Product Design

Autodesk Pushes Ahead with Digital Prototyping

6 Sep, 2007 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Company intends to leverage recently acquired PlassoTech to extend Inventor's simulation and optimization capabilities.


As part of its initative to move customers toward digital prototyping (DP), Autodesk has purchased PlassoTech, a supplier of analysis and simulation software for mechanical design. This latest acquisition will help Autodesk enhance the simulation and optimization capabilities found in Autodesk Inventor, the company reports, thereby making it easier for customers to simulate, optimize, and validate a complete digital prototype. Autodesk did not disclose the terms of the transaction.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Autodesk completed its purchase of the technology and product assets of Opticore, a provider of technology used to produce interactive and realistic 3D digital product visualizations and presentations. Autodesk said the reasoning behind that acquisition was to further its strategy of delivering more comprehensive and powerful design visualization offerings through Autodesk Showcase, which addresses the visualization requirements of industrial designers for interactively evaluating their work and presenting it to others for review.

Autodesk plans to integrate PlassoTech technology into the Inventor product family, augmenting existing finite-element analysis (FEA) tools. The technology brings two primary capabilities to the Inventor product line:

  • the ability to perform analysis on entire assemblies, as well as individual parts

  • the ability to perform analysis based on real-world structural and thermal conditions.

Specifically, according to Autodesk, PlassoTech technology allows FEA calculations in categories such as linear static stress, steady-state thermal, thermal stress, modal and frequency analysis, optimization, and buckling. It also includes advanced functionalities to test dynamic stress, transient thermal, and large deformation analysis of solid and shell models with various contact conditions.

Autodesk Explains
A day after the acquisition was announced, I spoke briefly with Amy Bunszel, director of the Autodesk Inventor product line. We talked about the acquisition and how it might fit into the company’s future plans, although she couldn’t offer a lot of details because many of the future plans were still being formulated. For that reason, she also would not provide any specifics on the timing of integrating the PlassoTech technology into Inventor other than saying, “We are anxious to get it to market as quickly as we can.”

Bunszel said the principal intent of the acquisition was to continue what Autodesk calls its digital prototyping initiative. “The acquisition was consistent with rounding out the digital prototyping strategy with its simulation aspects and effect on digital prototyping," she said. Bunszel added that one of the motivators for the acquisition was to expand simulation to assemblies via the PlassoTech technology, because today, Inventor Professional Simulation is able to accommodate only part-based simulation. A future goal and challenge for Autodesk is to make this new level and type of simulation capability as easy to use as possible, allowing engineers to do this work instead of employing dedicated specialists. “The PlassoTech technology already had a mantra of accessibility that we will bring over to Inventor,” Bunszel explained.

Although Autodesk will continue to support integrations of PlassoTech technology with other platforms such as Pro/ENGINEER, SolidWorks, and Solid Edge, the company will be winding this business down, so moving forward it can focus exclusively on the Inventor implementation.

When asked what effect the acquisition might have on Autodesk’s relationship with ANSYS (which supplies FEA technology to Inventor), Bunszel said that ANSYS will remain a strategic partner and will continue to provide complementary CAE products for Inventor, such as nonlinear, high-end FEA; CFD; and multiphysics. “We still regard ANSYS as a critical partner of CAE for Autodesk and we expect the partnership to remain strong,” she said.

My Take on PlassoTech Technology
Two years ago I reviewed PlassoTech 3g.author for Cadalyst. (3g.author was the principal technology that Autodesk wanted in the recent acquisition.) What I found most remarkable about the product was that it could produce accurate results based on many fewer steps than what was possible using many other FEA packages for product validation and optimization at the time. Because it was a parametric simulation tool, PlassoTech 3g.author set itself apart in its field.

For that review, I used 3g.author with SolidWorks 2005. The integration of the two was quite good with regard to overall function and bidirectional data associativity. However, based on Autodesk’s acquisition of PlassoTech, things have changed since then on a number of different fronts.

To study a model, you must replicate all the operating conditions the model experiences. With 3g.author, you begin by importing a 3D CAD model (now Inventor), then build design cases for each operational condition to be examined. Design cases are sets of parameters and conditions that allow the evaluation of different parametric dimensions, loading conditions, and materials. Each design case can be checked separately, so different groups can collaborate and evaluate different aspects of a project simultaneously. Different types of design cases can use various attributes to define the operating conditions.

Refining a design is aided by the ability to analyze the results of one design case to determine the relationships between the criteria before proceeding to the next iteration of the design. With PlassoTech 3g.author, this was a relatively straightforward process.

Autodesk realizes that PlassoTech is not a well-known entity in the United States . The company does, however, enjoy a strong following in Japan , and Autodesk hopes to leverage and translate that presence in the United States with the help of Inventor and its digital prototyping strategy. “We believe that the pervasiveness of Inventor will help make that happen,” Bunszel said.


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