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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Autodesk University 2014 –Business Wagers Paying Off

December 4th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Along with about 10,000 other attendees, we were at Autodesk’s annual user forum spectacle in the desert – Autodesk University 2014 – now in its 22nd year. Amidst a couple of surprisingly foggy morning in Las Vegas this week we saw, heard, and experienced a number of interesting thing from Autodesk, partners, and customers.

More than anything this year, it was pretty evident that a number of business moves, some gambles really, are beginning to return real dividends on their investment.

Autodesk’s very approachable CEO, Carl Bass, was front and center as usual at AU, and this time around he didn’t have to do much defending of his business decisions of the past few years. For the most part he’s risen above the skepticism of some customers, industry pundits, and competitors, and has led Autodesk to the forefront of contemporary engineering software and services that will serve the company well near and long term. In a word, to the benefit of Autodesk he’s been a smart and savvy gambler who wagered a lot, and is starting to win big.

AU 2014

AU is Autodesk’s flagship annual user event and this year highlighted the disruptions altering how things are designed and made, explored how the natural world can inspire design, and previewed new software tools and programs to make 3D design and fabrication more accessible.

AU 2014 – Let Me Learn

As usual, the company also laid out its plans for helping designers and engineers transition to a new era of connection where they achieve better outcomes by realizing their ideas in context of the real world.

“There’s been a radical rethinking of how things will be made in the future,” said Bass. “New manufacturing processes and materials, coupled with infinite computing and ubiquitous connectivity are completely changing how companies innovate and deliver new products.”

The first morning of AU Bass welcomed Autodesk University’s attendees in a keynote address where he demonstrated a range of the company’s cloud-based products for 3D design and engineering, reality computing, 3D printing, and announced plans to introduce a new offering next year that will provide access to the entire Autodesk portfolio of products with a single subscription. A CEO who can actually run the company’s software is always a crowd pleaser, especially with customers, and Carl proved his credibility with this increasingly unique ability.

Note that while Autodesk serves a broad range of industry segments that include mechanical design and manufacturing, AEC, GIS, and media/entertainment, here we’ll focus on things mechanical.

Beginning with the keynote presentation and throughout the event, Autodesk introduced new programs and tools intended to help the design and manufacturing industries achieve new levels of connectivity and collaboration. For example:

  • Autodesk Fusion 360, the cloud-based 3D CAD/CAM tool for product development that merges industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing will be made available for no additional cost to Autodesk Product Design Suite subscribers. In addition, Autodesk announced that in the future, Fusion will run entirely in a web browser.
  • A360 Team will be available globally later this month. A360 Team is a tool for collaborating that breaks down silos, and enables data management to recede into the background to be essentially invisible to users.
  • Autodesk is now offering a limited number of early build Ember 3D printers for purchase and product feedback through the Ember Explorer Program. Ember is the first 3D printer built on the Spark open 3D printing platform.
  • Autodesk has made its industry leading design, engineering and entertainment software and cloud services free to students, instructors and academic institutions worldwide.

AU 2014 – Let Me Work

Joining Bass on stage was Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk SVP and Chief Technology Officer, who discussed how Autodesk is looking at technology and design through the lens of nature. He said, “We’ve started to think of the design process as a living process, and to think of the things we create as living things. We can’t continue to use the same old processes to make the things we design significantly better, or even live sustainably on our own planet. The next breakthroughs will co­opt some of the actual processes of nature, bringing what works in the living world into the world of the things we create.”

Let’s take a little closer look at some of the week’s major announcements made at AU 2014.

Free Software For Education

Unlike its competitors who charge for educational software licenses, albeit at a deeply discounted price, this week at AU Autodesk fulfilled its promise to expand access to its professional design software in education. The company announced that its design, engineering and entertainment software free to students, instructors, and academic institutions worldwide.

Through this action, potentially more than 680 million students and educators from over 800,000 secondary and post-secondary schools in 188 countries can take advantage of free access to Autodesk’s professional software and services for use in classrooms, labs, and at home.

“The way we make things is changing rapidly, and we need a workforce ready to design for new manufacturing and construction techniques. By providing free professional design tools to students, faculty members and academic institutions around the world, we’re helping get industry ready for the next phase,” said Bass.

Following its announcement of free software for academic institutions in the United States earlier this year as part of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, Autodesk has gradually expanded free access to its leading design software to academic institutions across Asia Pacific and Europe. The leader in 3D design, engineering, and entertainment software is also helping schools move to the cloud by providing academic institutions with its full suite of next generation cloud-based design products, cloud services such as theA360collaboration platform, as well as maintenance subscription for free.

From students as young as 13 years old leveragingFusion 360 to conceptualize and 3D print prosthetic devices, to college teams developing environmentally sustainable homesusingBIM 360 Glue, young talent are pushing the boundaries of design and innovation both inside and outside of the classroom using the same design software used by professionals every day.

To facilitate the integration of design tools into curricula, Autodesk also offers free project-based learning content and resources including the Digital STEAM WorkshopandDesign Academy.

This is a big deal and should prove very popular.

A360: Collaboration In the Cloud

No engineering software conference would be complete without at least a mention of “the cloud,” and Autodesk takes it to new heights. Cloud-based tools like Autodesk’s A360 and Fusion 360 let designers and engineers work in entirely new ways, while reinventing the modern design and collaboration experience.

At AU, the company announced that A360 Team will be available globally later this month.

Former methods of collaboration are failing designers and engineers who require an entirely different scale of working together and sharing information. Huge 3D model file sizes, data with a very high level of fidelity and precision and 3D visualization are the main requirements of Autodesk customers. Reliance on email and traditional project management tools results in inefficient workarounds and lost productivity.

Understanding the unique needs of designers and engineers, Autodesk developed A360—the first cloud collaboration tool geared for design and engineering projects. A360 Team is a tool for working together that breaks down silos, brings teams together across time and space, and enables data management to recede into the background and essentially be invisible to the people using it.

“The reality is that all projects — no matter what you are designing and making — are done in teams,” said Amar Hanspal, senior vice president of Information Modeling and Platform Products at Autodesk. “Nobody works on design projects in isolation. A360 easily connects project team members working together so naturally they don’t even have to think about it—it just happens.” It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

According to Autodesk, the future of working together with A360 is based on three fundamental principles:

  • Simplicity: A360 removes the complexity of setting up teams, managing and working together on design and engineering projects. Team members can concentrate on core activities and not get caught up trying to understand different file formats, versions, and locations. Teams also have the confidence of having access to the right information, in the right format, at the right time.
  • Invisibility: When teams are working together on projects, they need to focus on the task at hand. A360 removes distractions by ensuring tedious tasks like version control “just happen.” It eliminates the constant frustration of moving between different tools, newsfeeds, platforms, screens, etc. — the collaboration experience becomes invisible within the tools you use day-to-day.
  • Integrated Platform: A360 also serves as an extensible collaboration platform for third parties to build integrated applications on top of as Autodesk has done with Fusion 360. Its APIs allow developers to seamlessly integrate a user’s context and role into a project. A360 puts the project, whether it’s one component of a large assembly or a sleek consumer product, at the center of it all to keep team members, clients and other stakeholders informed and involved throughout the entire design and fabrication process.

Fusion 360–a cloud-based 3D CAD/CAM tool for product development–was the first Autodesk product to incorporate A360. Since its inception, Fusion 360 has included modern A360 collaboration capabilities that serve as a single space for people to work together.

In this method of working, traditional data management is no longer required, at least according to Autodesk. With Fusion 360, teams know they have the latest designs and the ability to roll back as needed, and sharing designs with key stakeholders is simple and intuitive. With this approach designers now have the ability to branch iterations of their work and merge it back in later if needed. This ability gives designers flexibility that was not possible with historical approaches to data management.

Reinventing Teamwork in the Cloud

A360 Team, which became commercially available in North America in September, already counts more than 60,000 users among the manufacturing and engineering industries.

“A360 has been a really accessible tool for us. Team members that were previously not involved in design are now coming on board and beginning to contribute to existing projects, taking on new initiatives and expanding our entire team’s skill set,” said Calvin Domenico III, president of DGF Technologies, a Massachusetts based consulting company who provides engineering services in a diverse range of specialties. “In addition, having an integrated CAD/CAM package with Fusion 360 that actually works well allows us to operate on a single platform and move quickly. And that’s exactly what we need to be doing.”

AU 2014 – Let Me Create

A360 Team offers viewing for more than 100 2D and 3D design file formats within a Web browser without downloads or plug-ins. Its advanced search goes far beyond text search and lets users easily locate components embedded within models, assemblies and designs.

Meanwhile, the A360 mobile app enables users to view large 3D and 2D models, track what’s happening on a project, and collaborate with other team members—virtually any data, anytime, anywhere, from any device.

PLM 360 and IoT

Autodesk announced that Autodesk PLM 360, a cloud-based Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) service, is enjoying strong uptake among companies creating the network-connected devices that are powering the Internet of Things (IoT).

By using PLM 360, these customers are able to more efficiently design and manufacture a wide range of innovative devices that blur the line between hardware and software—everything from motorcycle helmets with integrated navigation systems, to a device that empowers drivers with knowledge about themselves and their cars so they can be safer and drive smarter.

“Companies in this fast-developing area are defining and creating the IoT,” said Brian Roepke, director of Product Lifecycle Management products at Autodesk. “At the pace they move, these companies rely heavily on cloud-based technology because they’re the only services that allow them to innovate quickly.”

Unlike traditional PLM systems, PLM 360 is designed to be simple, affordable, and accessible. There is no hardware to install or lengthy deployment to manage: customers sign up for a subscription and configure the system using drag-and-drop functionality to create a powerful PLM system that fits their needs.

This centralized workspace enables customers to better tackle the challenges that every product development organization faces when bringing innovative new products to the market: everything from managing Bills of Material, Change Management, and Supplier Collaboration to handling issues around Quality and Compliance.

Three new IoT companies recently selected Autodesk PLM 360 and plan to use the service to spur productivity within their companies:

  • SKULLY: Pioneers of intelligent vehicle systems technology for the transportation industry, SKULLY’s human-centered approach to engineering has led to SKULLY AR-1, the first vertically integrated smart Heads Up Display (HUD) motorcycle helmet for consumers. SKULLY’s Synapse connected technology platform enhances awareness for its users by linking advanced optics to an intelligent network of cameras, sensors and microprocessors.
  • Automatic: An automotive accessory that turns almost any car into a connected car. By pairing Automatic’s award-winning connected car adapter and apps for iPhone, Android, and web, users are able to enhance their driving experience with a host of connected services on the Automatic platform. Automatic helps customers drive safer and smarter with applications that diagnose engine trouble, detect accidents and send emergency response, and help customers save money.
  • Gimbal, Inc.: This Qualcomm spinoff connects brands, venues, events and retailers with their customers in new ways by providing leading-edge mobile technologies and solutions. With advanced geofencing (a program that uses the global positioning system (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define geographical boundaries), the world’s largest deployment of industry-leading Bluetooth Smart beacons, location-based engagement, analytics, unmatched security features and privacy controls, the Gimbal platform helps drive mobile app engagement and loyalty.
  • Spark 3D Printing Platform: Autodesk developers in San Francisco and London are using PLM 360 to improve Spark development processes and speed workflows. Spark is an open, free and complete platform for 3D printing that will connect digital information to 3D printers in new ways. The Spark platform will provide the building blocks that product designers, hardware manufacturers, software developers and material scientists can use to push the boundaries of 3D printing and create a more seamless and reliable 3D printing experience for everyone.

Spark and Ember

A little over a month ago Autodesk announced its 3D printing program – the Spark Investment Fund. At the time, not a lot of details were disclosed, but the company dedicated a session at AU to Spark (the 3D printing ecosystem) and Ember (its 3D printing device) because Autodesk realizes the extent and potential of this marketplace. According to Bass, the momentum has started and the company has already received over 400 applications for the Spark Investment Fund.

Not all that long ago, less than 100 3D printers were being sold annually. Contrast that to 2013 where Autodesk estimates that approximately 23,000 were sold and a total of around 200,000 since the inception of the technique, which is impressive. On the down side, however, Autodesk estimates that today part production failure rates are between 25-75% depending on the method and material. Any way you look at that figure is not good.

Autodesk realizes that a sound process is key to success for 3D printing, and this is what the company is addressing with hardware, software, and materials, and this is where the Spark program comes in. Spark can be viewed as an open ecosystem and platform; whereas Ember is the 3D printing device and reference design. Ember serves as a testbed platform for new materials research and experimentation.

With its many technology company acquisitions (Autodesk has averaged about 15-16 per year for the past few years) and its insistence as the cloud being the future, Autodesk is about to cash in on these and other well-strategized bets. Gambling is not for the faint of heart, and it appears that Autodesk is poised for a big payout going forward – and not just next quarter or next year, but 5-10+ years down the road. Gambling is all about probability, and Autodesk has stacked the odds in its favor with the decisions it has made. This all makes more sense since, after all, we were in Las Vegas.

Editor’s Note: We conducted well over a dozen video interviews during AU that will be posted to the various “café” sites ~December 10. We interviewed exhibiting partners from market segments including mechanical/manufacturing, AEC, GIS, civil, and media/entertainment and got some good insights.

Also, several of the new technologies we checked out will be covered in much greater detail once we’ve had the opportunity to get some hands-on experience.

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