MSC + Hexagon: “Where Simulation Gets Real”

Jul 13, 2018 | Hot Topics

“This is where simulation gets real.” That’s what Paolo Guglielmini, the CEO of MSC Software, told users in his standing room only keynote at last month’s HxGN LIVE conference in Las Vegas. You might remember that Hexagon acquired MSC in 2017, with the deal closing just before HxGN LIVE 2017. That meant that very little MSC content could be added to the program (although then-CEO Dominic Gallello did join Hexagon management on stage to talk about MSC and how it fits into the Hexagon vision of the future — more on that in a moment). Not so in 2018. MSC held user group and partner meetings at HxGN LIVE and generally put out the word that simulation can radically improve the quality of the products being produced by HxGN LIVE 2018 attendees.

Mr. Guglielmini’s vision for MSC encompasses a set of somewhat dueling priorities. On the one hand, he feels that simulation is not yet realistic enough, leading many companies who could be making better use of it to still experience unnecessary warranty costs, perform too much rework, see higher material costs because of scrapped parts — not to mention the reputation cost of poor quality. To make simulation more realistic, MSC is accelerating development in technologies that will continue to grow its capabilities in structures, acoustics and fluids; systems modeling and validation; manufacturing simulation; and materials simulation and management. If you read between the semicolons there, you’ll recognize Adams, Nastran, Patran and DIGIMAT—MSC’s marquee brands. To make sure those investments are correctly targeted, Mr. Guglielmini is increasing the product management headcount by 20% in 2018. Too, overall market perception of MSC’s product quality took a hit in recent years, leading him to invest in new IT tools and KPIs to track software quality and delivery. All while keeping an eye on mergers and acquisitions to continue to build out the capability set and geographic coverage.

At the same time, Mr. Guglielmini believes current simulation tools as too complicated and difficult to use, certainly true of those flagship brands. This leads MSC to double down on investment in Apex, which is intended to change how companies think about simulation and expose it to a wider audience. MSC will grow R&D investment in Apex, with many of the enhancements in specific physics implemented there, too. For example. Apex will see increased interoperability with MSC Nastran and Patran to improve Apex’ structures, acoustics and fluids capabilities.

But it’s not all Apex. MSC Adams is getting a makeover with some of Apex’ user interface components, while retaining compatibility with existing legacy data. And here we start to see why Hexagon thinks MSC is so important to the company’s future:  Adams is a key component of Hexagon’s push into autonomous driving. In an autonomous vehicle setting, Adams Real Time is a platform to model the vehicle and sensors to test out sensor algorithms, evaluate machine learning algorithms and autonomous driving algorithms. It’s a  virtual test drive environment that gets integrators one step closer to a real-car real-world.

I don’t know if it’s incredible foresight or a bit of luck and natural technology evolution, but Hexagon owns many of the assets necessary for autonomous projects: sensors and technology to manage smart intermittent sampling from Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (MI), maps from Hexagon Aerial Imagery and the technology to create more via Hexagon Mapping, and a turnkey platform for autonomous vehicle development from the about-to-close Autonomous Stuff acquisition. Add in Adams vehicle modeling and Adams Real Time for vehicle response, links to HPC, data management via SimManager, and there’s a compelling autonomous vehicle strategy.

“Vehicle” here means significantly more than just the passenger cars that steal the headlines: industrial robots and equipment, ships, mining and construction vehicles, farm equipment—all candidates for Hexagon’s ACE vision, “a state where data is connected seamlessly through the convergence of the physical world with the digital, and intelligence is built-in to all processes.” [ACE is Hexagon-speak for Industrie 4.0 and stands for Autonomous Connected Ecosystem.]

The point, to me: Hexagon spent a lot for MSC at its acquisition and is investing in making its brands best-in-class. It’s more than that, though: Hexagon values MSC’s brains too, letting MSC lead the charge in autonomous and in research into how machine learning and simulation, together, will change product development. MSC’s Product Strategist for Autonomous Driving, Luca Castignani, told me that MSC is working to create Adams models of varying levels of fidelity, so that variants of a trusted master model can be applied to many autonomous scenarios: the traditional Adams model, with highest fidelity, then Adams Real Time, with what he calls “adjustable” fidelity for software-, hardware- and human- in-the-loop. It’s great to see MSC take the lead on such an important project.

Now about this whole GETTING REAL tagline. Mr. Guglielmini and his team showcased several other scenarios that explain why Hexagon bought MSC, and why it makes so much sense to add simulation into Hexagon’s overall industrial approach. To take just one example, aerospace propulsion systems. We know MSC Nastran is established in that part of the aerospace industry, with Nastran used for structural stress and fatigue analysis. Since acquiring CRADLE CFD, MSC can now also support users with aerodynamics, thermo-fluid and heat exchange simulations. Next, via the Vero acquisition, the manufacturer can plan and optimize machining for engine part production, when Hexagon’s metrology solutions come into play, with non-contact inspections and quality reporting. Closing the REAL circle, MSC and its sister companies in MI can support maintenance, repair and operations by scanning a physical part and then re-simulating it against the as-designed criteria to recommend replace, repair or extend service strategies for key components.

One last point: While it was in a quieter phase, MSC introduced MSC One, a system that lets customers buy subscription tokens that can be applied to just about any product in MSC’s portfolio. Before (and still, if that’s the buyer’s choice), one bought perpetual licenses for a specific product. With MSC One, buyers gain access to MSC’s newer products and acquisitions, leading to more connected physics for better system-level modeling. Why am I telling you this? Because as part of a big entity with limited disclosure, MSC has the opportunity to experiment with commercial models.

The main takeaway: Hexagon is serious about competing in CAE and is investing to make that happen, both in internal R&D and in potential acquisitions. The R&D calendar is full, with major releases coming across the brands, and with a focus on increased software quality. It’s finally exciting again to be at MSC—I don’t know when I’ve seen such an energized group of CAE geeks.

Mr. Guglielmini covered a boatload of products and coming enhancements in a very short time. I captured a tiny fraction of it all; please contact MSC or watch their product webinars for more details.

Note: Hexagon graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in HxGN LIVE but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The cover picture is one of Mr. Guglielmini’s slides from his keynote, courtesy of MSC Software.