1 About CAEplex

1.1 What is CAEplex?

1.1.1 Short answer

CAEplex is a really easy web-based platform for performing finite-element analysis running on the cloud.

It is really easy because it is designed to be your first step into to the world of Computed-Aided Engineering. It relies in a do-it-yourself approach where beginners can obtain engineering results in a simple, easy and straightforward way.

1.1.2 Long answer

CAEplex is a web platform that can be used to run mechanical analysis computations on the cloud without needing to actually install any kind on software in the user’s computer. The main objective is to obtain a 100%-customized engineering report in PDF (your logo, your numeration) that supports from an engineering and mathematical point of view the mechanical design of a 3D-modeled part. Say for example you have designed a crane hook in a CAD program (e.g. Onshape, FreeCAD, Solidworks, CATIA, etc.) and you wonder how many tons the hook would withstand. Then you can upload your 3D model into CAEplex (the model would be encrypted both during the transfer and afterward whilst stored, see details in this question). Once you have your geometry available in your dashboard, you can start a new project that in four steps (problem, mesh, solution and results, see this question) will give you the distributions of strains and stresses that arise from the loads defined in the “problem” step. This way, you can see what the maximum stress is, where it is and how margin the design has before reaching the material’s yield strength. Finally, you can generate a report out of the project in order to obtain an engineering document that you can use to support the original mechanical design.


2 Working with CAEplex

2.1 How does CAEplex work?

As explained above, CAEplex is a web front-end for open-source engineering computational codes running on the cloud. It follows the “rule of separation”: Separate policy from mechanism; separate interfaces from engines.

So CAEplex is essentially a front-end that arranges all the data and information needed to run a finite-element mechanical analysis, executes the programs that mesh the geometry and that solve the mechanical problem and then presents the results in an easy and intuitive way. Moreover, the front-end allows to generate a PDF report out of the calculations that can be customized at will, including the numeration and the user’s company logo.

The front-end arranges input and output data from several open and powerful tools:

and provides a clean and smooth user experience using x3dom as the WebGL rendering engine:

The meshing step in CAEplex
The meshing step in CAEplex

CAEplex may be used either from a computer (i.e. a desktop PC or a laptop) or from a mobile device (i.e a tablet or smartphone). Use the mouse or your fingers rotate, pan and zoom the 3D view:

Rotate
Pan
Zoom

It should be noted that the core back-end code, namely Fino, was developed 100% by Seamplex, the startup behind CAEplex. So CAEplex is the first platform designed from the back-end outward, embedding the UNIX philosophy in its design basis to write an easy-to-use yet flexible and powerful tool for engineers. The front-end was designed, coded and implemented from scratch in the same spirit the back-end was actually designed, coded and implemented. Simple parts connected by well-defined interfaces. Separated policies and mechanisms. Easy communication with other programs. Small straightforward cooperating pieces.

The interface is designed to be really easy so only relatively simple problems (that still follow Pareto and cover the 80% of the industry needs) can be solved with CAEplex. Nevertheless, intermediate users may benefit from the web and cloud features of the system. Advanced users may directly use the free and open-source backend in a direct and low-level way.

CAEplex is divided into three main sections: geometries, projects and reports which are accessible from the dashboard.

The CAEplex dashboard
The CAEplex dashboard

2.1.1 Geometries

In this section the user has access to all the geometries over which a calculation can be performed. These geometries should be mechanical 3D models designed in a CAD tool such as Onshape, FreeCAD, Solidworks, CATIA, etc. The user can add a new geometry by dragging an exported file in BREP, STEP or IGES into the dashboard.

2.1.2 Projects

A project is a finite-element analysis mechanical problem. A project starts with one of the available geometries and completes the problem by defining the material of the geometry, the forces and loads involved, the boundary conditions and the spatial grid. Each geometry can have one or more associated projects, for example to test different loads over the same part.

2.1.3 Reports

A report is a written document that is generated out of a project. Besides the technical data that CAEplex automatically includes in the report, a customized text describing the problem can be added. Moreover, custom screenshots from the project can be included to illustrate the results. Even more, the report can have up to two user-provided logos and a customized numbering. The same project can have more than one report, for example one for the company with some level of details and know-how and another one for the clients. The CAEplex reports have a system for tracking changes and issues.


2.2 How does storage work?

Each account has an associated amount of storage space for your data. You can check the actual figures in the plans & pricing section. This storage space will hold your

See below for details about each section. You can manage (i.e. delete unwanted elements) your storage from your account page. In particular, meshes and results are cached. This means that if a mesh or a result is already computed, it is not re-computed again. This increases speed (and does not use credits to do something that was already done!) at the expense of storage usage. Cleaning up your caches is a good idea if you are running low of storage space.


2.3 How do geometries work?

In CAEplex, geometries are the 3D CAD models of the parts where the mechancial analysis will be performed. If you have the Standard Subscription, you can add your own models. If you have the Free Plan, you only have access to a number of example geometries (that do not take up storage space). After a new geometry is added, it is listed in the dashboard and a new project can be started over it. There can be many projects associated to the same geometry, for example to study different loads or different meshes on the same original CAD model.

Note: we refer to 3D CAD models as “geometries” because the word “model” can be confused with mathematical models, which are the core of CAEplex’ projects.

Besides your raw geometry file, there are some other auxiliary files that need to be created so the actual storage usage may be greater than the original file. However, the original CAD model is compressed (and encrypted) so the expected overall storage usage is roughly the same as the original uncompressed file.

List of geometries
List of geometries
3D view of one of the available geometries
3D view of one of the available geometries

2.3.1 Supported formats

CAEplex can work with the following CAD formats:

2.3.2 Geometry encryption

The confidentiality of your know how is very important to us. Your CAD model is treated using state-of-the-art encryption techniques, both during the transfer from your computer to our servers (end-to-end) and during the time it is stored in our server (data-at-rest). When you drop your file into your browser, the data reaches our servers encrypted in such a way that no one can eavesdrop what your computer is sending over the Internet. It is the same technology everybody (including us!) uses to exchange sensitive information, for example credit card information. To make sure end-to-end encryption is working, check that a green lock appears in your browser’s location bar.

Make sure there is a green lock in the location bar.
Make sure there is a green lock in the location bar.

Once our servers received the geometry, it is compressed and encrypted before going to storage. In the rare event that our servers have a leak and an outsider has access to the actual files that are stored in our disks, she would not be able to read the original data.


2.4 How do projects work?

Projects are the core of CAEplex’ functionality. A project has an associated geometry, although many projects can have the same associated geometry.

List of projects
List of projects

A project consists of four steps, namely

  1. Problem
  2. Mesh
  3. Solution
  4. Results

These steps are logically organized in a wizard-like way, where one starts with the definition of the problem that includes

  • selection of material
  • definition of voluemtric forces (if any)
  • definition of boundary conditions
The first step
The first step

The next step consists of meshing the continuous geometry in order to obtain an unstructured grid suitable for the application of the finite-element method to solve the mechanical analysis problem.

The second step
The second step

The third step is a review of the solution parameters. It is essentially a checklist to make sure that the problem is well-defined (i.e. that the material properties are correct, that there is at least one Dirichlet boundary condition, that the mesh is suitable, etc.).

The third step
The third step

The last step shows the results of the computation, including the location and value of the maximum Von Mises stress and its spatial distribution. The displacements can be shown and exaggerated using a live-warp slider.

The fourth step
The fourth step

2.5 How do reports work?

After successfully reaching the last step of a project, an engineering PDF report can be generated. Again, a single project can have many reports. The reports can be fully customized, the report number can be chosen and even up to two custom logos can be included. The report contains many details about the computation and can include screenshots from the project. There exist a Git-based system for handling revisions and issues that works over XeLaTex in order to obtain high-quality and beautiful engineering PDF reports.

The report generator
The report generator

2.6 How do materials work?

Usually, one works with a small number of materials only. The materials section of the dashboard is a place where one builds up a list of frequently-used materials. These materials can either be selected from a large list of generic materials or can be added manually by entering its properties. In the project’s step number one, the list of frequently used materials appear as a combo-box. Even though you can enter its mechanical properties in the step, you might want to add a new material by clicking the “More…” button so its properties are available for subsequent projects.


2.7 How does caching work?

Sometimes one has to go back and forth through the four steps of a project. Instead of having to re-mesh a geometry o to re-solve a problem, CAEplex caches results in such a way to minimize time (and credits!) by re-using already-computed data. So for example if you have two projects associated to the same geometry and the mesh happens to have the same parameters (i.e. algorithms, characteristic length, etc.) then the mesh of the first problem can be re-used in the second one instead of having to spend time (and credits!) re-computing already-known results. This scheme works by optimizing CPU time (and credits!) at the expense of disk storage. So if you are running low of storage, you can always clean up your caches from your account page.