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The Connector, the newsletter for CFD Mesh Generation from Pointwise

September / October 2012

Interface With the World Using Pointwise CAE Plugins

The Select CAE Solver panel in Pointwise

Figure 1: The Pointwise CAE, Select Solver panel

Pointwise makes beautiful grids, but no one makes grids just for art's sake. Pointwise only fills an intermediate step in the analysis process. In order to be useful, grids must be exported to some other analysis software, requiring the grid and boundary condition zone information to be arranged and formatted into the form that other software can read.

Each computer-aided engineering (CAE) program has its own unique file format. Some use structured grids and some use unstructured grids. Some like to use cell faces as their basic data type and others like to use cell volumes or nodes. Some put all their data into a single file and some want separate files for nodes, face, cells, and boundary conditions. Pointwise currently exports 47 different CAE file formats and a variety of neutral file formats. As you can imagine, it is a big job to keep all of those exporters up-to-date and working properly as we make changes to Pointwise and CAE software developers make changes to their own programs. You also can guess that those 47 CAE formats are not the only ones out there, and we continually get requests to support additional file formats.

This is where CAE plugins come in. They let you add a CAE exporter to Pointwise that writes grid and boundary condition information to whatever format you want. Since they are plugins, you can place your completed CAE exporter in Pointwise's plugin folder, and it will be loaded automatically when Pointwise starts up. The name of your CAE software will show up as a selection in the CAE, Select Solver panel, (shown in Figure 1) and your available boundary condition types will show up in the CAE, Set Boundary Conditions panel. When the grid is exported using the File, Export, CAE menu, it will be written in the native format defined by your plugin.

Plugins are useful if you have a proprietary file format you do not wish to share with the general public. Only share the plugin with users you want to have access, and they will be the only ones who can use it. Plugins also are useful if you are a developer with your own CAE program with its own format. You can use Pointwise to write your native files. And if you want other people to be able to write files for your software, you can distribute the plugin as widely as you want. You can even send it to us at Pointwise, and we will include it in the standard Pointwise distribution that goes to all our customers.

Here is Trent Lukaczyk, from the Stanford University Unstructured (SU2) team describing their experience in developing a Pointwise plugin for the SU2 open-source analysis code framework. (See su2.stanford.edu for more information on SU2.)

We used the Pointwise Plugin SDK to write meshes for our open source analysis and design framework, SU^2 (Stanford University Unstructured). Right out of the box, it was very clear how to use the SDK because of its simple but powerful structure and a helpful set of example plugins.

The make utilities they built for OS X and Linux, and the Visual Studio solution files they include for Windows made the building and debugging process quite simple, which was especially important since our software is actively used on all three platforms. The SDK has allowed us to seamlessly leverage Pointwise's ability to make large hybrid unstructured meshes. This has been vital for our analysis and design of, for example, supersonic aircraft that need fine tetrahedral on the body and long hexahedra stretched far away from the aircraft, or rotorcraft problems that require a sliding mesh interface.

Finally, the staff at Pointwise was extremely supportive throughout the entire build process. They were even kind enough to include our plugin in their next distribution!

How Does it Work?

Developing a plugin is not for everyone. You will need some programming skills and a development environment on your computer. If that sounds like you, the following paragraphs outline how to get started with developing your own plugin. If that does NOT sound like you, you will need to work with a software developer or someone at Pointwise to get the plugin developed.

You will find an overview of the plugin development process in Appendix II of the Pointwise User Manual. If you have Pointwise installed already, you can get to the user manual through the Help, User Manual menu entry. This will give you an overview of the plugin development process, tell you where to download the Pointwise CAE Plugin SDK (Software Development Kit), and walk you through an example plugin setup.

The programmer's reference documentation for plugin development is available on the Pointwise web site at www.pointwise.com/plugins. This location provides a reference of the data types and functions available to the plugin developer, tells you how to download the plugin SDK, and how to get started with your own plugin development.

Finally, if you want to get a more in-depth description of the Pointwise CAE Plugin Application Programming Interface (API), you might want to review a couple of posts on the Pointwise blog, Another Fine Mesh, by one of our developers, David Garlisch:

In these two blog posts, Mr. Garlisch gives a behind the scenes view of the plugin API, explains some of the terminology in more depth, and points out some of the details you will need to consider in developing plugins for both unstructured and structured grids.

Interoperability Is Where It's At

Yes, some of us at Pointwise appreciate grids for their own innate characteristics, but our clients told us long ago that one of the things they like best about our software is that it fits well into their company's analysis process. We don't try to force you to do things our way. Pointwise reads and writes a great variety of geometry and grid formats, so you can import files from your other design and analysis tools and export to whatever software you use for the next step in the process.

Pointwise CAE plugins are an important part of this versatility since they make it easier to support a limitless number of CAE export formats. You can have access to your own format more quickly than otherwise, and you can even add exclusive export formats that only a limited number of users can access. It's just one more way we try to make Pointwise work better in your design and analysis process.


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