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From Their Cold, Dead Hands: How to Pry Users from their CAE Programs
LAKE OSWEGO, OR - Autodesk’s NEi Nastran acquisition gives the company instant credibility in the CAE (computer aided engineering) community. No longer can CAE users dismiss Autodesk as that pretentious CAD company that did little more than assemble a rag-tag collection of little-known analysis applications.
Nastran is serious CAE. It's what the big boys use. It puts planes in the sky and cars on race tracks. I'm not sure I would have boarded the Boeing 737 on which I am writing this had I know Algor1 was used in its analysis.
But now the acquisition of NEi Nastran changes the game. Your PhD friends will not laugh at you for using Autodesk software. You can just tell them "It's Nastran, dammit!"
CAE applications garner loyalty beyond that of CAD users, owing to the fact that CAE applications take much longer to learn, are harder to use, require higher educational qualifications, and cost a lot more money. These factors combine to create an atmosphere of exclusivity and clubby camaraderie. No serious CAE user is going to switch CAE programs without a fight just to save a few bucks.
Autodesk admits it will not be able to pry current CAE, except from "cold dead hands," but also shows no panic at the prospect. Autodesk can afford to be patient, and wait, because CAE is not their core business. They can sell their CAE products all around the entrenched CAE users and to CAD users. But the lower price, when coupled a deep and protracted commitment to the market, can't help but over time erode the hold of CAE companies of even their most stalwart supporters.
Commitment is really is the key; that low initial cost of the software is secondary. Autodesk has not yet shown it can support CAE users in the manner to which they hard core analysts are accustomed. Will users be able to pick up the phone and get a reseller who has a PhD in mechanics and so can tell users when to use Von Mises failure theory -- from years of experience? Both ANSYS and MSC provide this level of support.
Should you have been paying attention in your Mechanics of Material classes, you may not need support for basic questions, but how many would you build the next Boeing aircraft without an advanced level of backup?
CAE companies instilled and maintained a culture that worships theory, academics with advanced degrees, deep knowledge, years of experience, cultivation of engineering judgment ... qualities that narrow the field of prospective support personnel. CAD companies, on the other hand, set the opposite tone: ease of use, democratization, ... everything that CAE is not.
As the products of CAD companies and CAE companies converge (see ANSYS Acquires SpaceClaim...), note that eventual success depends not only on product portfolios or the pricing (no matter how low they go), but on something that is much harder to establish: credibility, built on trust.
Market leaders establish trust after providing years of excellent service and great products. And so if indeed an analyst can nail that new composite tailfin panel analysis, if he or she really can do it in less time, or can run it from an iPad, if I can be cool and still hold my head up among my peers, or we can be sure the application has already kept planes in the air... yeah, then, maybe we will try it.
Autodesk Nastran - Autodesk product page
1. Algor was a midrange analysis program purchased by Autodesk in 2009. Although a general purpose solver, it never achieved the status of Nastran or ANSYS. It is currently called Autodesk Simulation.
At an Autodesk press event for another purpose (see Autodesk Buys..NEi Nastran...), it was Flow Design that stole the show.
CFD has never been so easy. Watch airflow separation increase with speed over the back of a Porche in this YouTube video of Project Falcon, now available as Audodesk Flow Design.
Announced last January with little fanfare (Flow was mentioned in an Autodesk blog post in January, and then picked up the same day in TenLinks Daily), there never an official press release, no phone calls or webinars for the media. Even Autodesk's own product site does not do it justice. Just another Autodesk Labs product done good.
The existence of a bona fide CFD (computer fluid dynamics) program for wind-tunnel simulation -- push-button easy and available at a rock-bottom price -- dropped like a bomb in the room of industry analysts and journalists. Our existence depends on knowing everything, but, well, we got caught flat-footed. A possible game changer, and we missed it!
The fact that it is available for a steal, $210 a year, was by itself a shocker. One industry analyst remarked that a low price reflects badly on the product. After all, a competitor’s product sells for $80,000. At 0.25% of the price, no one was going to take Flow seriously.
Based on CFD technology from the Blue Ridge Numerics acquisition, Autodesk’s easy flow simulation was first shown at Autodesk Labs under the name of Project Falcon, back in September, 2012. Today, Autodesk demonstrates the technology in its Gallery on San Francisco's Market Street. There you stand in front of a Xbox Kinect scanner, push a button, and in a few seconds, it shows you your 2D profile with colored streamlines moving over it -- for what that's worth.
A little more useful demo was when they had a bicycle where you could hone your aero tuck. (See this YouTube video.) Most of a bike rider’s energy on level ground is spent overcoming air resistance.
One Trick Pony
But I digress. Did I remember to say it takes only seconds to solve problems?
More importantly, it takes no time to set up. Flow takes shapes from a variety of objects, photographs, drawings, scans. If you are used to constructing a mesh of volume elements painstakingly, you now have a lot more time on your hands; with the speed and simplicity of Flow, you might consider a hobby -- or retirement, because you might be out of a job.
Oops: I got a bit carried away. Flow is not a full-fledged CFD code. It handles only wind tunnels. And it makes a lot of assumptions. While air speed can be adjusted, an arbitrary speed is assigned initially.
But supersonic flow? Careful boundary layer planning? I don't think so. Coupled heat transfer? Combustion? Nope. I guess some of you CFD eggheads can keep your jobs.
Get Ready to Justify Your CFD Program
But if you just got your boss to sign a purchase order for a new multiuser license for Fluent, Exa, COMSOL, and the like for who knows how many tens of thousands of dollars or Euros, you better have some pretty good answers as to just how is your favorite software so much better as he shows you what he can do on with Flow on his laptop.
Not Just for Planes and Autos
The simulation group at Autodesk is keen on making Flow Design available not just to traditional users (mainly in aerospace and automotive) but also to other industries that Autodesk serves. Architects, not typically CFD users, and certainly not mandated to use high-end simulation software in school or in practice, would now be able to easily run air flow studies, such as the effect of wind around a new high rise.
Project Falcon Graduates from Autodesk Labs to Autodesk Flow Design - announcement that Flow was now a commercial Autodesk product, Scott Sheppard, It's Alive in the Lab, Jan 15, 2014
Flow Design - Autodesk product site
LAKE OSWEGO, OR - Autodesk made it quite clear this week they are serious about simulation. At a small press event, they revealed Nastran-based products. See news release. One is a standalone FEA (finite element analysis} solver, called Autodesk Nastran. The other is in-CAD, which will work inside Inventor and in SOLIDWORKS.
How Not to Handle a Leak
The products are a result of Autodesk's acquisition of NEi Software. It would have been news delivered with a thunderclap -- if it had not already leaked months in mid-May. It seems NEi customers and resellers mentioned "certain assets" of NEi being acquired by Autodesk. Further reports mentioned Autodesk obtaining NEi Nastran code but nothing else. Since the news was out, Autodesk did post about they would be incorporating NEi code but said nothing about other NEi assets. The fate of NEi Software, the company, was unclear.
Oh, Yeah. We Bought NEi
And so it was on an uncharacteristically hot day (90 degrees in Portland!) Autodesk assembled a half-dozen simulation-savvy but befuddled analysts and journalists to its Lake Oswego offices for the official announcement. Autodesk had indeed purchased the entire company.
The acquisition cost was not revealed. NEi employees (numbering in "double digits") are now Autodesk employees. NEi will continue to operate in their Westminster, California offices -- not far from archrival MSC Software. NEi Software founder CEO David Weinberg was not seen at the media event, although I was told he is still with the group, and was very active during the four months it took to create in-CAD for Inventor.
We Told You We Were Serious
More importantly, Autodesk enters the big leagues of CAE, such is the cachet of Nastran. With the acquisition of NEi comes customers of high-end FEA software, something Autodesk may had trouble acquiring on its own. NEi uses a hybrid direct/reseller sales network, which Autodesk will take over.
(Nastran is one of the classic FEA solvers, in use by every major aerospace firm, big auto, big enterprise -- and those who wish they were. Originally developed as a NASA project, it was picked up by a number of private companies and made commercial. MSC Software is currently the leading incarnation of Nastran with MSC.Nastran, both in terms of market share and robustness. NEi may be in the top five.)
Though a general purpose solver, NEi has tried to build a reputation for composite material analysis for aerospace (ridiculously more complicated to analyze than homogenous isotropic materials, such as metals) and non-linear analysis (a specialized area in which materials get weird like with viscoelastic materials such as rubber and certain plastics, or even ordinary materials when taken to extremes in temperature or load.)
Autodesk assured the skeptics among us that it will continue to support and develop in-CAD for SOLIDWORKS, which was previously named NEiWorks. Autodesk Nastran products will sell for "around $10K."
Autodesk in the Big Leagues with Nastran - Monica Schnitger, Aug 12, 2014
Autodesk Releases Official Statement about NEi Nastran Purchase - John Evans, Design & Motion, Aug 13, 2014
How do you tell the largest CAD user base in the world that they they are going to cut off? You don't.
CHICAGO (AIA Conference 2014) - SketchUp, known and loved by millions (30 million users, they tell me), was revised late last year. There was the usual list of improvements, a name change, but most significantly, Trimble, owner of SketchUp for the last two years, makes it very clear that SketchUp is not free for commercial use.
From the FAQs issued with Trimble announcement of SketchUp Make, the new name for what was commonly referred to as "free SketchUp" is the statement:
"SketchUp Make is the new name for our basic version. It’s available today and still free to use. With this change, we’re also clarifying that SketchUp Make is not licensed for commercial work."
This would mean all architects using SketchUp may be in violation of the license agreements.
It was easy to overlook if you only read the May 22 press release, which contained only this reference to commercial use:
"In addition to serving the commercial market with SketchUp Pro, Trimble will continue to provide a free, entry-level, 3D drawing tool—now named SketchUp Make..."
It seems free use of the current version of SketchUp is confined to students, hobbyists...makers, for which the product was named --so long as they don't actually ever sell their creation.
And the initial cost of SketchUp Pro has increased from $495 to $590, as users are required to pay the $95 annual maintenance fee for the first year in additon to the $495 license.
Biggest CAD User Base
SketchUp had grown to become, almost by accident and under all radar, the most used CAD software in the world. It is, by CAD standards, ridiculously easy to use. Being free had helped. Created initially for architectural conceptualizing in 3D, it was readily adopted by interior designers as well as product design by anyone and everyone not already mired in "professional" CAD software packages, which lo and behold, was a user base an order of magnitude larger. It was quite a feat for an upstart and showed no respect for the established order. Professionals criticized SketchUp for its imprecision and impurity (it was not "exact," not a solid model, it was not robust ("you cannot document a big project") and it wasn't a "real professional CAD application" (meaning it was not expensive, as if free was a liability) but it SketchUp filled a vital need and so grew to the be the biggest CAD user base in the world.
Trimble Needs to Make Money
Google had acquired @Last, the original creators of SketchUp, to populate Google Earth with man-made objects, like buildings and towns. Google cared little about making money from a CAD product and gave it away. Google may have received a little money from users who paid $500 for SketchUp Pro, a drop in Google's big bucket. When they found people actually cared less about creating buildings and structures than they hoped, the company seemed to lose interest, selling it to Trimble, a company known on a lesser scale than Google (both in revenue and project size).
But for Trimble, SketchUp is an opportunity to cash in on the now ubiquitous user base.
Let's Not Make a Big Deal of It
The removal of free commercial use from SketchUp has caused barely a ripple. Trimble itself is hardly promoting the change. Even the "official" SketchUp forums have little protest. The few bloggers who have posted have received only a handful of comments. See About SketchUp 2013 and the Meaning of "Free", Stefan Boeykens, CAD, BIM and 3D, June 4, 2013.
So while Trimble is not breaking down doors with BSA enforcers brandishing EULAs, as is the way of big software, I wonder how long this will last. Trimble may be content with an honor system for now.
"They'll get quite a bit of money from firms that have to stay on the up and up," says one exhibitor at the recent AIA convention, who hopes to capitalize upon the stranded SketchUp users.
Enjoy it While You Can
Only one architect I spoke to (out of of over 20 polled for this article) say they will be upgrading to SketchUp Pro. Several others were careful to say they will use SketchUp only in early, conceptual modeling and not for customer deliverables. Is that legal? It's hard to say. One part of the license of SketchUp Make says if you are not selling, renting, leasing or lending the output of SketchUp, it's ok, but then quickly insists you have to get a SketchUp Pro license if you work for a for-profit organization of any kind.
For the other architects and mechanical users who continue to to use SketchUp for business, the future could be bleak. Trimble is letting everyone stay on a less than latest version if they have it. This appears to the path of least resistance for most SketchUp users that need to stay legal, though the worst case scenario would find themselves increasingly isolated as SketchUp moves forward with more updates. Trimble will not be fixing or enhancing anything but the most recent version. Soon sources of downloads for free-for-commercial versions will dry up -- if they haven't already. Those users may soon not be able to read files made with a current version. A future OS upgrade may render their free version totally unusable.
BOSTON (PTC Live Global 2014) - Virtalis, the company best known for its million dollar immersive virtual reality rooms (which it calls Active Cubes or CAVEs, for computer augmented virtual reality) and ActiveWalls, now has a version of virtual reality for the desktop.Virtalis has ported its technology to the zSpace device, which with what appears to be an oversized iPad, a wired stylus and not-very-obtrusive glasses, to create a holographic image. Of course, you do have to give up the 1:1 scale provided by Virtalis flagship products but also downsized is the price. Starting at $33,000, this device suddently makes virtual reality far more approachable for engineers and designers.
The zSpace is as close to natural 3D space as is currently available. Oculus Rift may have received a lot of attention lately, being bought by Facebook for $2 billion, but I've found the Oculus mask, like other 3D headsets heavy, cumbersome and disorienting, cutting you off from the real world. Meanwhile, the zSpace specs can pass for reading glasses.
Virtalis ActiveDesk is a combination of 3D virtual reality software, Visionary Render, and the zSpace desktop interactive display system, announced last month.
Virtalis also announced that PTC Creo users will now be able to view their CAD models in virtual reality its new VR Extension for PTC Creo View.
For more information:
BOSTON (PTC Live Global 2014) - PROSTEP, headquartered in Darmstadt, Germany, is founded and is still owned by major automotive OEMs and suppliers. They have cared enough about CAD and PLM data migration, conversion and collaboration for over 20 years, making them an international standard. With their PROSTEP PDF Generator 3D, they leverage an interesting file format that allows to display and share 3D data very easily.
PROSTEP PDF Generator is a 64-bit server based application for enterprises and can interface with ERP, PDM and PLM software. It can accommodate large volumes of data and up to 50 users. It is priced at 10,000 Euros ($12,000).
Nominated for Best of Show for PTC Live Global 2014 by TenLinks judge, Ralf Steck
For more information
BOSTON (PTC Live Global 2014) - Luxion has developed a game-changer in the visualization area with KeyShot and there's more to like with version 5. KeyShot has managed to modernize the UI without loosing its unique style with as few buttons as possible. A library of materials on the cloud has been added. The user has the option to get new materials when needed from the cloud, instead of trying to clutter the interface with millions of different materials.
Render in real-time with KeyShot through LiveLinking of PTC Creo data and mechanisms. Model by Micael Villena / GrabCAD.
Nominated for Best of Show for PTC Live Global 2014 by TenLinks judge, Ralf Steck.
For more information
KeyShot 5 Adds Support for PTC Creo v3.0 - press release from Luxion
CHICAGO, IL (AIA 2014) - What if making architectural models was easy, fun, cheap -- and clean? What if it they came in kits with pieces you can snap together, pieces that may actually resemble architectural elements (wall, floor and roof panels, roof trusses, columns, windows, more)? What if models would come together without explanation, training, weeks and months of waiting... what if your kid could make them... easy as building blocks?
I know.. why hasn't some one thought of this?
Snap together your next architectural model with a kit from Arckit. Adhesive backed patterns are applied to plain building panels to get color and patterns.
Damien Murtagh has. An architect himself, Damien founded Arckit so that others would be free to explore a design in it's physical form without even so much as computer -- or Lego bricks.
The Arckit may not provide the detail of a professionally crafted laser cut model, but you have to admit it is way more accessible, intuitive and cheaper. There's really nothing in this level of modeling in terms of cost and detail.
Waiting for 3D Printing?
Besotted with technology as I am, you are no doubt imagining 3D computer models turning into 3D prints, though the reality will be a rude awakening. 3D printing can be time consuming (one 3D print vendor says it takes 35-40 hours to process a luxury home CAD model for 3D printing) messy (chemicals, clean up) and expensive materials.
The Arckit is available in 3 "sizes."
Damien is quite excited about introducing Arckit in the US (Arckit is based in Ireland) and is giving 10% off the prices listed for a few more days and including shipping.
And if you simply must use a computer, Arckit makes its pieces available in SketchUp's 3D Warehouse. You can see what each of the pieces look like and even make whole model onscreen for free. https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/search.html?backendClass=entity&q=ARCKIT
Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye made with Arckit components in SketchUp Warehouse.
To avoid the bland look of Lego models and monochrome 3D print models, Arckit provides several downloadable surface textures and material patterns you can print on self- adhesive sheets they supply with each kit that you can stick on your model. Though an enterprising architect can probably make use of any of the texture maps libraries available and scale the pattern (arckit uses 1:48) and print on their own sheets.
For more information, see http://arckit.com/
DETROIT, MI (RAPID 2014) - In a show all about 3D printing and 3D printers, one 3D printer stood out. Despite being in the back of the exhibit hall, the Lulzbot TAZ had gathered quite a crowd. The Lulzbot TAZ 4, a 6th generations, spool fed, open-source machine, was zipping along making an octopus. It had been making octopuses (octopi?) all day.
What's with the octopus?
"It's our spirit animal," says Harris Kenny, who does handles communications at Aleph Objects, the company that owns the Lulzbot brand.
My first spirit animal at a trade show. Sensing there was something unusual about a company that would have a spirit animal, I had to probe further.
What's with the name?
Lulz is derived from LOL, then made plural, says Harris, who seems to have an infinite patience for explaining his company name to the older generation.
But could it make industrial parts for production? It seems to be rigid despite its open frame and have a generous build volume of 11.7" x 10.8" x 9.8". As it turns out Lulzbot is already used in production. It employs its own machines to make more machines. 135 of its TAZ 4s are used to make many of the plastic parts on the machine at Aleph's Loveland, Colorado facilitiy.
Aleph Objects is all about open source hardware, having plugged into the RepRap 3D print community, on which it's printers are based. "We give 100% of our technology advances back to RepRap," says Harris
The TAZ 4 costs $2200 and comes mostly fully assembled. I think the print heads have to be mounted, as Harris is doing in picture above, as does the cross feed table. But it probably takes less time than furniture from Ikea -- and way less time than the mess of parts you'll get with a kit 3D printer, like other RepRap machines.
lulz: beginning as a plural variant of lol, Lulz was originally an exclamation but is now often used as a noun meaning interesting or funny internet content. Lol -> lul; lols -> luls; lolz -> lulz. Thank you, Urban Dictionary.
www.RepRap.org - open source, 3D printer, in kit form
www.lulzbot.com - the company's product site
CHICAGO, IL (AIA 2014) - Want a 3D print of the luxury house you have created in exquisite detail on your CAD program. Just buy a 3D printer, hook it up to your computer and push a button, right?
For one thing, your CAD model may be far too detailed. There is a minimum thickness for structures to prevent collapse. Or there may not be enough detail. For example, you probably applied a bit map to show the roof tiles. It looks good onscreen but a 3D printer doesn't get bitmaps. That roof is going to be very boring.
Now that's a roof. WhiteClouds, a 3D print service, adds detail to CAD models to show roof tiles.
WhiteClouds, which refers to itself as a 3D print "enabler," understands such limitations. It came to AIA with 3D prints of several luxury homes. It had made one so detailed that 3D Systems keeps one in its lobby, says Jerry Ropelato, CEO.
WhiteClouds is a service that fills the gap between a completed 3D computer model and the final outcome, a part you can hold in your hand, the magic button, which despite all the hype surrounding 3D printing, still does not exist in 3D CAD software. While 3D print service bureaus may provide some assistance I suspect most would probably prefer a 3D print-ready model so they can keep their machines printing. WhiteClouds seems set up to have been created to fill in the missing information between a 3D CAD model and a 3D print-ready model. Why should an architect have to learn the peculiarities of getting a 3D model ready for printing?
WhiteClouds employs additional 3D modeling to insert details like roof tiles so they will appear in the 3D print. "We have developed special routines," says Jerry.
WhiteClouds does not even require 3D CAD models to make 3D prints: they can work even from blue prints. They also makes mechanical parts and assemblies, figures for the entertainment industry, etc., so although AEC appears to be specialty, they are not limited to just buildings. They use Stratasys and 3D Systems machines -- high end ones you can't afford.
They will send a quote after you send them your CAD models or drawings but for purpose of estimation, you can figure the cost of the model will be $0.25 to $0.40 per square foot of the real house using WhiteClouds modeling help and the model itself. This would make the model of the US typical house (2400 sq ft) cost anywhere from $625 to $1,000 though it probably the design of mansions where a 3D model is warranted. Imagine wowing your millionaire clients by showing not just how it looks to friends and neighbors but taking off the roof and one floor at a time. A 10,000 sq ft mansion model may set you back $4,000 but what is that compared to the commission you will earn?