There's lots of talk about the need to make simulation a core part of the early design process, yet the reality has been tools for Finite Element Analysis (FEA), Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), and the like have traditionally been out of reach for the mainstream engineer and even for CAD jockeys.
Both CAD vendors and dedicated CAE providers have really pushed the envelope to address this gap these last few years. They've made great strides folding base FEA and CFD (and other simulation functionality) into core CAD platforms, releasing standalone modules as part of integrated digital prototyping suites, and even going as far as to make the dedicated platforms aimed at analysts a tad more approachable for the engineer willing to get their hands dirty and take on some analysis work as part of their portion of the design process.
NEi Software, a 20-year veteran of the FEA space, is aiming to push the evolution a step further with the release of its new NEi Nastran in-CAD 2011, a solution aimed at small- and mid-sized engineering groups, which combines a 3D parametric CAD modeler with industry-proven Nastran solvers in the same package.
This image explores the first natural frequency of a cast stainless steel propeller using NEi Nastran in-CAD 2011.
NEi Nastran in-CAD 2011 is the culmination of a multi-year journey for the company. In 2004, NEi Sofware released NEi Works, its first embedded Nastran program offered for SolidWorks, which required users to have a seat of SolidWorks. NEi Software released the NEi Fusion follow-on product in 2007, honing its vision with a standalone product that employed the SolidWorks kernel to deliver the CAD capabilities in the same box, with the focus still on FEA.
The latter product laid the foundation for the new NEi Nastran in-CAD 2011, which is built on a Windows-based, fully associative, feature-based modeling engine, in addition to including a fairly robust element and materials libraries along with meshing capabilities. NEi Nastran in-CAD 2011 employs the same NEi Nastran Solvers as the dedicated analysis products, company officials said, and the package is equipped with post-processing capabilities to produce a wide variety of images and graphs to showcase simulation results.
NEi Software believes this embedded approach can reduce the training time needed to master a traditional FEA pre- and post-processing environment and get engineers moving directly into doing analysis far earlier in the design process. By not having to navigate between programs, officials said analysis time is reduced, and the product development process is simplified overall.
The other carrot NEi Software is dangling for the small- and mid-sized engineering shop is affordability. While the company declined to provide a specific price point, officials said there is a range of pricing options that will put NEi Nastran in-CAD at about a third of the price of a "traditional FEA solution." A traditional FEA solution includes the FEA pre- and post-processors combined with an FEA engine plus maintenance costs. Then there's the price of a CAD modeler on top of that.
If you do the math, standalone CAD and FEA packages, or even FEA modules added to leading CAD seats, can run several thousands of dollars to upwards of $10,000. If NEi Software can really deliver similar capabilities for a third of the cost, smaller, price conscious shops might want to take note.