MapleSim 3 computational software lets users model electromechanical-thermal systems by dragging and dropping objects from a comprehensive library of several hundred predefined components and connecting them together.

The components include many object types. For example, a motor/gearbox can have capacitance, inductance, inertia, backlash, and thermal properties. In addition, users can determine mechanical properties such as moments of inertia and center of gravity directly from linked Autodesk Inventor, Dassault SolidWorks, or Siemens NX parametric models. Users can even apply digital probes to see what is happening at specific locations in the design.

When you run a simulation of your design, MapleSim 3 feeds everything to the necessary companion Maple 13 computational engine. It derives equations, simplifies them by as much as 90%, and returns probe results as graphical plots. It is easy to change input parameters and rerun a simulation for different what-if scenarios.

To make design even easier, users can work “backwards.” They can define a needed output and the software will adjust and optimize the input parameters to generate the required output.

Also helpful are the 3D visualization and animation capabilities. Initially, the software represents physical links as ball-and-stick connections that users can see from a variety of orthogonal and pictorial directions. A nifty part about the 3D animation is that users are not stuck with the generic representations. They can attach any standard .STL model file, which almost any 3D CAD program can make. Animations then run as “anatomically correct” representations of the model.

In addition, animation comes with a full complement of VCR controls. So it is unnecessary to run an analysis again to replay, pause, rewind, or play it backwards, or use a slider bar to go to a specific frame. Users can vary fast-forward and backward speeds by more than 2 billion to one . There are also camera controls for panning and zooming. By default, the camera shows a static overall view, but users can direct it to track specific points of interest.

The software also lets users group basic objects such as sliders, springs, links, dashpots, and bearings into a single block element that can be reused in the current design or exported and used in another, similar design. This makes it easy, for example, to turn a model of a single crankshaft throw, connecting rod, and piston into a multicylinder engine. And altering a basic parameter changes all instances, so all the pistons in the engine will always have the same mass.

Version 3 also features significant changes to the Results Manager. For instance, each time a simulation is run, the results are now saved under a unique identifier. This means users can view graphs or replay animations without having to rerun simulations.

The software also lets users compare simulations by viewing them side-by-side or overlaid. Additionally, simulation results can be automatically or manually stored with the basic model file. This makes them accessible for easy comparison and analysis with different versions of MapleSim files, without rerunning simulations.

A minor quibble is that although single frames of an animation can be exported in .PNG format, it is not possible (yet) to capture the total animation in a standard Windows .AVI file. This capability would make it possible to share animations with management, clients, and vendors without them needing MapleSim.

Another improvement: The collection of standard building-block objects now includes a full set of hydraulic components. Also, the existing libraries have been expanded to include more electromechanical and electronic components such as individual transistors and diodes.

Another nifty feature: Hardware in the Loop capabilities. Say, for example, you have an existing machine with a control unit. You might want to redesign the machine or use the same controller on a different machine. MapleSim 3 lets you connect the physical hardware of the existing controller to the new model in your computer and then evaluate how things are going to perform in real time. This works because third-party interface modules are available that can take output data from the existing controller and feed it into the virtual machine model in MapleSim, which can process it as though the virtual machine really exists. MapleSim can then create results from the virtual machine as if it were a real machine fitted with transducers attached to it measuring things such as pressure, temperature, displacement, velocity, rpm, and so on. The resultant values can then be fed back through the interface module and into the physical controller, forming a partly real, partly virtual, closed-loop control system.

This capability is feasible because MapleSim can simplify the model of the machine by looking for common variable values and results. For example, in studying an electronic stability control for a car, the software reduced over 600,000 functions (such as sines and cosines) to a total of 92. It also slashed 275,000 multiplications to 5,300 and about 97,000 additions and subtractions to about the same number. It thus became possible to do real-time analyses of an existing physical control box connected to a virtual model of a new car because the model simplification performed by MapleSim made it viable for relatively smaller, cheaper computers to keep up with the real-time operation of the virtual car model.

A big plus: The developer has extended its support center to help customers build MapleSim models. Many of the new pre-defined objects, such as the hydraulic components, arose from this program.

Last, but definitely not least, is the addition of the Maple Portal for Engineers. This set of tutorials, templates, tips, tricks, and starting points covers hundreds of common engineering calculations, making it much easier for users to dive in and start doing useful analyses. MapleSim 3 clearly shows that the developer is serious about expanding into the general design arena. The developer has announced its intention to produce a new release twice a year to this end. The software comes from Maplesoft, 615 Kumpf Dr., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2V1K8, (800) 267-6583, www.maplesoft.com.

Bill Fane, registered P.E. and a retired instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Edited by Leslie Gordon