Autodesk Boosts MCAD Holdings

2 Nov, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Company expands and plans through acquisition of Solid Dynamics, Alias, Engineering Intent

Autodesk has been on something of an acquisition binge this year, acquiring three mechanically inclined technologies and/or companies (out of six total acquisitions) in diverse areas, including finite-element analysis (Solid Dynamics), conceptual design (Alias) and engineer-to-order (Engineering Intent). In this installment of MCAD Tech News, I'll discuss the first and the third acquisitions. In the near future I'll discuss the Alias deal, which warrants its own discussion because of its impact throughout Autodesk -- mechanical design and beyond.

Solid Dynamics

The first Autodesk MCAD-oriented acquisition was Solid Dynamics, a French company whose kinematics/dynamics technology lets designers simulate, analyze, test and optimize physical motion and loading in mechanical assemblies, a process known as motion simulation and analysis. Terms of this acquisition were not disclosed.

This acquisition wasn't too surprising because Autodesk had recently polled its manufacturing customers on technologies that were important to them. Dynamic simulation was ranked as a key technology for helping achieve significant cost reductions and time-to-market improvements, largely by reducing the number of physical prototypes required. Prior to the acquisition, Solid Dynamics' motion products had been available for Autodesk Inventor, SolidWorks and CATIA from Dassault Systèmes, and as a stand-alone version. The version that integrates with Inventor is called MotionInventor.

MotionInventor lets you define the physical environment in which an assembly will operate. You can then simulate the dynamic behavior of a model, analyze the results and refine the design before making any physical prototypes. You can specify mechanical joints between parts with play, dry friction, torque, imposed motion, nonpermanent contact, stiffness, damping, stops, locks and laws of motion.

This technology will complement the FEA (finite-element analysis) stress analysis capability (courtesy of ANSYS) that is currently in Inventor Professional and will round out the overall simulation side of Inventor. I wonder, though, how this acquisition will affect Autodesk's relationship with ANSYS and the FEA functionality that ANSYS brings to Inventor.

Engineering Intent

In the third of the three acquisitions, Autodesk announced it had acquired certain assets -- that is, just the stuff it wanted -- of Engineering Intent, based in Medfield, Massachusetts. The company provides ETO (engineer-to-order) software and services. According to Autodesk, the intent of this acquisition was to help address the growing demand for mass customization -- that is, efficiently delivering end products uniquely designed and configured for individual customers. Again, neither company would disclose financial details of the deal, nor the parts of Engineering Intent that were left out of it.

The Intent suite of software products uses proprietary Intent Technology for engineering knowledge management. Intent technology can capture, manage and reuse a company's engineering knowledge and processes, as well as provide the ability to rapidly respond to customer needs, from custom design to costing.

Intent's Runtime CAD Deployment Options enable applications to be embedded directly into the user environment of CAD systems, including AutoCAD, Inventor, CATIA and UGS' Solid Edge. Embedded Intent applications enable users to create environments that run both Intent and CAD technologies from within the user interface of the CAD system. This includes the ability to interact with both Intent- and CAD-created geometry through the one interface. Any geometry created by Intent is native to the CAD system and does not require translation from the Intent geometry engine to the CAD geometry engine.

Product Configuration Technology

This acquisition emphasizes Engineering Intent's ETO technologies, something other companies call product configuration, which relies on a tool known as a product configurator. In its most rudimentary form, a product configurator simplifies order entry and routing/bill of materials design based on features and options selected for a customer order. With a product configurator, the user -- whether producer or consumer -- picks an optimal solution as the configurator guides them to the best feature and option choices.

Product configurators are really handy when products are available in different colors, sizes or other variations to help determine exactly what is being specified or ordered. They can also assess how to manufacture a product; whether a product can be manufactured; what the cost will be to make a product; what quantity of raw material(s) is required to make it; and its price. Basically, it is an online tool designed to manage the design, manufacture and sales processes of complex and configurable products.

Autodesk would not say whether Solid Dynamics and Engineering Intent technologies will be integrated with and implemented in Inventor 11, due next spring, but I would tend to doubt it. Beyond that, though, look for these technologies to become part of the Inventor mix - either as add-ins or as part of Inventor Professional.

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