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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has over 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Autodesk’s Forge Transforming the Future of Making Things

August 9th, 2018 by Jeff Rowe

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

Simply, 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.

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.

Forge is an application program interface (API) platform and supporting materials (sample code, manuals) as well as a community of developers who use those APIs. Although Forge is intended for Autodesk customers and 3rd party developers to be able to use its web services. The company uses Forge for its development of cloud-based services, and developers can leverage Forge in the same ways that Autodesk does.

Forge is defined by seven groups of APIs:

  1. Authentication

Authentication for Forge is based on the industry standard OAuth, specifically OAuth2, that provides for token-based authentication and authorization. The basic flow for using OAuth is:

  1. Your app makes an HTTP call to an OAuth REST (REpresentational State Transfer) endpoint and provides its credentials.
  2. A token is returned to your app.
  3. In making subsequent HTTP calls to various APIs on the platform, your app includes the token in a request header.

2. Design Automation API

The Design Automation API provides the ability to run scripts on your design files, taking advantage of the scale of the Forge Platform to automate repetitive tasks. The API currently works with DWG files, but private beta testing is underway for Inventor and Revit files. This is a handy way to publish thousands of drawings to DWF or PDF.

Ordinarily, you would have to download all the files, run a script on them in the AutoCAD desktop software, and then potentially upload them all back to the cloud. Efficiency would be bottlenecked by the processing power of your computer and your network bandwidth, and you would have to instrument logging and retry logic in your code to ensure that the entire job completed. With the Design Automation API, you can offload all that processing to the Forge Platform, which can process those scripts at a much greater scale and efficiency.

3. Reality Capture API

The Reality Capture API lets you use Autodesk’s latest desktop and cloud solution built for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and drone processes, ReCap Photo. You can add geo-based metadata by setting Ground Control Points (GCPs), selecting specific geographic coordinate systems, and tagging images with GPS information. The integration of this geo data results in accurate textured meshes, point clouds, and orthophotos. A reconstruction (Quality) report details the level of accuracy.

What is Autodesk Forge?

4. Data Management API

The Data Management API gives you a unified and consistent way to access your data across BIM 360 Team, Fusion Team, BIM 360 Docs, A360 Personal, and its own Object Storage Service. The Object Storage Service allows your application to download and upload raw files (such as PDF, XLS, DWG, or RVT). Coupling this API with the Model Derivative API, you can accomplish a number of workflows, including accessing a Fusion model in Fusion Team and getting an ordered structure of items, IDs, and properties for generating a bill of materials in a 3rd-party process. Or, you might want to superimpose a Fusion model and a building model to use in the Viewer.

5. Model Derivative API

The Model Derivative API lets you represent and share your designs in different formats, as well as to extract valuable metadata into various object hierarchies. 60 different file input formats are supported. With this API, you can translate your design into different formats, such as STL and OBJ, but the key one is that you can have it translate your designs into SVF for extracting data and for rendering files in the Viewer.

6. Viewer

The Viewer is a WebGL-based, JavaScript library for 3D and 2D model rendering. The Viewer communicates natively with the Model Derivative API to fetch model data, complying with its authorization and security requirements. The Viewer requires a WebGL-canvas compatible browser:

  • Chrome 50+
  • Firefox 45+
  • Opera 37+
  • Safari 9+
  • Microsoft Edge 20+
  • Internet Explorer 11

7. Webhooks API

The Webhooks API is currently undergoing beta testing internally and by Autodesk partners. A webhook sends data to endpoints (URLs) when a certain event occurs. It is triggered by events occurring in web applications. It then sends real-time data to applications listening to it. Since the data is sent immediately, using a webhook is more efficient that frequently polling for updates.

The Forge Webhooks API allows your application to listen to Forge Data Management events and receive notifications when they occur. When an event is triggered, the Forge Webhooks API sends a notification to a callback URL you have defined. You can customize the types of events and resources to receive notifications for. For example, you can set up a webhook to send notifications when files are modified or deleted in a specified hub or project.

The basic workflow is:

  1. Identify the data you want to receive notifications for.
  2. Use the Webhooks API to create one or more hooks.
  3. The Webhooks API will notify the webhook when there is a change in the data.

Autodesk has always been an automation company, and today more than ever that means helping people make more things, better things, with less; more and better in terms of increasing efficiency, performance, quality, and innovation; less in terms of time, resources, and negative impacts (e.g., social, environmental). Autodesk Forge is an integral part of our automation plans.

So, regardless of the number of gigabytes of data you have in your design files, you can use these APIs to extract data, surface it, and allow your customers to view and interact with it on your own website.

Essentially, to forge is to make or shape a metal object by heating it in a fire or furnace or beating and hammering it. In the context of Autodesk’s Forge, data is the metal, and the APIs are the heat.

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

At Autodesk University 2017, 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.

Ron Locklin, Director of Strategy and Business Development, Autodesk Forge At Autodesk University 2017

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: 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.

Since its inception, I have thought Autodesk was really on to something good with the Forge platform/developer initiative. I also know that some of Autodesk’s competitors are keeping a close eye on it as it continues to develop and evolve. At this time, the company with the most to gain from a move such as Autodesk’s would be PTC and its continuing push into IoT. Whether this actually happens is up in the air, as Autodesk and PTC have completely different cultures, legacies, expectations, and customers. Still, PTC is pushing its “IoT technology platform,” so it might be interested in extending it as a “development platform,” as well. Where PTC will go with it is anybody’s guess. In any case, I like where Autodesk is going with its Forge platform that will continue to proliferate throughout the Autodesk ecosystem of vertical markets.

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