The venerable technology of finite element analysis is changing as the cost of computing decreases, software gets easier to use, and the Internet becomes a dominant factor in engineering, as in so many other facets of life, says MSC.Software's Frank Perne.
Design News: Traditionally, finite element analysis has been for making sure a product will survive in its intended environment. Is that changing?
Perne:Yes and no. It's as important as it has ever been, but today we look on FEA as the core of something bigger than just analyzing different parts of a new product design. FEA is the core of simulation, actually replicating how the product will operate. It's a tool for predicting the future. This view increases the number of users many fold. We are using the computer as an aid to simulate and optimize what you're doing, and the solver becomes like a spell checker--something you click as you go along.
Q: What trends are driving this view and use of FEA?
A: Several. For one, there's the lower cost of computing. Those costs are continuing to go down, which makes faster, more powerful computers more available to more users. Additionally, simulation is getting easier to use. That expands the usefulness--and use--of FEA. For example, consumer products are a growing application because of the increasing ease of use. More importantly, there is the Internet and its broad bandwidth, making FEA and simulation more available. It's becoming the channel of choice for software developers and distributors. We at MSC.Software look at the Internet as central to our strategy.
Q: But is it central to your customers' strategies? Isn't product quality really central?
A: For software companies as a whole, and in fact for companies in any industry, product quality is now a given. It's important--even critical--but it's not the final determinator of success. Besides quality, you have to get to market fastest and cheapest. Simulation and the Internet help you do that. If you're not using simulation and not using the Internet, you're out of business.
Q: What are you doing on the Internet?
A: Among many other initiatives, we have launched Engineering-e.com, a kind of electronic mall. MSC is the anchor tenant. It supports e-commerce, and is a portal that creates a marketplace for engineering. We are also an Application Service Provider (ASP), hosting applications. We enable customers to license software on demand. Soon, we'll be able to run simulations on demand over the Internet, and even run users' applications--on demand over the Internet.
Q: What about the security concerns some people have about dealing over the Internet?
A: That question always comes up in discussions of the future impact of the Internet on engineering, and in discussions of e- commerce in general. I believe the security problems with the Internet are no greater than any other security problems that exist with any other communication situations, and in most cases the problems are considerably less. We have taken significant steps to insure that Engineering-e.com members are confident in our levels of security. Look at the alternatives that we've been using in society for years: the mail. What's secure about regular mail? Nothing, really. Essentially, you put important information--or a check--in a paper envelope and seal it with spit. Do people really believe that's a secure way to do business? With everything new there are concerns, but those concerns are exaggerated.
Q: What other changes have you overseen in the year that you have been at the head of MSC Software?
A: As a company, we have taken a hard look at just what we do. We don't just provide FEA software. We provide infrastructure for companies that allow them to develop products and grow. And, we are becoming an ASP. Every CEO wants his IT department to focus on meeting customer requirements. The ASP model allows companies to outsource their hardware and software issues and concentrate on what they do best.
Before assuming his current responsibilities, Perne was on the boards of both MSC and PDA Engineering, which MSC acquired in 1994. From 1994 to 1998, he was chairman and CEO of EOS Corp., an electrical manufacturer ranked number four among the 50 largest growing companies in Los Angeles. From 1984 to 1993, he was president and CEO (from 1990) of MagneTek, where he managed the growth of the company from $195 million to more than $1.5 billion. He also spent 17 years at General Motors in engineering test and computer simulation, and was an executive with Whittaker Corp., Bell and Howell, and Sun Electric. He has a BA in mechanical engineering from Kettering University, a Masters in electrical engineering from Wayne State University, and a Masters in management from MIT. He is a registered professional engineer, and director of Software.com and Intellisys.