SciArt Software helps companies get rid of unwanted weight

The Madison-based startup provides software that allows design engineers to simulate different product designs before they’re ever made to reduce weight and part counts, which saves companies time, money, and raw materials.

There are a lot of cool things happening around Greater Madison — innovative local companies are breaking new ground every day — but few have as much potential to reshape a multitude of industries as SciArt Software.

Simply put, the Madison-based startup company’s software provides a new analysis and optimization tool to generate options for design engineers who are looking to explore the design space while reducing weight and part count. SciArt Software sells to companies that are under pressure to lower the weight of their products while meeting strength, stiffness, and part-fatigue requirements: these include companies in the aerospace, automotive, defense, handheld tools, and performance vehicle industries. Reducing the weight of the average car by 100 pounds improves automobile miles per gallon by about 1 percent, and new, lighter cargo carriers saved United Airlines $1.4 million annually.

Helping spur these kinds of innovations was enough to recently land SciArt $530,000 in seed funding from the Idea Fund of La Crosse.

The idea for Pareto, SciArt Software’s proprietary analysis and optimization engine, emerged from over 10 years of consulting and research, during which Chief Science Officer Krishnan Suresh encountered several deficiencies with current design optimization methods. “The slow nature of current methods translates into longer product development cycles, and increased product cost,” says Suresh. “Based on our research, I knew we could develop a radically different, and significantly better method.”

The kernel for the SciArt Software product is licensed from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). SciArt built several computer-aided design (CAD) plug-in tools so design engineers can explore the design space within the framework of their existing CAD application, which gives customers the ability to control all aspects of their design process and expands simulation tools beyond the specialized analysis team.

New CEO joins team

Following a national search, Karen Caswelch joined the company in August as CEO. Caswelch brings 10 years of experience in the C-suite of four technology startup companies after retiring from a 24-year, award-winning career at General Motors. She has a mechanical engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Explaining how SciArt’s Pareto system works, Caswelch says users set up a design space with known loading scenarios, and then add their own manufacturing process or geometric constraints. They can do that using any one of the SciArt Pareto suite of products. It could be a CAD-integrated solution, which means the engineers don’t have to leave their design environment, or they can use CAD agnostic tools, which add a step of importing design space over the CAD-integrated solutions.

“Once the problem is set up, a single click will assign the job to the Pareto engine,” notes Caswelch. “This is where the magic happens. Pareto will start analyzing and optimizing material removal based on all of the constraints. The material is removed step by step, each step providing a viable solution that will meet all the requirements identified in the problem set up — all the way to the lightest possible weight.

“At the end of a single run, Pareto will provide anywhere between eight to 15 viable solutions that all meet the constraints with different outcomes of strength and stiffness. Our customers can then choose which designs make the most sense moving forward for part consolidation or straight-up manufacturing and testing.”

Computer-aided engineering, or simulation, is becoming more and more important, according to Caswelch, because companies realize that if they simulate and solve potential failures up front, it is significantly less expensive than fixing the problems when they are in the field.

However, the issue with expanding CAE is that the current practitioners are of retirement age and typically the analysts have advanced degrees — master’s level at the very least. SciArt has streamlined the process to allow design engineers the ability to explore the design space while applying simple and easy analysis tools, freeing time for the analysts to be able to conduct more complex simulations and minimizing iterations between the design group and the analysis group because the initial designs are closer to the requirements.

“When you can minimize the number of prototype rounds, you will save money and the environment,” explains Caswelch. “If you were able to run enough simulations, you might be able to run a fleet of 10–20 prototype vehicles vs. 30–50 prototype vehicles. Additionally, the cost of failure in the field leads to additional costs — building and validation of the replacement products, transportation to replace products, and the replacement of products, all of which will impact the environment due to wasted energy and materials.”

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Losing weight

Weight reduction is a key initiative in many product verticals, notes Caswelch. “Any time you are moving something, you are using energy. Reducing the amount of energy that is required to move that product is a competitive advantage.”

Here are some facts to consider:

  1. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that 100 pounds of weight reduction of a vehicle can lead to 1–2 percent improvement in MPG.
  2. The Department of Defense has to manage an extremely complex logistics chain to ensure fuel reaches forward operations.
  3. Airlines are very focused on weight reduction, with a reduction of 1,000 pounds leading to 1 percent reduction in fuel cost.
  4. Race car teams are all focused on taking fractions of pounds from their chassis so that their engine power is translated more toward speed.

“All of these things point toward an inherent need to reduce weight for increased fuel efficiency,” Caswelch says. “In addition to moving products, any product that is held by a consumer, such as hand-held tools, is a candidate for weight reduction, which can have an additive effect. Imagine a drill: if the rotating parts are lighter, then the motor can potentially be lighter and the housing could be lighter. If you are the handyman who is using this drill to build a play set for your children, your arms and wrists will be more comfortable by the time the set is built because the drill is lighter.”

SciArt’s client list already extends across the globe, but the company also has more home-grown customers in Madison and Milwaukee that leverages its software for weight-reduction initiatives. According to Caswelch, one typical local company had the following case study. “They wanted lower mass. The product runs between 100 rpm and 3,500 rpm. It could be lighter for the customer to hold and give the assembly longer longevity. After their analysis, they saved 20–60 percent of mass of individual parts within the same family and saved 50–60 percent of typical time to redesign the family of parts.

While there are other companies in the generative design field, Caswelch notes all of them use the same underlying technology to solve the problem. SciArt Software’s technology solves the same problems significantly faster. As a result, there is a potential for offshoot companies to create additional solutions using the same underlying engine. “We are evaluating a handful of options to license the technology to other users for potential research opportunities, which could expand our reach.

“Our vision is to transform the way design engineers operate,” Caswelch adds. “Rather than design, analyze, and iterate, the software will do these three elements early in the process so the design engineer can explore options and make tradeoffs before ever handing a preliminary design over for simulation.”

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