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February 28, 2011
Autodesk Acquiring Blue Ridge Numerics
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on MCADcafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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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

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:
  • The ability to perform analysis on entire assemblies, as well as individual parts
  • The ability to perform analysis based on real-world structural and thermal conditions
  • Advanced-ease-of use and performance superiority with a fully integrated simulation solution

  • Specifically, PlassoTech technology provided FEA calculations in categories such as linear static stress, steady state thermal, thermal stress, modal and frequency analysis, optimization and buckling. It also includes advanced functionalities to test dynamic stress, transient thermal, and large deformation analysis of solid and shell models with various contact conditions.

    At the time of the acquisition PlassoTech had less than 10 employees. So why PlassoTech? Autodesk liked PlassoTech's ease of use and its solver was fast.

    As Autodesk incorporated PlassoTech technology into its Inventor products, it discontinued selling standalone products or add-ons as separate items. Before the acquisition, PlassoTech was selling some of its products to several of Inventor's rivals, including Solid Edge, Pro/ENGINEER, and SolidWorks.

    Up to the time of the latest acquisition, ALGOR was integrating its base static stress FEA "Designcheck" package with several CAD products, including Rhino, KeyCreator, SolidWorks and Autodesk Mechanical Desktop. It appears that several of ALGOR's strategic business partners were caught unaware the Autodesk takeover. Will ALGOR still service competing MCAD products? It appears so for the time being, according to the announcement, but this could change at any time.

    I found one of the most interesting quotes in the announcement to be, "continue developing the ALGOR products with an open approach." Exactly what this means is anybody’s guess, especially knowing Autodesk’s stand and position on companies or individuals who develop products that read and write to its DWG drawing format. We’re still waiting to see just what “open” means in this context in the long term.

    Auotodesk appears to be on the same “open approach” path with BlueRidge Numerics and CFD, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that one. I’ll be interested to see how Autodesk integrates and implements Blue Ridge Numerics’ CFD technology into Inventor. Like Early stage FEA, upfront CFD should prove to be a valuable tool for many types of designers, especially those who deal with electronic packaging and products where aerodynamics come into play.

    So I guess it comes down to how much FEA and CFD code through acquisition is enough? That question remains to be answered, but it appears that Autodesk is going to continue on its acquisition march in the simulation/analysis arena – FEA, CFD, and beyond.

    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.

    Luxion Releases KeyShot 2.2 

    Luxion, a developer of rendering and lighting technology and makers of KeyShot, the first realtime ray tracing and global illumination program, announced the release of KeyShot 2.2 as a free upgrade to the KeyShot 2 application introduced last summer. KeyShot 2.2 delivers many improvements to the import pipeline and model interaction in realtime that makes it even easier to create photographic images from 3D CAD models. Render speeds have also dramatically improved, especially when working with complex materials. KeyShot 2.2 further streamlines interoperability with leading CAD system by offering native support for Autodesk
    AutoCAD and Inventor, SolidWorks 2011, CATIA v5 and SketchUp 8. Other major enhancements include:
  • Preservation of model structure from CAD model including all subassemblies
  • Preservation of part / layer names
  • Separate material column
  • Part outline in the realtime window
  • Move multiple objects
  • Significantly faster handling of large assemblies
  • Ability to duplicate objects
  • Advanced Materials with complex settings render now up to 15 times faster
  • All 3Dconnexion 3D mice are now supported by KeyShot.

  • SpaceClaim announced that LG Electronics is optimizing its engineering processes by using SpaceClaim to modify and manipulate CAD models. "SpaceClaim's ease of use and compatibility with a broad range of CAD software, enables our engineers to more quickly verify and measure 3D model data from designers and prepare those designs for the manufacturing process," said Mr. Juyeon Lee, Chief Research Engineer, LG Electronics. "Activities in SpaceClaim also include model modification before the machining process and planning the assembling procedures. We anticipate that SpaceClaim will contribute to the improvement of our overall
    production process." SpaceClaim recently strengthened 3D direct modeling for the enterprise with the Company's seventh release of its software. New capabilities within SpaceClaim 2011 meet manufacturers' requirements for fast and cost-effective, engineering-driven product development.

    At eight years old, they built a log cabin with a hatchet. At 10 years, a robotic arm from bike parts. At 27 years, the world’s fastest robotic tank and, now, the smallest all-terrain armored vehicle. Today, with the help of SolidWorks software, the Howe twins, Geoff and Mike, are able to invent extreme “Mad Max”-style vehicles with astonishing capabilities. Known in Defense Department R&D circles as the “The Wright brothers of the military,” the prime defense contractors also star in Discovery Channel’s “Black Ops Brothers, Howe & Howe Tech” show. After trying other software, Howe and Howe settled on SolidWorks because it’s easy to use and compatible with other tools. “SolidWorks is definitely on the cutting edge of interface design,” Howe said. “It has a short learning curve, and our new engineers pick it up in about a week. We can also output different CAD formats, because SolidWorks plays well with others. This makes us compatible with a wide range of customers.” Adopting SolidWorks has dramatically streamlined development. The Howe and Howe team makes extensive use of tools for efficient design of weldments, and 3D models drive plasma torch and CNC cutters. Roll-cage fabrication now takes one-tenth the time, and scrap costs are down by 85 percent. Through their main
    business, Howe and Howe Technologies Inc., the brothers have produced:
  • The Ripsaw high-speed tank capable of 80 mph and zero to 50 in 5 seconds;
  • The Mini Rip ATV for consumers who want to be unstoppable in the woods;
  • The PAV1, which is the world’s smallest tank, for police and SWAT teams;
  • The Subterranean Rover, a rugged mining personnel transport vehicle; and
  • The Thermite unmanned firefighting vehicle.

  • Composite specialist, Lamiflex uses the VISI suite of design and manufacturing tools from Vero Software to put a modern spin on the traditional exercise bike, creating an innovative piece of luxury fitness equipment using composite materials. In 2009, Lamiflex were involved in the development of an innovative piece of fitness equipment designed by Italian product designer Luca Schieppati. The Ciclotte is a unique exercise bike with an ultra-modern carbon fibre frame, touch screen display and reduced pedal distance to ensure the correct bio-mechanics throughout the complete leg rotational movement. The Ciclotte has been designed to accurately reproduce the dynamics and performance of on-road pedalling and is ideal for high intensity aerobic training such as 'spinning', which is all possible because of the innovative epicycloid crank system. To coincide with the Ciclotte project, Lamiflex also took time to evaluate the software market and invest in a new integrated CADCAM system. "Previously at Lamiflex, we used a parametric CAD system that we found difficult to use and quite restrictive when working with complex organic surface forms. After extensive benchmark testing, we decided to implement VISI from Vero Software as we believed it offered the best balance between performance and price. We are currently
    running multiple licenses of VISI Modelling and VISI Analysis for Design, and VISI Machining with Compass Technology for 2D through to 5 axis milling", explains CAD designer, Marco Perani.

    Quickparts, a provider of custom designed parts, ranging from rapid prototyping to plastic injection molding, announced that it was acquired by 3D Systems Corp. Quickparts has served the product development market since 1999, utilizing its patented QuickQuote instant quoting technology. The technology has allowed Quickparts to serve over 14,000 customers and assist in the development of thousands of new products. By becoming part of 3D Systems Corporation, Quickparts will be able to leverage its ability to serve customers with the latest 3D Systems' products and services.

    Jeffrey Rowe is the editor of
    MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at
    Email Contact or 719.221.1867.

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    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.