I have to thank my friend John Wass, an editor from Scientific Computing magazine who began a recent article with the clear warning “Attention Engineers! The developers at Maplesoft rarely sit still for very long.” This was a comment on the thrilling speed that enhancements are flowing from the MapleSim pipeline. Although his quote refers to a MapleSim 3 article he wrote, I chuckled as the sentiment still rings true as my colleagues and I catch our breaths after the recent release of MapleSim 4. Yes, the engineering community has definitely taken notice that MapleSim, in such a short amount of time, is already making a big difference in the way we do and think about modeling.
MapleSim 4, in particular, is really tickling my fancy for many reasons. The most notable new feature is the 3D model construction tool. This particular feature is absolutely unique and I think it’ll be a very useful tool as is, today, but more importantly, it points at a future direction where the world of 3D solids-based modeling seamlessly interacts with the schematic or 1D view of modeling. MapleSim, since release 2, has introduced ground-breaking tools for 3D visualization already, but with MapleSim 4, you get complete bi-directional interchange of modeling frameworks that can adjust to any situation. So if you’re beginning the assembly of a complex multibody system, you can work in the intuitive comfort of the 3D environment and then switch to the 1D view when it comes time to hook in a hydraulic actuator or loop in a feedback control scheme.
Looking further down the road, however, the implications are nothing short of profound. Today, in spite of the fact that we have access to countless powerful software tools, engineers continue to struggle to establish a smooth workflow from beginning to end in their project. In a perfect world, a CAD drawing would seamlessly transfer to a great, system-level simulation program to get a sense of the joint forces or macroscopic dynamics, and if needed, to call in the right meshing and FEM solution tools to resolve the internal stresses and strains. All this would happen in a single cohesive workflow.
Unfortunately, the world of engineering computing is not quite perfect yet and we continue to invest the time to bring these worlds together. MapleSim 4, I think, is a wonderful example of solid progress in this light. At its simplest level, it clearly illustrates the value of the synergy between 3D and 1D representations and highlights the respective strengths. Ultimately, MapleSim is still a lumped parameter system and has a fundamentally different mathematical worldview than its cousins in the conventional 3D fields (CAD, FEM, solid modeling) but the appropriate introduction of some key 3D techniques into the MapleSim framework is definitely going to help a lot of people, I think.
In addition to the 3D construction features, MapleSim 4 offers a whole load of new tools and conveniences that will continue to make the modeling experience more efficient and productive ... but I find the 3D stuff a lot more interesting to write about ;-) . It really is one of those things that make you pause, think, and maybe even smile. As for the other new features, fortunately, the Maplesoft Web site has all the info you would ever want to know about what’s new in this release.