If there was one way to summarize the first day of presentations at Autodesk University it was to emphasize "how to reduce cycle time." That is, how can designers of whatever ... bridges, roads, cars, robots … go from design to build in less time. The vision presented by Autodesk is one of taking ideas from paper, or a digital sketch, to fabrication very fast. In fact, the company sees designers preparing a drawing and immediately going to a 3D printer so they can touch the results. Final designs might even go directly through milling and laser cutting to create the final product. It's a vision that Autodesk says is here now.
One of the guest speakers at the opening session was Christine Furstoss, the Technical Director for Manufacturing and Materials Technologies at GE who said "We're facing the Third Industrial Revolution … The virtual world is now collaborating with the physical world and with that comes the possibilities of what we can create." Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motive said, "It took the British 200 years to come through their industrial revolution, it took America 50 years, it has taken China 10 years and individuals can take it back in one year.”
CEO Carl Bass provided both his product roadmap and forward looking vision. “We are the first company to bring you a full set of professional tools in the cloud that spans the entire design process… [We offer] a single point of connection, which is a single source of truth. That is Autodesk 360. It’s the connective tissue, the hub.” Autodesk 360, formerly Autodesk Cloud, was launched last year. Since then, Autodesk has fifteen million users accessing Autodesk’s cloud services and continues to add one million new users each month.
Bass offered a vision that utilized the cloud, mobile computing and design tools for humans, further emphasizing that making complex drawings doesn't mean that learning to use design software has to be complex.“One of the biggest opportunities around is connecting our tools, data and people,” said Bass.
Autodesk CTO, Jeff Kowalksi, emphasized that using point cloud data and photogrammetry is bringing the real world into the design process. “In many ways, we literally see the world through our tools. New tools not only make it possible to do things but they actually expand our very vision of what we believe to be possible,” he said.
Some of this was often a little lofty so to bring it down to earth Autodesk offered up some high profile users that were putting into practice components of this vision. Scott Zimmerman, the Manager of Enterprise Systems for Bechtel, a $32 billion construction company, said that his CEO offered a challenge: "Get employees out of the office and out into the field because that's where the money is made." The answer was to leverage more of what the cloud offered. “We’re an information factory with global demand. Our business is about speed and that comes from innovation and simplicity. We see cloud as the magic part of that formula."
Furstoss said, "GE, like others in this field, is trying to find our way in this new landscape. Software and analytics will be key players in this field … In three years, we’re going to be putting into service a jet engine that has 3D printed parts. But that’s not enough . . .”
Several individuals during this first day of presentations recognized that cloud computing and pervasive connectivity presents an entirely new ecosystems that includes both internal systems and employees as well as global partners. “You start to think about data differently when you consider the fact that every piece of data in your information ecosystem is accessible and addressable," said Zimmerman.
The cloud and mobile technology have impacted computer aided design in ways that Autodesk users probably never envisioned would happen so quickly. It is transforming the workflows of civil engineers and product designers. Peter Leyden, CEO of Reinventors Network and Former Managing Editor of Wired Magazine summed it up this way: “It’s really starting to impact how we work. All serious work and collaboration gets done in the face-to-face realm. This is now virtualizing and it’s moving to the cloud … We’re watching the digitization of everything. We’re going global in a way we’ve never done before. This is the type of thing that in 100 years people will say 'ah, that’s when the world went digital.'"
Editor's Note: Autodesk partially funded travel to Autodesk University 2012.