8 Questions with Mark Landon from Optimal Solutions

Mark Landon is chief technical officer at Optimal Solutions Software, LLC (gosculptor.com). OSS is in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and offers Sculptor, which contains [in Mark’s words] “the world’s best morphing, shape deformation, shape optimization, tools for CAE based design.”  Sculptor is used in aerospace, turbo-machinery, automotive, motorsports, marine, biomedical, etc. to help find the elusive shapes that provide the best performance.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing CAE in the next three years?

The biggest challenges in CFD/FEA/CAD are

  1. CAD parameterization is too limiting for physics based shape optimization.
  2. Numerical physics (CFD/FEA) is not used efficiently in design and optimization.
  3. Optimization methods and tools are not used far enough up front in the design process.
  4. Easier, faster, HPC/cloud computing for the analyses necessary for CAE based optimization.
Sculptor morphing controls shown around an automobile.

Sculptor morphing controls shown around an automobile.

John: Your first two challenges remind me of something I heard one of the original NASTRAN developers say once. He said that the current state of CAD is based on geometric design when it should be based on functional design. This essentially makes CFD and FEA much more prominent and moves them upstream in the design process (your third challenge).

Mark:  Yes, geometric design based on CAD parameters that were created with primarily manufacturing in mind leaves the performance of the physics out of the loop in the design process. For functional design (i.e. the physical performance of the component/system being designed), there is a need to have parameterization much farther upstream that operates on the analysis model. Thus, we designed Sculptor’s morphing to allow the analyst to define his own shape change parameters without the need of CAD parameters and without the need to re-mesh each design iteration.

How does your current work relate to those challenges?

  1. We constantly improve and add to Sculptor’s capabilities and applications.
  2. The best design improvements are found with the right parameterization (trivariate smooth volumetric shape deformation, or morphing) coupled with the right optimization search algorithms, and robust CAE tools.
  3. Shape matching: morphing a starting shape into a target shape for various applications

John: Can you be more specific about what’s new in Sculptor?

Mark:  We have improved the Sculptor GUI’s Volume Builder to create the morphing geometry [i.e. Arbitrary Shape Deformation (ASD) volumes] to be faster and more intuitive. It is a big improvement to have better dialogs for creating the desired shape change parameters, dialogs that group control points  for specific deformations.. The ability to move a group of control points along their own vectors or along spline curves allows the user to create any type of shape change imaginable.

We have added an Optimization Control Center with a gradient-based search algorithm, as well as a Design of Experiments with an Optimal Latin Hypercube and Response Surface creation. These search algorithms, along with new graphics built in, allow a user to create the shape change parameters, define a shape optimization problem quickly, and allow Sculptor to handle the CFD and/or FEA calls for each shape design. This automatic shape optimization capability can incorporate any CFD/FEA (commercial, in-house or open source) analysis tool.

Sculptor for morphing a wing

Sculptor for morphing a wing

We have also added a powerful Shape Matching capability that is much like a shape optimization but the objective is to morph a starting shape into a target shape, such as the shape of the object when in use like a wing warping under aerodynamic load.  That morphing can then be applied to the CAD model which is returned to the designer. Other uses are the re-use of legacy or pristine mesh models to be morphed into off-design shapes due to manufacturing problems or physical ailments (in the case of biomedical data). For example, if one has taken the time to create a very good mesh but the actual part is slightly different, they could do a shape matching of the original mesh to fit the actual part’s shape and perform an analysis on the “as-built” part to investigate its physical performance – all without re-CADing or re-meshing.

How did you get to where you are today?

  1. My parents taught us how to live and expected us to do our best, be honest, and nice.
  2. Eagle Scout. Learned early on to complete the requirements to reach a goal
  3. Football (from little league to college) helped grow the drive to compete against the odds and to achieve more as a team than as an individual. Complete the task at hand no matter how difficult or daunting.
  4. My dear wife Vickie, with her support and encouragement
  5. Ph.D. in structural mechanics from Brigham Young University
  6. Have worked for NASA, Department of Defense, Department of Energy (Idaho National Lab.)
  7. Started Optimal Solutions in the mid-1990s, a great experience to grow with: hard work, tenacity, good help, and interesting field of study.

John: We have noticed, especially when interviewing for internships, that many have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. It wasn’t like that a couple of years ago. Do you think it’s a coincidence?

Mark:  The rank of Eagle Scout is a rarely achieved goal. Statistically, only about 2 percent of all scouts reach the rank of Eagle. This is due to many things, but mainly it is the support of family (Mom) who want their boy to achieve something larger than himself and to use that as a springboard to reach other goals. I would think it is not a coincidence that many people who would eventually achieve the high level of education to work at a place like Pointwise would be driven to achieve the highest in whatever they undertook to accomplish. This is not to say there are not other ways to learn how  to achieve a high level of competence, but Scouting was a good program that surely helped me.

John: You mention your college football experience and I’m a huge football fan. I know you played for BYU. What position did you play? Did you play with or against any future NFLers? I’m certain you have interesting game stories.

Mark:  That was a very fun time in my life. I had played football for a Junior College in Rexburg, Idaho, (Ricks College, now a four-year university called BYU-Idaho). I then served a two-year mission for the LDS (Mormon) Church, where I served in the Fiji Islands, after which I was asked to try out for the football team at BYU in Provo, Utah. I played defensive tackle during the years of 1977-78. Several teammates who you might remember went on to play in the NFL: Mark Wilson was our quarterback and went on to play for the Raiders, Todd Christensen was our main running back who was drafted by the Cowboys but was traded to the Raiders as a tight end. Mark Wilson’s backup QB was a kid named Jim McMahon, and as you know he went on to be a ’85 Super Bowl Champion with the Chicago Bears. We could not hit Mark in practice, but we could hit Todd and Jim. They did not like it very much, but it made them tough. It was fun in those days to dream of playing after college, but the sport was and is so brutal, and the necessary abilities to play pro-ball so rare, that I knew the next level was not for me. That is when I started getting serious about my engineering degree. But to stay active, I started to play rugby, a very active sport with all of the contact you could desire – without pads!  Those were the days.

Who or what inspired you to get started in your career?

  1. I studied under world class researchers at BYU in the areas of finite elements, computer aided geometry, design optimization.
  2. Continued education in CFD, and saw the need for arbitrary shape deformation and optimization in that field.
  3. Complex and interesting problems that needed optimal solutions and advanced tools
  4. Get as much education as you can.
  5. Find a mentor who will push you to work hard, learn the basics, and use your own creativity.
  6. Don’t let your job pigeon-hole your career.

What advice do you have for young people entering the field today?

John: When you talk about education, are you advocating graduate degrees? Or are you referring to something more informal? I ask because there’s a lot of talk about how an M.S. is almost required for an engineer career.

Mark:  I feel that the M.S. degree is certainly a minimum, but whether to make it required is up for debate. When people were hired years ago with a B.S., the company would invest in training them the way they wanted them to perform their activities. This would be equivalent to an M.S. degree, but today is seems more rare for companies to do that. Instead, they want graduates to be more prepared to solve the more complex problem more quickly after being hired. I know that my M.S. degree made all the difference, not only in my getting my first job at NASA but in my being able to step in and contribute immediately. But beyond that, a Ph.D. is certainly a good goal to have if desired, but not as necessary as the M.S. degree.

How do you know Pointwise?

I have known you and Rick Matus for years. You have been friendly and helpful as we started OSS and got Sculptor from a set of consulting tools to a commercial software package.

Can you share with us your favorite tools and resources that help you get your job done?

  1. VTK for graphics pipeline
  2. QT for graphical user interface
  3. Countless websites for CFD, FEA, numerical methods, algorithms, optimization, etc.

John: Can you be more specific about online CFD resources you use?

Mark:  The specific websites of the various commercial and open source tools for CFD, FEA, CAD, and meshing companies. Beyond that, here is a list of some of the sites I visit frequently or receive email newsletters from:

If we were to come visit you, where’s a good place to go out for dinner?

Mark: JAKERS in Idaho Falls – best steaks, native trout, scones.

John: I’m not a huge fan of fish, but actually some fresh Idaho trout sounds really good. I hope someday to have the opportunity to go there with you.

Thanks for taking the time for this interview.

Mark:  It was my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

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2 Responses to 8 Questions with Mark Landon from Optimal Solutions

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