February 19, 2007
Autodesk Frames Future Software Vision
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor


by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Carl Bass, president and chief executive officer of Autodesk, Inc. outlined the company's strategic direction at its World Press Day event last week in San Francisco, and articulated his vision of a fundamental transformation in the design process to encompass performance, aesthetics, and user experience.


Addressing scores of attending media and analysts from around the world, Bass detailed the major global factors impacting design and laid out Autodesk's intention to help companies redefine design processes to spur innovation and achieve competitive advantage. With state-of-the-art 2D and 3D design technologies, Autodesk plans to empower customers in diverse industries around the world to experience, change and improve their ideas early in the design process, and save time and money, improve quality and increase innovation.


"In a world where globalization is constantly expanding the range of choices available to consumers, great design has become a way to stand out from the crowd," said Bass. "Fortunately for Autodesk, there's never been a better time to be a leader in the design software category. Autodesk is on a mission to democratize this powerful ability to experience ideas before they're real, with 2D and 3D design tools that help customers of all sizes, shapes, locations and industries to fully leverage the power of design innovation."


Bass identified five major global forces that exert great pressure on companies to innovate as well as address social and environmental issues. Emerging economies; a boom in worldwide infrastructure, from highways to utility lines; the rise of the middle classes in nations such as China; the necessity for sustainable design; and the advent of technology and "digital" lifestyles have raised the stakes for success, requiring companies to innovate in order to remain competitive and profitable.


Bass observed that as a result, Autodesk customers are rethinking the design process in order to understand the information implied by the geometry of a drawing, namely, the function and user's likely experience of a design. Citing examples from leading customer work, Bass explained how early insight into user experience has helped companies gain an edge in bringing successful concepts to market.


In order to experience ideas before they are real, companies must envision not only how an idea will look, but also how it will work in the real world. Autodesk is equipping customers to do exactly that with advanced 3D design technologies for the creation of fully functional digital prototypes, which in turn allow companies to visualize, simulate and analyze the real-world performance of concepts. This integrated environment lets customers not only see but also "experience" their ideas before they actually create anything, and take proactive steps to change designs and uphold sustainable design principles.


By making changes early in the development process, companies reap the benefits of design innovation -- namely, cost-effectiveness, efficiency, faster time to market, better quality and performance -- that add up to competitive advantage in a fast-changing global economy.


Global architecture and engineering firm HOK and Palumbo Motorcar Company of America, a bold new concept car design and manufacturing company, were among the best-in-class customers who joined Bass to explain how they are taking advantage of building digital prototypes for increased productivity and competitive advantage.


Jason and Joe Palumbo explained how Palumbo Motorcar is poised to take advantage of the market growth of hybrid vehicles and the high-performance sports car market, estimated to be a $3 billion opportunity. The company is designing the ground-breaking Palumbo M-80 concept car that has a hybrid gas-electric drive train built to deliver speed and acceleration with outstanding fuel economy and minimal environmental impact. Using Autodesk Inventor software and Autodesk AliasStudio software to create digital prototypes, Palumbo Motorcar engineers have reduced the design stage of prototyping by nearly 75 percent, speeding time to production.



Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor


I attended Autodesk’s World Press Day event (actually a two-day event) where the company’s President and CEO, Carl Bass, talked about the company’s state and direction in general terms, and left it up to VPs and directors to talk specifics about the various vertical markets, such as manufacturing, architecture, etc. Mr. Bass stated very plainly that on the manufacturing side, Autodesk was not trying or pretending to be a PLM company. It would, however, continue to position itself as a mechanical design and PDM vendor because that’s what makes the most sense for it and its customer base.


Anyway, he described design as a way of solving problems and that the company would continue the push for the ability to experience things before they become real as the primary reason behind developing digital tools for design and simulation. Buzz Kross, vice president of Autodesk’s Manufacturing Solutions Division reinforced this notion with what he continually referred to as digital prototype creation. While not exactly a new concept, Mr. Kross and Autodesk have a little different spin on it than has been presented in the past in redefining digital prototyping.


He said that 3D modeling by itself does not do enough to replace physical prototypes. Users have to move beyond 3D geometry to:

  • Create a complete digital model

  • Represent and integrate mechanical and electrical components (mechatronics)

  • Visualize a design

  • Simulate and analyze the full product being designed


    Taken collectively, these four components are basically what Autodesk has termed “functional design, “ that promotes a “test before build” process. In other words, creating a true digital prototype before committing to a physical design (and expensive and time-consuming physical prototypes) that starts with a functional requirements and specifications. Parts and assemblies are then automatically created by the system that meet those specifications. Functional design is a process where a conceptual representation drives automated design for building a digital prototype.


    Mr. Kross said the realization of digital prototyping and functional design are ongoing efforts by Autodesk and will not come to full fruition in a year, but will become more comprehensive and robust over time.


    On the second day, we got briefed on some of the new features and capabilities of Inventor 2008 and other products in the manufacturing suite. We were told that there were 403 new features in the manufacturing suite, so just a select few dozen were actually presented. They were, however, presented as a Power Point slide presentation, and not as a live demo.


    Probably the most significant new feature to those companies that still use 2D AutoCAD and 3D Inventor in the same design environment is that this time around, Inventor can directly read and write DWG (and not IDW) to and from AutoCAD with DWG TrueConnect. Because no translation is required, this resolves a major disconnect that users in the past have had to contend with because the data is fully associative to the 3D model.


    Some of the other major areas of enhancement slated for Inventor 2008 that were discussed included sheet metal, sketching, simulation and analysis, advanced shape design, drawings, cable and harness, mechatronics (with AutoCAD Electrical), data management, and interoperability with Autodesk AliasStudio for industrial design.


    The release date for Inventor 2008 and the rest of the manufacturing software suite is not too far off (sometime this spring), so I’ll probably start looking at a beta version fairly soon so I can better comment on what actually made it in to the product and how it performs. A pre-release verbal presentation is one thing, but nothing beats a hands-on evaluation to experience where and how the rubber meets the road.



    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.



    More than 3,500 of the world's top minds in product design concluded four days of exchanging ideas and evaluating the latest 3D CAD technology when
    SolidWorks World 2007 finished its four-day run last week. The speaking program of events included 170 breakout sessions and a preview of SolidWorks 2008. The slate of speakers featured Apple, Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak; actor Leonard Nimoy, television's legendary Mr. Spock from Star Trek; and Colonel Lewis F. Setliff III of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who spoke on efforts to rebuild New Orleans. Rwandan Minister of Science, Technology, and Scientific Research Romain Murenzi spoke about his country's growing technology infrastructure. The conference included SolidWorks customers whose products and
    services contributed to Hurricane Katrina relief, and a forum on sustainable technologies.


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    You can find the full MCADCafe event calendar here.


    To read more news, click here.



    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.


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