CHICAGO — At two NPE 1997 exhibition booths, vying software manufacturers gathered large crowds to witness the dawn of a new revolution in plastics simulation software for computer-aided-design-based plastic parts.
Both Moldflow Pty. Ltd. of Lexington, Mass., and C-Mold — a division of AC Technology North America Inc. of Louisville, Ky. — projected their respective simulation programs onto large screens. Computer-animated parts changed colors and displayed data on how well the sample component can handle certain injection molding resins and processes.
The two heated rivals unveiled their potentially groundbreaking, but similar, software products at NPE, held June 16-20 in Chicago's McCormick Place.
Potential customers heard that simulation software soon will become a major part of the desktop designer's universe. For the first time, software packages can be integrated into a three-dimensional, solids-modeling program without the need for first meshing the software with a stereolithographic format by conducting finite element analysis.
The program will allow the CAD engineer to check a part in a matter of minutes, long before it goes into production, said Ken Welch, Moldflow vice president of marketing.
``With our system, a CAD designer can find the possible trouble spots well in advance,'' he said.
The coinciding product launches have set up a war of words between the two companies, which both want to be the leader in simulation design software and are scrambling to get their competing packages in customers' hands.
Moldflow's Parts Adviser has one edge. The company has signed agreements with leading CAD systems suppliers to distribute Parts Adviser as part of their CAD packages. It has formed partnerships with, among others, Dassault Systems SA of Paris; Rand Technologies, a distributor of Pro/Engineer software based in Mississauga, Ontario; Matra Datavision Inc. of Lesulis, France; and Structural Dynamics Research Corp. of Milford, Ohio.
Starting this summer, Parts Adviser will be offered with Dassault's Catia CAD package, Matra's Euclid Quantum and Strim packages, Structural Dynamics' I-DEAS Master Series and Rand's Pro/E package produced by Parametric Technology Corp. of Waltham, Mass.
Welch said Parts Adviser is the only program integrated with CAD software.
The package also can be sold as a stand-alone unit.
``This is the first package that can be purchased with CAD packages,'' Welch said. ``There's nothing else in the market that can be used by designers with their 3D programs.''
C-Mold officials would argue that point. Their 3D QuickFill package also uses a CAD designer's stereolithography format. Though C-Mold currently has no distribution package available with CAD designers, it is negotiating with several CAD software firms to integrate the packages with theirs, said C-Mold marketing manager Jim Spann.
Spann also said that, while the larger Moldflow has gotten the lion's share of publicity, C-Mold's program actually has more capabilities.
Parts Adviser only alerts a designer to a possible problem with a resin or a process, according to Spann, while 3D QuickFill also quantifies the temperature, pressure and press clamping force needed to resolve the difficulty.
``I'm concerned that a designer could get in trouble by using Moldflow's program,'' Spann said. ``The program doesn't give them enough information to make a good report to management about the problem identified by the program. All it tells the designer is that a problem exists.''
But according to Moldflow officials, their program does far more than that.
The program informs users whether a part will fill properly, the location of weld lines and possible air traps, and whether the product will short shot in the mold, Welch said.
``It's a good, informative tool for the designer,'' he said.
``The revolution in software packages began on June 2,'' when Moldflow first announced Parts Adviser, he added.
Both companies are jostling for position in the fairly small simulation software market. Neither company releases sales, but industry experts put Moldflow's annual sales at between $16 million and $20 million, and pegged C-Mold's at several million less than that.
Moldflow also claims that it holds 65 percent of the plastics simulation software market — a figure C-Mold disputed, but without offering its own number.
Welch said the current U.S. market size for software simulation packages is $35 million to $40 million. However, the CAD marketplace worldwide adds another $150 million to that. And the plastics production area, where the software also can be used, is estimated at $100 million, Welch said.
Overall, the market size is more than $300 million for the CAD-connecting software simulation packages, he said.
``It's a massive market for these packages,'' Welch said.
``I'm sure other competitors will want to jump on the bandwagon and bring out their own products, if they can develop their own software first. And that's a big if.''
Moldflow also said during an interview at NPE that its Melbourne, Australia, office has been converted to a research and development center. The firm moved its headquarters from Melbourne to Lexington last year and brought in several new high-level executives.
They include Marc Dulude, new president and chief executive officer, a former marketing vice president with Parametric.