A substantial amount of research and development for Autodesk simulation software comes out of Autodesk in Kilsyth, Melbourne – this R&D site represents the biggest single concentration of simulation engineers for Autodesk.
So when we wanted to find out more about Autodesk Simulation software, we didn’t have to go far to speak to Ian Pendlebury Director, Simulation Engineering, Manufacturing – Digital Simulation for Autodesk.
A lot of new product development and innovation in simulation software is driven by Pendlebury and his team in Melbourne. “The Kilsyth site was originally occupied by Moldflow, founded in 1978, and acquired by Autodesk in 2008,” says Pendlebury. “We do our validation with injection moulding machines, test equipment and people testing physical things onsite here. Simulation research is not all theory, we run physical tests and make sure our software is predicting the correct way.”
So what exactly is Autodesk Simulation, and why is this such as important aspect of product design and development? Autodesk Simulation works across a lot of industries – aerospace and defence, automotive, consumer products, industrial machinery, life sciences and building products.
“There are all sorts of physics involved in each of these industries and we have a wide range of technologies to help to simulate those physical processes – be it thermal, structural or fluid flow, or motion or vibration. There are a lot of different issues and we address a broad range of these,” explains Pendlebury. “Today every manufacturer needs simulation of some kind. One of the big reasons to simulate is to avoid and predict product failure, as early as possible in the product development cycle. One of the best ways of avoiding failure is to design a good product right from the start.”
As the cost of a product is locked in during the design phase and it can’t be changed after that, for Autodesk, says Pendlebury, this is the key – in the beginning, the ability to impact the design of a product is huge and it becomes more and more difficult to make changes further into the product development.
“Even when you start testing, your ability to change the product is more difficult as you’ve already invested in certain manufacturing processes and there is already much momentum behind it. Our research shows that the impact of simulation is high during the design and concept stage and low once development goes beyond this,” says Pendlebury.
“Simulation is traditionally used around the manufacturing process to optimise manufacturing, but not around the early design phase,” he furthers. However, the cost of design changes are far lower at the beginning of a product design and development, and extremely high at the end. “So what will help manufacturing is to shift that investment in simulation to the earlier design phase of product development, when it represents a smaller investment – with a most successful outcome.”
If simulation is not used, generally testing has to be conducted, which is very expensive and requires that the design be completed to a certain degree. Simulation also helps with the selection of the right material for a product.
“Autodesk Simulation software for plastics selection is particularly strong in recycling and material selection, and in regulatory compliance and CO2 reduction. For anything to do with making anything out of plastic, you have to select a material. Some of these materials are toxic, some require a lot of energy, some can’t be recycled and some can – they all perform differently,” he says.
Without simulation, you have to rely on expertise, guesswork and testing again. Autodesk have a large database of materials where the material specifications are known and they are able to give people feedback during design as to whether a material is appropriate or not.
“Manufacturing is under a lot of pressure to innovate and get things made faster and faster. If you are not using simulation, I don’t know how you can do this effectively,” says Pendlebury. Optimisation is a big area for the future, and simulation is helping here too. “If you have specific properties that you want from a product, how do you get the optimum design? You need just the right wall thicknesses, just the right design so it does its job and costs the least. This is something that simulation is perfectly adapted for.”
So what are the common barriers to using simulation software?
Pendlebury explains that there are three different types of users of simulation that he and his team have identified – designers, engineers and analysts.
These users have different expertise. The simulation industry has traditionally targeted the analyst for simulation. “That’s why it’s hard to move the use of simulation software to an earlier point in the product development cycle – to the earlier design phase, where it is most cost effective,” he says.
To get simulation to be used early in the design phase, the early phases and the different tools that people will need to use in these environments need to be considered. A concept designer already has a software tool, they don’t want to learn another one. This is the same for an engineer or a manufacturer – they are set in their ways.
Traditionally, people have taken a high-end tool, tried to make it simpler and then push it in the face of an engineer. If it looks or smells like simulation, they think it’s someone else’s job and they don’t want to do it. So identifying the designer, the engineer and analyst as different types of user is key to the strategy.
“Other than the ‘user’ barrier, additional barriers are ease of use, as simulation software tends to be complicated and there’s lots of science involved. There is often an expectation that you need a PhD to understand it. Simulation can require expensive hardware; licenses can be very expensive, and the cost of training staff is all too expensive. This is why, historically, only the big manufacturing companies are using it, and they only use it in the production stages,” says Pendlebury.
“In response to these barriers, we’ve invested half a billion dollars in acquisitions in simulation technology, expertise and personnel including Moldflow, since 2005,” he explains. “We have built our simulation capability around the advantages that Autodesk has – the strengths around geometry and visualisation with programs like Inventor, AutoCAD and Revit.”
Geometry and visualisation plus cloud-based services and data management are unashamedly Autodesk’s strengths. Autodesk also has a portfolio of products that manage version control and archiving.
“Our competitors just tend to do pure simulation, if they want geometry they have to partner with another product,” says Pendlebury. “Autodesk has more than 100 products. We are working to create interoperability between all of these products so you can move models between them and embed simulation inside the environment people are working in.”
If you are in Revit designing a building, he says, you are able to do a structural analysis using the sim tools. Additionally, if you are in Inventor designing a part, you are able to do a structural analysis of that there as well. Therefore, you get the benefit of a simulation product being used in another product.
“You can take a visual model in Showcase and also use simulation to see how a textured plastic surface finish will look,” says Pendlebury. “Showcase is very accessible. With a rendered object you can experiment with how to hide defects created by a moulding process.
You can turn it into something that everyone can relate to – something that isn’t heavily loaded with science. This has been quite a revelation over the last three years.”You can also export files to Autodesk Showcase via a link and put an object or structure into a state-of-the-art photorealistic environment.
“Showcase places a product in a ‘real’ environment,” says Pendlebury. “This puts an object or product into context that doesn’t look scientific and unfriendly. Showcase is great for showing customers and management, simulation results and it looks very professional.”
Autodesk have their own CAD systems but simulation is a multi-CAD world. A typical user will have multiple competing programs and tools they use, therefore, they have to be integrated with all of these.
“We are working to address what we call the three pillars of access – cost of use, cost of hardware and cost of software,” he says.
Autodesk Cloud is addressing cost of software ownership issues giving customers a pay-as-they-go service. Moldflow and parts of Inventor Simulation are accessed via the cloud – so some of these barriers and costs have been removed.
“Our simulation software embeds into other programs. Autodesk Design for Manufacture simulation software can be embedded inside Pro E, SolidWorks and Inventor for plastics simulation – so no separate software program is required, it just plugs in to all these environments. We are not asking people to learn anything new or go somewhere new – so they are in a familiar environment,” he says.
Autodesk Simulation can be utilised for free with a mobile app called Force Effect that allows you to sketch simple structures, do free body diagrams and look at simple mechanisms, actuators and springs, for example.
The projects on Autodesk Labs are well worth a visit. This shows some of the future possibilities for Autodesk Simulation, and you can try these tools for free.
Project Falcon is an interactive CFD analysis that you can install on your computer and place models into a wind tunnel simulation. In collaboration with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Melbourne, Autodesk have used the wind tunnel to show how their CFD simulation works. “This tool measures the forces on a vehicle, and the pressures behind a car. Falcon lets you import any object into a wind tunnel giving you a co-efficient of drag with 3D results and a report. You don’t need a CAD system,” says Pendlebury.
The projects in Autodesk Labs demonstrate just a small taste of the products that Pendelbury and the Autodesk team are working in the world of simulation.