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Software 'cloud' helps molders monitor production

By: Rhoda Miel

March 30, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (March 30, 11:15 a.m. ET) — Cloud computing is not just a buzzword for a molder’s tech services department. It is also for molders that want to get the most out of their presses in day-to-day production.

“[The cloud] removes the barriers that were there because of computer hardware [limitations] and makes it so that you can study more things,” said Bob Williams, solution marketing manager, simulation at software company Autodesk Inc. (Booth 49009). “There were all of these things that could have been done in simulation before, but nobody had the time or the computer space.”

Autodesk’s Moldflow analysis has been a go-to resource for companies designing molds and new products. By creating simulations, those firms can make sure the geometry and material flow will work in production. But Williams said Moldflow’s potential has been much greater than that. The capabilities exist for adding details about press size, melt temperatures and cycle time — right alongside its more familiar use for testing complexity in part and mold development.

The problem, traditionally, is that all that information took up a lot of space on a computer’s hard drive, and companies had to prioritize and ration their use of Moldflow. The cloud changes that, Williams said.

Cloud computing has been around for a while, but recently it has received greater attention and emphasis. Apple Inc., through consumer advertising, has brought wider recognition to the cloud and cloud-based services for storing and accessing music, photos, videos and apps — such as its iCloud.

The cloud itself, however, is not simply an Apple creation, nor as ephemeral as the white fluffy things floating in the sky. Cloud computing is a phrase to describe off-site data storage locations — or server farms – which holds massive amounts of files for everything from email to highly detailed renderings of complex parts, Williams said. Users then access that information from anywhere with a wired or wireless connection, using anything from a smart phone to a desktop computer.

What this means for Moldflow users is that they no longer need to have all of the schematics and geometry and software loaded onto their own hard drives. Instead, using a secure log-on, a mold designer could set up a program with all the data needed, but the intensive calculations are done at a remote server, keeping their own systems free to run other programs.

Autodesk began offering the cloud for its Inventor level of Moldflow 18 months ago, and expanded it to its more complex full Moldflow simulations in late 2011.

“What we’ve seen is people are uploading gigantic models that their local computers couldn’t handle,” Williams said. “They may have 10 to 20 different variations that they’re looking at, and running it all at the same time, where before they would have had to do one after another on their computer.”

Users also are discovering the availability a cloud-based Moldflow analysis has on picking the right press size to use, the correct pressure and cycle time. They can run simulations that will check what tweaking one gating alternative would make in manufacturing the part, then use that information to see which presses are the best for that parts – or even if they have the right presses on the floor to bid for a part in the first place.

“We have a customer who uses the software as part of the quoting and bidding process so he knows whether it’s right for them in the first place,” Williams said. “That’s the biggest benefit to the shop floor. It should make it much more clear for what the processes should be like (in simulation), as opposed to having to do things where you do one thing, see how it turns out, then make adjustments and see how it turns out after that.”