User Interface Redesign in the Works
This article highlights developments to be released in FLOW-3D version 10.1.
FLOW-3D has certainly come a long way since it was first released in 1985. Back then, users felt fortunate to be able to set up their simulations using a simple, easy-to-understand text file. Graphical output had to be requested through this text file, and could only be displayed crudely as wireframe surfaces. As primitive as this approach was, it was a huge improvement over hole punch cards. The release of Version 7.1 in 1997 saw the first incarnation of a graphical user interface (GUI). It was greeted with great fanfare, since users no longer had to remember cryptic input variable names or the intricacies of command line run scripts. By Version 9.0, the functions of preprocessing, simulating and post-processing were completely integrated so that users almost never had to leave the FLOW-3D GUI. With each advance in the FLOW-3D GUI, users’ productivity increased significantly. Most of us wonder how we worked before GUIs and are quick to realize that, while we appreciate the current capabilities, we and our users expect much more from our GUI.
Recognizing the important role user input has played in advancing the FLOW-3D GUI since its inception, we set out in the summer of 2011 to query our users to help us understand where improvements to the GUI would be most beneficial. A cross-functional team consisting of Anita Reynolds (GUI developer), David Souders (sales/support), Anurag Chandorkar (Q/A and testing), and Amir Isfahani (solver developer) was formed. They developed a broad, open-ended survey which was sent out to FLOW-3D users and associates around the world. 146 responses were received from around the globe.
A number of areas of the GUI were identified in the survey as needing improvement, with particular focus on these: the Navigator and Simulation tabs, and the Meshing & Geometry, Physics and Fluids subtabs under Model Setup. Based on suggestions in the survey as well as the many years of experience of our staff, prototypes for redesigns of these tabs were developed and presented via web meetings to select users and associates.
This development note presents the results of these efforts, detailing the changes that will be implemented and released in FLOW-3D Version 10.1. Further changes will come in future releases.
The first major redesign involves the merging of the present Navigator and Simulation tabs into one new tab called Simulation Manager. This change places the simulation progress history and diagnostics on the same tab with the user’s Portfolio of simulations, enabling the user to easily keep track of multiple simulations. The most valuable addition to this new combined tab is the introduction of a robust Queue Manager for users who are dealing with multiple projects. Queue management will allow for easy addition of simulations across different workspaces to the queue, reordering of the simulations waiting in the queue, and deletion of simulations from the queue.
More New Features
- Icons on the simulation graph, with mouse-over text boxes, will allow the user to easily see and read the content of warnings, error messages, Mentor tips, etc.
- Once a simulation has been set up just right, it can be saved as a template. New simulations can be created based on these templates, greatly reducing the likelihood of introduction of error to similar simulations.
- The user will have file system capabilities, meaning the user can permanently delete a simulation from the hard disk. Previously a simulation could be removed from the Navigator but it would be left on the hard disk.
- The user can easily package a simulation. This feature will enable users to zip up all the relevant simulation files for easy and error-free transfer.
- Simulation status icon will have tooltips to more clearly display its current state.
- The layout is customizable such that the user can move the Queue Manager around in order to make more room for the plot. This is the case with the solver messages as well.
Another important change incorporated in the new Simulation Manager is Load-on-Demand. Currently, when a user opens FLOW-3D, the GUI finds and loads all the simulations in the Portfolio, including their geometry & mesh. This may take some time if there are many simulations in the Portfolio. With v10.1, when FLOW-3D is launched, only the minimum necessary data for each simulation will be retrieved. The bulk of the information will be loaded only on the user’s demand.
Meshing & Geometry
The other part of the FLOW-3D user interface that will be dramatically improved with v10.1 is the Meshing & Geometry tab within Model Setup. Since many users spend most of their time on this tab, improvements to this part of the GUI were imperative. Our survey found that this part of the GUI was the most troublesome for users because of the cumbersome nature of the expandable tree structure, where many features of the setup are entered.
With Version 10.1, the Meshing & Geometry tree will be broken up into its various major elements: Geometry, Mesh, Baffles, Springs and Ropes, and so on. Each of these elements will have their own sub-window and a more concise local tree. Users will be able to customize the layout of the Meshing & Geometry tab by moving these sub-windows to dock them on the left or right side of the main window or simply float over the display.
In addition, Graphical Object Selection has been enabled so that users will be able to select any object in the graphical window (subcomponents, mesh blocks, history probes, springs/ropes, valves, etc.) by simply clicking on it. This action will highlight the object in the tree, making it easier to find and modify its settings. Further, we are aiming to add a right-click menu to allow certain settings to be made. In future versions of the GUI, users will be able to set all necessary properties by right-clicking on an object, rather than searching through the tree.
Two other areas identified by users as needing improvement are the Physics tab and the Fluids tab. Prototypes for redesigns of these tabs have been developed. These designs will be implemented in the FLOW-3D release after Version 10.1. The new Physics tab will greatly simplify the physical model choices by grouping them based on their application area as well as industry. The Fluids tab will be enhanced to more tightly integrate FLOW-3D’s property databases.