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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 »

Forging Ahead With Autodesk’s Cloud-Based Development Platform, Developer Program, and Investment Fund

 
January 18th, 2018 by Jeff Rowe

In November, Autodesk announced several updates to its Forge platform, including new cloud application development tools, the Forge Application Framework, and several new investments at Forge DevCon, the company’s event for Forge developers held immediately before Autodesk University.

Since its inception in December 2015, Autodesk claims that rapid progress has been made with adopters of the Forge Platform in changing both what and how things are made, and at transforming “the future of making things.”

The cloud-based Forge Platform features APIs and SDKs developers can use to create design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, and other types of enterprise applications. The Forge developer program aims to bring together a community of cloud application developers by providing application development resources.

The Forge Program consists of three main components:

  • The Forge platform (PaaS) that originally provided access only to APIs, but now can be used to do that as well as build apps from scratch with the Forge Application Framework
  • The developer program which is the growing Forge community
  • Autodesk Forge Fund investments that increased significantly in 2017

What is Autodesk Forge?

The Forge DevCon event is part of a comprehensive Forge developer program that provides learning, support, and business development resources for Autodesk’s community of cloud developers. This community includes developers representing industries that include architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and manufacturing, as well as emerging areas such as augmented reality (AR), additive manufacturing (AM), and the Internet of Things (IoT). The majority of Forge developers are using multiple APIs to create services and solutions that fuel how software products are designed, built and used.

In a nutshell, the Autodesk Forge Platform is a set of cloud services that connects design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, production, and operations workflows. Application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) let software developers of all sizes to build cloud-powered applications, services, and experiences. Admittedly, this is a heady set of claims, but Autodesk is well on its way to fulfilling them.

New and expanded areas of the Forge platform include:

  • Model Derivative and Viewer – Allows design files to be translated into different formats like STL and OBJ, and prepared for online viewing. The Forge Model Derivative API also allows hierarchy trees, properties, and geometries to be extracted. Displays 2D and 3D design files and associated data from 50+ file formats in a web and mobile viewer for presentation and collaboration. Also allows for comments, markup, and measurement.
  • Design Automation – Provides ability to run automation scripts on design files.
  • Data Management – Access and manage files and data in autodesk cloud storage. This API allows users to upload and download a data file from different Autodesk products through one consistent and unified interface.
  • Reality Capture – Create 3D models and orthophotos with laser scans and photographs. Turns a series of photos into 3D data. If the photos are geotagged, as is typically the case with UAV/drone photos, the computed reality data also includes a geolocated orthographic view.
  • BIM 360 – Build apps and custom integrations for the construction industry.
  • Webhooks (Beta) – Receive event notifications from Autodesk Web Services.

To support Forge, Autodesk provides in-product integration for A360, Fusion, and BIM 360 APIs for developers to create new services that enhance workflows.

A Conversation With Ron Locklin, Director of Strategy and Business Development, Autodesk Forge

Earlier this week, we spoke with Ron Locklin, Director of Strategy and Business Development, Autodesk Forge about the past, present, and future of the Forge platform.

MCADCafe: What prompted Autodesk to create the Forge development platform in the first place?

Autodesk: There are actually multiple factors involved with internal and external aspects as an investment. Internally, we wanted to ensure that we built the right components, so-called Forge services, that could be used for code reuse to maximize efficiency across the company. These included a workflow engine and data management structure because we didn’t want to deal with this and other things multiple times and have incompatible things built, such as multiple data managers for different vertical industries. For internal purposes, we felt to have a development platform that was standardized and the entire company could leverage made a lot of sense. Externally, it’s good to have one set of services that are compatible, we felt we had advantages in certain market segments, and felt the development platform would benefit several of our partners and customers for them to build off of. The development platform would also broaden our market appeal – especially with our cloud offerings to small- and medium-sized businesses that our competitors can’t touch because they are largely server based.

The Forge development advantages for our partners are huge because they can build off of Forge just like we do internally, just as we did with AutoCAD and the Autodesk Developers Network (ADN) years ago. Forge lets us build out our development ecosystem dramatically using the Forge approach. However, Forge has not replaced ADN, but rather, supplements it, and ADN developers can also be Forge developers.

Initially, we were focused on Fusion and the design and manufacturing markets, but realized early the huge appeal for the Forge approach in other markets, such as AEC, and media and entertainment. We have also seen increasing interest in not small- and medium-sized businesses, but large companies, as well, because they like the standardization and efficiency that Forge provides for cloud-based software development and potentially new revenue streams that aren’t tied to server-based architectures.

MCADCafe: Approximately how many developers are currently engaged with the Forge platform?

Autodesk: We target two audiences of developers – one being large accounts with IT departments and the other is software app developers. We have more than 50 named accounts that are actively developing on Forge, and some of these companies have hundreds of developers using it. Currently, we also have more than 400 software development companies, companies developing software applications using Forge. Approximately 100 of these customers have paying ecosystems today, and the others are testing out Forge with plans to monetize their efforts at some time.

Ron Locklin, Director of Strategy and Business Development, Autodesk Forge At Autodesk University 2018

MCADCafe: Can you discuss a generic/typical workflow process for developing a Forge app?

Autodesk: It’s really more about steps or pieces than a true workflow. At this point, there is no “typical” process, because the markets we serve, such as construction and media/entertainment are so different, but there are several common components. We have what we call “accelerators,” where software development customers can come for one-on-one training/enablement and leave with a working app, whether a proof of concept or more advanced stage going into production.

MCADCafe: Are Forge apps certified by Autodesk?

Autodesk: Not yet, but we are looking at that as a possibility in the future as an application monitoring activity. However, we do certify our Forge system integration partners for expertise and capabilities.

MCADCafe: How are Forge apps distributed/sold?

Autodesk: Longer term, we are looking at establishing a marketplace for Forge, as well as all of Autodesk – desktop and cloud apps, as well as Forge. This would include not only Autodesk, but also partners building on Forge. We hope to have a pilot program for doing this by the end of 2018.

MCADCafe: Can you provide some broad strokes regarding the future and direction of Forge?

Autodesk: There are a lot of things coming and we have a detailed roadmap. A couple of the biggest new things are reality capture services and the Forge Application Framework that broaden the appeal of Forge. Webhooks (now in Beta) is another thing that provides for much quicker integration.

The biggest Forge market segments now are enabling software development in construction and design/manufacturing, especially advanced manufacturing where design is connected to manufacturing.

Finally, Forge is growing far beyond just accessing the APIs and you’ll see a lot of announcements throughout the year and at AU 2018, including capabilities for generative design.

Autodesk Forge Fund Investments

The Autodesk Forge Fund invests in companies developing innovative solutions or services on or connected to the Forge Platform. Some of the major investments for 2017 include:

  • Assemble Systems — Announced a new round of funding led by the Autodesk Forge Fund. This new funding will help the company to further establish itself as a leading innovator in the BIM and construction data management space.
  • Project Frog — Announced an agreement with the Autodesk Forge fund to develop a cloud-based platform to standardize and simplify data flow between the architecture studio, the factory, and the jobsite. The funding from Autodesk will accelerate the efforts of both companies to create a connected ecosystem linking architectural design to industrial fabrication.
  • Manufacton — ManufactOn is a SaaS (mobile/web) platform that helps construction firms plan, track, and manage both prefabrication and regular material handling. Autodesk’s Forge Fund investment in ManufactOn advances industrialized construction by providing construction firms the tools needed to manage the fabrication supply chain.
  • 3DR — With Autodesk Forge funding,  the company will continue to build its flagship product, Site Scan, a comprehensive drone data platform for the construction and engineering industries. Reality capture from the sky — made possible by advancements in drone technologies —  helps teams monitor and report on progress, identify issues, collect useful, actionable data that integrates with Autodesk and GIS tools, helping bring the office and the field closer than ever before.
  • Smartvid.io — Smartvid.io focuses on using artificial intelligence in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry and the built environment as a whole. All construction projects have a large amount of photos and videos taken every step of the way.  Smartvid.io has developed a “smart photo and video management platform” that uses synthetic vision and deep learning for communicating vital aspects of projects.

Since its inception, I have thought Autodesk was really on to something with the Forge platform/developer initiative. I also think that Autodesk’s competitors are keeping a close eye on it as it continues to develop. At this time, the company with the most to gain from a move such as Autodesk’s would be PTC and its IoT push. Whether this actually happens is debatable, as Autodesk and PTC have completely different cultures, legacies, and expectations. Still, PTC is pushing its “technology platform,” so it might be interested in extending it as a “development platform,” as well. We’ll just have to wait and see . . . In any case, I like where Autodesk is going with its Forge platform.

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