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Changing the Way Engineers Work:

Smartphones, Tablets, The Cloud, and the Future of Engineering

Dr. David Knezevic,

Institute for Applied Computational Science,
Harvard University
November 28, 2012

Todays Presenter
Dr. David Knezevic, Lecturer, Institute for Applied Computational
Science, Harvard University
Dr. David Knezevic is a Lecturer with the Institute for Applied
Computational Science at Harvard University. He holds a Ph.D. from
Oxford University (Rhodes scholar) and prior to his position at
Harvard, he was a post-doctoral associate in the Mechanical
Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. David has expertise in a range of areas related to
computational engineering, including applied mathematics, computer
science, software development, and supercomputing.

About ASME
ASME is a not-for-profit membership organization that enables
collaboration, knowledge sharing, career enrichment, and skills
development across all engineering disciplines, toward a goal of
helping the global engineering community develop solutions to
benefit lives and livelihoods. Founded in 1880 by a small group
of leading industrialists, ASME has grown through the decades
to include more than 120,000 members in over 150 countries

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Smartphones, tablets, the cloud, and the future of engineering

Dr. David Knezevic

Harvard Lecturer (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Co-founder of Akselos Inc.

Inspiration for this Webinar

ASME articles on

smartphone and
tablet apps for
engineers were
very popular
Growing interest

in the role of
mobile technology
in engineering

Role of Mobile Technology in Engineering
Overview of Apps for Mechanical Engineers

Cloud Computing and Engineering Software


Role of Mobile Technology in


My Interest in Mobile Computing

In 2010, Dr. Phuong Huynh and I developed an Android

app for performing 3D FEA calculations on a smartphone

Basic idea of the app:
1. Generate datasets in an Offline phase using a supercomputer
2. Load datasets onto smartphone
3. Perform 3D FEA calculations via lightweight calculations on the
phone itself
Demonstrated cooperation between mobile devices and

supercomputers to perform engineering computations

My Interest in Mobile Computing

My Interest in Mobile Computing

Mobile Technology
Computation is a fundamental tool in modern engineering:

simulation, design, analysis,

Mobile apps provide a new way to deliver computational

tools to engineers, with some compelling advantages:

1. Convenience. Apps are built for very specific tasks,
hence usually have targeted and simple user interface
2. In the field. New possibilities for detailed on site
3. Price. Apps are often free or perhaps cost a few dollars

Mobile Technology
Also, tablets/smartphones are now sufficiently powerful

that they can usurp some of the role of computers

Lets briefly consider two areas in which hardware in

mobile devices now provide impressive capabilities:

1. Storage
2. CPU

Mobile Technology: Storage

Smartphone/tablets now have >10GB of storage store a

whole library of handbooks in your pocket!

Mobile Technology: CPU

Modern smartphones/tablets are powerful computers

Workstation ca. 2005

Smartphone/tablet ca. 2012

Smartphones can now achieve ~200 Mflops, similar to

high-end desktop workstation from ca. 2005

Mobile CPUs are improving rapidly (multiple cores etc)

Mobile Technology: CPU

Perspective: Comparable (in terms of flops) to the fastest

supercomputer in the world from ca. 1980

Smartphones ca. 2012

Source: Wikipedia

Limits of Mobile Technology

Of course its also important to keep limitations of mobile
technology in mind:
1. Limits of touch interfaces and small screens. May not

be well suited to intricate engineering tasks, e.g. CAD

2. Heavy-duty computation. Mobile CPUs still far behind
state-of-the-art workstations (or supercomputers!)
3. Connectivity. Many apps rely on internet connectivity,
sometimes slow/unreliable (especially in remote areas)

Overview of Apps for Mechanical


Overview of Apps
There is an ever-increasing number of smartphone/tablet

apps for mechanical engineering

Broadly speaking, mechanical engineering apps on the

market today can be categorized into three groups

Overview of Apps
1. Data Lookup
2. Engineering Calculations

3. Design

Overview of Apps
1. Data Lookup
2. Engineering Calculations

3. Design

Data Lookup Apps

Mechanical Reference Library

Reference for all things mechanical no need to drag

around those heavy textbooks

Data Lookup Apps

Engineering Cookbook

Convenient reference for mechanical designers fingertip

access to frequently needed information

Data Lookup Apps


The most comprehensive database of screw and bolt


Data Lookup

Enables industrial component manufacturers to deliver

their digital product catalogs, 3D CAD models, data sheets,
news, distributor locations

Overview of Apps
1. Data Lookup
2. Engineering Calculations

3. Design

Engineering Calculations
Engineering Unit Conversion

A comprehensive unit conversion tool specifically designed

for engineers, scientists and students.

Engineering Calculations
Stress Concentration Factors Pro

Sometimes simple stress formulae are not enough...

[Makes it easy to calculate] a stress concentration factor.

Engineering Calculations
Thermal Analysis Approximator

Computes heat transfer coefficient based on user inputs

provides a first order approximation [of heat transfer]

Engineering Calculations

Linear static analysis of plane trusses with the Finite

Element Method

Overview of Apps
1. Data Lookup
2. Engineering Calculations

3. Design


View, edit, and share AutoCAD drawings... Annotate and

revise drawings in the office, in the field, or in a meeting


Draw houses, bridges, plans of apartments, mechanical

components, geometrical figures

Overview of Apps: Summary

There is a wide range of apps that can be very useful for

mechanical engineers at their desk or in the field

Apps are available on different platforms (examples listed

above are for iOS and/or Android)

Note that all of these apps perform rather lightweight

calculations: data look-up, formula evaluation, 2D CAD

Mobile devices are not suited to heavy duty engineering

computations but cloud computing may change this

Cloud Computing and Engineering


Cloud Computing
Cloud computing is having a major influence on

engineering software (and software in general!)

Question: What is cloud computing?


Cloud computing is the use of computing resources that

are delivered as a service over a network (Wikipedia)
This is not a new idea e.g. mainframe computers from

the 1970s employed a client-server model

Cloud Computing
However, technological advances have meant that cloud

computing is now very attractive in many contexts

Cloud providers give cheap, scalable access to vast

computational resources, no local IT maintenance needed

This also fits very well with mobile computing: use the

cloud for heavy duty data processing

Cloud Computing + Mobile

User request
sent to cloud

Result sent
back to user

Cloud Computing + Mobile

This computational model is the basis some very popular

apps today
For example, Apples Siri sends voice queries to a data

center to be processed, response is sent back to the user

With data center computing power and fast wireless

networks, this only takes a couple of seconds!

This shows that we can use mobile devices to

conveniently tap into the power of a huge data center

Cloud Computing + Mobile

This same model has been put to good use in some

engineering software products

For example, Vela Systems* developed popular mobile +

cloud-based software for BIM and construction management

The relatively recent convergence of cloud computing and

mobile computing with leaps in BIM processes and
technologies, such as Field BIM, are revolutionizing the way
projects are designed and delivered and unlocking new
value in the industry.
Adam Omansky, A.M.ASCE CI, CSI, CDT, Vela Systems CoFounder
* Now part of Autodesk BIM 360

Cloud Computing + Mobile

BIM data stored is centrally on the cloud and synced with

mobile devices, this leads to significant efficiency gains

Cloud Computing + HPC

Another important application of the cloud is high-

performance computing (HPC)

Engineering calculations can be very computationally

intensive, e.g. 3D CFD or FEA

Cloud Computing + HPC

These types of computations can require hours or even

days on desktop workstations

Or worse, may not even be possible on a desktop

computer due to huge memory requirements!

Therefore its natural to use the cloud to perform these

types of large-scale simulations

Such HPC services are available from CAE companies

(e.g. Altair, ANSYS, Dassault, NEi, ) or their partners

Cloud Computing + HPC + Mobile

The next natural step is to allow access to cloud HPC

from mobile devices: democratization of HPC

For example, NEi offers a mobile app called NEi Stratus

that enables simple FEA calculations via the cloud

Cloud Computing + HPC + Mobile

NEi Stratus only allows simple geometries (block,

cylinder, tube, etc)

This is a natural constraint: It would be very difficult to

design complex 3D geometries with a touch interface!

Akselos Inc. is developing cloud HPC software for 3D

FEA that is well-suited to touch interfaces

Key idea: Component-based models

Cloud Computing + HPC + Mobile

Connect parametrized simulation components together

to assemble 3D geometries, feasible with touch interface

Model reduction + cloud HPC gives simulation results for

large-scale 3D FEA in seconds

Cloud Computing + HPC + Mobile

Demo video: Akseloss prototype software for structural


Changing the Way Engineers Work

Mobile devices are ubiquitous, and are playing an ever-

increasing role in mechanical engineering

Apps range from data lookup or lightweight calculations

to full enterprise solutions (Vela/Autodesk, Cadenas)

Cloud computing + mobile promises a new generation of

apps for heavy-duty computing: democratization of HPC!

Current trends seem likely to continue:

Open up new possibilities for in the field computation
Usurp more of the role of established workflows at the desk


Thank You for