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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 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 … More »

Autodesk University 2017: Design More, That’s Better, With Less

November 16th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

Although I’m not much of a fan for Las Vegas per se, I do enjoy attending Autodesk’s annual spectacle that attracts at least 10,000 attendees to Sin City — Autodesk University.

This year’s event was markedly different than ones in the recent past. Different because:

  • This was the first AU presided over by Autodesk’s new President and CEO, Andrew Anagnost
  • The attention the Forge development platform received
  • AEC and construction seemed to take center stage for much of the event and the exhibit floor
  • Generative design and Fusion 360 were emphasized on the manufacturing side of the business
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) is getting a lot of attention fro Autodesk and will be coming out of the shadows very soon
  • The “cloud” was everywhere, including the addition of AnyCAD into Fusion 360

I’ll briefly discuss each of these bulleted items, but will cover each of them in more detail in coming weeks

Words From The New CEO

Having been the President and CEO of Autodesk since June, Andrew Anagnost took the stage the first day of AU in his relatively new role to talk about the theme of this year’s AU, which was designing more things, designing better things, and accomplishing this with less — materials, staff, resources, and time.

Andrew Anagnost, AU 2017 Keynote

Anagnost said the panacea for making this happen is automation that will actually increase jobs and productivity. We shouldn’t be so concerned about if automation take our jobs as we should be of the opportunities of where automation will take us. With so much happening so quickly on the automation and technology fronts, the problem is not so much a scarcity of jobs as it is a scarcity of skills to benefit from the opportunities.

An interesting numerical comparison he made that back in the day there were approximately 300,000 drafters in design, manufacturing, and architecture. Compare that to today’s approximately 10,000,000 design software users and you appreciate how things have changed by the sheer number of people involved on the creative design side.

This week Autodesk also announced that it has formed a new partnership with Village Capital to fund the creation of their workforce development and transition initiative, focused on entrepreneurship, job training, and upskilling in a world of automation. The company is also teaming up with LinkedIn Learning to offer free access to more than 40 courses in multiple languages, relevant to the architecture, infrastructure, construction, and manufacturing industries.

Technology can accelerate solutions to our most pressing problems, such as anticipated global population growth of 30 percent by 2050, but only if people are prepared work with machines in new ways. These are the latest moves in Autodesk’s efforts to prepare the workforce to thrive in a future that will require people to make and build more, do it better, and with less negative impact on the world.


We spoke with Ron Locklin, Director of Strategy and Business Development, Forge about Autodesk’s  Forge Platform – a set of cloud services that connect design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, production and operations workflows. It enables software developers to build cloud-powered applications, services and “experiences.”

The relatively new program complements Autodesk’s channel strategy in multiple ways, Locklin said. “For one, as Autodesk’s SaaS solutions continue to grow, the importance of services in the portfolio of Autodesk’s partner business grows, and this program is another step and another building block in that portfolio of services,” he said. “Second, many of Autodesk’s resellers are also systems integrators, and this program allows those resellers to both resell Autodesk solutions and also build a services business with Forge. Third, a major use case for Forge is to extend the BIM360 solution as well as the Fusion solution, so for Autodesk channel partners that are heavily invested in BIM360 or Fusion, this program is a great way to both grow their business but also to differentiate their BIM360 and Fusion solutions and deployments from their competition.”

Fusion 360 and AnyCAD

This past August, Autodesk increased the value of its Autodesk Product Design & Manufacturing Collection to subscribers by adding Nastran non-linear simulation and 5-axis CAM to Inventor at no additional cost.

In 2015, AnyCAD made its way into Autodesk Inventor, simplifying the design process by allowing virtually any CAD data, regardless of source, to be associatively integrated into Inventor designs without the need for file translation. This enabled collaboration between Inventor and other CAD systems, letting designers stay focused on product development, not data translation.

At AU this week Autodesk announced that is was extending AnyCAD to Fusion 360 for interoperability in the Product Design & Manufacturing Collection. It also previewed its new Nesting Utility for optimizing material usage.

Now that AnyCAD has been introduced to Fusion 360, this enables interoperability with Inventor and throughout the entire Product Design & Manufacturing Collection. The connection will allow data to move in both directions, so subscribers can leverage Inventor with the cloud-enabled Fusion 360 platform.

The AnyCAD preview in Fusion 360 allows users to maintain full associativity with Inventor and Solidworks data. Additional file formats coming soon include Creo, NX, and other non-native data types like IGES and STEP.


With its legacy and success with automating mechanical design and manufacturing processes, Autodesk appears to be increasing applying many of the proven methods and techniques to architecture and construction. This push was further evidenced on the exhibit floor where I’d estimate that 75% of the total floor space was directly or at least associated with AEC.

Generative Design

Earlier this year when Autodesk announced that a tech preview of the Autodesk Generative Design (AGD) service would be available to Netfabb Ultimate users, we were excited to streamline their design processes.

Now, Autodesk has expanded the AGD tech preview to include Fusion 360 Ultimate subscribers.

Autodesk Generative Design enables the rapid creation and exploration of design options, empowering design teams to analyze the tradeoffs they could to make along a price/performance curve. In the past, designers and engineers could explore two or three different designs and then run topology or lattice optimization on their chosen solution. With AGD, users can literally generate hundreds of potential solutions to a design problem and explore the variations– including solutions they could never think of on their own.

To be clear, AGD is not just topology or lattice optimization – it’s a big step beyond that.

Traditional optimization focuses on refining a known solution without any notion of manufacturability. By contrast, generative design helps augment the engineer, using the power of the cloud to explore a whole set of previously unknown solutions – and it comes with manufacturability preconfigured as part of the design criteria. The number of simluations engineers are required to run is greatly reduced on the chosen solution because simulation and optimization is built directly into the process.


During a conversation with Autodesk’s Bryan Kester, Director of IoT, I was somewhat surprised to learn the degree to which the company is involved with the burgeoning growth of IoT and IIoT. He admitted that the company has kept its IoT initiative under wraps until now for a number of reasons, but that is all about to change as Autodesk gets all of the required technologies and services in order for making their IoT efforts more public

The Subscription Model

I spoke with a number of users during the event, because this was a user conference after all. While most of the customers I spoke seem to be satisfied with the features and capabilities of the Autodesk products and services they use on a daily basis, the more vocal discussion was around the “transition” from being owners with perpetual licenses to renters with maintenance subscriptions. This is a sticky situation and one that I don’t know if Autodesk has a total grasp on yet, but one thing seems clear, love it or hate it, software/service subscriptions are the future for Autodesk distribution.

The Future

To sort of quote a phrase, “This is not your father’s Autodesk” would be an understatement. The company has undergone some pretty radical changes the past few years and continues to evolve. I think this bodes well for not only Autodesk, but also for the entire industry that certainly needs some shaking up.

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