Interest in the software as a service (SaaS) business model is growing rapidly. SaaS has the potential to dramatically transform the use of software, in a range of industries, by cutting the costs of using software tools and applications. The list of companies offering such services is growing daily, so much so that Microsoft has joined the fray with the recent launch of its own SaaS hosting platform.

The appeal of SaaS is obvious – as the effects of the global recession begin to bite, SaaS gives companies and organisations the opportunity to use the latest software without the hidden costs of traditional software use, particularly hardware, consulting, IT support and maintenance. The big question is how effectively SaaS can be adopted in more complex activities such as engineering design.

Removing the limits

Driven by the design engineer over the internet, the dezineforce service offers access to a combination of design optimisation tools, high-performance cluster computing and industry-leading simulation applications for structural, fluid dynamics and mechanism analysis. Because it is delivered over the internet it can be accessed from anywhere in the world, by whomever the subscribing company chooses, facilitating collaboration between teams at different locations.

The inherent advantages of the SaaS model are particularly relevant for computer-based design. Instant availability means subscribers can immediately focus on designing, rather than wasting time in the definition, acquisition and configuration of commodity technology. Inbuilt flexibility of use enables immediate and essentially infinite availability to grow capacity in response to demand. No more the dilemma of whether to invest in additional capacity before winning the design contract, or losing delivery time after the win while procuring that capacity.

The dezineforce service gives subscribers access to a broad range of proven tools including software for the analysis of design behaviour and proprietary optimisation tools for systematic design improvement, all running on powerful computer clusters. Other advantages include visualisation tools for making sense of results.

Cost advantages

There are also significant cost benefits to a SaaS approach to engineering design compared to conventional approaches. Recent research (see for more information) has compared the cost of the SaaS and conventional approaches to computer-based design in companies engaged in the design of components, sub-systems and complete systems.

Importantly, the analysis covered the complete cost of computer-based design – direct IT costs, designer time and risk management. It compared the costs over a three-year cycle and came to a definitive conclusion: a well-designed and executed SaaS service can dramatically cut the cost of engineering design. At low volumes, the cost is typically 40% less than that of conventional design approaches. At higher volumes, it rises to a massive 70% saving through multi-user exploitation of IT resource, including licences, hardware and support, higher designer productivity and better risk management. This last factor includes minimisation of late-in-design-cycle changes, late delivery penalties and warranty claims and product recalls, through the exploration of design options early in the design cycle that systematic search and optimisation techniques makes possible.

The costs of SaaS offerings from providers such as dezineforce are predictable and transparent – fixed, all-inclusive subscription fees that eliminate surprises such as additional consulting or IT support bills, or design delays and consequential costs arising from computing system failures or data losses.

New design capability

As significant as these cost advantages for many users of the dezineforce service, is the scope for design houses and manufacturers to raise their design capability to a new level.

The length of the design cycle is collapsed – in recent cases from a year to three months, from several months to two weeks – by dezineforce’s combination of integrated design-simulate-evaluate processes and execution of these computationally-intensive processes on high performance compute clusters. For manufacturers this means less time to market, for designers greater competitiveness in bidding for design contracts.

The future of engineering design?

The global market for engineering software, currently of the order of US$13B annually, has grown at double-digit rates for many years, driven in considerable part by a shift to computer-based design processes. The SaaS model has been developed to eliminate the hidden costs of the conventional computer-based design process. Integrating the stages in the design-simulate-evaluate process to a seamless whole accelerates the process and enables designers to make better-informed decisions. Both will promote the further adoption of computer-based design, worldwide, and will likely sustain the growth of this market for some time to come.