Will a new design actually work in its intended function? To find out, developers pass them to highly trained engineers who perform finite element analysis (FEA) on the new design, exposing it to stresses and strains in computer simulation that reflect the product's behavior in real-life environments. If the design fails, it's back to the drawing board. Released in June, new ANSYS/ AutoFEA 3D validation allows designers operating in Autodesk's AutoCAD release 13 or Mechanical Desktop to do design simulation and validation in a friendly Windows environment right from the beginning of the design sequence. The designer no longer has to hold his breath waiting for analysis results, because he can do design verification and optimization with each iteration. "With AutoFEA 3D, simulation becomes part of the initial design process," says Dick Miller, ANSYS vice president and general manager of its DesignSpace division. "The quality of the final validated concepts that analysts receive are greatly enhanced, and the time involved in reaching a finalized, approved product is dramatically reduced." Keys to the system are the integration of AutoFEA 3D with AutoCAD release 13 and Mechanical Desktop, and the ability to create design environments in a user-friendly way without special FEA training. "For instance, rather than entering detailed analysis data concerning loads and constraints that a design will be subjected to, in AutoFEA 3D the designer uses a series of Windows interfaces to define the parameters of a design environment," says ANSYS Vice President Sue Batt. "Simulation is then performed with a few clicks of the mouse. AutoFEA 3D allows designers to think and work in everyday engineering terms, such as margins of safety, and automates the time-consuming calculations involved in determining these factors. In addition the designer can set up different scenarios to investigate multiple design options and perform comparative studies that were never possible before." AutoFEA 3D automatic mesh generation also overcomes one of the major hurdles to design engineers doing simulation; that is, breaking the design down into the finite-element mesh required to do the analysis in the first place. In fact, AutoFEA 3D performs the mesh behind the scenes, so the user sees it only if desired. Because AutoFEA 3D is integrated in AutoCAD release 13 and Mechanical Desktop, no geometry transfer is required. Conversely, when data transfer is required between design and analysis software packages that are interfaced, critical information can be lost in the translation. AutoFEA 3D also supports virtual-reality-modeling-language outputs. "This allows engineers to concurrently view Auto- FEA 3D output over the Inter- net and intranets, and work together to solve problems and address design issues," says Batt. AutoFEA 3D runs in Autodesk's AutoCAD release 13 and Mechanical Desktop on Windows 95 or NT.