Analysis moves closer to design

Many of America's-make that the world's-fastest growing high-technology
companies call Silicon Valley home. Apple, Sun Microsystems, Intel, and Silicon
Graphics made their mark here, to name but a few. To find a clear standout among
such Olympians is like discovering diamonds in a gold mine. Rasna Corporation,
however, may be such a diamond.

From 1989 to 1993, Rasna grew an amazing 15,628%, placing it third on the 1994 Inc. 500 list of fastest growing private companies. Not that the pace has slowed since. Sales jumped roughly 55% last year and should reach $37 million in 1995. Even more impressive, profit growth now doubles that of revenues; and the company has made money for the past thirteen quarters.

In the Etruscan language, Rasna means "the enlightened ones." A bit immodest, perhaps, but quite appropriate considering the company's success. What everyone wants to know is, how did it become so enlightened?

Foundation in frustration. The year is 1987. At IBM's Almaden Research Center, four engineers wrestle with the design of a new computer disk drive. Employing the latest design tools, they spend days constructing CAD models and then weeks producing FEA studies of their designs. Out in the lab, they build physical prototypes that often prompt interim revisions to the analysis model. It's a painfully slow and frustrating design process, as most engineers can attest.

Most discouraging is the lack of flexibility exhibited by the design-automation software. Functioning more like verification tools than design tools, the software packages don't support the "what if?" studies necessary to optimize a design. Feedback often arrives after the design is completed, instead of early on when it would be most useful.

What the researchers need is a new kind of design-automation tool. One that's intuitive, powerful, and easy to use. One that integrates CAD and FEA so that engineers can quickly iterate and optimize a design. Realizing that there was no such software tool available in the marketplace, the four engineers set off to create one themselves.

The company they built is Rasna, and the design-automation tools are called Mechanica. Release 7, introduced this past December, consists of ten integrated analysis applications, including modules for structure, motion, thermal, vibration, nonlinear, buckling, subassemblies, cams, loads, and equations.

Mechanica's intent is to allow the generalist design engineer to improve designs without having to create expensive and inefficient physical prototypes. The software actually helps the user optimize a design by combining the engineering requirements, geometric parameters, CAD model, and performance goals into a computer simulation. Engineers can investigate the effects of proposed changes. And when given the go, the software will systematically reduce component weight and cost, enhance performance, and improve quality to achieve the desired goals. "We don't simply do analysis," says Dave Pidwell, president and CEO. "We use analysis to find the best design. Mechanica is a design tool."

Critics question whether design optimization is useful, given the current state of technology. "I think it's too time-consuming," says Steve Wolfe, publisher of the Computer-Aided Design Report. "But, there may come a time when the software becomes so automated that

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