Autodesk Acquiring Blue Ridge Numerics

Autodesk announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Blue Ridge Numerics, Inc., a leading provider of simulation software, for approximately $39 million in cash. The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close in Autodesk’s first quarter of fiscal 2012 (which ends on April 30, 2011).

Charlottesville, Virginia-based Blue Ridge Numerics’ CFdesign technology will be an important addition to the Autodesk simulation software portfolio for manufacturers, which currently includes Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk Algor Simulation and Autodesk Moldflow. It will broaden the Autodesk solution for Digital Prototyping to provide customers with a spectrum of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) capabilities that help automate fluid flow and thermal simulation decision-making for designs, while eliminating costly physical prototyping cycles.

“Simulation represents a significant growth area for Autodesk, and we are focused on strengthening our portfolio in this area both organically and through acquisitions,” said Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president of the Manufacturing Industry Group at Autodesk. “The acquisition of Blue Ridge Numerics will add important new simulation capabilities to virtually test and predict how a product or building design will work, allowing our customers to compete more effectively at every step of the design process.”

“Since 1992, Blue Ridge Numerics’ comprehensive CFD tools have helped engineers improve quality, accelerate time-to-market and drive profitability,” said Ed Williams, president and co-founder of Blue Ridge Numerics. “Autodesk is a valued business partner, and the combination of both companies’ proven Digital Prototyping technologies will help customers worldwide tackle complex engineering challenges and ultimately be more successful with their designs.”

Proposed Integration

Blue Ridge Numerics’ CFdesign software allows mechanical and building system engineers to virtually test and predict real-world behavior of new and existing designs and eliminate expensive physical prototyping cycles in the lab. Its CFD software allows engineers to make informed, up-front decisions about air flow, fluid flow or electronics cooling to help design and manufacture safer, quality products or construct more energy efficient buildings.

Blue Ridge Numerics has successfully broken down technological barriers that previously prevented the integration of CFD within the mainstream product development process. The company’s robust, general-purpose analytical engine produces accurate simulations set up within a range of CAD systems with little human time or simulation experience required.

Upon completion of the acquisition, Autodesk's intent is to integrate Blue Ridge Numerics into its Manufacturing Industry Group and to continue developing and selling Blue Ridge Numerics CFdesign products, supporting Blue Ridge Numerics customers and integrating them into the Autodesk Manufacturing Community. Autodesk is also committed to continue developing the Blue Ridge Numerics products with a multi-CAD approach, allowing direct data exchange between CFdesign products and multiple computer aided design software offerings.

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

Another big manufacturing/design/simulation/analysis acquisition for Autodesk that continues to further its Digital Prototyping philosophy – this time in CFD.

It was just a little over two years ago that Autodesk announced its acquisition of ALGOR, Inc., a leading provider of analysis and simulation software, for approximately $34 million. Interestingly, the acquisition of Blue Ridge Numerics is roughly in that same cost ballpark at approximately $39 million.

Personally, I’ve always found CFD to be more complex to understand, set up, and execute than FEA, but that’s just me. By definition, CFD is a branch of fluid mechanics that uses numerical methods and algorithms to solve and analyze problems that involve fluid flows. The calculations required to simulate the interaction of liquids and gases with surfaces defined by boundary conditions .

Historically, CFD software has been viewed as a highly specialized application that required years of expertise. For years Blue Ridge Numerics has touted (and Autodesk is hoping ) that upfront CFD early in the design process will enable design engineers to leverage CFD software right out of the box with very little training to simulate fluid flows.

It wasn’t all that long ago that analysis (CAE) capabilities integrated into MCAD products were a novelty and few and far between. Sure, there were add-ons and standalone engineering analysis products available for a long time, but integrating them into a design product and process was quite a step forward. That’s changed pretty dramatically, however, in the past few years to the point where virtually all mainstream MCAD products have at least rudimentary analysis features integrated into them.

Incorporating CAE, such as FEA (finite element analysis) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) into the product design process can help speed production trimming development cycles. Specifically, FEA and CFD can helps minimize the physical prototyping phase of development – the main idea behind Autodesk’s Digital Prototyping.

Both FEA and CFD require you to establish boundary conditions - the part materials and a definition of how the part operates and fluid flow around it - and then the software simulates the behavior of a component in its physical environment, taking into account how forces will affect the part and in what way the part is supported. As a matter of fact, the finite element method (FEM) that is used in structural analysis of solids, is also applicable to fluids. However, the FEM formulae require careful consideration to ensure a conservative solution to the fluid problem at hand.

Although it has come from many sources, the stress analysis functionality currently available in Autodesk Inventor software helps you understand how parts perform under load, so you can determine whether designs have sufficient strength to perform without failure. The stress analysis tools are integrated with the dynamic simulation tools, so you can perform stress analysis with accurate load conditions that are calculated directly from the dynamic behavior of the design.

Several years ago I was certain that Autodesk would get on the bandwagon and acquire CAE technology, just as many of its competitors had. I speculated that ANSYS would be the likely target, however. ANSYS was highly profitable and probably too expensive to acquire then, even for Autodesk.

Way back when before any acquisitions were made, Autodesk Inventor did have some FEA capability, though it was limited to part analysis and licensed from ANSYS. Now, with the ALGOR acquisition, Inventor can build on the PlassoTech capability (from a previous CAE acquiition) including structural, thermal, and dynamic analyses.

Of course, ALGOR was not the first analysis acquisition made by Autodesk. In August 2007, Autodesk acquired a little-known company, PlassoTech, a supplier of analysis and simulation software for the mechanical design market. The acquisition of PlassoTech was intended to let Autodesk enhance the simulation and optimization capabilities found in Inventor software making it easier for customers to simulate, optimize, and validate a complete digital prototype.

With the acquisition, Autodesk integrated PlassoTech technology into the Inventor product family, augmenting existing FEA tools. The technology brought some interesting capabilities to the Inventor product line, including:

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