Software makers such as Autodesk Inc. have a fancy toolbox full of gee-whiz computer-aided-design and simulation products. Their aim now is to simplify user interfaces so that more non-computer-science specialists such as average design engineers or industrial designers can exploit those tools, relieving the bottleneck in many companies' product-design workflow.
Since San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk, known for its AutoCAD design software, bought Moldflow Corp., a maker of computer-aided-engineering software for plastics, for about $297 million in May 2008, the efforts have had an even more pronounced effect on those designing plastic parts.
Moldflow, in Framingham, Mass., has a really good reputation in the industry right now, said Keith Perrin, an Autodesk senior industry manager for manufacturing in Lake Oswego, Ore.
So we want to enable as many people as possible to get a hold of that magic. He pointed to two current projects as examples.
The first, called Project Krypton, is available for free trial downloads from Autodesk Labs until Nov. 13. The software plug-in provides advice to design engineers during early stages of plastic part design. In addition to integrating with Autodesk's Inventor and Inventor LT software, it also is compatible with the SolidWorks program from competitor Dassault SystÃ¨mes.
Krypton is a really simple-to-use tool that allows an average engineer, a regular guy, to undertake some basic mold analysis, Perrin said in an interview at the recent Industrial Designers Society of America international conference in Portland.
The product gives some simple feedback to the user, live and dynamically and within seconds, based on cost, manufacturability and sustainability guidelines, he said.
Previously, Perrin said, a user needed to have significant knowledge about not just plastic fill simulation, for example, but also the computer science behind it. And that really limited the ability of any engineer to just pick it up and get to grips with it.
Autodesk also is working on Project Cumulus, which exploits the current trend toward cloud computing, or the hosting of high-powered computer services via the Internet, to allow more people to execute tasks that previously might have required the user's own company to have access to a heavy-duty mainframe or supercomputer.
We're providing a whole bunch of servers, to allow companies to undertake simulation out there, in their analysis. That really broadens dramatically the scope of simulation that can be undertaken and the ease of use, Perrin said. An analysis that frankly wasn't possible before suddenly is possible.
The company said Project Cumulus aims to help design engineers and plastics specialists who use Autodesk's Moldflow Insight software to optimize their injection molded plastic part designs and manufacturing processes. It's also currently available in preview mode.
The pressure to come up with designs that lower costs and product weight while maintaining quality is particularly pervasive in the automotive industry, but can be seen in the consumer products industry as well, a company spokeswoman said.
Project Cumulus will allow design engineers to use powerful computational power from the cloud for their simulations, enabling analysis that wasn't previously possible, increasing productivity and freeing up the engineers' desktops for other work.
All I need is a Web browser to get at it, couched in a very simple-to-use way, said Perrin. We think it's going to change the way people do simulation. We're quite excited about it.