Altair France Returns to the Office

What if it was possible to help fight COVID-19 with the aid of Altair tools?

This idea originated in Altair France’s education, research, and Africa (ERA) business unit when the team’s group of engineers realized that, by applying various Altair solvers and tools, it was possible to simulate potential virus exposure and how proper healthcare protocol like social distancing and workplace set up could help reduce the spread, keeping employees as safe as possible.

After three months of lockdown, France began to lift restrictions to its residents to resume a “new normal.” Despite the strong incentives to continue working from home, it was becoming imperative for some employees to start working in the office again.

After contacting the French occupational health service, the management and human resources teams for Altair France spared no effort in implementing and deploying the legally mandatory healthcare protocol of supplying hand sanitizer, masks, and a regular disinfection program. One unknown factor remained, how do we arrange our workspace and define the correct flow of foot traffic to limit employee exposure to the virus and reduce the risk of contamination?

By employing a methodical approach, the ERA team simulated several different scenarios that have proved to be extremely helpful, despite several unknowns about the virus.

The first step was to learn about the COVID-19 virus’ mode of transmission, which we found in a referenced article by a renowned epidemiologist. We learned that the virus’ diffusion could be understood like other diffusion problems in physics. As such, the team took into account several elements such as the virus source of generation, its propagation, and its dissipation over time.

To simulate the spread of the virus, several Altair software solutions were used:

  • Altair HyperMesh™ – for model creation and data entry
  • Altair Radioss™ – a finite element solver for transient problem solving used to model virus generation, spread, and dissipation
  • Altair HyperView™ – to view results in an animated form
  • Altair Compose® – a mathematical programming software to chain, automate, and customize the calculation and post-processing process

Considering that the virus is generated with a given intensity (i.e., due to breathing), several hypothetical configurations were made taking into account the number of employees and offices, the movement of employees, the opening of doors and/or windows, and other factors to determine the most adequate configuration to ensure employee safety and protection.

Our initial findings were:

  1. Opening windows is an important element in the fight against the spread of the virus
  2. Working in an enclosed space or a closed office can also help protect employees
  3. Reducing movement around the workplace is highly recommended

Validating the first model by using simple scenarios like virus diffusion throughout open-plan offices proved the efficacity of a closed office door. By making something invisible and now visible through simulation, this approach could help everyone returning to work or school understand the best solution in arranging their office or workspace, like desk arrangement or determining the size and position of barriers between workstations, as well as how to arrange foot traffic around the premises to stay safe.

Even our simple model shows us where pockets of virus-laden air could linger in our Paris offices. Now these findings can be addressed and improved by better ventilation or more frequent cleaning protocols. With winter just around the corner, when central heating systems are turned on, the effect of airflow on virus spread can also be built in and modeled.

While this preliminary model does not claim to be 100 percent accurate, it creates the opportunity to compare in relative terms different workplace scenarios.

Help us take this model further. Altair France is calling for assistance from doctors, epidemiologists, engineers, and anyone who would like to enrich this model and help develop it further. Contact us today.