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Tom Schueneman headshot

Cloud-Based Simulation for Sustainable Design

Thirty years ago Autodesk introduced AutoCAD, liberating computer-aided design from the mainframe and putting it on the designer's desktop. AutoCAD set the future path of the company as well as the industry.

It was a revolutionary platform shift that has defined the company from the beginning. Now Autodesk goes straight into the cloud with the announcement of Simulation360 this week in Washington DC at the North America Conference of NAFEMS (National Agency for Finite Element Methods and Standards).

"Where this all starts is a point of view... expressed loud and clear on a regular basis, by Carl [Bass - Autodesk CEO] and Jeff Kowalski [Chief Strategy Officer] - our senior leadership in the company," says Grant Rochelle, Senior Director of Industry Marketing for Autodesk. What drove the company to get ahead of the PC "tidal wave" still defines Autodesk's "point of view" to position itself on the leading edge of cloud-based computing application and process for design, manufacture and building.

"You've got a big tidal wave coming," says Rochelle. "This is really how we think about this, it's really a combination of things that go together - like peaches and cream - which is the cloud, not just for data storage, but for its pure processing power, which can be very beneficial to solve certain kinds of problems."
Autodesk's vision of the cloud as a true game-changer was hinted at back in 2010 when I first spoke with Emma Stewart, head of Sustainability Solutions for Autodesk. " I look at it as changing the way we define knowledge,” Stewart told me.  In the two years since then, that appreciation of the potential of  cloud computing has been a driving force in Autodesk's ongoing mission.

In just the past several years we've experienced the changes from integration of mobile and the cloud on how we use and what we expect from technology. Not only does the cloud allow seamless data storage and synchronization, but also sheer computing power - a "supercomputer" on your iPhone or iPad.  With today's cloud the possibilities for sustainable design, product optimization - and indeed how knowledge is shared - become enormous.

Lowering barriers to heavy number crunching entry
Access to clusters of computing power to calculate complex modeling and simulation problems isn't new. Many technology options exist like Ansys or Abacus; "they can get it from us too," says Rochelle, "that business has been around for a long time."

But the barrier to entry to this high-powered mainframe world is high. For every one of the high-level engineering "simulation specialists" with access and know-how to run expensive and complicated upfront analysis, there are fifteen product engineers or designers in need of that high-end number crunching. The importance of simulation has long been well understood to designers, but largely out of reach because of this 15:1 bottleneck to the computing power required.

As a result, too often design simulation doesn't happen, "it's not part of the equation," Rochelle says. "This is done… by building in very large safety factors. So that increases material costs and all kinds of other things because you're way over-engineering  and you don't need to."

The solution, from Autodesk's point of view, is in the cloud - specifically access to the cloud for the many, instead of just the few.

Getting a toe in the (cloudy) water
The path to this week's NAFEMA announcement of Simulation360 started about two years ago with an optimization plug-in for Inventor, ADSK's flagship 3D modeling application.

"We started early experimentation with the kinds of technologies we've got," says Rochelle, "…what really lends itself to this kind of capacity [in the cloud] and how can we better present it through different kinds of platforms. One of the first things we played around with was Inventor optimization.

"In the old world I would set this job up and while it was busy figuring out,  I'm done," Rochelle explains. "Inventor doesn't work anymore until that job is finished. And I might do it once. Just because it takes a long time."

With optimization for Inventor the sheer compute power of the cloud allowed number-crunching simulation analysis that before required time and the full resources of the designer's desktop, bringing her work-flow to a halt.

Now with Simulation360, the ability to "aggregate, visualize and interrogate live-scale models, but do it in the cloud" is available with all of Autodesk's mechanical, fluids, and thermal modeling and simulation tools, offered in a pay-as-you-go, app-based, browser-accessible format.

Who do you call? Sim Squad!

"Simulation is important, it's imperative," says Rochelle. Making cloud-based computing accessible and easy to use is essential, but "if you want folks to really grok it and get their arms around it... you've got to wrap a bunch of other support resources around it."

Helping their customers - and even non-customers - "grok" cloud simulation is the task of Autodesk's Sim Squad. The Sim Squad is available to end-users, resellers, anyone with a sales or technical question about simulation modeling. The resource includes articles, white papers, special events, articles, and the newest addition, Simulation TV.
"A lot of this stuff would be considered premium support resources," Rochelle says. "It does't replace talking to someone on the phone, but the idea is we just want as many people get as comfortable as possible with the idea of doing more simulation as often as they can."
Visualizing the future - what if? 

Liberation is the thread that leads from  the 1982 introduction of AutoCAD to Simulation360 today - liberating technology allowing better designs, more sustainable development plans, and a safer, healthier environment in which to live and work.

It is companies like BioLite using simulation to test ideas early in the design process for real-time feedback and analysis to optimize the design of their non-petroleum-burning HomeStove, bringing clean-burning, smokeless fire and energy to millions of people across the globe. Or seismic modeling and simulation data guiding initial designs for the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Smart, sustainable design depends on simulation - testing and optimizing designs early and often. Like AutoCAD thirty years ago, Sim 360 liberates access to the most powerful technology, changing the game going forward of how things are made and places are built.




Thomas Schueneman headshotThomas Schueneman

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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