Proprietary Code or Off-the-Shelf?

Phil Kinnane November 27, 2012
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Many of the engineers and scientists that we collaborate with have been in the game for years. All of them are great experts in the applications that they want to model, and many of them are also proficient at computer science — it was not unusual that the first model or simulation of their application was a few lines of code they wrote themselves. Moreover, in a number of situations I’ve come across their application has been so specific that they’ve been forced to write code, as none of the commercial simulation packages available at the time have been able to handle the uniqueness of their application. But as commercial software has become more sophisticated and flexible, such as COMSOL Multiphysics’ ability for you to enter your own equations, this need is diminishing. So which is better? Proprietary code or off-the-shelf? And should you migrate your old proprietary code to a commercial package?

One of the stories from the latest COMSOL News touches on this point. Dr. Ian Taylor of Shell Global Solutions UKis conducting research to optimize lubricants. A problem exists in creating a balance between energy efficient lubricants that decrease friction, and the higher wear created by the thinner oil film resulting from using the low-friction lubricant. There are also many points of lubricated contacts with extremely high pressure, which increases the viscosity of the lubricant and causes the metal surface to deform elastically. Strangely enough, this leads to a promotion of the lubrication.

Due to the coupling between the Reynold’s equation and structural mechanics, as well as the fact that this had to be done between spatial dimensions, Dr. Taylor had been writing his own propriety code. Yet, COMSOL Multiphysics has now allowed Dr. Taylor to develop his models without resorting to this, which has made model set-up more interactive and intuitive, and simplified maintaining and modifying his models for other applications. You can access the full story on page 48 of COMSOL News 2012 as well as see a presentation by Dr. Tayloron the subject.

Looking to the future, Dr. Taylor expects to be using COMSOL Multiphysics even more. The modeling of grease lubricated contacts is now an active area of research for many companies, including Shell. Since grease is a viscoelastic material, and not a liquid lubricant, the proprietary code cannot be used. However, COMSOL’s ability to modify material properties with ease allows it to solve for these models.

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