Open source code accelerates product development

Open source code accelerates product development

Maria Virkkula

Some fifty attendees, broadly representing the leading edge of research and development in the Finnish electromechanical industry, gathered in Espoo. Held in May at Aalto University, the final seminar of the SEMTEC project presented the project results achieved over the past couple years, such as faster, more user-friendly and more accurate simulation models for research and industry.

Several of the presentations shared a common denominator: the Elmer tool, which is an open source multiphysical simulation software developed primarily by CSC. The expertise gained during the project was distilled into new features for Elmer.

Relying on heavy parallel computing, the software and its numerous modules can be used to tackle an wide range of problems in computational engineering and science. Companies designing electromechanical equipment, such as electric motors, generators or transformers, can use modelling to, for example, accelerate product development and lower costs.

– SEMTEC has led to close and symbiotic cooperation between industrial enterprises, research institutes and universities. Open source code means that new models developed by researchers can be tested immediately in the industry's own design systems.  The project has enabled the creation of new, world-class modelling toolchain, which we have already been using to win major deals, says Eelis Takala, Lead Research Specialist at Trafotek.




New application area through genuine co-operation

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, CSC, three universities and seven electromechanical industry companies participated in the project. A veteran of numerous projects, CSC's Peter Råback, Product Manager of the Elmer software, feels that the work now coming to a close was one of the most successful efforts he has been involved with.




"Only genuine cooperation enabled the development of software for a new application area so quickly."




Development was carried out independently and actively, also outside CSC. Each partner had a clearly-defined role as well as extensive expertise in their respective fields.

– It was truly gratifying to see how committed the project partners were in development and implementation of the software. Only genuine cooperation enabled the development of software for a new application area so quickly, says Råback.


High performance computing now available for rotating machines

Elmer software, based on the finite element method (FEM), is typically used in, for example, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), structural mechanics, electromagnetics, heat transfer and acoustics. The project made it possible to also apply the high performance computing offered by Elmer to rotating, electromechanical machines, which was previously difficult. The impact of this can be seen in computation times, thus accelerating company product development cycles.

At project participant Sulzer Pumps Finland, models were used for the cost-effective solving of computationally heavy problems. ABB, which has long been involved with the software, uses it in its research, product development and sales.

– I would say that all the different physics which Elmer can compute and are somehow related to electric motors are already in use at ABB. For us, it is important that the Elmer community has grown and there is a strong foundation for further development of the software, explains Jan Westerlund, Research and Development Manager at ABB.

– Traditionally, electric machines are modelled in 2D, but, thanks to such smooth parallel computing, the precise simulations done in 3D are now also possible with Elmer, explains Project Manager Janne Keränen of VTT. The project co-ordinator, VTT, possesses years of expertise in industrial co-operation. According to Keränen, companies operating in the electromechanical industry particularly benefit from product development augmented by modelling.

– Electromechanical devices are not usually mass produced – each product is designed separately. Accelerating product development will considerably shorten delivery times and offer Finnish companies a major competitive edge, he states.


Research results now available for immediate industrial use

Elmer's recent breakthrough and gaining the interest of industrial companies are the result of hard work and a high level of flexibility.

– Industrial companies are interested because we are competitive enough on the global stage. On this kind of playing field, you have to earn your spot, says Råback.



"Industrial companies are interested because we are competitive enough on the global stage. On this kind of playing field, you have to earn your spot."

This requires agile software development, according to needs. The nimble, adaptive software cannot necessarily be used to, for example, design an ice arena, as its development does not follow strictly defined ISO standards required in such work. However, the aim of achieving a high-quality and constantly-developing end result does guarantee that it will find many uses in more research-intensive industrial problems.

Common version control ensures that everyone will be using the most recent version of the software. Thanks to the open source code, new models developed by researchers are now available for immediate industrial use.

– Without it, the process could take years.

The work goes on

The Tekes-funded group project offers a host of new opportunities for all the partners involved. If Elmer is used as part of university studies, it will provide a steady stream of new experts for industry and the research results can be rapidly productised for use by the entire Elmer community. For example, the software is already being included in student works at Aalto University.

– A large number of computation methods are developed at universities, but they often end up hidden away on the hard drives of researchers. Now that Elmer is up and running, all the methods we come up with can be immediately implemented and made available to industry. The software also offers new challenges, which are attracting the interest of researchers. Thanks to its usability, Elmer has also been put to use in student projects and thesis work, says Professor Anouar Belahcen of Aalto University.

The need for tools like Elmer will continue to grow, also in the business sector. Solutions that evolve with the times require co-operation across organisational boundaries, active discussion and the sharing of knowledge and expertise. Many of the publications and results produced during the project are, indeed, openly available to everyone.

Even though this part of the project will be ending in a month, development of the software will go on.

– For us, SEMTEC has been a crucial tool for co-operating and maintaining a dialogue with Finnish industrial companies. We are constantly learning more about the needs of industry and gaining inspiration for our software development, while being able to provide the benefits offered by parallel computing and our own expertise, says Director Pekka Uusitalo of CSC.

There are still some unanswered questions and code to develop. Råback reiterates that, if this were easy, the problems would have been solved already.

– Even though it wasn't possible to fix every single thing in two years and we still have a wide range of questions to answer, we are still more than happy to keep working on this. The importance of parallel computing will continue to grow as number of computational cores in CPUs increases. This leads us to believe that long and fruitful co-operation lies ahead, says Råback.




  • The SEMTEC project began in February 2015 and ended in June 2017
  • Project participants: CSC – IT Centre for Science, ABB, Kone, Konecranes Global, Trafotek, Sulzer Pumps Finland, Ingersoll-Rand Finland, Skanveir, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto Univeristy, Lappeenranta University of Technology and Tampere University of Technology
  • The SEMTEC project was funded by Tekes and the companies and research institutes participating in the project
  • VTT was responsible for co-ordination of the project



Further information:

About the project




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