Autodesk brings NASTRAN to the Cloud and into CAD Applications
Shawn Wasserman posted on August 19, 2014 |
NASTRAN upgrade for Simulation Mechanical, Simulation Flex, and Inventor

Autodesk NASTRAN’s capabilities.

You may have heard about NEi’s sale to Autodesk back in May. At the time, we heard some nervous uncertainty from the NEi user community as to the fate of their software.

Now Autodesk has broken their silence with a big announcement.  They are adding a nonlinear NASTRAN solver to the cloud and introducing it into Simulation Mechanical and Simulation Flex (formerly Sim360). Autodesk is also adding NASTRAN available In-CAD for both Inventor and Dassault’s Solidworks (to replace NEi Works).

The announcement was made by Derrek Cooper, Director of Simulation Products at Autodesk, “Our vision is to transform how customers design, make and manage products with software that is bold, productive and personal.”

Autodesk Nastran and the fate of NEi

NASTRAN’s tried, tested, and true record.

NEi users will be relieved to see that their favourite NASTRAN editor tool remains intact, with only minor tweaks including a rebranding into Autodesk Nastran.

The bulk data files (cards) synonymous with NEi are still compatible and editable in the Autodesk program. Additionally most of the familiar NEi team have joined the Autodesk family. It is safe to say that with the exception of reselling FEMAP, Autodesk has maintained everything a NEi user will care about.

“If you trust a solver you will generally stick with it unless there is a change,” said Tyler Smithson, a Sr. Stress Engineer at C&D Zodiac. NEi has earned that trust, since the solver has been tested on over 5,000 NAFEMS benchmark problems every release. The solver is also able to work with all known pre/post environments and is scalable with 3rd party add-ons.

“For people new to NASTRAN, the bulk data file might be a little bit scary,” warns Mitch Muncy, Simulation Project Manager at Autodesk and former VP at NEi. “People were shooting these cards into mainframes years ago and they still wanted to see them. The way we did it was to try and make it easy to use so you don’t need a reference manual for changes in the interface. You also have a nice interactive view to see how the results are progressing. This is how I learned NASTRAN when I started. But you can make this invisible and work with the GUI. The solver then takes this input file, solves it, and provides an output file.”

Why Autodesk Selected NEi Nastran

Why NEi was chosen.

When making the decision to purchase NEi, Cooper explained, “We looked at the market landscape, customers, and internal technology. We then went out to find the most popular nonlinear code we could find that works well with our current technology and culture. And that was NEi.”

Muncy agrees, “Bringing nonlinear analysis to NASTRAN is something NEi has been doing for years. NASTRAN has been the staple of aerospace and automotive. You can do a lot of linear statics and mechanics but we saw a need for strong nonlinear capabilities in the solver.” This was something that aligned with Autodesk’s goals.

User Smithson said, “Aerospace is a highly regulated industry. An enormous amount of work with the FAA is needed to physically test and run equivalence tests to prove, for example, that a galley won’t come loose in a crash … If we stay with linear analysis everything would be made much too heavy. We need to go past linear analysis. We need non-linear margins in tests that don’t have high cycles. In other words, a crash test is the big test we can use NEi NASTRAN to model. It can model just about anything I need for aerospace”

Vik Vedantham, Business Manager of Simulation Products added that “NASTRAN was chosen to expand the needs of our users for model complexity, computing power and multiphysics. It is already a standard in the field for robust FEA. As for NEi specifically, they were able to push NASTRAN toward non-linear capabilities. They also have a lot of expertise in the automotive, aeronautics, and marine industries. We believe that Autodesk will be able to expand NASTRAN into other industries.”

Apparently, Autodesk isn’t currently planning to compete in markets where competing NASTRAN services have a stronghold.

“The power of simulation is to make better decisions sooner,” noted Cooper. “We want to go after markets we think our customers are moving into and markets that relate to what we do. We don’t want to copy a simulation portfolio. We want design driven simulation and manufacturing optimization. We don’t just want to check a box and say we have all these other feature that a competitor may have.”

Vedantham agreed that taking NASTRAN users “is not our focus. We want to push NASTRAN into more and more spaces to deliver multiphysics.” Something that can be made much easier giving NASTRAN access to current Autodesk users and future users on the cloud.

Nastran in Mechanical

Ability to solve simulations in SimMech or NASTRAN is an easy switch..

Within 30 days of the NEi acquisition; NASTRAN was available to mechanical users. It appeared in the workflow as an option to replace the SimMech Algor solver with NASTRAN. However, there doesn’t seem to be a goal to wean users off Algor anytime soon.

“Most will work in the existing native,” mentioned Vedantham. “But there are some problems that are beyond ALGOR. For these problems, users should use NASTRAN. Alternatively they can clone the model and run the simulation using both solvers to compare the results. It will not cost users any more and the same mesh will transfer.”

You can think of Simulation Mechanical as an integrated NASTRAN solver. The decision is up to the user as to which solver to use. For added user specialization, NASTRAN is also integrated into the solver manager so solver defaults can be set.

“For those guys looking to push the limits, you can also launch the NASTRAN editor for added functionality,” explained Muncy. “Simulation Mechanical may not have the access to run all that crazy functionality that we do in NASTRAN. You can open up the editor and make the changes there.”

Mechanical also has seen improved CAD support, new meshing options, access to the NASTRAN editor, and other usability improvements.

Nastran and Multiphysics in the Cloud

Summary of Autodesk Portfolio.

“Being able to run Nastran in the cloud is something we have been talking about for years and we couldn’t figure it out,” admits Muncy. “It wasn’t a matter of should we, it was a matter of how. So when we came over to Autodesk I said ‘we have to get this going.’ Autodesk answered ‘don’t worry we are on top of it.’ After a few short months, Autodesk has already figured out all the technical hurdles and has made it successful.”

Muncy warns though that users should be careful what they wish for. With NASTRAN on the cloud, the days are gone where you can set up a simulation and go on a break or take a vacation. Now you can run iterations and designs of experiments and start the post processing of the first result while the others still run in the background.

Cloud is also important because, “Model sizes have been growing exponentially and customers don’t what to simplify it. … In fact they want to see the connections of systems to see the entire thing working. This is what is driving multiphysics,” noted Cooper.

He added that, “The question becomes ‘how do you accurately model this with limited computing capacity?’ This is where the cloud offers an alternative to Linux clusters. Right out of the gate the cloud is about multiphysics and model complexity.”

Autodesk’s Cloud Simulation Portfolio

Summary of Autodesk acquisitions from 2005 to 2014.

To aide in the quest for multiphysics, Autodesk has made a series of acquisitions since 2005. These additions have grown Autodesk’s ability to simulate CFD, composites, and plastic molding. Now NASTRAN will take on the nonlinear FEA aspects of these multiphysics simulations.

Autodesk’s portfolio is offered as desktop solutions using flexible licences with various tiers and levels. But they are also available on the cloud. “In the spirit of integration, all of these tools are heading to work together so it’s not an ‘or’ it’s an ‘and,’” said Cooper.


This is where the bundled Simulation Flex solution comes in (formerly Sim360). The standard version will include NASTRAN, Autodesk CFD, and Autodesk Robot Structural Analysis. However, there is a version that also includes Autodesk Moldflow.

“As Flex implies, it has flexible solving capabilities and licensing agreements. This is a hybrid cloud enabled solution allowing for me to solve on my desktop or over the cloud for multiple or larger simulations. Flex and Fusion360 which remains on the cloud are the evolution to Simulation 360,” explained Cooper.

For Flex, users will pay an annual fee which will give them access to cloud credits that are then used to solve simulations in the cloud. Unlike traditional tokens, users will have unlimited desktop usage of the products. This allows users to learn these new products at their leisure on the desktop without wasting the tokens they need for big projects.

“This is removing the barrier of simulation to small and medium corporations. People that are using the cloud are running more simulations than on the desktop. This is serving a very unique market of 220 000 jobs per month in the flex products,” explained Cooper.


Finally, NASTRAN will be available through Autodesk Inventor accessible from a tab in the function ribbon and as a more traditional FEA workflow browser. This will allow users to solve for nonlinear analysis while still within Autodesk Inventor and Dassault’s Solidworks.

NASTRAN’s nonlinear capabilities will allow Inventor users to simulate and solve more problems than just linear static and frequency studies. Now CAD experts can improve designs within the CAD system before sending them off to engineers and analysts.

Material information can be imported by the user or selected from a large library containing over 9,000 verified materials from various suppliers including Dupont, DSM, and Ticona. Some material options included are orthotropic, isotropic, anisotropic, hyperelastic, brittle, concrete, foam, composites, and metals.

To make analysis easier, Autodesk Inventor will allow user to use bolt connectors when running NASTRAN In-CAD. This will simplify both the mesh and the solution of the analysis. Other connection options include rods, cables, ridged, and springs.

This is big news for simulation users. For those interested in a price tag for all of these new Autodesk products, no details are yet available. However they did hint at a number around $10,000 for a perpetual license.

Images courtesy of Autodesk.

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