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.