Altair ups the ante in simulation, data analytics for automakers – ET Auto


Altair ups the ante in simulation, data analytics for automakers – ET Auto

Altair’s Technology Innovation Center at Altair’s Pune facility

New Delhi: When Vishwanath Rao tells you that Altair works with “everybody, right from the oldest to the newest and the largest to the smallest automaker in India,” he is not kidding.

The US-headquartered company, with gross revenues of over INR 5,000 crore is a global leader in computational intelligence that provides software and cloud solutions in simulation , high-performance computing, data analytics and AI.

<p>Vishwanath Rao</p>
Vishwanath Rao

Rao, who is MD of Altair India, came onboard back in 1999 when there were just about four employees on its rolls, a number which has since grown to 850 now and could touch 1,000 by the end of this year. “I joined as as a student trainee and went through different roles over the years,” he says.

The new challenges that automakers face in terms of electric, software, autonomous driving etc means that it is a different ballgame today quite unlike the not-so-distant past where the internal combustion engine (ICE) was the sole monarch. Driving around in a car with basic support systems like dealerships and workshops was enough for people to get by earlier. Not any longer.

<p>Amy Messano</p>
Amy Messano

As Amy Messano, Chief Marketing Officer of Altair, says, “Probably one of the most technically hard things to do is to build a car. It does not matter if your cellphone overheats. A car cannot do that when you are going 80 miles an hour down the freeway.” Beyond this, the supply chain is “incredibly complex” and there are a lot of things that consumers do not necessarily see or understand that go into building a car with all of the processors and connectors and wires.

Strong technology

“So from Altair’s perspective, I think we have incredibly strong technology to help in all of those areas. There are different standards for different countries but we have a solution for all of these different areas,” says Messano.
She works out of headquarters in Detroit and the recent India visit had to do with the inaugural of a new facility in Chennai. The video interview is happening jointly with Rao though they are seated in different cities — Pune and Bengaluru respectively.

Rao chips in to add that of the 3,000-odd Altair employees worldwide, India accounts for over 25% which perhaps makes it the second largest region in terms of manpower. “We have about 1,500 customers across the country and of the 850 people we have on our rolls, over 600 are software developers,” he says.

This team works with various competency centres across the world to deliver technologies that Altair’s customers need. The remaining 250 employees essentially address the local business in India. The 1,500-odd customers can be found pretty much in every city, small town and “we have a fairly good presence everywhere by virtue of a combination of direct sales as well as channel partners”.

According to Messano, Altair’s licensing model of software is “very unique”. It is simpler to “think about it like the Netflix of enterprise software where you have units and you take out tokens or units when you are using it and you put them back in and someone else can use it”. A simulation customer can use “whatever is in the portfolio” and has access to play around with the company’s data analytics tools.

<p>Altair's Pune Technology Innovation Center </p>
Altair’s Pune Technology Innovation Center

Same unit pool

For instance, the finance department of a big global automaker can use the same unit pool as the people who are doing the design and simulation. So it becomes “an incredible value” proposition and “we hear all the time from our customers that it is a huge differentiator and massive value”. It is easy to procure, not hard on the budget and also allows customers to experiment and try out different technologies.

In India, Altair has facilities in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune with Chennai being the latest addition. “Chennai is now our centre of excellence for multiphysics. simulation tools development. That footprint is rapidly growing with more and more electronics and electrical stuff coming into mainstream simulation especially in the automotive industry,” says Rao.

Till about a decade ago, people would mostly focus on structural, flow or thermal simulations but all that is now getting integrated with electrical and electronics. “We are beginning to build a lot of tools that can address the requirements of these electronics and electric vehicles out of our office in Chennai,” he adds.

Altair also works extensively with two-wheeler startups in India where it is “not just about selling software” but more about being their mentor and helping them go through the process of developing a product. The company has been associated with brands such as Ather Energy from the time they were in the incubation centre in Chennai.

Ultraviolette is the other startup that it has had a connection with from the time it started operations along with a host of others. “There is so much of innovation happening in the market here with frugal engineering happening at all these startups. So that is where a technology like ours which provides value and flexibility to explore various different types of softwares fits in really well,” elaborates Rao.

Bringing multiple physics together

From Altair’s point of view, it is important to take all these learnings into the software development centre in Chennai. The idea is to understand how customers are going to engineer these products, what kind of processes they need, how should the data flow etc. “How do we bring all of these multiple physics together in order to make it really efficient for these companies to deliver products in the shortest possible time is critical,” he says.

For instance, EV makers need to get a product out in about 12-18 months. “You have to essentially help them with technology that can help them realise some of those goals. Here is where a close collaboration helps us define what the technology of the future is going to be from an electric startup point of view,” explains Rao.

Altair recently developed a technology called Squeak and Rattle Director to help out EV makers who face a problem called BSR (buzz, squeak and rattle). Any small sort of noise gets amplified in an electric vehicle because the engine noise does not exist. “So you have to basically ensure that the vehicle is devoid of all these small, irritating noises that come into play,” he says.

Altair has also developed a digital twin model for state of health and state of charge of an EV battery. The problem is that “you need to actually put expensive sensors on the battery to gather a lot of information to make that assessment”. These sensors operate under very harsh conditions with tremendous heat generated and the chances of their failing are very high.

“Once the sensors fail, you will not be able to get information in terms of state of health or state of charge. So what we are trying to do is using a lot of data from other data points within the vehicle, gathering other information from many other parts and using this to build some predictive models that can actually assess the state of health and state of charge,” explains Rao.

Suppliers to the fore

In today’s changing world, a lot of technology is being pushed down to auto suppliers while manufacturers are moving towards the direction where they will become largely integrators. Consequently, a lot of the electronics technology as well as battery and powertrain will now come from the supplier.

Rao admits that finding the right talent will always remain a challenge and there could be “sudden, high demand for a certain type of skill set”. For example, battery thermal management is a new technology for which any company will need 10,000 engineers in a couple of years. Where can one find such a high number in this tight timeframe?

“Obviously, the quality of manpower will get compromised somewhere but I think the ecosystem is evolving rapidly and companies are working closely with a lot of educational institutions. We are launching a lot of programmes tuned more towards the needs of the industry,” he says.

  • Published On Jun 21, 2024 at 07:43 PM IST

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