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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 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 design … More »

Autodesk Forging Ahead With Development Platform

 
June 23rd, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

Last week Autodesk announced several updates to its Forge platform, including new cloud application development tools, and three investments at Forge DevCon, the company’s inaugural event for cloud developers.

Since its inception in December 2015, Autodesk claims that rapid progress has been made with early adopters of the Forge Platform in changing both what and how things are made, and at transforming “the future of making things.”

The Forge Program consists of three main components; the Forge platform (PaaS), developer program, and a $100M investment fund. The cloud-based Forge Platform features APIs and SDKs developers can use to create design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, and other types of enterprise applications. The Forge developer program aims to bring together a community of cloud application developers by providing application development resources.

“We are seeing Forge used to power the future of making things for a variety of applications ranging from part inspection to sub-sea surveying, from managing mines with drones to turning cost estimation into a competitive advantage, and building online design and manufacturing services,” said Amar Hanspal, senior vice president, Products at Autodesk. “It is clear to us that there is an enormous demand for an easy-to-use and scalable platform to build all sorts of manufacturing and AEC applications. There are endless opportunities created by a combination of our web service APIs and entrepreneurial developer talent.”

The Forge DevCon event is part of a comprehensive Forge developer program that provides learning, support, and business development resources for Autodesk’s community of cloud developers. This community includes developers representing industries that include architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and manufacturing, as well as emerging areas such as augmented reality (AR), additive manufacturing (AM), and the Internet of Things (IoT). The majority of Forge developers are using multiple APIs to create services and solutions that fuel how products are designed, built and used.

In a nutshell, the Autodesk Forge Platform is a set of cloud services that connects design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, production, and operations workflows. Application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) let software developers of all sizes to build cloud-powered applications, services, and experiences. Admittedly, this is a heady set of claims, but Autodesk is well on its way to fulfilling them.

Autodesk Forge DevCon 2016 Keynote

New and expanded areas of the Forge platform announced last week included:

  • Model Derivative API – Allows design files to be translated into different formats like STL and OBJ, and prepared for online viewing. The Forge Model Derivative API also allows hierarchy trees, properties, and geometries to be extracted. The Forge 3D Print API allows models to be prepared for a specific printer, allows print jobs to be queued up, and generates the G-code the printer needs to operate.
  • 3D Print API – Enables developers to build customized 3D printing solutions from 3D print preparation to print management. This API helps users prepare models for 3D printing with a full suite of tools for mesh repair or slicing. It can also be used to deliver files to 3D printers with remote monitoring and production management, or to “heal” models so they can be printed.
  • Design Automation API – Allows developers to run AutoCAD scripts on the cloud. Early adopters are using it as a drawing generation engine for web applications. Other examples include batch converting of DWGs to PDFs.
  • Data Management API – Manages data across A360, Fusion 360, BIM 360 Docs, and the Forge native Object Storage Service. This API allows users to upload and download a data file from different Autodesk products through one consistent and unified interface.
  • Reality Capture API – Turns a series of photos into 3D data. If the photos are geotagged, as is typically the case with UAV/drone photos, the computed reality data also includes a geolocated orthographic view. The reality data is then accessible on Autodesk Cloud services or a partner’s platform, for consumption in web or desktop apps.
  • Authentication – An open standard is being used across the Forge Platform for authentication and authorization. Authentication is a secure method to provide a “key” to a third party that allows them only limited access to perform specific functions.
  • Viewer – Displays 2D and 3D design files and associated data from 50+ file formats in a web and mobile viewer for presentation and collaboration. Also allows for comments, markup, and measurement.

To support Forge, Autodesk provides in-product integration for A360, Fusion, and BIM 360 APIs for developers to create new services that enhance workflows.

Autodesk Forge DevCon 2016 Ben Cochran

The Autodesk Forge Fund invests in companies developing innovative solutions or services on or connected to the Forge Platform. The three initial investors include:

  • 3D Robotics (3DR) is a leading drone maker, is using the Forge Platform to develop aerial data capture and analytics platforms for enterprise field professionals within infrastructure, construction, survey, mapping, telecom, and energy industries. Using the Forge Reality Capture API, 3DR customers can convert drone-captured photos into engineering data, enabling them to better manage sites and reduce risk.
  • MakeTime is an online manufacturing platform that matches projects from buyers to production hours on computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines from pre-qualified suppliers. The result is a simplified supply chain management and expansion for both manufacturers and machine shops. MakeTime was an early adopter of the Forge Platform, leveraging Fusion 360 and the Forge Viewer, Data Management API, and Model Derivative API to connect designers and engineers to MakeTime’s virtual machine shop of scalable CNC machining and production services.
  • Seebo provides a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for developing Internet of Things (IoT) and smart, connected products. Seebo’s technology intuitively connects Autodesk design apps like Fusion 360 and IoT platform, Fusion Connect , and enables users to drag and drop components (sensors, Bluetooth, accelerometers, GPS, etc.) into a product design framework to transform simple products into smart technology.

To encourage developers to explore Forge, Autodesk is offering unlimited free use of the platform in eligible countries until September 15, 2016. For more information, including pricing, check out forge.autodesk.com.

I think Autodesk is really on to something with the Forge developer initiative. I also think that Autodesk’s competitors are keeping a close eye on developments. At this time, the company with the most to gain from a move such as Autodesk’s would be PTC and its IoT push. Whether this actually happens is debatable, as Autodesk and PTC have completely different cultures, legacies, and expectations. Still, PTC is pushing its “technology platform,” so it might be interested in extending it as a “development platform,” as well. We’ll just have to wait and see . . .

Editor’s Note: It’s interesting that there has been less and less mention of products and services this year in favor of “platform.” I’m predicting that “platform” will be this year’s key MCAD buzzword, finally replacing “integrated solution.” I also predict that most of the big MCAD players will try to get in on the “platform” bandwagon, defining it to what suits them best.

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