Autodesk Cozies Up to ANSYS at AU
Roopinder Tara posted on November 28, 2019 |


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The all-electric, 680 HP ID.R Pikes Peak by Volkswagen, the racing car that “crushed” the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (a.k.a. Race to the Clouds) in the alternative fuels division by 16 seconds, according to ANSYS’ President and CEO at Autodesk University 2019. Volkswagen used ANSYS for virtual drive tests and also studied battery cooling systems, weight and aerodynamic drag trade-offs. (Picture courtesy of Volkswagen)
If there was any doubt that Autodesk was serious about simulation, their CEO was going to put it to rest at their big event, Autodesk University (AU), recently concluded in Las Vegas. Andrew Anagnost took the opportunity to announce an alliance between Autodesk and ANSYS. This followed on the heels of another announcement, of a connection between Autodesk’s VRED (automotive visualization and prototyping) and ANSYS’ tools for lighting simulation. While the products announced were little more than connections between the companies’ products, the real significance was the two CEOs appearing in a congenial setting, in a side-by-side dialog —instead of a fight to the death.

For ten years, Autodesk, the design software company, had been encroaching on ANSYS’ territory. Historically, ANSYS owns simulation like Autodesk owned design. But a ten year, $500 million buying spree brought a number of simulation companies into the Autodesk fold, including ALGOR, Moldflow, Blue Ridge Numerics and NEi Software. Autodesk was making a headlong plunge into the democratization of simulation, leading the other CAD companies to follow suit, swallowing up CAE companies.

With finite element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) firmly in the hands of designers and drafters, the traditional analyst rang the alarm bells. Get ready for planes to fall out of the sky and bridges to fall to Earth due to ignorance of higher education, of skills honed by senior analysts. Surely, the alarm bells were heard in the halls of ANSYS, as vendors of the simulation software most widely used by those senior analysts.

But in the executive quarters, a different sentiment must have been emerging. Why don’t we democratize simulation software? ANSYS introduced DesignSpace in 1996 with the express purpose of accessing CAD data and increasing the ease with which FEA meshes could be created. Maybe Autodesk’s idea of democratization was the right idea after all? Instead of creating software only a few privileged priests could use, why not make ANSYS more useful for all product designers?

What is the Connection?

Look at us, three simulation guys. Andrew Anagnost, President and CEO of Autodesk, left, with a PhD in aeronautics/astronautics and computer science from Stanford, performed simulation as a young engineer. Ajei Gopal, with the sneakers, leads today’s most successful simulation vendor, as the President and CEO of ANSYS. Greg Fallon, who worked for ANSYS and is now Autodesk’s VP of Design and Manufacturing Strategy, plays host at the Manufacturing Keynote at Autodesk University 2019 in Las Vegas.
Look at us, three simulation guys. Andrew Anagnost, President and CEO of Autodesk, left, with a PhD in aeronautics/astronautics and computer science from Stanford, performed simulation as a young engineer. Ajei Gopal, with the sneakers, leads today’s most successful simulation vendor, as the President and CEO of ANSYS. Greg Fallon, who worked for ANSYS and is now Autodesk’s VP of Design and Manufacturing Strategy, plays host at the Manufacturing Keynote at Autodesk University 2019 in Las Vegas.

ANSYS says that models created with Fusion 360 will be “automatically available” for ANSYS Mechanical simulation, implying that ANSYS will be able to read Fusion 360 files directly from the cloud and be able to use the 3D CAD model to create a mesh. ANSYS Mechanical is the heart of the company’s product line. Now known for all sorts of simulation, including CFD, it is the FEA in ANSYS Mechanical on which the company was founded and built.

It is a connection made possible by the Autodesk FORGE Platform, says Greg Fallon, VP of Design and Manufacturing Strategy at Autodesk, who moderates the onstage discussion with CEOs Anagnost and Gopal.

“Automated processes” like generative design, are to benefit from this collaboration, according the announcement. Generative design, done in Fusion 360, employs its own structural simulation to arrive at its optimized shape (so ANSYS solvers would be no help there), but once the optimized shape is created, it can be subjected to more sophisticated simulations, such as vibration, harmonics, etc. using ANSYS.

What’s Wrong with NASTRAN?

You might be wondering why Autodesk does not use NASTRAN for the more sophisticated simulations and now needs to get in in bed with ANSYS. We are.

Autodesk bought NEi Software in 2014 and hoped to get sufficient credibility as a CAE vendor. The original NASTRAN, its origins in NASA, was once the preeminent aerospace simulation application. A number of companies took NASA’s NASTRAN code and created commercial versions, the most successful of which was MacNeal-Schwendler (MSC). David Weinberg, US Air Force Reserve pilot of KC-135R aircraft, also picked up the NASA’s code for NASTRAN to form NEi Software. Since NEi did not get as large a piece of the NASTRAN pie, it was probably a better bargain for a company shopping for a bona fide simulation software. While NEi’s price was never disclosed, MSC was picked up by Hexagon for $834 million in 2017.

Though NEi was an “also-ran” in the simulation race, it was still considered professional grade FEA. Autodesk’s previous FEA acquisition, ALGOR for $34 million in 2008 had failed to impress anyone, not analysts in industry analysts, not simulation users.

But as NEi Nastran cannot hold a candle to ANSYS, it now joins ALGOR, another jilted simulation application.

What’s In It for ANSYS?

While Autodesk was gushing over ANSYS on stage at AU 2019, we were trying to read the ANSYS President and CEO’s thought bubble. How was he going to handle Autodesk competitors? Did appearing with Autodesk jeopardize his chances with other CAD vendors. ANSYS had only recently announced a licensing agreement to let PTC use their game-changing Discovery Live, eye-popping technology that appears to do simulation in real time. We had wonder that even while Autodesk is showing off its trophy date at its big party, if ANSYS was playing the field.

Perhaps sensing Autodesk, a design software leader, was going to compete with them, it was better to appear to play along rather than fight? ANSYS will now get more exposure to the millions of users of Autodesk software. ANSYS solution presented as a choice to all Autodesk’s users might lead to a few of them buying full licenses of ANSYS. Stranger things have happened.

But with only a bridge between the two companies, an increased revenue source for ANSYS is not clear at this point.

ANSYS has ventured into design software. It bought SpaceClaim for $85 million in 2014. SpaceClaim, founded by CAD pioneer Mike Payne, also founder of PTC and SOLIDWORKS, set itself up in 2005 across the parking lot from SOLIDWORKS HQ, then in Concord, Mass. With direct modeling, SpaceClaim was to be the better SOLIDWORKS. In 2014, when it was acquired by ANSYS, it was still operating at a loss.

ANSYS may have abandoned the hope that SpaceClaim will give it access to the world’s CAD geometry with its model import capabilities, and now sees Autodesk as willing to provide much of it directly, at least that much that is in AutoCAD or Inventor format.

What’s in It for Autodesk?

Cozying up to ANSYS is now Autodesk’s third attempt at FEA credibility, if you consider Algor the first and NEi Nastran the second.

Autodesk invited itself to NAFEMS in 2012 after a string of acquisitions. At the annual simulation conference, it was like the Great Gatsby, the flashy, new money millionaire amongst the aristocrats. Even with fortunes fading, decorum and style still mattered. Until the upstart arrived, it had been talking of accuracy, validation, convergence. All Autodesk wanted to talk about was letting in the unwashed, the riffraff…with all this talk of democratization. Bah!

A couple of years later, Autodesk bought and paid for what it expected to be a respected, general purpose FEA program in NEi Nastran, an enterprise level simulation solver that afforded Autodesk the credibility that ALGOR could not. But it may have proven to be not enough. Autodesk was still looking.

As ANSYS is the undisputed leader in engineering simulation software (sales of $1.2 billion in FY2018) and offers the most respected general purpose FEA program, having that choice marginally increases Autodesk’s credibility as a serious simulation company.

When?

So now, what? A choice of meshers and solvers, Nastran or ANSYS. Nastran for Inventor and ANSYS for Fusion 360? We will let you know.

It’s not clear at the time of this writing, when the connection between Autodesk Fusion 360 and ANSYS Mechanical will be available to the public. Or how much it will cost.

Stay tuned.

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