Altair working on a new lightweight architecture for EVs: In conversation with Vishwanath Rao

Express Drives recently interacted with Vishwanath Rao, Managing Director, Altair India to get an insight into the latest developments at the company and its future vision. Mr Rao also shared key information on the company's future plans and shared his thoughts on the future of electric mobility in India.

By: | Updated: August 29, 2019 5:59 PM

Altair is a global technology company that offers software and cloud solutions in the areas of product development, high-performance computing (HPC) and data intelligence. Altair offers on-demand access to a broad spectrum of software applications from over 55 companies in Altair's Partner Alliance. Altair's customers have access to a wide range of software tools from a centralized source, that eventually helps them reduce time to market, increase intelligent design, and make faster decisions. Express Drives recently interacted with Vishwanath Rao, Managing Director, Altair India to get an insight into the latest developments at the company and its future vision. Here is the complete conversation.

Starting with the key developments at Altair India, would you like to talk about the prime ones in product and marketing?

Our vision is to transform design and decision making by applying Simulation, Optimization and machine learning across the product lifecycle. Our focus for the past 35 years since inception has been simulating various types of physics to solve complex engineering problems. These problems could range from Automotive cabin comfort simulating the HVAC system, occupant safety with car crash simulations, noise levels, vibrations, the acoustics inside a cabin of a car, improving aerodynamic efficiency with CFD or reducing weight on complex aircraft structures. The use cases are endless, and our technologies are pretty much used in every product you touch on a daily basis, be it your car, your phone, consumer appliances or the elevators you use to climb up buildings. We continue to be focused on physics simulation, but we are also adding additional capabilities on top of the physics simulation in order to predict faster & better. Altair has made an acquisition of a company called Datawatch, based out of Boston. A fairly well-established player in the data intelligence and data science space the platform has been rebranded as Knowledge Works. Our new area of focus is how do we apply data sciences and data intelligence on physics simulations. Physics simulations are data intensive and simulation is an iterative process and generates a huge amount of data. Our focus is now is to apply predictive and machine learning techniques on the simulation data which is already available in order to get early insights into your product performance.

Altair acquired another company called SimSolid. SimSolid is a very revolutionary technology in the structural simulation space. A typical structural analysis process involves what is called discretization of the model or commonly referred to as meshing in the simulation world. A large model is broken down into smaller pieces. Very small chunks in order to apply all your loads on it and do the simulation. But if you look at SimSolid, it uses a completely different technology. You don’t need to discretize your models and as a result, simulation is blazing fast and tremendously reduces the complexity involved in running assembly-level simulation. One can import a full featured CAD model and directly run simulations on them without making any changes to the model.We are able to generate results in a matter of seconds to minutes vs what used to take days to weeks.

So how does this help our customers? This reduces design time in most cases to the order of 50-70% and helps our customers bring products faster to market. And also the traditional simulation tools requires High performance computing infrastructure because they are mathematically very intensive. A new technology like simsolid can run on your desktop without having the need for a very large computing structure. So these are our two areas. One is on machine learning, data sciences on simulation. The second thing the way we do simulation as well we are trying to challenge it and change it and make it easier and more productive for engineers.


Now coming to e-mobility, what are the key developments at present and the vision for future?

As far as e-mobility is concerned, I think it is definitely the future of mobility. Not only in India but also everywhere in the world as well. I think there is a lot of push in India to move towards e-mobility by the authorities. If you look at the way an electric vehicle is designed it is very different from the way a conventional car is designed. Now that the engine is not there, it gives a lot of opportunities for packing and optimizing packaging as one can create a completely new architecture and the way a car looks can potentially change.

So what is the role that we play here? The loads and forces that act on a car a very different for a conventional IC engine vehicle as compared to an EV. We provide technology and process which helps our customers to come up with new architectures for the body of the vehicle. The second aspect is the drivetrain as you are moving away from an engine to a motor which is basically the power house. We provide technology and process for developing the motor. You can give a rated torque, you can define the performance that you would like to have on your car and based on the rated power and performance requirement our technology can come up with concept design of the motor itself. How many magnets, what kind of windings etc. If you look at an electric car, the noise of an electric car is different to that of a traditional IC engine car. IC engine car makes a lot of noise while electric car makes less noise but it is a more irritating noise. It is not very pleasant to the ears. It’s a very high frequency noise. If someone stands next to the car, obviously they won’t like the noise.

So what are we doing on that front? So we are able to understand what kind of electromagnetic forces are generated from the motor and how it is translated onto the structure and in return what kind of noises are generated. We can predict that and we can optimize that and we can fix that problem using our tools.

The third area is the battery. Manufacturers have to make sure the battery doesn’t get heated up effective thermal management system for cooling the battery is of paramount importance. Altair provides simulation tools which can help understand how to design an efficient thermal management system in order to make sure batteries don’t heat up. Another area related to battery is its placement - If the battery is packaged on the floor of the car, there is a possibility of the battery coming in contact with for eg a road bump or any obstacle given the kind of roads we drive these vehicles on and if there is an impact there is a possibility of an explosion. Our technology helps design and safe and efficient enclosures for the battery packs.


So for an electric two-wheeler manufacturer, what kind of assistance Altair provides to them?

Of course, we provide them our technology and know-how on deploying simulation to solve engineering problems. If companies want to attempt a new kind of simulation, we assist them in developing methods to do so. In addition to the tech that we offer, we also have a strong consulting practice. On the consulting side, we have people who are experts in various areas, who understand automobiles very well. Moreover, we have people who understand the use of simulation tools very well. With a combination of these two, we’re able to come up with processes and methods which can be deployed by our customers to carry out their work. So we are engaged in similar discussions with almost every other vehicle manufacturer, not only in India but in many parts of the world.


Can you name what all companies are you working with at present?

We are working with Mahindra, Tata Motors, Maruti, General Motors, Daimler, Hyundai. Almost every automotive company in the world uses Altair softwares. I don’t know of any OEM that doesn’t use our software. That is the level of presence we have in the automobile industry. We work with everybody in various capacities. In smaller, newer companies probably come to us for consulting work because they are still evolving their processes. The larger companies where the processes are better evolved come to us for technology. So that’s the way we work. We work in different capacities with more or less every company.


Any developments by Altair India when it comes to the logistics sector?

If you say logistics, then we work with all the truck companies. People who make trucks, the carriers, the trailers. We work with all of them again with helping them engineer better products, make their products lighter, powerful. So power-to-weight ratio is one critical thing that most truck companies look for you know. I want my product to be as light as possible but I want it to carry the maximum amount of load. So, we work on helping truck manufacturers reduce weight and improve the performance of the vehicle.


In India, what are the major market challenges that you see?

In my opinion, India is one of the fastest growing markets, especially on the engineering side. In every aspect of engineering, India is growing really fast. The consumption is going to be very high. And India will become one of the largest, it is already in the top five, potentially it will become in the top three markets for passenger cars. The way people have been designing products in a certain way and now if they have to introduce simulation at various levels of the development process it takes a shift in their process itself. The challenge that we as a company face is how do we influence our customers to use more simulation not just for validation but for conceptualization stage going all the way up to products which are running on the field. When I say on the field, I mean in service. I would say that’s a huge opportunity and a challenge.

It’s an opportunity because it gives us a chance to expand beyond our current market. It’s a challenge because it requires a change in mindset. So the change in mindset and they have an established practice and an established practice for designing products and we feel that the practice and the process is going to change really fast. Because the demand from the product is really changing. Competition is becoming cut throat. You have to launch products very fast which would mean that you have to make primary changes to the way you have structured your process. So there is a pressure from the market side. We also have to push our customers to do it. It requires people to reskill, it requires people to learn new things. It requires people to modify existing processes. So those are the challenges and availability of data is another problem. If you want to spread the usage of simulation to many newer areas availability of data is a problem. Availability of data and availability of correct data is a problem. Correct data is very critical to creating the right simulations.


What are Altair’s expansion plans for the future, especially in North India?

In north India, today we have about 15 people. Country wide, we have about 600 - 650 people. The primary reason we have an office here in North India is to be closer to our customers. The office that we have in delhi is primarily to support our customers around this region. So we have 15 people right now in delhi. We will add more people going forward. We are looking at some acquisitions. At this point of time our largest presence is in Bangalore. Because that’s where all the development activities and all the R&D activities are happening. Delhi team is mostly to support and train customers locally in this area.


Would you like to talk about products and developments in the field of auto or e-mobility? Any major product you are working on currently?

We are working on primarily a new architecture. We are coming up with new body architecture for EVs. That’s a major opportunity for us. We have been doing this globally very very successfully. We have done this with companies like Ferrari, Daimler, Jaguar and Land Rover, Audi. Similarly we are engaged with Indian customers as well from Altair India.


What would be the key focus of the new architecture?

Typically, it would be everything. People think that an electric vehicle should be lighter than a gasoline vehicle because you have a huge engine in the front. But actually electric vehicle is heavier because of the battery pack. The battery adds a lot of weight. So reducing weight is very, very critical especially for EVs. Because once you charge it, you can run out of charge anytime. The higher the range you provide the more saleable the range in the market. So if you want to provide a higher range there are two aspects to it.

The structural design has to be highly, highly efficient, which means it has to be very low on weight. One has to create the lowest lightest possible design in terms of weight. That’s one part of it. The second part is the external aerodynamics aspect. So if you have a car which is poorly designed from an aerodynamics standpoint then it is not very efficient in the way that it performs. It takes more energy for the car to move. These two things will decide how much better the range of the vehicle is going to be given the same battery capacity. That is the most important thing.


Would you like to talk about trends in simulation engineering in India?

One of the biggest trends and Altair is setting the trend on this is to go into meshless simulation. As I said, every time you have to go in to do a simulation, you have to create a finite mesh which is basically breaking down a bigger part in to smaller parts. With the acquisition of SimSolid, the biggest thing that I see is going to revolutionise the way people see simulation is to go meshless. If you look at any simulation process, 80 percent of the time is spent on creating the model. Which is basically a lot of meshing and connections and material assignment. The remaining 20 per cent is spent on looking at the results. We’re trying to take away the 80 percent and make it absolutely minimalistic. That’s a big trend that’s coming. The other big trend is to apply Machine learning on simulation & test data. These are the two areas where we see big shifts happening.


What do you think about the 2032 EV mission? Do you think that its realistic deadline?

I am not sure because I have my own doubts on that. I think moving to EV by 2032 is going to be very difficult because of the availability of the whole infrastructure that is required to run the EV. The charging stations, and battery technology really needs to improve if we have to move to all-electric. Considering most of the vehicles on the roads have a range of not more than 150 -200 kms. Of course, some of the vehicles in the US have a larger range about 300 kms and without having much of a charging infrastructure its not going to be possible. The biggest change that needs to happen is the charging infrastructure. That is going to influence and also the cost aspect. If you look at the electric vehicle it is probably more expensive. 1.5 times the cost of a normal car. Given a choice, anyone would want to go toward a traditional gasoline engine or diesel engine rather than EV. And you have this range anxiety all the time – is my car going to run out of charge and when is it going to stop and where do I find my charging point.

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