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

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.

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.


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.

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?

The World Cup Simulated

The world is revving up for an exciting month of “futbol” (soccer) with the official kickoff of the World Cup in Brazil. Interestingly enough, we’ve done a bit of simulation work around aerodynamics of different ball designs. I did a bit of digging and found an image from a recent project. Below is a CFD simulation of a soccer ball spinning through the air. The goal of the simulation was to look at different surface conditions and compare different speeds and rotations. We also looked at a variety of stitch patterns. Similar to a golf ball, the surface of the ball has a big influence on how it travels through the air. Of course, for most of us, it probably doesn’t matter. But, when you are dealing with the best of the best, every little bit matters. upfront CFD & World Cup What appears to be a fairly kick of a ball can turn into quite a sophisticated simulation application. Depending on how far into the multiphysics aspect of the problem you want to go, you could easily find yourself dealing with nonlinear materials, impact, effects of deflection of the ball with initial flight trajectory as well as the aforementioned airflow characteristics. As with all thigs, I guess it depends on what exactly you are trying to learn and improve. In the spirit of #simulationfriday, I figured I’d share this fun example. Have a great weekend.

The Power of Visualization in CAE Simulation

The end result in any CAE Simulation revolves around conveying our results graphically. Whether it be a 2D graph or a high fidelity 3D visual image. Historically, in Simulation, we tend to be on the conservative side as we are focused on accuracy and the integrity of the results. But, wondering – should we push for higher fidelity realism in our visualization tools. Is there a place for it?

Check out the below video using Autodesk Simulation CFD and VRED.

The interesting thing is when I show this sort of thing to customers they seem to love it. But, to be honest, the results presentations I have sat through over the years are far from inspiring.

So, the question on this fun #SimulationFriday heading into summer. How important is it to have realistic visualization for simulation at your finger tips? Would it help you broaden the acceptance and “stickiness” of simulation within your organization? Are we content with the days of simple 2D plots and graphs? How about mobile, are we using phones and tablets to present results? Curious to hear what people think?