Opennovation News
Engineering Consulting with Open Source Tools
April, 2008


Opennovation is an engineering consulting firm founded by Adam Powell with a focus on using and helping others to use open source software for design and analysis in engineering disciplines such as mechanics, fluid flow, heat transfer, and chemical reactor design.  Opennovation News is a means of bringing you updates on the company and the broader world of open source software for engineering.

Opennovation News is planning approximately one issue per month.  If you would like to receive it via email, please click here or send email to news@opennovation with "subscribe" in the subject.  Contributions and comments are welcome, please send them to news@opennovation.com.

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Integrated Computational Materials Engineering

The U.S. National Academies Committee on Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) released its final report on Wednesday April 23.  ICME is a new paradigm for combining computational materials science at different lengthscales to solve industrial problems.  For example, Ford's Virtual Aluminum Casting effort combines quantum mechanics, dislocation dynamics, structure formation, and macroscopic metal flow and heat transfer to predict the presence of defects and probability of fatigue failure in large castings such as engine blocks.

In addition to the value of this paradigm to industry, ICME is particularly interesting to Opennovation because although proprietary codes dominate industrial simulations of macroscopic processes, several open source codes are best-in-class for quantum mechanics, molecular dynamics, and statistical mechanics calculations, and will likely remain that way due to their copyleft licensing.

Opennovation Principal Adam Powell is a co-author of the National Academies report, and also wrote the Wikipedia article on ICME.

Product focus: OpenCASCADE

OpenCASCADE is a set of software libraries for building professional Computer-Aided Design (CAD) applications.  For example, design software must be able to specify the shape of an object, e.g. 32 feet long by 10 feet wide; display that shape in three dimensions with proper shading for each curved surface; and change the geometry parametrically.  Parametric changes occur a change in one part requires other parts to change as well: for example, adding two inches to the middle of a car requires longer doors, windows, roof, floorpan, fuel line, wires, etc.  CAD software facilitates such changes, and OpenCASCADE provides the subroutines to make that happen in a CAD program.

To demonstrate its versatility, the OpenCASCADE website includes:

  • Advanced shape specification gallery, including intersecting fillets and chamfers, offsets and drafts, and numerous types of drilled holes
  • Six complex shapes generated by OpenCASCADE and stored in its native .brep (boundary representation) ASCII format
  • More then twenty animated demonstrations of OpenCASCADE in action
  • Screenshots of seven different applications which use the OpenCASCADE libraries

In addition to CAD features, OpenCASCADE also provides some meshing capability for finite element analysis (FEA). Its visualization engine can display contour surfaces and streamlines based on output of FEA simulations. And it comes with more than thirty example codes from which one can build new applications.

OpenCASCADE began in 1993 as the proprietary CAS.CADE (Computer Aided Software for Computer Aided Design and Engineering) product of Matra Datavision, on which that company built its industry-leading CAD/CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) product called EUCLID. In 1998, Matra changed its business model to services, and in 1999 published CAS.CADE as the open source product OpenCASCADE. A year later Matra spun off OpenCASCADE S.A.S. as a new company focused on support for this open source product. This history makes for an interesting case study of opening the source code of a once proprietary product in order to expand market share and build a flourishing consulting business.

Babel returns to Debian

Computer programmers write programs in a variety of languages, such as FORTRAN, C/C++, Java and Python.  Though the multitude of such languages provides great flexibility to choose the best one for a given task, it is difficult for programs written in different languages to communicate, just as it is difficult for people to communicate who speak different languages.

Babel (pronounced "babble") is a software tool written at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories to help scientific programs written in different languages talk to each other.  For example, a weather prediction program written in Java can use Babel to call subroutines in a cloud prediction library written in FORTRAN (77 or 90) and an ocean water evaporation library written in C++.  Because it is geared toward scientific programs, Babel and its Scientific Interface Definition Language (SIDL) facilitate the transfer of data structures such as multi-dimensional arrays while preserving each language's unique ways of working with such structures.

Opennovation Principal Adam Powell recently updated and re-introduced a package for Babel into the Debian GNU/Linux package archive.  On April 14, the Debian administrators completed their review and accepted the package, making it easily available to users of Debian and its derivatives (such as Ubuntu Linspire, Xandros and Linux Mint).

Already the hypre suite of high-performance linear equation system preconditioners and solvers uses Babel (and its Debian package will use it soon), and the roadmap of the Ternary open source thermodynamics software (described in last month's Opennovation News) calls for using it for language interoperability as well.

Updates to Opennovation.org

The Opennovation.org website has had a face-lift, and added new content.  The new look of the site front page uses tables to provide considerably more information about open source engineering software than the old lists, and with better readability.  The product profiles which have been part of Opennovation News now have their own web pages, and there is a News section with single stories updated more frequently than this email.  Because of the complexity of licensing in large open source software suites, there is also a new software copyright/licensing audits page whose first entries center around Powell's current and future Debian packages.

Copyright and license information is now present on every page of the site.  Feel free to redistribute its content, subject to the licenses mentioned on each page.  And Opennovation.org welcomes new contributions (such as open source product profiles), send them to apowell@opennovation.org, and you may keep the copyright as long as your licensing terms qualify as free software.

Future plans include separate tables for different classes of software with feature comparisons, e.g. mesh refinement techniques and solver types in finite element analysis (FEA) software.  The company website Opennovation.com will see updates next month.

Ubuntu Linux 8.04 LTS "Hardy Heron"

On Thursday May 24, Canonical released Ubuntu Linux version 8.04 LTS, code-named "Hardy Heron".  Though Ubuntu releases new versions approximately every six months (8.04 stands for April 2008, 8.10 will be released this October, etc.), the long-term service (LTS) releases come only every two years, and with three years of security support, they emphasize stability and quality over new features.

Walk For Hunger Sunday May 4

Every year, about 50,000 Boston area residents come out for the Walk for Hunger fundraiser for Project Bread.  The walk's 20-mile route starts at the Boston Common, heads straight out Beacon St. past Boston University and Boston College into Newton Center, then returns along the beautiful Charles River past Harvard and MIT to Boston.  This year the walk will take place on Sunday May 4.  Opennovation is happy to sponsor walkers, and Adam Powell is walking and welcomes sponsors as well (though with twin goddaughters in tow, will probably only go about five miles).  Write to Adam if you're interested.