New cloud-based software rewrites rules for sustainable product design

New cloud-based software rewrites rules for sustainable product design

Autodesk is pioneering a cloud-delivered simulation application which promises to be a game-changer for sustainable product design.

Its new Simulation 360 service is aimed at designers and engineers who need to test the durability and sustainability of a product’s components and its design -- before jumping into the prototyping phase.

Testing how materials perform under mechanical stress, in extreme thermal conditions or when subjected to fluid flow processes (including air) is an expensive yet important task in the development process.

"Simulation helps companies, building contractors, project coordinators get to a better project, a better product," said Grant Rochelle, senior director, manufacturing industry marketing for Autodesk.

Yet steep costs often mean that the job is left to simulation specialists using desktop software that costs between $10,000 to $60,000 for one test.

Because Simulation 360 is available in the cloud, its operating costs are significantly lower -- starting at $3,600 for 120 analyses over the course of a year.

This means designers can submit simulation proposals more often during the development process without consulting specialists or tying up in-house computers for hours at a time. In addition to saving time and money, it has the potential to help companies avoid bad decisions when it comes to component choices.

Though Autodesk is far from the leader in design simulation software -- that honor goes to ANSYS --  it’s invested more than $500 million in simulation capabilities over the past six years. Simulation 360 is part of the company’s effort to reach a vastly underserved market which includes 5.6 million designers, a group that outnumbers specialists by a ratio of 15:1.  

Abstract concept provided by kentoh via Shutterstock

More product designers are focused on green principles because regulations – particularly ones in the European Union -- are forcing them to think about materials choices far earlier in the product design process than in the past, Rochelle said.

That’s created a market for simulation software – one which Autodesk estimates to be $2.5 billion in manufacturing alone. 

"There are little changes happening, largely the result of regulation," Rochelle said.

Consider the case of Sony. The company’s European PlayStation launch was delayed by six months because it couldn't trace all the different components used in the device back through its supply chain.

Others companies are using sustainable design to differentiate their approach from competitors. One example is Huntair, which used Autodesk simulation software (although not the cloud version) to create an airflow system for operating rooms called CLEANSUITE that is explicitly designed to help reduce infections.

“Autodesk CFD Simulation software helped us understand what is actually going on with airflow in the operating room versus what should be happening theoretically,” said Kevin Schreiber, global director of healthcare for Huntair. “As a result, we were able to optimize our design to minimize turbulence and control the direction of the air in the operating room, allowing for improved contamination control over the sterile surgical setting.”

Asking "What If"

Autodesk Simulation 360 supports pre-prototype or pre-manufacturing analysis for several specific areas right now. Here are several areas it could be of practical use:

  • Assessing how ergonomic factors for furniture might change or adapt to different body types
  • Understanding how heat might affect electronic devices
  • Calculating the best blueprints or paths for airflow or other liquids, as well as the effect they might have on the design from a holistic standpoint

Prior to Autodesk Simulation 360, it wasn't possible to ask these sorts of questions without investing in a simulation specialist and tying up a powerful computer with jobs that could take hours to run, said Matt Nowicki, senior product engineer for BioLite, a small company and beta customer for Autodesk Simulation 360 in Brooklyn, N.Y., that designs portable stoves capable of producing electricity.

"Think of it as a huge library of computers that will do the solving for you," he said.

Being able to use Autodesk Simulation 360 helped cut days out of the design process for BioLite's latest product, the Home Stove, while allowing it to test the viability of different variables without having to invest in actual prototypes, Nowicki said.

Pricing for Autodesk Simulation 360 starts at $3,600 for 12 months, which includes 120 jobs focused on mechanical and computational flow dynamics. For $10,000 a year, clients can run moldflow tests as well.