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.
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.
Over the course of the past year, Autodesk has gotten heavily involved with the CAM side of product development.
As a case in point, relatively recently, Autodesk has made it clear that it intends to become a major force in CAM to round out its Digital Prototyping philosophy that also includes design and simulation. As examples to this CAM commitment, in the past year or so it has acquired HSMWorks (a relatively small step in CAM), and more recently announced its intention to acquire Delcam (a relatively giant leap in CAM).
It was really big news when, Autodesk announced its intention to acquire Delcam, one of the world’s leading suppliers of advanced software for manufacturing. The companies offer complementary ranges of software, with Autodesk’s programs for design (CAD) and engineering (CAE) able to be combined with Delcam’s strengths in manufacturing (CAM).
On completion of the acquisition, Delcam will become a subsidiary of Autodesk. It will maintain its focus on continued growth of its market share in the manufacturing sector, counting on added strength that will come from becoming part of a larger organization.
Both Delcam and Autodesk invest heavily in product development, and this will likely continue after the acquisition, as there is likely to be little overlap and duplication of effort.
Delcam is a publicly traded company and will be purchased with cash that Autodesk has stashed outside the U.S., keeping it there most likely for advantageous tax purposes and for opportunities for transactions like this one.
GibbsCAM and Autodesk Inventor Interoperability
Cimatron Limited, a developer of integrated CAD/CAM software for toolmaking and manufacturing, announced this week that its GibbsCAM software has been certified for Autodesk Inventor 2015 under the Autodesk Certified Apps Program. This marks the fourteenth consecutive year that GibbsCAM has been certified under the program.
GibbsCAM directly opens Autodesk Inventor part models, allowing CNC programmers and machinists to program machine tools from the models, extending cost reduction and efficiency through the programming and machining processes. GibbsCAM provides integration with Autodesk Inventor, by directly reading Autodesk Inventor IPT (part model) files, preserving all color information, features and attributes assigned within Inventor to provide continuity in recognizing and communicating part and feature attributes. Alternatively, with the GibbsCAM Autodesk Inventor Add-in, Inventor users can transfer files directly into GibbsCAM with the “Transfer to GibbsCAM” menu option of Inventor software running on the same workstation. Once machining processes are defined in GibbsCAM, they are automatically updated when the Inventor model is revised.
“We are gratified for our continuing partnership with Autodesk and for Autodesk’s recognition of GibbsCAM interoperability with Autodesk Inventor,” said Robb Weinstein, Senior Vice President of Sales and Strategic Planning of Gibbs and Associates, a Cimatron subsidiary. “Our commitment to joint customers around the world remains unchanged, despite changing marketplace dynamics, as we continue to optimize the CNC-programming power and flexibility GibbsCAM provides Autodesk users.”
“We are very pleased to have Gibbs and Associates affirm their continuing dedication to interoperability with Autodesk Inventor through Inventor certification for GibbsCAM,” said Carl White, Senior Director, Manufacturing Engineering, Autodesk. “Having companies like Gibbs and Associates as partners is highly beneficial to our manufacturing customers.”
In 2008, Gibbs and Associates merged with Cimatron Ltd., and is now operating as a wholly owned subsidiary.
The GibbsCAM product line supports 2- through 5-axis milling, turning, mill/turning, multi-task simultaneous machining and wire-EDM. GibbsCAM also provides fully integrated manufacturing modeling capabilities that include 2D, 2.5D, 3D wireframe, surface, and solid modeling. GibbsCAM is either offered or endorsed by a number of leading worldwide control and machine tool manufacturers, including GE Fanuc, Infimatic, Siemens, Doosan Infracore, DMG MORI, Haas, Index, MAG, Mazak, Mitsubishi, Okuma, and Tornos.
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.
Regardless of the weather, San Francisco is a great city on many different levels and I just returned from an event there with a wide variety of weather. The city just hosted the annual event that Autodesk uses to present and demo its next-generation products for all of the industries it serves — MCAD, AEC, Civil, Games/Entertainment, etc. — known as the Autodesk Media Summit. It was two days, but my favorite part of the event was when the new products were discussed and actually shown.
Throughout the event, Autodesk had a lot to say about a lot of new products, technologies in the works, and trends. We heard a number of interesting things from several Autodesk executives on many topics, ranging from cloud and mobile technology initiatives to the DIY movement. The cloud was touted throughout the presentations as the enabler for democratizing design and technology. This point got a little tired after being repeated several times by different presenters, but the point was well taken, nonetheless.
The various industry product suites were introduced and Autodesk stressed the integration of workflows with the products that comprise the various product suites. Autodesk also pointed out that it has made a real effort to make suite more cohesive so that they lok, feel, and behave in a similar manner. On the MCAD side, although Inventor and AutoCAD got their due, it was PLM 360 that was the center of attention and the star of the show. Buzz Kross also said that PLM should and will apply to more than mechanical design, engineering, and manufacturing. In other words, don’t be too surprised to see it move to other industries, such as AEC, civil/infrastructure, and others.
I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what was covered at the Autodesk Media Summit 2012, but will provide comprehensive coverage of the event in the next MCADCafe Weekly e-Magazine that will be published and available on April 9, 2012.