ANSYS and Spaceclaim: a greater whole?

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:

The biggest news of late in the design software sphere was when simulation giant ANSYS announced its acquisition of direct modelling leader SpaceClaim in a deal valued at $85million.

What was perhaps most surprising about this deal was not that simulation and CAD should have moved closer together, but that it should have been a simulation company purchasing CAD capability rather than the other way around.

Spaceclaim, of course, has been a leader in direct modelling for many years. CAD users found value in being able to work with geometry without the constraints imposed by full parameteriation of their models. Direct modelling became so popular that a few years later, all of the major CAD packages now have some level of direct modelling solutions offered with their CAD applications.

The major CAD vendors have for many years had some level of simulation solution within their offerings, most of which were purchased rather than developed internally. At their best, these integrated simulation solutions work seamlessly with vendor's CAD data, allowing fast and accurate design iterations in the concept stage and then validation as the detail work progresses.

Clearly, this acquisition reverses this trend as a simulation vendor has bought a CAD company, which points to the ever increasing importance that simulation is gaining in the product development process.

However, Todd McDevitt, marketing director for ANSYS, is keen to emphasise that this acquisition does not signal an attempt by the company to move into the CAD market, saying: "We're not trying to enter the CAD space. This is not our intent. That has been the knee-jerk response from some analysts, but it is not the case."

Instead, McDevitt claims, the major reason for the move was a previously-established compatibility and the potential that the acquisition offers for both parties. He says: "From the origination of Spaceclaim, we started working with Spaceclaim as a partner and then gradually we've OEM'd them into our platform. So for a number of years we've been selling Spaceclaim through our Workbench platform. We were already contributing around 10% of their annual revenue. We have a long business relationship with them. We've seen our customers use Spaceclaim and become successful."

However, a more central plank of the idea is the ongoing move towards ANSYS' long-term vision of 'Simulation Driven Product Development', whereby (the company claims) organisations can derive tremendous value by harnessing computer simulation early in the design cycle to predict how a product will perform in the real world. With the addition of SpaceClaim, ANSYS will provide customers with a powerful and intuitive 3-D direct modelling solution to author new concepts and then use the power of simulation to iterate on these designs to drive more rapid innovation.

Says McDevitt: "The rationale behind the acquisition is to help realise our overall vision for simulation-driven product development. The direct modelling approach is very receptive to engineers performing simulation and don't really have either the use for or the knowledge of how to use really powerful 3D parametric modelling solutions and gravitate more towards the Spaceclaim 'drag and pull', intuitive operation."

SpaceClaim, it is felt, can help simplify and automate what has traditionally been a time-consuming process of preparing geometry for use in a simulation system, enhancing ease-of-use to help ANSYS accelerate product adoption and the growth of the simulation market overall. The transaction enables ANSYS to accomplish what would have taken the Company many years to develop alone, adding the talent pool, best-in-class design and expertise of a technology leader in 3D modelling software.

Bringing simulation software into play earlier in the design process is clearly of benefit to a company like ANSYS and it is anticipated that this will be a consequence of the move. "We're interested in pushing simulation further upstream into the design process," says McDevitt. "So, in other words, we want to get simulation more into the conceptual design realm before there is a detailed CAD model. Simulating earlier in the process to allow the simulation to inform the CAD model rather than waiting until a CAD model is nearly complete to do it."

The desire to grow its market is clearly another major incentive for ANSYS. According to McDevitt: "Our market today is largely higher-end simulation analysts. We want to extend that to a much broader engineering community that we know can benefit from simulation. Spaceclaim definitely helps us do that. If you look at all the engineers in manufacturing roles, we estimate that to be somewhere in the region of 25 million engineers. We think that Spaceclaim can help us get to five million of them that can benefit from what we do beyond our traditional analyst base."

Equally, he claims: "Simulation skills are growing among engineers and simulation is becoming much more common in engineering courses and so on. So the market for simulation is much broader than just the traditional group."

SpaceClaim, of course, has been the leader in direct modelling for many years, as CAD users found value in being able to work with geometry without the constraints imposed by full parametric CAD software packages. Direct modelling became so popular that all of the major CAD packages now have some level of direct modelling solutions offered with their CAD applications, leaving some wondering where that left Spaceclaim. This acquisition would appear to provide the answer.

McDevitt believes that Spaceclaim's strengths make it ideally suited to ANSYS's existing customers, saying: "High-end CAD packages are not terribly intuitive or easy to use. Or rather they're not easy just to go into, use and then come out of. This technology is suited for conceptual modelling – pulling and dragging geometry about. It's also very neutral and flexible, affording all sorts of design formats.

Another point of symmetry lies in the fact that ANSYS has always been an open platform and SpaceClaim's offerings are also CAD-neutral, allowing users to modify geometries regardless of the system in which they were created. Says McDevitt: "The days of basing something on a single CAD environment are gone. With global supply chains using a multiplicity of tools, you need something CAD neutral."

Summing up what existing customers of both companies are likely to see in the future, McDevitt says: "The Spaceclaim customers are going to see the benefit of having simulation tools they didn't previously have. The ANSYS customer is just going to have easier access to Spaceclaim geometry and functionality. In addition, we have even tighter integration plans we expect to execute to bring geometry, clean up and preparation even closer to the set-up and analysis functions."

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