Simulation heads to the cloud
The cloud computing delivery model and mobile platforms factor heavily in Autodesk's strategy for making simulation more accessible. Rather than addressing the mainstreaming of simulation with a single offering, it is pushing myriad options aimed at different use cases, with different price points, and to address different parts of the simulation process. To foster up-front validation of early design concepts, Autodesk is offering the ForceEffect and ForceEffect Motion mobile apps, which replace hand calculations and paper-and-pen drawings for static systems analysis on free body diagrams.
In addition, Autodesk has a number of "always-on" simulation solutions for the early stages of geometry creation. Scott Reese, vice president of simulation and design lifecycle simulation cloud platform, told us its Project Falcon initiative -- still an Autodesk Labs effort -- provides a virtual wind tunnel that can be switched on from within a CAD package (and not just Inventor) by toggling a switch and without meshing.
Similarly, Autodesk Simulation DFM (Design for Manufacture) automatically runs simulations on plastic parts from within a CAD program to determine whether there's a problem. “Always-on simulation means, as you're designing, the simulation is running in the background, and you're not asking users to do traditional model preparation and meshing," Reese said. "We equate it to a spell checker inside of a word processor. As soon as you make an error, it tells you."
Perhaps Autodesk's most aggressive effort around simulation for the masses is its Simulation 360, a software-as-a-service offering where the heavy compute processing is offloaded to the cloud. With this approach, users won't have to invest in expensive workstations or servers to run complex simulations, nor will they have to buy full licenses of expensive software that may be used only occasionally and by pockets of users.
"There has never been a model where the software is affordable for the masses, and there's never been a model where you didn't have to worry about what hardware you have," Reese said. "With Simulation 360, if you don't use simulation much, you don't pay much. With traditional simulation applications, you run a big simulation, and your hardware is locked up for the rest of the day. As a result, you can only afford to do so many simulations."
Today, at Santa Cruz Bicycles, skipping or skimping on simulation is not an option, Graney said, and simulation is employed throughout the process for everything from load testing to lessening material amounts. In a recent status meeting, executives pushed hard for engineering to meet an aggressive project schedule, but engineers pushed back for extra time for more up-front analysis. "The engineer said, 'Just give me two more days, and I can have a better feel for where we’re at,'" Graney said.