Product Managers Should Choose Service Over Product

As a product manager, often we are faced with the question. Is the customer always right? If we are honest, the answer, probably not. However, the customer expects and requires good service. Assuming you want to keep them as a customer.

Loyal customers gravitate to the products we build for various reasons. Some is due to clever marketing, some is the different feature or service we provide and sometimes its a bit of dumb luck. Regardless, however we capture that loyalty, we need to keep it. Here is a brief story of where loyalty was lost.

I am a big fan of wireless headphones. Between airplane rides, endless conference calls and running, you can expect to find a pair of headphones around my neck. Another observation that you could make is that I am brand loyal. I find something I like and I am loyal, almost to a fault. I’m finding, there is a connection between loyalty and service.

Bose

Two years ago, I purchased a mid-priced set of wireless headphones that I wore all the time. After about a year, they stopped working. I was moderately happy with the quality, but for the price, I was fairly content. Being frustrated that they stopped working, I called tech support, which is out of character in itself. You know, to actually call someone. The experience was reasonable and they replaced the broken headset free of charge, no questions asked.

About a year later, same thing. The replacement pair stopped working. At this point, I have grown less satisfied with the quality, in general. This time, I logged in to their support “chat” and the experience was much different than the phone call. It took entirely too long for them to take all of my information and various emails back and forth to provide proof of purchase. Eventually 3-4 emails later, I received a confirmation email to ship my defective set back and approximately 10 days later they would send a new pair. What?! Keep in mind, this whole time, I am on the road and shipping anything was a hassle. Not to mention, I am now roughly two weeks without a pair of wireless headphones. First world problems, I know.

One week later, I am still carrying the defective headset around in my bag. Just annoyed at the whole process. Low and behold, yesterday I receive an email from a competitive product announcing brand new, high end, wireless headphones. Was this a sign? Not sure. Needless to say, I bought two brand new pair of the competitors product in lieu of a free replacement pair from my former loyal brand.

The morale of the story. As product leaders, ensure you are providing great service. All the time, no questions asked. Is the customer always right? Not sure, but this customer is waiting on UPS to try out his two brand new pair of headphones.

Join Autodesk at the International CAE Simulation Conference 2014

The Autodesk Simulation team will be attending and presenting at the International CAE Simulation Conference in Verona, Italy next week. The team will be there available to have open discussions about where we are going and how we can help. We are looking forward to connecting with our Italian friends and learning more about the challenges that you are facing.

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Specifically, we will be presenting on The Role of Advanced Materials in Lightweighting on Tuesday the 29th at 11a. We will discuss the trends we are seeing both near term and those that are in the experimental phase. In addition, we will discuss simulation tools that we have at Autodesk that help customers build confidence into the design and manufacturing process. Come see us and let’s have a chat.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD: Powerful, Trusted, Embedded FEA

CAE Simulation tools have evolved significantly over the last 15 years. There have been a variety of advancements in the technology both from a software and a hardware perspective. In the early days, we were fortunate enough to take a few part assembly and solve a simulation in an hour plus. Often times the plus was a big plus. Nowadays, we are solving “system” level models in the matter of minutes. With the advancements in technology, comes an increase in expectation from the user community.

Engineers are under a tremendous amount of pressure to design great products, deliver on time and ensure the highest quality. We need tools that just simply work. We want what we want, when we want it. Some of us are full time simulation analysts and prefer a robust standalone tool that is flexible enough to allow us to get our job done, no matter what. Others prefer the simulation tools “embedded” in the design tools. Just because the tools are embedded, the expectations are still high. In fact, many that run the embedded tools use the technology on a regular basis. The expectation of this user persona is sometimes even higher than that of a standalone simulation user.

In the beginning, the concept of embedded simulation was revolutionary. Companies like Rasna and SRAC broke all of the rules and took fast, automated CAE and exposed it to the engineering world. Most users were thrilled that it even worked. Basic modal, linear static with some thermal was sufficient. Things have evolved over the years. Computing power is advancing, graphics have become more stunning and the overall capabilities are increasing. Some codes have stayed the course and simply evolved and improved on existing tech. Others have increased capabilities.

Nastran capabilities

But, in listening to users, the appetite for more is there. The increase of material exploration, reducing cost, increased pressure for aesthetically complex designs- the need for more power is on the rise. The power to do more. The power to stay true to the nature of embedded simulation, but offer some more advanced capabilities. These advanced capabilities need to be trusted and validated. Companies under pressure to deliver reliable products, require technology that they can trust.

Enter, Autodesk Nastran In-CAD. We at Autodesk are making some bold moves. Decisions driven by where we see the market going. Our focus is to deliver robust, high end capabilities in the way that our customers want to use out tools. We have a history of delivering both standalone simulation solutions, as well as “In-CAD” simulation capabilities. We are evolving these solutions to include the introduction of a trusted and validated version of an Autodesk Nastran solver. The main difference is that the In-CAD version offers a significant amount of simulation capabilities than your typical embedded FEA solution. Not only is it powered by the same trusted technology of our standalone tools, but its been designed to optimize the workflows of the design process. The capabilities above and beyond the typical embedded FEA tools include nonlinear materials and contact, transient simulations, composites simulations as well as fatigue. So far the feedback has been great. But, as we evolve, we are very interested in your candid feedback. Feel free to post here or the Autodesk Nastran In-CAD Forums or provide some Ideas of where we should be driving the product.

The Cloud Opens the Doors to Design Exploration for Manufacturers

There have been some interesting conversations in the CAE community around the benefits and drawbacks of the cloud. One of the points I find most interesting is around the idea of “Infinite Computing”. This is a phrase that we use here at Autodesk. Some people understand the context right away, some balk at the idea and many others are likely somewhere in the middle. What’s Infinite Computing really mean to us as users? Let’s take a look.

I’ve had the opportunity to be out ahead of the market and was involved in the early days of launching a cloud connected CAE product line – Simulation 360. I’ll spare you the sales pitch and focus on some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Let’s first take a look at a short list of some of the problems we are trying to solve.

  • Computation demands are on the rise
  • Limited collaboration and communciation tools
  • Limited time and resources
Saw

Computation demands are on the rise

Model sizes are increasing. The desire to account for Multiphysics is increasing. But, more importantly the pressure to optimize is a common conversation. When I probe more on why users are not leveraging simulation more to optimize their design. Often, the most common response revolves around time. Not enough time in the day to fine tune and explore more design choices. Status quo has been that good enough will have to due for now. In some markets, maybe that is ok. But, more commonly we hear that competition is fierce and pressure to deliver faster, more innovative products has never been higher. What if you could do significantly more tomorrow than you did yesterday? What if you could exponentially increase your through put? I believe that is where infinite computing comes into play. In reality, we all appreciate that even with the cloud, computing is finite. But, the idea of elastic near-infiite computing is significantly better than where we are today.

Limited collaboration and communication tools

Even the best-in-class simulation users report that they struggle to communicate or collaborate efficiently. Each company has a variety of ways they document or share the results of their simulations. Some have a formal templated system that they meticulously document their findings and formally report their findings. Others simply create quick power points that are shared via email and others simply email. The cloud does provide an opportunity for change. We are already seeing the impact of tools like dropbox and Box. Ability to access data whenever and wherever. Imagine if you were able to access simulation data in real-time. Imagine even further that you were able to share images, data with your colleagues. Now imagine that all of this information was searchable and accessible. That is what the cloud brings to the table.

Limited time and resources

All of the above are great advancements in simulation. But at the end of the day, what we are trying to achieve significantly more than what we are able to do today. We are embarking on a cultural shift where computational resources are becoming accessible. Ability to access information is available on mobile devices. The ability to compete is real. Getting back to one of the major hurdles around simulation adoption is time. If we are able to explore our designs and run these simulations in parallel. What does that do for the design cycle? What does that do for time to market? What does that do to building confidence in our designs?

We are in early days when it comes to the cloud. Many of the speculations here are educated observations and predictions. Many are being proved as we speak, many require time and validation by the user community.

Surface Wrapping for CFD on Autodesk Labs

CFD engineers around the world deal with geometry from multiple sources. From various CAD systems, to various surfacing systems and more recently scanned data. Some of this geometry is “clean”, but most of it is not quite ready for meshing. In fact, most is nowhere near ready for meshing. Recent surveys, we found that CFD users were spending ~70% of their simulation time cleaning up geometry for meshing. 70%. That’s alot of time.

There are various manual methods and even a few automated utilities to make the process easier. But, the fact is, its the number one hurdle many of us face in getting result in any CFD application. The team at Autodesk is looking at a variety of methods to help make this process easier. The goal near term is to make it easier. The goal long term is to make it go away altogether.

One of these initiatives is Project Ventus. Ventis is greek for wind. We thought it appropriate as we are focusing on external aerodynamic simulations to start. These consist of the standard flow over planes, trains and automobiles. But in the Autodesk world, it also means flow over buildings, bridges and city landscapes. Each are unique in their own right, but all have similar geometric challenges. There are overlapping surfaces, gaps in the models, surface imperfections etc.

Project Ventus offers surface wrapping technology that allows users to take geometry from anywhere, as-is. It then automatically detects the imperfections and creates an external wrapped surface as an external skin of the model. This new wrapped model can then be brought directly into Autodesk Simulation CFD.

Surface wrapping technology has existed for a number of years, but usually requires a fair amount of expertise to dial in the controls properly. The goal of Project Ventus is to eliminate that need for expertise and work to automate the process. We are very interested in your feedback. Click here or the above link to sign up to test Ventus and let us know what you think. Project Ventus requires an active Autodesk Simulation CFD license.

TechTalk: A real-life case study about CFD in the Autodesk 360 Cloud

Autodesk entered a partnership with the uberCloud experiment over a year ago. It was an interesting opportunity to get out in front of a community of engineers, scientists and early adopters who are interested in leveraging the cloud for computation. The experiences and backgrounds of the community are vast. Some have been involved in heavy HPC applications for many years, some were design engineers that had alot of design alternatives floating around in the minds, but didn’t have the time or resources to explore the possibilities.

Ubercloud

Our team partnered with Mark Lobo at Lobo Engineering to explore a real world application of maximizing flow and pressure drop through a valve assembly. Mark was able to run over 200 simulations and take the work that typically would take a month, down to a day.

Join us next week as Mark shares his experiences of life as a CFD Engineer leveraging the cloud.

Do we need more standards in CAE Interoperability?

Everywhere we turn, there are discussions about MCAD Interoperability. Sometimes, it’s extended to include “CAE” Interoperability. But, I think its fair to say, most are referring to CAD and geometry. There are a variety of solutions and standards that have been established over the years. From IGES thru STEP thru “richer” formats like JT. CAD Interoperability is a broad topic, but it seems to fall into two categories – viewing and actual reuse. Each is at different levels of maturity and will likely continue to evolve. Especially if services like GrabCAD and the like keep popping up.

But what about Simulation? Is there enough demand out there for more effort around interoperability standards? There are some standards in meshing around universal (UNV) files, but safe to say, its at a very basic level. If you are in the Nastran world, there are things like Bulk Data Files (BDF) and even Nastran (NAS) files. Back in my early days as a CFD guy, we used CGNS files similar to the way the CAD guys used IGES. I wonder if there is a desire to have standardized mesh formats and/or solver formats. The simple answer is, of course. But, is the problem big enough to warrant the effort and to move to standardization? Not sure.

mobile sim

However, what about visualization? Seems to me that users are passionate about their solvers, maybe even passionate about what mesh they use. But, are we on the brink of a shift in how we visualize results? Not to take anything away from the individual “post processors” on the market. But, wondering if there is a need to expand the usage and applicability of visualization. A trend we’ve noticed is that there is a desire to broaden the access to simulation results and information. We’ve found that there isn’t as much a desire to perform the post processing and hunt and peck for answers. But, there is a desire to share information visually. There are some solutions out, but most are very basic.

One would think with the explosion of mobile device usage, we should be thinking about standards and new ways to present ALL of our results in a similar format so that a broader audience could absorb and learn from the information?

What do you think? Is this a big enough problem that warrants some thought? Would you prefer web access? How about mobile? What information do you find most valuable that would need to be included?

Autodesk Simulation Flex: An Evolution of the Cloud

It’s no secret, Autodesk believes in the cloud. We’ve spoken about the benefits- computation, collaboration, storage, access etc. No other team has embraced the paradigm shift as much as the Simulation Group. We have been releasing, learning, tweaking our products to leverage the cloud over the past three years. We’ve witnessed first hand the birth of a new way of thinking about computing. As with anything new there have been some ups and downs. Let’s take a look at some of the things we learned along the way.

First, we started with what is now Inventor Optimization. We wanted to tackle a problem that plagued the design community. We wanted to create a solution that was super easy, almost automatic and allowed us to test the power of computation that the cloud brought to the table. What we delivered was a purpose built plugin that sits directly inside Inventor that allows non-experts to quickly setup a parametric optimization and leverage the power of infinite computing to identify the optimum design.

Next came along Project Cumulus. We wanted to up the stakes a bit and take what we learned from the design community and extend it to the Moldflow analyst community. We picked something a bit bigger and a bit heavier in computational requirements. The team connected our Design of Experiments (DOE) technology and the power of parallel solves via the cloud to provide a unique offering that has been bottle necked historically by computation time.

Two experimental projects that served two very different communities but they both had one thing in common, the need for computation. Taking what we learned, we wanted to broaden the circle and see if we could apply it in a more general purpose form.

Enter the launch of Simulation 360. This was a first of its kind. We took the family of Simulation desktop products that we had (Moldflow, Mechanical, CFD and RSA) and connected them to the Autodesk 360 cloud. Above is a fun video we put together to show you the offering in action (“I just saw a helicopter”). The service was offered on an annual term basis with “cloud credits” that you burned whenever you used the cloud for computing. Similar to a mobile phone plan.This provided a unique business model that customers didn’t have to heavily invest in numerous licenses for Multiphysics simulations and the additional expensive hardware required to run them. You could simply subscribe and pay for what you used. This model has been widely adopted by the community and we have had well over 200,000 simulation jobs run on the Autodesk 360 servers. Although we were pleased with the results, we also learned some things along the way.

One of the biggest takeaways was that the needs of the Community varied substantially. Some were heavy users, some used it occasionally and some used the cloud for burst computing. It became clear that we were in the early stages of a paradigm shift in computing, but in order to satisfy the needs of our customers, we needed to be flexible. We spent a better part of two years traveling around the world visiting customers, observing how they used the tools. The result, we tweaked the offering and changed the name to Autodesk Simulation Flex. It has all of the similar features as before but adds the ability to solve local. We found that small quick experimental jobs, quick tests of boundary conditions were better suited for local solving and the larger, heavier lifting was better left to the cloud. This hybrid service gives you the best of both worlds, allowing you to leverage the cloud when you need it but also not restricting you from getting your job done when you are traveling or away from an internet connection.

I believe the market as well as the technology will evolve over time. Right now, we are working and living in a hybrid world. This will likely be the case for the time being. But, it seems inevitable that we will all evolve as the tech evolves.

Curious what you think?

 

 

The Key to the Cloud for CAE is Elasticity

There are a number of changes and advancements going on in CAE. No other has had more controversy and impact than the introduction of the cloud. Many new vendors have sprung onto the market to offer an attractive alternative to desktop CAE. In addition, some of the traditional CAE vendors are providing alternative offerings to leverage the power of the new paradigm that the cloud brings to the table.

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The cloud brings to the table the potential for Infinite Computing. Infinite in comparison to what we have on desktops and servers today. Infinite in the idea that the offering is elastic. We are able to use what we need when we need it. It’s more than simply a change in technology and workflow, its around the impact the business model brings to users. When we look at the number one reason that users have reported why they don’t simulate more. It almost always comes down to time. There is a finite amount of time and resources available and we tend to make due with what we have available to us. What if we removed barriers of computation, opened the doors to allowing you to explore? Automate the process of optimization?

That is what the cloud brings to the table. Yes, it can likely solve larger models. Yes, it can provide access to more physics. But, the pure power of the cloud is around elasticity. Elasticity breaks down some of the common barriers we face around Design Exploration.

In a recent survey we conducted, it was listed that engineers are running 4-5 simulations per design. When we probed how many design changes were made based on the simulation results, the answers ~2-3. What if you could do 10x more in the same amount of time. What if you could simply double your throughput?

No question that there are some barriers to adoption. But, all of the security discussions aside. Are you looking for access to more computing power? Are you content with the amount of simulations you are able to do today? If not, what are you doing about it?

Mechanical FEA is in its Infancy

Although Mechanical FEA has been around for 50+ years, we are just scratching the surface of the potential and the real impact it will have on modern day design and engineering. Likely there are a number of people in the FEA world or at large manufacturers that would argue with the title of this post. But, I challenge you to think about how much your designs are evolving. Are you pushing the limits of innovation?

A good majority of mechanical engineers have either used, been exposed to or are using some sort of FEA tool. Whether its CAD-embedded or a standalone general purpose tool. The market has grown rapidly over the last 20 years or so. To the point, that I believe many feel that its reached its maturity. I disagree. The more I talk to customers and listen to their process, I wonder how many can say they are leveraging FEA to a reasonable potential. I would be interested in reasonable, not even full potential.

Autodesk Nastran

My estimate is probably 10% of the mechanical engineers, at best, are really at their peak potential with Mechanical FEA. In some cases, getting by with “just enough” is probably ok. In these cases, FEA is being used as a validation tool, rather than a Design Exploration tool. In order to gain market share, engineers are being pushed to innovate and differentiate. This differentiation can be around time to market, reliability or breaking new ground in a new market. The pressure to explore possibilities is on the rise.

Trends that I think could open the doors to broader usage and even more pressure.

  1. Advanced Materials – The need for true to life or as manufactured is on the rise. The more advancements we do in materials, such as composites, the more there will be a need to characterize the structural integrity of these designs.The more advanced the materials, the more expensive they will be to prototype, hence, the need for structural FEA will grow. Imagine the ability to simulate the impact materials will have on designs. Imagine being able to also simulate the manufacturing process, all before a single prototype is built.
  2. Topological Optimization- Only a few years ago, the idea of topological optimization was nothing more than a cool demonstration of what may be possible someday. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that engineers are looking to push the envelope of computing and make organic shapes and designs a reality. Companies are looking at the impact of lattice structures and how to make lighter stronger designs. These trends will force the need to simulate more.
  3. Systems Engineering– Companies are continuing to push to account for the impact of the entire system. Mechatronics are more and more common. The days of single parts or small subassemblies are over. Engineers are looking to model the system in all its glory. The impact of the mechanics, electronics and software all need to be accounted for.

So, I don’t want to imply that I think the FEA opportunity or market will simply just grow. I am implying that I think engineers will continue to push the usage and broaden the applicability. It’s up to us as vendors to stay ahead of the curve. So, for those that feel the Mechanical FEA space is saturated and stale, I think you will be surprised with how it will evolve. The days of simple nodes and elements will be around for as long as I can see, but I expect to see big advancements in the Mechanical FEA space over the next few years.

As always, interested to hear what you think?