Analyze This

Yesterday a reader sent me this email:

“Your blog has been a fantastic eye-opener for me so far. I have previously worked in the software consulting industry (Ecommerce-based) and now two weeks back have entered into a new job at an organisation manufacturing machines for the construction industry.

One of the limitations here has been that all machine designs are done in 2D, since 3D software (Inventor, SolidWorks, etc.) are beyond the budget. Your blog introduced me to the world outside Autodesk which aims to be better & of course cheaper than Autodesk. e.g. Bricsys, IntelliCAD, Alibre, etc.

Continuing my search for a quality alternative for a software which is capable of 3D modeling as well as Simulation, I came across Mechatronics – which from my preliminary search is offered by Matlab Simulink, National Instruments NI LabView-SolidWorks, etc. which are not economical.

Could I please pick your brains to find out if you have come across any economical software which allow 3D modeling of machines as well as simulation (electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, control software-PLC based)? Our objective is to design and simulate the machines on the computer prior to fabricating hard prototypes.

Thanks in advance for your advice.”

I must admit that I am more into the geometry creation, modification and data exchange side of the CAD business and less on the analysis and simulation side. Analysis and simulation are highly specialized fields and like all things that are specialized, they are also expensive. I don’t believe I have come across a cheap analysis and/or simulation software. But like I said, I am not well versed in that department. So if any of you can help this reader find something that fits his budget (note that he cannot afford a $5,000 MCAD system), I would appreciate it if you left a comment pointing him in the right direction.

However, I would like to mention something else here. I don’t believe analysis software is going to get cheaper or people are likely to make cheap clones of existing established analysis solutions. But something is cooking that promises to make these specialized processes accessible to the masses – cloud computing. Actually this post is more like a continuation of my yesterday’s post on the Cloud after the CAD.

If analysis software vendors are able to put their solutions up on the cloud like how some CAD vendors are making us believe they will do so with theirs, then it will be entirely possible for a person who can only afford to buy a $97 MCAD system like Alibre Design to get his model analyzed by the best analysis software for a reasonable (I assume) per use fee.

For something like a Finite Element Analysis, all you really need is a dumb solid. Simply let your MCAD system spit out a neutral file containing the solid (defeature if required), log into the analysis server of your choice somewhere in the cloud, upload the model and do your analysis. If you are not an engineer and do not understand the tricks of the trade, you can contract it to someone who does. This someone will not even need to maintain a license of the high-end analysis software. He can simply log into the cloud and bill you the fee that he was charged.

Another example of a specialized field is reverse engineering. There are people who do it regularly as part of their day job. These people buy a license of a high-end and extremely expensive reverse engineering software like Geomagic Studio. People who rarely have the need to do reverse engineering or who simply cannot afford such expensive software end up buying something like my Point Cloud range of products (see SYCODE’s Reverse Engineering solutions). My software is capable of handling a few thousand points and arrives as a fairly good approximation of the underlying mesh or surface to be reverse engineered. But when prospective customers come to me with extremely large data sets or expect a high level of detail and accuracy, I throw in the towel and point them to the high-end reverse engineering solutions.

The cloud will change this. When (not if) reverse engineering goes on the cloud, these very same people will be able to take advantage of the capabilities of the high-end reverse engineering software for a reasonable (again I presume) per use fee. After all, just like how you only need a dumb solid for FEA, you simply need a bunch of points for reverse engineering. It really does not matter whether you digitized those points using a homemade 3D scanner or one that cost you a fortune. Points are points and all of them have exactly three coordinates each. You can take the most crappy point cloud, use software to filter out the noise, pass it through a high-end reverse engineering software and come up with pretty good results.

My point here is that when the cloud arrives in all its glory, the have nots maybe the ones that stand to benefit more than the haves. The thought of modeling something in a $97 MCAD system and then having the option to get it analyzed in a software that was probably used to analyze the Mars Rover without having to pay through your nose, is exciting, to say the least.

In fact, the vast majority of people do this all the time in their daily lives. Most of us cannot afford the luxuries of the elite rich. But once in a while we will go ahead and spend quite a bit to enjoy the finer things in life. If you can afford to pay for one night in the Presidential Suite of a 7 star hotel, for that night there is very little differentiating you from someone who always stays in the Presidential Suite.

Analyze this.