeposition, batteries and fuel cells, plasma, and acoustics just to name a few.

Beyond all the cool physics Comsol also provides a LiveLink module for customers who want to work with a geometric model in Creo, SolidWorks, Inventor, and a few others.

By all accounts Comsol does it all.  I mean these guys talk about doing fluid-structure interaction like it’s just run of the mill, no big deal. We’re talking CAE studs! The alpha male. The cock of the walk. Superman. Michael Jordan (before his first retirement).

Which brings me to the question I’ve wanted answered for several years now… If Comsol is as amazing as it sounds why isn’t everyone using it? Shouldn’t ANSYS be on Red Alert? Why isn’t Autodesk, PTC or one of the other cash-rich, simulation-poor CAD companies dropping some major coin to acquire this treasure trove before it gets too expensive.

At a technical level I would really like to know: 1) is one mesh used for all/most simulations, i.e. the same mesh for CFD, Structural, Acoustics, etc. and 2) what is the workflow process when starting with a prexisitng, complex CAD assembly? My hunch is that the answers to these two will also answer my previous one.

If you know — or think you know — the answer to any of the above, please clue me in. The world needs… heck, I need… a hero. Maybe Comsol is it but they’re not telling.

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One response to “Dear COMSOL,

  • Jeff Waters

    I participated at the 2009 and 2010 Comsol US User Conferences in Boston and got a very good look at both its products and customers.

    On the upside, it is true that many many things (almost anything?) could theoretically be solved using Comsol (formerly known as FEMlab before the quite admirable marketing reinvention of the company… And I mean that honestly… these guys have done a fantastic job of slick marketing and awareness.)

    On the practical side, to get to that level of functionality, the user must be very comfortable “rolling his own” PDEs and solver sequences. You can see that in the makeup of the user base- which is largely Academic. I don’t just mean university users, however… I am also referring to the industry users who would be more aptly described as scientists than engineers.

    Comsol has put together some generic modules for various areas that can allow light use by mere mortals, but the true power of the tool requires a deep degree of expertise.

    You will also notice that most Comsol models are on small assemblies– often looking at the crazy physics happening in a very small region. As such, geometry requirements are often quite limited… you’ll see most users using simple, blocky geometry…. so perhaps the target audience doesn’t particularly need complex geometry for their interests?

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