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When Should I Upgrade My Analysis Software?

ANSYS 18 CFD FEA Software Help | FEA Consultant
March 15, 2017 By: Peter Barrett

Once or twice a year, users of commercial FEA and CFD software are provided with a link to download the new release of their software. As an ANSYS channel partner, our customers often ask us the following question: “What is the ideal time to upgrade to the latest and greatest capabilities?” In 25 years of supporting customers, I find that our users typically fall into the following three categories:

  • Early adopters – These engineers download and install the latest version the day it comes out and are eager to use the latest features.
  • “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” – These users only upgrade when they are forced to upgrade because their favorite release will no longer run often because the operating system has been discontinued.  I had users that upgraded to ANSYS 5.6 only because the year 2000 caused the eight-year-old ANSYS 4.4a to only run with a reset computer clock.
  • Wait for the Point Release – These customers wait for the first error correction release before installing the new software.  They want to let others test the latest and greatest before making the transition.

While all three options described have some merit, not taking advantage of the latest software capabilities often results in a significant waste of engineering resources, as the full power of your software application is not being leveraged.  To make the upgrade process a little easier, here are some rules of thumb on how best to upgrade:

Install the latest version ASAP, but keep at least a couple older versions installed as well.

  • I would always recommend keeping at least 2 versions of your software available at any time. For most programs, such as ANSYS, there are no limits to the number of versions that you can have installed on your machine.  Licensing software checks only for concurrent licenses in use. There is no penalty (other than disk space) for keeping multiple versions of your software installed. The latest license manager will allow access to older software versions but not vice-versa.
  • Be aware that most software is upwardly but not downwardly compatible. For example, you can import your ANSYS 16 model into ANSYS 17 or 18, but you cannot easily convert the V18 model back to V17. If you work as part of a team in a shared file environment, it is critical that all users choose a standard release for file sharing. I would recommend when installing the new version, to allocate time for testing new features and comparing solution times in the first couple months. Having multiple versions of the software on the same hardware makes for efficient apples-to-apples speed comparisons.
  • Don’t change versions in the middle of a project or when under pressure to meet deadlines. It is much better to use the latest release on new projects, where new features such as a new meshing scheme can be tested.

Check your CAD connection software.

  • If you are using a bi-directional CAD interface, make sure that if you upgrade either your CAD or FEA tool, that they remain compatible. The compatibility usually is limited to a couple releases, where the FEA tool typically lags the CAD software by about 6 months.
  • If your CAD and FEA release are not compatible for bi-directional geometry transfer, one can typically still import models using a ParaSolids or Step exported file approach.

Check with your QA department schedule.

  • For nuclear and biomedical applications in particular, there is often the need for a formal verification to be performed on the in-house installation prior to using new software on production work. Check with you QA department and/or software vendor for the scheduled release.
  • Often, if the new features are a big time saver for the analyst, exceptions to the formal process can be made through the running of a small set of validation test cases to expedite the software acceptance, as long as these meet internal QA protocol.

How do I obtain training to efficiently implement new features?

  • Release notes in the software help (See Figure 1, above, for example), in-person seminars or webinars are all good places to look for details on software improvements. In addition, there are often improvements that are not always documented. For example, I’ve seen solutions run significantly faster in the new release without any model changes  I would always recommend running some challenging problems you have already solved using a previous release in the latest version and compare solutions.  Often, you will be pleasantly surprised by the better mesh, better convergence and/or faster solutions.
  • Make time to review improvements in process. Although the existing simulation procedure you are implementing might still work in the latest software release, there are often new features that might make a different approach much more appealing.  For example, CAE Associates still has customers that use the ANSYS “Classic” mesher even though the Workbench tool is much faster, more efficient and more robust.

What software version will give me the best technical support?

  • Technical support engineers are often testing new releases, even in Beta form prior to the formal release. We are all well versed in the latest versions of the software and can help the transition process.
  • When we provide customers with test cases, we prefer to use the latest release of the software. It is much more efficient for everyone to leverage the latest capability rather than trying to find a workaround in an old release that will never be as good as just using the latest release.

I am worried about the bugs in the latest version.

  • With each new release of any software there is the remote chance that it may add new errors that might impact your work, however, it is also correcting errors, which in some cases, you were not even aware of.
  • Rerunning a suite of common problems in the new release will provide confidence in the new software release.

What is your philosophy on installing the latest version of your FEA or CFD software?  I welcome the recommendations of others on this subject!