Exa Corp: Luck Be a Lady Tonight

If you were to quickly jot down a list of words to describe the field of CAE companies in the world today I’m willing to bet it would not include ‘bold’ or ‘courageous’. Engineers are typically a risk averse crowd and the same can normally be said of the leaders of CAE businesses. Rarely do you find engineers counting on luck.

Will luck be a lady to Exa Corp? I hope so.

Enter Exa Corporation.

On August 3rd this CFD software company with a strong reputation in external aerodynamics and automotive under-the-hood applications announced it’s intention to go public on the Nasdaq later this year. The hope is to raise $86 million via an IPO. That really is not much money relative to what the avg. IPO brings but consider these factoids:

  • In 2011 Exa had sales of approximately $38 million which is 6% growth over 2010 (while the avg. CAE company is growing Sales by 10% – 15%)
  • In 2011 the Exa business actually lost money (about $600,000) while generating north of $240,000 per employee (Exa claims 156)
  • The avg. IPO value has steadily dropped throughout 2011 ($431 million in Q1; $271 million in Q2; and $170 million in Q3,according to the Hoovers IPO Scorecard)

Ladies and gentlemen it appears we have a gambler in the audience.

Exa Corporation has decided to shoot the dice and in their honor I share with you the unofficial theme song of every gambler: ‘Luck Be a Lady Tonight’ performed by the legendary Marlon Brando in the 1955 movie classic Guys and Dolls.

If you’re too busy for YouTube or perhaps have a “thing” about watching musicals, here are the song lyrics.

They call you lady luck
But there is room for doubt
At times you have a very un-lady-like way
Of running out

Your on this date with me
 The pickins have been lush
And yet before the evening is over
You might give me the brush

You might forget your manners
You might refuse to stay
And so the best that I can do is pray

Luck be a lady tonight
Luck be a lady tonight
 Luck if ‘ been a lady to begin with
Luck be a lady tonight

Luck let a gentleman see
Just how nice a dame you can be
 I know the way you’ve treated other guys you’ve been with
Luck be a lady with me

A lady never leaves her escort
It isn’t fair, it isn’t nice
A lady doesnt’ wander all over the room
And blow on some other guys dice

Lets keep this party polite
Never get out of my sight
 Stick with me baby, I’m the guy that you came in with
Luck be a lady tonight

A lady never flirts with strangers
Shed have a heart, she’d be nice
 A lady doesn’t wander all over the room
And blow on some other guys dice

Lets keep this party polite
Never get out of my sight
 Stick with me baby, I’m the guy that you came in with
Luck be a lady tonight


Fluff Report: Autodesk Simulation CFD

Fluff is what I call information packaged as news that is not really news. The CAE industry is full of fluff and the handful of trade publications left standing obligingly publish it as fact.

About a week ago Autodesk issued a press release to announce the availability of its “Autodesk Simulation CFD Software” (a product name that could only be born from a committee… but I’ll save that topic for another day).

The press release opens by stating the new software “builds on computational fluid dynamics capabilities that Autodesk gained in the Blue Ridge Numerics acquisition in March 2011.”

OK, that’s cool; they’re talking about the software application previously named CFdesign. Pretty amazing that only 4.5 months after the acquisition they could deliver a new release. I’m thinking these guys must be Rock Stars!

Next there is a mention that Autodesk CFD has some integration with Autodesk Fusion. That sounds really interesting since integrating some 3D direct modelling tools into a CFD environment — or vice versa — could really be useful to several segments of the Engineering community. Unfortunately the press release fails to expand on the claim. I’d love to know how these technologies have been integrated (is it just a launch button in the UI Ribbon or something more substantive?) and, more importantly, what specific new technical capabilities are available and who they will help most.

The next 1/2 of the press release focuses on “A host of new features in Autodesk Simulation CFD help engineers achieve more, faster.” Sweet! Now we’re getting down to business, right?  Sadly the host of new features is a list of 5 capabilities that were added to CFdesign in September 2009 (the CFdesign 2010 Release) and September 2010 (the CFdesign 2011 Release).

Bummer. If Autodesk CFD really has something important the Engineering world needs to know about the fluff makes it tough to see.

Remembering Liz

On a day when the U.S. stock market is giving back all of its gains for the entire year ANSYS is looking like a Hollywood starlet.

The Nasdaq is down 4+% while ANSYS is up 3.6%. Four hundred and ninety-two of the S&P 500 components are getting gashed today but not ANSYS.

An allusion of beauty and youth by association. The genius of Liz Taylor and ANSYS.

Mighty ANSYS is the poster child for earnings reports that make everyone smile. But even better this company uses acquisitions the way the late Liz Taylor used to use young men. She always found a way to make herself look younger and prettier by showing herself to the Paparazzi with a viral 30-year old male model posing as her romantic interest.  I have no idea how it works but it does. There was true genius at work.

On this day — as my 401(k) has given back 8 months of gains — I believe the Canonsburg suits may be some of the smartest, shrewdest people on the planet and while I would never want to join this organization I do wish I was related to one or more of them.


Comsol. If you are like me than you know the name, know it’s a CAE company, but after that things start to get sketchy.

I routinely run across their ads in all the major printed and online outlets. Their business must be growing because they spend a lot of money on promotion. On the Comsol web site the company states it has 200 employees which suggests to me they have $35 – $50 million in annual Sales.

A couple years ago when I was at Blue Ridge Numerics I phoned up one of my peers at Comsol to kick around the idea of collaboration but I was told a message had come from the top to terminate all dialogue because I was a competitor. Seemed kind of paranoid to me but to each his own.

Last week my curiousity got the better of me (again) so I sent an e-mail to the designated conatct at Comsol requesting a 10 minute phone conversation to discuss a few basic questions on dealing with complex CAD geometry and meshing techniques — so far, nothing. I also sent a similar request to one of the Authorized consultants listed on the Comsol web site but they blew me off too. Such is the life of a rookie blogger.

A thermoacoustics simulation of an ear canal simulator with a damped Helmholtz resonator. The model includes thermal conduction and viscous losses and allows for customizing the acoustic response.(Image courtesy of COMSOL Inc)

The Comsol product line is jaw dropping. These guys do it all! Their flagship product is Comsol Multiphysics which appears to provide a ton of openess and flexibility to set up a simulation consisting of just about any combination of physics. They also provide a tantalizing set of add-on simulation modules to tackle all kinds of extreme realities that only an engineer could love: CFD, microfluidics, subsurface flow, chemical reaction, electrodeposition, batteries and fuel cells, plasma, and acoustics just to name a few.

Beyond all the cool physics Comsol also provides a LiveLink module for customers who want to work with a geometric model in Creo, SolidWorks, Inventor, and a few others.

By all accounts Comsol does it all.  I mean these guys talk about doing fluid-structure interaction like it’s just run of the mill, no big deal. We’re talking CAE studs! The alpha male. The cock of the walk. Superman. Michael Jordan (before his first retirement).

Which brings me to the question I’ve wanted answered for several years now… If Comsol is as amazing as it sounds why isn’t everyone using it? Shouldn’t ANSYS be on Red Alert? Why isn’t Autodesk, PTC or one of the other cash-rich, simulation-poor CAD companies dropping some major coin to acquire this treasure trove before it gets too expensive.

At a technical level I would really like to know: 1) is one mesh used for all/most simulations, i.e. the same mesh for CFD, Structural, Acoustics, etc. and 2) what is the workflow process when starting with a prexisitng, complex CAD assembly? My hunch is that the answers to these two will also answer my previous one.

If you know — or think you know — the answer to any of the above, please clue me in. The world needs… heck, I need… a hero. Maybe Comsol is it but they’re not telling.

World’s Best Cup of CFD

Exaggeration is everywhere. We’re all guilty of it, right? That’s why there is no harm and no foul (but a great deal of humor) when Mentor

World's Most Advanced CFD... You did it! Congratulations everyone... Great job!

Graphics publishes the following headline on their Mechanical Analysis home page: The world’s most advanced computational fluid
dynamics simulation software.

I’m fairly certain the guys at ANSYS had no idea they had fallen so behind. I can just see the suits in Canonsburg gnashing their teeth and calling a 5pm mandatory meeting of their developers. Needless to say the crew at CD-Adapco also feel blindsided by this announcement, not to mention the folks at Exa, Flow Science, Software Cradle, etc.

For whatever reason Mentor’s bold claim immediately conjured up in my mind the scene in Elf when Buddy dashes into the grungy, run-of-the-mill Manhattan coffee shop to congratulate the staff on their achievement of the “world’s best cup of coffee”. He is the first and only person in the entire city (including the folks working at the restaurant) to believe the advertising in the window. It’s a classic moment and I thank Mentor Graphics for helping me remember it.

For those of you wishing to see the 21-second video clip here is a link: http://youtu.be/FJuhNDrX008.

Creo Simulation… When Will it Rain?

It’s been 16 years since PTC paid $205 million for Rasna and its upstart Mechanica structural/thermal simulation tools. In 1995 Mechanica sales were “projected” to hit $35 million so when PTC swooped in with an offer nearly 6 times greater everyone in the business thought for sure Mr. Harrison and company had an exciting vision that might revolutionize CAE.

No such luck.

It soon became apparent that PTC was buying revenue growth and didn’t really understand or have interest in CAE. I think they’re sales force at the time found it too difficult to sell and possibly even a distraction. Soon Mechanica went to the back burner and there it has remained.

With the installment of Jim Heppelmann as President and CEO has come a grand, highly creative vision for the PTC product line. Last week I did a post on ANSYS and its lack of vision, nothing could be farther from the truth when it comes to PTC. With Mr. Heppelmann at the helm this company has vision out the wazoo. So much so that when I read a PTC press release like the one issued today I envision Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster) in The Rainmaker telling me a story that may defy logic but I want to believe it anyway.

Bill Starbuck in the Rainmaker (1954) is in the business of making believers.

In today’s media alert about the release of Creo Direct/Elements v18.0 the CAE acronym appears in the 2nd paragraph which is then followed by several references to Creo Simulation. This suggests to me that Mr. Heppelmann and company are aware that there is a lot of buzz and a lot of investment around CAE and they do not want to miss the SEO (search engine optimization) opportunity. As you read the announcement it becomes apparent that -sadly – there are no innovations for those of us who care about CAE. What is now being called Creo Simulation is still just Mechanica, a decent tool for basic structural, stress/strain, and steady state thermal analyses… pretty much what it has been since 1995 with obvious improvements to user interface, CAD integration, etc.

For me the most troubling part is not the lack of CAE innovation coming from PTC but it is the product name itself. It appears PTC perceives “simulation” to be a single app — like a prospective buyer will ask “do you guys do simulation?” and the sales rep will reply “oh yeah, we’ve got an app for that” and the buyer will say “cool“. Selling and buying CAE was not that simple in 1995 and it still not that simple in 2011. CAE, or engineering simulation, is a very broad category that includes a wide spectrum of enabling technologies and includes numerous unique and rarely integrated software applications.

I am skeptical by nature so I could be overreacting but the Creo Simulation story feels condescending to me. I love a good story as much as anyone but Mechanical Engineers need more than an app to climb the product development mountains with which they are regularly confronted. The whole Creo story is very compelling and I’m generally confident that PTC will bring some important innovations to our world but when it comes to CAE it still feels like 1995 to me.

ANSYS… Everything but Vision

Early this morning I’m making my Monday rounds and stumble across an ANSYS ad promoting themselves as the trusted leader in CFD. OK, I’ll take the bait… I click and voila I’m immersed in a wonderful world of professionally produced videos, white papers, and the like.

A compelling and fact-based story is told by ANSYS about how they push the boundaries of simulation, provide solutions for today and tomorrow, deliver solutions that are fast and reliable, and last but not least, customer-driven. If you haven’t checked it out yet I encourage you to do so: CFD Insight Leadership Series.

This is really good marketing from ANSYS, a company that historically hasn’t put much effort into such things. It is informative, entertaining, and effective.

As I plow through the content one thought reoccurs. Where is the vision? The information provided persuades me that ANSYS is a market leader, they are committed to quality (they are ISO9001 certified), and that they have more smart people working on snarly CFD issues than anyone else in the world. If I’m selecting a simulation partner I absolutely want what ANSYS can supply.

But there is just one thing missing, vision. All of this wonderful content was made to persuade a PhD or hard-core researcher that ANSYS is the bestest, safest choice. Again, this is good and valid information but I’m looking for someone to tell me how they can make CFD part of my corporate process for product development. Tell me how ANSYS CFD will become indispensable to both my Engineers and our business. Help me understand what my business will look like in 2, 3, 5 years if I follow the ANSYS implementation roadmap. Unfortunately ANSYS leaves it up to me and my imagination to fill in the blanks.

ANSYS is not alone here. There is precious little vision coming from the CAE industry. This said, the CAE industry is still growing at 10% – 15% annually. Just imagine the impact simulation could have if a company could figure out how to teach other companies how to make it part of their process.