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Democratization Advancing, but Cautiously

Engineers are slowly embracing new technologies and design approaches, but doing so with some level of skepticism.

Engineers are slowly embracing new technologies and design approaches, but doing so with some level of skepticism.

I may be coming late to this epiphany, but a conversation I had with my 10-year-old son recently illuminated just how far the technologies we cover here at Digital Engineering have expanded out of the engineering department and into the culture at large.


He came to me with a copy of Scholastic News and told me all about a company that was creating 3D-printed meat, and then followed that up with a discussion about the upcoming test of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft—a project we’ve covered here in the pages of this magazine. 

I thought a lot about that conversation as we prepared our annual Technology Outlook survey and planned our editorial coverage for 2020. We’ve written quite a bit about the democratization of simulation and design technology, and I think it’s clear the industry is approaching an inflection point. 

Over the past year there has been a significant amount of change in our industry, and even right here at Digital Engineering—in addition to my shift from a regular contributor to editorial director, DE hosted its first online CAASE event in October.

Elsewhere, it seems that design and simulation solution vendors were in a bit of a race to complete all their merger and acquisition activity at the end of the year. As I was writing this column, Altair announced it had acquired DEM Solutions, a specialist in bulk material simulation. This came on the heels of Altair’s announcement that it was acquiring Polliwog Co., a Korean company that provides electronic design automation software. 

Just in the fourth quarter, we saw Computer Aided Technology acquire Fisher Unitech (a SolidWorks and Stratasys reseller); ANSYS snapped up Dynardo, which provides simulation process integration and design optimization solutions; simulation software provider Coreform acquire csimsoft; and metal powder company GKN Powder Metallurgy acquired FORECAST 3D, a plastic additive manufacturing specialist. Private equity firm CORE Industrial Partners bought FATHOM, which the company will combine with Midwest Composite Technologies (MCT) to create what CORE calls one of the largest privately held digital manufacturing service providers on the continent.

And in what was probably the biggest piece of acquisition news, PTC bought cloud-based CAD pioneer Onshape for $470 million. PTC plans to leverage Onshape to help move a combined CAD and PLM platform to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. 

That marks a bold push into a cloud-only CAD strategy. While plenty of other software vendors in this space offer hosted or cloud-based options, so far they have followed a hybrid model. This year we also saw multiple vendors expand their software licensing options into a variety of more flexible configurations.

In 2019 we also saw announcements around new hardware, software and visualization technologies that are enabling faster design space exploration, faster simulation results, easier-to-use simulation tools and more interest in how technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality can improve design processes. These advancements are also expanding the democratization of simulation across the design process and to non-expert users.

At the recent ASSESS Initiative conference, CEO and co-founder Joe Walsh noted that demand for simulation is increasing and is poised for faster growth. “A simulation revolution is going to occur,” Walsh said. “It will be model-based, fit-for-purpose, integrated, smart, transparent and generative. The idea of analysis being limited to engineers in the back room is going to go away. There will need to be organizational and cultural changes to enable that paradigm shift.”

We can see that in the results of our annual Technology Outlook survey, which shows that engineers are slowly embracing new technologies and design approaches, but doing so with some level of skepticism. They see the potential, but would like some more evidence to prove out the operational and business benefits.

As we move forward into 2020, our goal here at DE is to help design engineers answer some of the questions they have around the use of these new simulation tools, new licensing models and new technologies. As we do so, we shouldn’t forget just how far we’ve come. Not only is my son talking about additive manufacturing, but my 7-year-old daughter is attending coding camps, and both of them have access to a 3D printing lab at their school. While democratization is making simulation more accessible to engineers, it’s also making engineering more accessible to everyone.

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About the Author

Brian Albright's avatar
Brian Albright

Brian Albright is the editorial director of Digital Engineering. Contact him at [email protected].

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