Manufacturing

Autodesk Gets Serious about Manufacturing

17 Sep, 2016 By: Cadalyst Staff

Additive and subtractive manufacturing solutions developed by Autodesk and others form portfolio for machining, simulation, 3D printing, and more.


Autodesk introduced what it terms a “complete set of additive and subtractive manufacturing solutions” this week, comprising software for computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), computer-aided engineering (CAE), additive manufacturing, composites, robotic fabrication, factory layout, inspection, and modeling.

The portfolio is composed of some applications developed by Autodesk, plus others the company has obtained through the acquisition of Delcam, HSMWorks, netfabb, Pan Computing, and Magestic Systems. The titles include:

  • Fusion 360 — cloud-based CAD, CAM, and CAE
  • FeatureCAM — automating CNC programming
  • PartMaker — precision part manufacturing with Swiss-type lathes
  • HSMWorks — CAM solution for SOLIDWORKS users
  • Inventor HSM — producing machined parts designed in virtually any CAD system
  • Netfabb — reducing costs and improving part performance in additive manufacturing and 3D printing
  • PowerMill — programming molds, dies, and other components
  • PowerShape — preparing models for manufacture
  • PowerInspect — inspection in all environments

Note that the portfolio is a range of individual products, not one of the Industry Collections that Autodesk launched last month (in which a single subscription price provides access to an entire bundle of software titles). Autodesk hasn’t yet seen a strong enough customer demand for such a Collection, explained Mark Forth, industry strategy and business development manager for Autodesk.

“It’s a really broad, but comprehensive range of solutions … soup to nuts,” said Forth. “This is the big launch of Autodesk getting into manufacturing … we’re not just dipping a toe in.”

Design/Make/Use

In “getting serious about manufacturing,” as Forth put it, Autodesk is advancing toward a goal of providing a seamless user experience for product creation that extends far beyond the design stage. “Now, we’re truly integrating the design, make, and use phases of product development,” said Amar Hanspal, senior vice-president of products at Autodesk, in a statement. “This new set of solutions goes big on the ‘make’ component — equipping manufacturers with all the software they need to go from digital design to real-world product.”

To deliver on this goal of a more cohesive manufacturing workflow, Autodesk is relying on cloud-connected solutions. The company positions its cloud-based Forge platform — which comprises cloud services, application programming interfaces (APIs), and software development kits (SDKs) that can be used with technologies from Autodesk and others — as the connecting link across the portfolio of manufacturing products.

Feeling the Pressure

The pressures of global competition, tighter schedules, and far-flung collaborators are helping drive adoption of evolving manufacturing technologies, observed Forth; customers realize that if they don’t keep pace, they will be taken over by their competitors in no time. “It’s important to get started on that path now,” he urged.

Cloud-enabled capabilities such as greater computing power and design data that’s accessible from anywhere are essential in this increasingly competitive, fast-paced, and geographically dispersed product creation environment, Autodesk argues. (They also enable Autodesk to make frequent, ongoing upgrades to software such as Fusion 360.)

Access to limitless computing power promotes the use of compute-intensive technologies such as generative design and more frequent simulations. “We need to make our products faster and smarter,” said Forth. “[In the world of manufacturing,] I don’t want to make something until I know everything’s been simulated to the hilt,” he continued. “This is a suite of tools that allow you to make the part right the first time.”

When it comes to the “use” portion of the manufacturing workflow, however, Forth noted that number of solutions that connect data to physical space is “exploding” — multiplying at a rate that is overwhelming to would-be users. Concepts such as Industry 4.0 are often intimidating and discouraging to companies that are uncertain about which technologies to invest in and where to start. “Autodesk’s going to try to untangle that fracas,” Forth said.

To start that untangling, Autodesk is keen to connect its manufacturing technologies with Fusion Connect, its Internet of Things (IoT) cloud platform. Users could, for example, capture sensor data feedback to automatically refine processes, such as machining parts more consistently, Forth explained. This kind of deep learning experience or data-driven analytics is “not a new idea, but we’re only now starting to harness it,” he continued.

Acquiring the Tools

Forth joined Autodesk when it acquired his previous employer, Delcam, and he feels that the two companies are alike in their efforts to innovate, provide best-in-class solutions, and do what’s best for their customers. “The spirit of Boris the spider lives on,” Forth said, referring to Delcam’s longtime logo/mascot/test model.

The drive serve customer needs is what drove Autodesk to build much of this manufacturing portfolio through acquisition, rather than spend many years developing all these solutions from scratch, he believes. And for all the acquisitions that Autodesk has made in the manufacturing arena in recent years, there are likely still more to come. “I think it’s inevitable,” Forth said.


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