Sep 12, 2012, WASHINGTON DC (NAFEMS NA Conference) - All the heavyweights in the CAE world were lined up in the front of the room, ANSYS, MSC, Dassault, Siemens PLM and others in what was to be a panel Q&A. I thought there was going to be a battle. I had my eyes on Autodesk.
Autodesk had just dropped a bomb at NAFEMS North America, annual gathering place of analysts, those who make a living from stress, fluid, thermal, electromagnetic calculations – if not by hand or calculator, then with estoric and expensive programs whose prerequisites may well be a PhD as well as years of training and use before true expertise is obtained. In the not so distant past, they alone had access to hulking mainframe computer or had accounts with supercomputer services that charged by the CPU second. It wasn’t cheap.
Into this annual summit of CAE, hallowed ground for the priests of prediction, Autodesk introduced Simulation 360. It was cloud based, so you don't need to have a supercomputer. Autodesk will supply them. You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars up front. Autodesk will rent the software. You don’t have a PhD in engineering? Where have you been, poor fellow? Autodesk has for a couple of years been insisting that just about anyone can use simulation tools – at least the ones they offer.
I expected the illustrious panel to be preoccupied with the Autodesk’s audacity, or at least shun the CAD vendor. How dare this new kid play with the big boys? The new kid should have got beat up. But the new kid was rich. Autodesk is a $2.5B company.
Guess who had the biggest booth at NAFEMs? Yup, Autodesk. In its shadow, even the industry stalwart, ANSYS, tells me how great it is that Autodesk is here. They are educating the people about the value of analysis. Money talks. The marketing director of NAFEMS, no doubt buoyed by the money Autodesk has pumped into his conference, dismissed a concern over a CAD user being dangerously ill-equipped to practice CAE as “bogus.” This was a PE, sworn to protect the public.
The panelists’ collective lack of concern was obvious as they promoted their own products. How great they were. They talked of accuracy, convergence...they were like big grazing animals who don’t see the predator in their midst. Any recognition of Autodesk was respectful, bordering on reverential. Autodesk seemed to be bending the CAE community with their will in some kind of mind trick. The force was great. So often I heard CAE vendors talk of “democratization,” a word which I credit Autodesk for creating, a word I can barely pronounce, but one that was rolling off CAE vendors' tongues -- by the very companies it was going to hurt. Like cattle being led to slaughter singing praise of beef.
Autodesk has spent $500M over the last few years acquiring CAE technology. It now bills itself also as a simulaton company (See Autodesk Hints of a CAE Office, on CAD Insider). How long before we are all believers?