November 03, 2008
Autodesk Acquires Technology For ECAD
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Autodesk has completed the acquisition of most of the assets of Elektro-CAE-Software GmbH (ECS), a premier solution provider of electrical computer-aided design (ECAD) software, including the ECSCAD product line.

Autodesk announced its intent to acquire substantially all of the assets of Germany-based ECS from Mensch und Maschine Deutschland GmbH, a member of the Mensch und Maschine group, on August 20, 2008. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Mensch und Maschine Software SE (M+M) is a leading European supplier of computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software with locations in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, UK, Belgium, Sweden, Poland, Romania, USA, Japan and APAC. M+M's diversified product range includes CAD/CAM solutions in different price / performance areas for key industries (such as mechanical and electrical engineering, architecture, geography). The company was founded in 1984 and is headquartered in Wessling near Munich. ECS was founded in 1993 and is located in Donzdorf, Germany. Formerly part of the M+M group of companies, ECS is one of the leading suppliers of database oriented ECAD
systems for the mechanical engineering, energy supply, and plant construction market.

Further enhancing the Autodesk solution for digital prototyping with software that relies on database-driven methods for controls system design, ECSCAD software complements AutoCAD Electrical software, which is used to quickly create accurate schematic-based designs. As both product lines are built on the AutoCAD platform, Autodesk will be positioned to enhance functionality and performance for both ECSCAD and AutoCAD Electrical customers and to offer even more powerful tools for a broad range of electrical controls designers.

"The acquisition of the ECSCAD technology extends Autodesk's leadership in Digital Prototyping and will allow European electrical design engineers to integrate both mechanical and electrical designs, offering the best of both worlds of database and drawing-based technology," said Robert "Buzz" Kross, Autodesk Manufacturing Solutions senior vice president. "We welcome ECS employees and customers to Autodesk."

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

This acquisition underscores a trend that has emerged and continues to grow in magnitude and importance. That is, the continuing integration of MCAD capabilities with electrical/electronic (ECAD) capabilities for mechatronics designs and applications. Is Autodesk the first company to move in this direction? No, not exactly – PTC and SolidWorks, for example, are already there, as well.

This announcement by Autodesk reinforces the increasing need for simultaneous design and simulation of mechanical and electrical systems. There was a time when mechanical systems and products were strictly mechanical, however, the majority of today’s products continue to become more capable, and more complex, involving the marriage of mechanical and electrical subsystems.

A more comprehensive way to view mechatronics is the systematic integration of mechanical, electrical, electronics, and embedded firmware (software) components. When all of the various components are combined the result is an electromechanical system. In this context, mechatronics is characterized by software and electronics controlling electromechanical systems. This definition is widely seen in automotive engines and other automotive systems, as well as production machinery.

ECAD is employed at virtually every machine builder and system integrator. These and other players in machine automation must have an efficient digital means of generating documents to compete, because the main issue today is time to market. The quicker accurate documents are in place and materials purchased, the quicker machine construction begins. In essence, ECAD is about time-savings, especially when coupled with MCAD.

When first disclosed in August, executives from both companies had some interesting things to say about the then-pending acquisition that would give some insight into the reasoning behind it:

Robert ‘Buzz’ Kross, Autodesk Manufacturing Solutions’ senior VP, said that ECSCAD complements AutoCAD Electrical software, and adds that, since both products are built on the AutoCAD platform, the company expects to create even more powerful tools for electrical controls design. “The addition of ECS technologies enhances the Autodesk solution for Digital Prototyping and helps a larger audience to create complete digital prototypes that integrate both mechanical and electrical designs,” he said.

Guenter Manz, managing director of Elektro-CAE-Software, added, “Extending Autodesk electrical CAD with Elektro-CAE-Software solutions opens the door to new and enhanced workflows, currently unavailable from either drawing-centric or database-driven electrical CAD software.”

In a nutshell, what the acquisition does is expand the design options for electrical controls, such as relays, regulators, and more complex electrical components into the design arena that Autodesk terms digital prototyping. It starts with 2D in AutoCAD Electrical, and is moving up the chain to 3D with Autodesk Inventor.

For at least a couple of years, on the electrical side, Autodesk has incorporated a complete set of industry-standard symbols, and provided automatic report generation directly from electrical design, including panel layout documents. AutoCAD Electrical 2007 also expanded the symbol library to include libraries for creating pneumatic, hydraulic and P&ID (adhering to ANSI/ISA S5.1 standards) drawings.

“AutoCAD Electrical 2007 began bridging the gap between electrical and mechanical engineers,” said Scott Reese, product manager at Autodesk. “Designers can now communicate electrical designs bi-directionally between AutoCAD Electrical and Autodesk Inventor Professional.”

Also, Autodesk’s Productstream manages AutoCAD Electrical’s bills of material by controlling the release and change of designs.

“Autodesk delivers manufacturing solutions that brings electrical and mechanical engineers together,” added Reese. “Until now, these two disciplines were forced to collaborate on incompatible systems. Our expanded symbol libraries for creating pneumatic, hydraulic, electrical, and P&ID drawings enable machine builders to increase productivity, and automate key control system design tasks.”

These integrations and others will ultimately lead to complete virtual design, build before anything is physically constructed. Interfacing or adding kinematic modeling to ECAD is providing the next logical step that is impacting machine builders.

Mechatronics is an interesting and complex synergistic combination of mechanical engineering ("mecha" for mechanisms), electronic engineering ("tronics" for electrical/electronics), and software engineering. The purpose of this interdisciplinary engineering field is automatation from an engineering perspective for controlling advanced hybrid systems. Although it sounds (and is) complicated, mechatronics revolves around mechanics, electronics, and computing which, when combined and working together, actually provide simpler, more economical, reliable, and versatile products and systems.

So, while mechatronics is a reality today, I expect to see the delineation of the various constituent disciplines that comprise it to continue to blur, so that they all virtually become one when designing, engineering, and manufacturing historically mechanical products and systems.

The Week’s Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

PTC announced that it will expand its sponsorship of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), building on the company’s inaugural sponsorship of the 2008 FIRST Robotics Competition. FIRST strives to engage students in grades K-12 in exciting and innovative programs designed around the use of robotics to develop science and technology skills and motivate students to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering. The goals of FIRST align with PTC’s commitment to advancing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) initiatives to strengthen core education fundamentals and provide career paths.
In 2008, PTC served as the Collaboration Partner of FIRST, hosting a Windchill system that was actively used by more than 100 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams to manage their projects. PTC also made Pro/ENGINEER Schools Edition and Mathcad available to all FIRST Robotics Competition teams. In partnership with PTC/USER, PTC is promoting FIRST to its network of more than 50,000 customers and has made its software partners and Value Added Resellers (over 800) aware of the opportunity to get involved.

If you launched a reality TV series featuring engineers inventing the future one brilliant prototype at a time, what tool would you use for quick and easy design? SolidWorks 3D CAD software is the choice of “Prototype This,” a new Discovery Channel series that brings viewers straight to the design in an island warehouse in San Francisco Bay. Viewers experience the design process firsthand as a team of engineers and PhDs bring inventions to life. “Prototype This” premiered with an attempt to prototype “a mind-controlled car.” “The ‘Prototype This’ team uses SolidWorks to design custom components for many of the
builds,” the show’s Web site says. The digital design files can be exported to a 3D printer, CNC mill, and other computer-controlled modeling or machining equipment.

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-- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.

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