COMSOL fills the room. The company’s annual North America conference packs in between 200 to 300 people in Newton, Mass., near Boston. COMSOL holds regional conferences around the world, including one in Bangalore in August. Upcoming conferences will be in Switzerland, Shanghai, Taiwan, Seoul and Tokyo. Conspicuously absent is COMSOL’s birthplace and global HQ, Stockholm, Sweden.
If ever there was a technologically gifted company that needed a sales and marketing boost, it would be COMSOL.
I’m in Boston—again—this time by invitation from COMSOL to attend my first COMSOL user conference. The night before, I had dinner with a Boston-based friend and mentioned the reason I was in town.
“COMSOL who?” he asked. Bostonians are not known for their subtlety. My friend’s whole career has been around design and engineering software.
“COMSOL… They do simulation,” I said. “They have an office nearby [Burlington], and they’ve had their annual conference down the street [Newton] for a couple of years.”
COMSOL CEO Svante Littmarck addresses the multi-discipliniary crowd of mostly engineers but also physicists and chemists. The big news was the COMSOL Compiler and v5.4.
Nope, not ringing any bells. Clearly he has some marketing work to do. Despite a force in the U.S. now equal to its original office in Stockholm, Sweden, and moving its CEO to America, it still lags far behind industry juggernaut ANSYS in revenue, seats and all-around impact and visibility. Both companies do Multiphysics, the term for applying numerical methods to solve a variety of 2D and 3D field problems, from the way molecules behave in a nuclear collider, to blood cells in an artificial heart and to space capsules re-entering Earth’s orbit—physics, chemistry, magnetics, stress, electrodynamics and so on.
Seriously, what can’t COMSOL solve?
“We don’t do crash analysis,” said Bjorn Sjodin, vice president of Product Development, conceding only one discipline to ANSYS.
Otherwise, COMSOL holds its own. ANSYS may be the first simulation company to broach a billion dollars in revenue—they’ve been around longer, Bjorn said—but seem to be neck and neck in technical abilities and scope of solutions.
COMSOL’s advantage, according to Bjorn, is the integrations of solutions. You do fluid flow (CFD) and apply loads to your FEA seamlessly with fluid structure interaction (FSI). The acronyms are in common use in the presentations and hallways like they were common English. It is one interface, regardless of discipline, solution or numerical method, whether CFD, FEA or another. COMSOL is even looking at quantum mechanics to solve what happens at the nanometer scale (10-9m) when continuous fluid flow math gives way to particle collisions and avoidance.
By comparison, ANSYS, with its bigger market share and marketing department, has made itself a leader in Multiphysics. It has done so with acquisitions. Its multi-discipline solutions are used with different interfaces and data files, Bjorn said.
COMSOL seems determined to not give any ground technically to ANSYS. Its crack team of in-house content creators, led by Dr. Valerio Marra, may be the only marketing team to be led by a PhD in engineering. Valerio and his team detail the triumphs of many COMSOL customers to all the rest. It’s no wonder every version of COMSOL News, the glossy print publication the company takes great pains to produce, is the most technical of any in-house publication we’ve seen, bordering on academic journals.