January 16, 2006
Autodesk Completes Alias Acquisition
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Autodesk, Inc. announced that it has completed the acquisition of Alias for cash consideration of $197 million USD. On October 4, 2005, Autodesk announced a definitive agreement to acquire Alias -- a leading developer of 3D graphics technology. This acquisition extends Autodesk's 3D software leadership in the manufacturing and media and entertainment industries.

"We're excited to welcome Alias customers, partners and employees to Autodesk," said Carl Bass, COO of Autodesk. "The acquisition of Alias is about fulfilling Autodesk's vision: To give design and creative professionals the best software tools for realizing their ideas. Customers are demanding the next generation of 3D photorealistic visualization and animation tools, and we are poised to deliver. In the future, 3D assets will be created once and shared across a range of industries, from automotive and architectural design to films and games. This will be enabled by Autodesk technology."

The combined company has more than seven million users. Alias' automotive and design customers include BMW, Boeing, General Motors, Mattel, Honda, Renault and Rollerblade. Alias' media and entertainment customers include major film studios and game developers, such as Industrial Light & Magic, DreamWorks SKG, Weta Digital, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Electronic Arts, Midway Games, Nintendo and SEGA. Many of these customers use both Autodesk and Alias products, providing an opportunity for the combined company to deliver a more comprehensive suite of solutions.

Alias' products, technology and services will be integrated with Autodesk's Manufacturing Solutions and Media & Entertainment divisions and Autodesk's Consulting organization. Alias StudioTools -- software for design tasks ranging from 2D sketches to production models -- adds new design and visualization capabilities to Autodesk's manufacturing portfolio. The acquisition also grows Autodesk's media and entertainment portfolio with Alias' Maya software -- an Academy Award-winning application, Alias MotionBuilder -- 3D character animation software, and FBX -- a widely used format for the exchange and use of 3D content.

Autodesk plans to continue the development and support of Alias products and services. The combined company's research and development priority is to link Autodesk's and Alias' existing products, delivering increased interoperability and improved data management. In the manufacturing industry, this will give users an extended workflow into conceptual design, as part of Autodesk's design-to-manufacturing solution. In the media and entertainment industry, many customers already use products from both Autodesk and Alias. As such, they will benefit from a streamlined workflow for digital film, broadcast and game projects.

Several Alias management team members have joined Autodesk, including Dave Wharry and Michel Besner. Dave Wharry, formerly Alias Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing, is now Vice President of Sales for Autodesk's Media & Entertainment Division. Michel Besner, formerly Alias Vice President of Business Development -- Emerging Markets, is now leading product management for Autodesk's Media & Entertainment Division 3D product portfolio. Alias' former global headquarters in Toronto, Canada remains as a key development center for Autodesk.

Last year Autodesk made three major acquisitions that will likely have major impact on the mechanical side of the company - Solid Dynamics for finite element analysis; Engineering Intent for producing engineer-to-order products; and Alias, for conceptual design, visualization, and presentation. Of the three acquisitions, I feel that Alias will have the biggest potential impact because it takes the company in a different direction and lets it tap into mechanical design markets it previously had marginal presence in - namely industrial (product) and transportation (automotive and aerospace) design.

When you look at the product lines and customer bases of the two companies, they actually appear to be a good fit, so, the acquisition looks like it makes sense from the perspectives of both the two companies and their customers.

As previously stated, with the acquisition, Autodesk has opportunities it did not previously have, namely, a strong pipeline to automotive styling/design and computer-aided industrial design (CAID) through Alias' Studio Tools line. This broadens Autodesk's appeal to the conceptual side of the product development cycle where previously it did not have a lot to offer. Studio Tools has long enjoyed a good reputation for its ability to create complex surfaces, and this ability will come in handy for Autodesk's Inventor, an application where surface creation has, admittedly, been somewhat lacking.

The timing for the acquisition is good, because more and more companies continue to realize that industrial design (ID) matters because it is increasingly becoming a product differentiator, especially for new technologies or crowded markets.

Not too surprisingly, computer-aided design (CAD) packages, are not the same as computer-aided industrial design (CAID) packages, and vice versa - each product type addresses a specific need and serves a definite purpose. Historically, CAID has occupied the conceptual front-end of the product development process (primarily surfaces), while CAD has been best suited for the design refinement portion of the process (primarily solids) and actually making a product manufacturable.

CAID packages are developed specifically with industrial designers in mind - in more of a graphic environment they strive to stimulate creativity by providing a wide variety of design options. In essence, these tools are used to quickly create and alter the shape, form, and surface qualities of 3D models. CAID tools also excel at presenting design concepts with photorealistic rendering and lighting effects. What they often lack is the precision found in most CAD tools required for manufacturing a product.

As I've said before, I like Autodesk's acquisition of Alias, but react cautiously until it unfolds in the coming months with subsequent versions of software. While it certainly offers potential and opportunity, almost as certainly it challenges - especially with regard to integrating and interoperability with its other existing mechanical design products, primarily Inventor. These issues aren't insurmountable, though, but will require considerable effort to resolve.

Autodesk is wisely not providing a timetable as to what and when the Alias line will be integrated/implemented within the Autodesk line, but it will certainly be interesting to see what transpires.

The Week's Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

3D Systems Corp. announced that it has reached an agreement in principle with DSM Somos, an unincorporated division of DSM Desotech Inc. and affiliate of DSM NV, to settle the patent litigation currently pending between the two companies in Germany, and to cross-license patents and other intellectual property relating to stereolithography materials. As part of this settlement, DSM would grant to 3D Systems a non-exclusive worldwide license outside of Japan to patents relating to stereolithography materials and equipment, and 3D Systems would grant to DSM a non-exclusive worldwide license outside of Japan to patents and patent applications relating to stereolithography materials, and the
corresponding right to sell DSM stereolithography materials to users of 3D Systems' Viper Pro SLA systems.

Mr. Shufu Li, Chairman of the Geely Automobile Company, of Hangzhou, China, announced in Detroit that Geely is "On track to enter the United States automobile market in the year 2008. Our goal is to present to the American people another choice for the family sedan, a vehicle that possesses the highest quality but is available at the lowest price," said Mr. Li. Geely is the first domestic automobile manufacturer from China to participate in the annual Detroit Auto Show. The Geely saga goes from the humble beginning of manufacturing small simple refrigerators, bicycles, and motor scooters to the manufacture and sale of over one hundred thousand automobiles per year. Geely is unique among Chinese manufacturing enterprises in that no government entity has any ownership in Geely. At the Detroit Auto Show Geely put on display a five passenger sedan. Representatives of the company explained that this vehicle is the third generation of the model that is the mainstay of the Geely line. "The automobile that we will bring to the United States will be the fifth generation," said Mr. Li. He has carefully studied the success of the Korean and Japanese automobile manufacturers whose names are now well regarded throughout the world. He has also studied the mistakes of those companies that attempted to enter the U.S. market and failed. "I know very well what
mistakes others have made," he explained, "and I have no intention of repeating those mistakes."

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.

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