Along with almost 10,000 other attendees, I was in Las Vegas this week at Autodesk University and am still trying to comprehend if I’ve just seen the future of manufacturing.
To a large extent, Autodesk’s vision for the future of making things stems from what it calls generative design.
So what is generative design? According to Autodesk’s official definition, generative design mimics nature’s evolutionary approach to design.
AU 2016: The Future Of Making Things
In the digital realm, designers and engineers input design goals into generative design software, along with parameters, such as manufacturing methods, materials, and cost constraints. Using cloud computing, the software quickly explores all possible permutations of a solution, generating design alternatives. The software then tests and learns from each iteration what works, what doesn’t, and what works best.
In other words, with generative design, there is not necessarily a single solution to a problem, instead, there are potentially thousands of solutions that address the initial problem.
A day before its official release, I spoke with a couple of Autodesk Fusion 360 staffers, Daniel Graham, Fusion 360 Senior Product Manager and Bill Danon about what to expect in the newest update.
The biggest news was the inclusion of simulation capabilities in Fusion 360 – at no additional cost – at least not for now or the foreseeable future. That in itself is pretty significant. Of course, there were some other improvements and enhancements, but let’s start with simulation
Simulation in Fusion 360 lets you perform linear stress analysis that assumes linear elastic behavior and infinitesimally small displacements and strains, as well as modal analysis for study the dynamic properties of structures undergoing vibration. With Fusion 360 simulation you can define materials, add constraints, and add loads to solve for weaknesses in assemblies, within the design environment.
When in the Fusion 360 design environment, a workspace labeled “SIM” under the workspace switcher is where you choose from two types of simulation studies: Static Stress and Modal Frequencies.
San Francisco is always a great destination, but even more so when the weather is sunny and warm as it was this week while we attended the REAL 2015 Summit, Autodesk’s initial foray into making sense of a term it coined – reality computing. In Autodesk’s vernacular, creating data is what ultimately is used to create reality, but more about what that actually means later.
REAL 2015 was nothing like any company-sponsored event I had ever attended. It was all about 3D capture (scanning/sensing), computing (modeling), and creating (additive/subtractive manufacturing). It was more like a sophisticated maker faire than a traditional trade show. I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical about coming to REAL 2015, thinking it was going to be a 2 ½ day Autodesk sales pitch/advertisement to a captive audience, but was pleasantly surprised that it was nothing of the sort, and was more analogous to a TEDx event, which is a very good thing.
Capture was put into the context of sensing that is becoming ever more ubiquitous (think smartphone cameras); Compute was about the cloud, mobility, social media, and analytics; and Create was about the increase of accessible fabrication. These three branches were talked about going from feasible to transformational, as well as Autodesk’s initiative as a company of then transforming implications to applications.
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.
Last week we were at the Venetian in Las Vegas for what has to be the biggest spectacle in the CAD business — Autodesk University. While other cities could handle the crowd and serve as venues for AU, Las Vegas has been the destination for the annual event for a long time. Vegas is big, bold, easy to get to, and just a lot of fun to be around, even if you’re not into the “Vegas Lifestyle” — gambling, smoking, etc.
AU takes place at an odd time of year because it immediately follows Thanksgiving and is about four to five months prior to the new versions of Autodesk products being released. That said, though, there are always interesting product announcements made at AU.
After several months in Beta, Autodesk today officially and commercially released Fusion 360 (formerly known as Inventor Fusion) — the newest member of Autodesk’s growing cloud-based products/services family.
Essentially, Fusion 360 is a conceptual design tool. I liken it to a relatively simple modeling tool where CAD meets social media for collaborative design. As an industrial designer myself, I was especially interested in what Fusion 360 could do as a conceptual design tool, so I signed up for the Beta program and had some hands-on time with it.
Check out the Fusion 360 overview video to get an idea of what it’s all about:
Fusion 360’s interface is pretty basic, so it doesn’t take long to start creating some shapes and forms. Keep in mind that a lot of 3D form creation is based on T-Splines technology (that Autodesk acquired), so it’s different than Inventor’s method.
For conceptual design, you’ll probably spend the majority of your time in the Sculpt (for creating organic forms) or Model (for creating solid geometry forms) workspaces. For repairing imported surfaces, you’ll use the Patch workspace.
At least initially, a slightly different mindset is required for using Fusion 360 because it is based on a hub-and-group premise. At the center is your personal hub, where you can create and participate in groups, and post items to, and monitor them. Each hub and group has a similar set of tabbed pages with areas called tiles that contain related information and tools.
As of today, Fusion 360 is commercially available and is free of charge for the next 90 days. After that it will set you back $25 per user per month with an annual contract commitment. So, for $300 a year you get a fairly capable conceptual design tool that I feel can fit into many collaborative product design workflows, as shown in the following video:
There’s a lot to learn and cover in Autodesk Fusion 360, and in the coming weeks, I’ll take you through some different design workflows that involve interacting with others — importing data, creating different types of models, refining designs, exporting design data to other CAD applications for other purposes, collaboration, etc. In other words, what you can realistically expect to do with Autodesk Fusion 360.
OK, so Autodesk Fusion 360 is just outta Beta, but is ready for prime time? With some reservations, I would say yes, no, and maybe. How’s that for commitment? I think it all depends on what your expectations are and how hard you want to push it. Admittedly, it’s come a long way, but in my opinion, still has some maturing to do before I’d truly consider it production-ready for sophisticated design purposes.
I like the potential of cloud-based applications, but like Adobe’s Creative Suite, I’m still coming to grips with the perception of data integrity and vulnerability, as well as a perpetual monthly fee. I guess, like many new users of cloud-based applications, I just have to get used to the inevitability of this brave new world. That said, though, with Version 1.0, Fusion 360 does have some limitations, but its potential is tremendous.