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?

Next Generation Geometry Handling System for Simulation from Autodesk

Creating geometry for simulation is one of the more challenging barriers we face as a Simulation Community. There are some companies that are diligent enough to build the geometry in their CAD system so that meshing is fairly straight forward. However, for the majority of us, we receive a mixture of geometry from a variety of sources. Sometimes the geometry isn’t clean and needs to be healed, but more often the geometry is perfectly fine from the CAD perspective, just not ready for meshing.

Arro Splash

Currently, Autodesk Simulation customers are given a companion version of the first generation Fusion technology. This was one of a few direct modeling tools to hit the markets, specifically for CAE model creation and prep. Over the last two years, the team at Autodesk have collected feedback and have started a brand new project from scratch. We are pleased to announce that we are opening a special invitation Customer Advisory Board for this new project. The project is named Project ARRO. ARRO will allow you to…

  • A = Analyze geometry

    • Check model integrity (slivers, problematic edges, overlapping faces, interferences, etc)
    • Detect and categorize features (holes, fillets, chamfers, embossed or raised features, etc)
  • R = Repair problems

    • Option to “auto-heal” identified issues based on a given tolerance or criteria
    • Split faces or stitch surfaces
  • R = Remove unnecessary features

    • Rapid selection and defeaturing without affecting source CAD
    • Associative simplifications (future)
  • O = Optimize designs

    • Directly edit geometry with simple push/pull/modify commands to explore ‘what if’ scenarios
    • Create alternatives that can be quickly and easily simulated using associative updates

This is a special Autodesk Labs offering that will not be available to the public and requires a special invitation. If you are interested, please send an email to

Autodesk Simulation: The Power of Community

The landscape of the CAE Simulation market has changed quite a bit over the last ten years. We went from ~15 major CAE vendors to just about a handful. Some of are focused solely on CAE Simulation and many others are part of a larger PLM organization. The interesting thing is that ten years ago PLM and Simulation were on opposite ends of the spectrum.

In addition to PLM, there are a number of other words that have entered the CAE Simulation space – cloud, upfront, automation, mobile, optimization, multi domain, systems simulation – just to name a few. So all the vendors are busy differentiating their offerings by working to advance the technology, offering alternative business models and providing a portfolio of solutions rather than point solutions.


But, the thing that really defines a product offering and vendor is the Community it serves. If we take the the name Community and take a minute to ponder, it means different things to different people. To some, it means a sense of belonging, commitment and camaraderie. To others, it means a sense of security, stability and a place to go to for help. To others, its a place to have a voice. Some of these voices are strong and demanding. Some of these voices are evangelical and committed. But one thing remains constant, providing tools and outlets for which the community can interact in person or virtual is vital.

To us on the vendor side, the word Community is the lifeblood of what we do. Without a passionate, vibrant community we really do not have much to measure ourselves by….long term. We can measure ourselves by revenue, # of seats, # of subscribers. However, I would argue all of these measurements are short term and are often by-products of a strong Community. Those of us on the product side, measure ourselves based on the pulse of the Community.


At Autodesk, we appreciate that our Community is globally diverse and require different ways to engage with one another as well as with us. I am proud to announce a relaunch of the SimHub. This is a micro site dedicated to the Autodesk Simulation Community. It’s the go-to place that our Community can access the following:

  • Discussion Forums – vibrant forums that are monitored by Autodesk employees as well as power users of all disciplines
  • Idea Stations – an area where users can submit their ideas and others can vote on the priority
  • Simulation TV – one of a kind video channel that are a mixture of training, tips and tricks and industry presentations
  • Learning Center – self paced tutorials, videos and training material
  • Events global local user group meetings and virtual live webinars
  • Resources – a collection of white papers and other industry reports
We are passionate about our Community. Did you know we have held over 30 user group meetings in the US over the last few months? Were you aware that we launch 6-10 Simulation specific Autodesk Labs Projects a year? Did you know that we focus a portion of each release to the ideas posted and voted on the Idea Station? If not, I encourage you to take a look at the site and learn more. I have had the pleasure of meeting a large number of you in person and interact with an even larger group virtually. But, our work is long way from being finished. Our team is focused on taking our products in the direction that serves the broader Community. When you get some time, need some help or find a chance to meet the team, please take a look at the new site and let us know what you think.

Autodesk Nastran added to a Simulation Mechanical Update

Autodesk has recently acquired certain assets of NEi Software. This is a big move toward a broader strategy that will unfold in the coming months. However, we decided to not make a formal announcement until we are ready to unveil specific parts of the overall plan.

Step one in the plan is to provide our Autodesk Simulation Mechanical customers with the best of both worlds. So, we posted a product enhancement to subscription customers that includes the industry proven Autodesk Nastran solver.

What’s new in the enhanced Simulation Mechanical:

  • Integrated Autodesk Nastran solver
  • Autodesk Nastran Editor for expanded workflows and results viewing
  • New meshing and selection options
  • Surface force distribution enhancement

There are four native Nastran analysis types supported in this release. They include:

  • Static Stress with Linear Material Models
  • Modal Analysis
  • Linear Buckling
  • Steady-state Heat Transfer
Here is a quick demo showing the entire workflow done in the Simulation Mechanical Interface and running the Autodesk Nastran solver.

The above analysis types support the full workflow in the Simulation Mechanical interface. However, users have access to the entire Nastran solver. For any advanced analyses not supported in the Sim Mechanical interface, they can use the Autodesk Nastran Editor or any other 3rd party tools.

There are many more things to come in this space. I am interested to hear what people think and where they would like us to take this technology.

CONNECT! 2014 European Moldflow User Meeting

Every year at this time, the best and the brightest in the Moldflow community gather in a handful of locations across Europe. The event is called CONNECT! and as the name implies the goal is to share openly about experiences, successes and struggles within the Plastics and Advanced Materials industries. I attended the event in Frankfurt which was a packed house of over 170 attendees. It’s hosted by MF Software, a Gold Partner for Autodesk and reseller of Autodesk Moldflow.


This years event had a number of presentations from customers as well as a very well known researcher in the area of fiber orientation, Professor Charles Tucker. The topics ranged from conformal cooling, to light weighting to advances in research and development. One thing that sets the plastic injection simulation world apart is that many of these companies are on the bleeding edge of manufacturing. They are constantly pushing themselves to develop higher quality products with faster and cheaper methods. Many are exploring new methods and working with Autodesk simultaneously to develop the method and the simulation methodologies. This poses unique challenges for us as a vendor, but also for out customers. The need to have a tight knit community is essential for all of us to keep the pace that is required.

Moldflow CONNECT

In addition to the customers and researchers, as expected, Autodesk was there in force. In many cases it was to sit and listen and learn what the challenges are and in other cases, we were able to share where we are going and validate our plans so that we can deliver as much value as possible. We had a variety of breakout sessions, including a town hall style meeting which was broken into smaller groups. I’ve been doing this along time, but have to say the town hall meetings were the most valuable. The community came prepared and had some really interesting challenges that they are trying to tackle. We had members of Product Management as well as the head of R&D present to have open, candid conversations.

We also did something unique this year. We had folks from our User Experience (UX) team attend and they were booked solid with 1:1 interviews showing prototypes of things we are working on as well as gathering feedback on what’s working and what’s not. This is fairly rare in the high end simulation space to take the time to do formal interviews on workflows and general UX. Autodesk kicked started this aggressive approach at Autodesk University last year where we had a team of UX professionals interviewing customers for the four days we were there. The feedback was amazing and helped define alot of where we are headed this year.

The team is headed to Paris for tomorrow’s event. I am looking forward to hearing the feedback. I was proud to be a part of the event. Our customers are doing amazing things and our team is working very hard to deliver on our promise of Customer First.

Autodesk is presenting at ISC Cloud ’13 on CAE in the Cloud

A group of the industry’s top minds in HPC will gather in Heidelberg, Germany on September 23-24th to discuss what impact the cloud will have on their industry in the near and long term. Although many will have a common interest in the performance aspect of the cloud, I suspect there are a number of questions on everyone’s mind.

  • In addition to raw computation power, what else will the cloud provide?
  • How secure is the cloud?
  • What exists today and what will exist tomorrow?
  • What are barriers to adoption?
  • If barriers are reduced, what’s possible?
I’ve been asked to present and have chosen to talk about Re-imagining CAE Simulation in the Cloud.  I am excited to meet with other vendors, thinkers and users in an effort to explore what’s possible.
Anyone else attending? Would love to grab dinner or coffee to hear your viewpoints.