Over the past decade, the differences between competitive computer-aided engineering (CAE) software applications have narrowed significantly. Today, all leading analysis software packages work closely with computer-aided design (CAD), sport a Windows-style user interface and, for the most common analysis needs (linear static stress, linear dynamics, and heat transfer), provide technical capabilities that are practically identical to the competition. While there are certainly still some differences in capabilities, only a small percentage of users really care about those specialized features. For the great majority of users, the software looks and feels pretty much the same and gives the same answers.
In today’s CAE market, it’s important to understand that an investment in design and analysis software is not just about the actual software. Instead, it’s about the overall set of tools that are available to assist you in the design process. For example, what type of customer service is available for the software? What training options are available? What methods are in place for you to provide feedback? How often are upgrades available? Choosing the right vendor could be more about understanding these areas than it is about the actual software application.
Some factors to consider include:
• Customer service — Choosing analysis software is not a one-time purchase. You are equipping your company with an important design tool. You need a vendor who will provide excellent support and service. Will service come directly from the vendor or only from resellers? What types of support will be available — phone, e-mail, fax, and online, or only a subset? Will your service requests go into a general queue to be addressed by different representatives each time or by the same reps who know you and your needs?
• Training — Does the vendor provide a wide selection of training options including classroom seminars, distance learning, and customized training? Are seminars offered near you? Are classes scheduled frequently? Are online resources available for interactive distance learning and downloading and viewing at your own pace?
• Responsiveness — Does the vendor provide convenient means for user feedback? Are problems fixed in a timely manner? Are new features added in response to customer requests?
• Updates — Most vendors charge an annual fee for software support and updates. How many meaningful updates are released per year? How many new and improved capabilities do you get for your money?
• Value — Is it best to buy the lowest-priced software for only basic analysis capabilities? Or, for nearly the same investment, should you get extended capabilities including fluid flow and electrostatics, which allow you to perform more realistic multiphysics analysis — and get more value?
Finite element analysis (FEA) is a mature, proven software tool and, today more than ever, there are fewer differences to distinguish between competitive packages. Hence, it’s important for you to choose the vendor that will be the best overall partner for your company’s design and analysis needs now and in the future.
Bob Williams is product manager for ALGOR, Inc. Send your thoughts about this commentary via e-mail to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.