Mechatronics, the combination of mechanisms and electronic control systems, is everywhere. In the old days, windows were cranked open. Now you push a button that activates a motor that lowers the window. That motor is an electrical system that likely has a chip in it to control the performance of the motor; that chip has software that (we hope) is the correct version for the model of motor in your particular car. Modeling the interaction of these mechanical and electrical systems can be very complex; ANSYS’ latest acquisition aims to bridge the gap a bit more tightly.

Esterel Technologies comes out of France’s Silicon Valley, Sophia Antipolis, where two researchers who were designing a robot car for a race. They wanted to describe the control system for the car, but the languages available to them at the time did not let them express the control algorithms the way they wanted to, so they invented their own language and Esterel was born. Esterel was first used in the 1980s by companies like AT&T Bell Labs and Dassault Aviation for applications as diverse as telephony and avionics. In 1997, Dassault Aviation and Thales decided to use Esterel for product development, which meant that a commercial product had to be released. Simulog, a French software company, developed a prototype that was released in September 1998 and, in 1999, Esterel Technologies was spun out of Simulog to fully commercialize products that generate a control system algorithm in software or HDL (the Hardware Description Language that describes a circuit’s operation). The first generation of the commercial Esterel tool set was released in April 2000.

In 2001, Esterel bought SCADE, a control software package that today is arguably the standard for the creation of DO-178B and ED-12B safety-critical embedded software in the avionics industry. Esterel SCADE Display was acquired in 2006 and enables graphical display systems developers to design, verify and automatically generate applications such as cockpit and dashboard display systems. There are more elements of the SCADE offering but, in a nutshell, Esterel’s products are used to design, verify and automatically generate critical systems and software applications for avionics, consumer electronics, semiconductors, telecommunications and other industries; document and manage these codes, and ensure their traceability.

By modeling both the mechanical behavior and the software driving the mechanism, a combined solution will give engineers a more complete picture of their design. In the car window example, a designer will be able to model what happens when a kid leans on the button and sends the window partway up and down dozens of times to gauge how quickly that will lead to failure. [Sooner than is desirable. Expensive to fix.]

ANSYS is buying Esterel for about €42 million, revenue multiple of about 2.8, and the deal is expected to close in the third calendar quarter of 2012. Intel Capital, Galileo Partners and Thales Avionics were at one time investors in Esterel; it is unclear if they are still involved.

This acquisition extends ANSYS’ reach from pure mechanisms or pure electronic systems into all of the consumer, aerospace, automotive, and manufacturing application areas where millions of lines of embedded software control the device’s mechanical operations. In addition to modeling the behavior of the embedded software, the ability to automatically generate certified embedded software code from these models creates a more robust end design. This is a terrific acquisition for ANSYS, not because it necessarily adds significant sales revenue or new customers, but because it allows it to become more tightly integrated into its customers’ strategic processes.