Autodesk Accelerate highlights the Fusion of CAx, PLM, CPQ & IoT

Sep 22, 2016 | Hot Topics

It’s always fascinating to watch a product come to life. What problems does its creator think it solves? How do early adopter customers actually use it? What kind of partner ecosystem grows up around it?

Autodesk’s PLM 360 (yes, I know that’s not what we’re calling it these days, but bear with me) has had perhaps a few more fits and starts than other products but it finally seems to be coming into its own. In 2014, at the first Accelerate conference, we saw mostly tire kickers: What can this do for me? Resellers wondered how they could build businesses around it. In 2015, the attendees had moved on to the implementation stage: OK, I believe; now how do I actually get going? This year, at Accelerate 2016, we saw lots of strong cases for PLM 360 and the rest of the Fusion platform it now lives in.

Yes, PLM 360 is now Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle, part of the platform being developed by Autodesk for all things related to product creation — the alphabet soup that is CAD, CAM, CAE and, now, PLM, IoT and CPQ. Fusion aims to bring together, in one platform, tools that used to be separate — a realization that many of the traditional user roles are evolving to require access to more than one traditional tool set. Heavy CAD with a smattering of CAE? Or moving from CAD to 3D printing of a trial part? Need to manage that all in one place? Fusion.

As a quick recap, the Fusion platform is Fusion 360 for CAD/CAM/CAE, Fusion Lifecycle for PDM and PLM, Fusion Connect (fka SeeControl) for no-coding IoT connectivity and analysis and Fusion Configure (fka Configure One) for configure/price/quote or CPQ. That’s today’s list. Expect it to grow.

Many of the speakers at Accelerate 2016 were using one or a few Fusion components and investigating whether more would serve their business needs. PLM came up early and often, but was by no means the only toolkit in play.

The keynote by Asius Technologies’ Stephen Ambrose hammered home how people with passion can do wondrous things. As a kid, he used putty and radio parts to build primitive earbuds and parlayed that into a business that made stage monitors for some of the biggest names in rock and pop. Today, earbuds are everywhere and have been linked to potential hearing loss in millions of people. Why? Because they’re a catch-22: when earbuds seal the ear canal, they turn sound into pneumatic pressure that causes the eardrum to spasm in defense. That degrades the sound quality, so we crank up the volume. All that does is makes the eardrum tighten even more, and we turn it up to 11. Eventually, that cycle can lead to hearing loss. Mr. Ambrose used Fusion CAD, CAE and 3D printing to come up with and prototype a new generation of earbuds that delivers high-fidelity sound without the damage. It relies on a second eardrum inside the earbud that absorbs the pneumatic pressure so your own eardrum stays relaxed. Lower volumes sound louder, sound quality improves, and you save your hearing. Mr. Ambrose said that early models are already being used by musicians on stage; they work that well. What’s especially cool about this is that your body recognizes sound from many sources; by creating the second eardrum, Mr. Ambrose has been able to help people who have been deaf for years to hear — check out this video he made to convince AC/DC’s Brian Johnson to use the earbuds to enable him to return to the band. The joy on people’s faces as they are able to hear (again) is incredibly moving. If you get nothing else from this: TURN DOWN THE VOLUME on your earbuds!

In a field of excellent presentations, my second standout was on a completely different topic: the potential of IoT to transform businesses. TSM Controls’ David Keeley has spent the last year investigation how IoT could change his company’s industrial plastics blending and automation solutions. Mr. Keeley said that TSM wanted a PLM solution to help with process management; they noticed a gap between their PDM and ERP solutions. PLM 360/Fusion Lifecycle helped TSM map processes, find bottlenecks and integrate with other enterprise systems. That’s well and good, and necessary — but TSM also discovered that Fusion Connect could enable them to deliver whole new services to its customers by embedding IoT capabilities into new machine offerings. TSM hasn’t even rolled out the IoT-enabled systems yet Mr. Keeley says that customers are 100% in on the idea that they could get predictive maintenance, operational parameters and other data from TSM in addition to the machines themselves. He’s been able to prototype IoT solutions, demo them internally and to customers and start building buzz. His go-to-market isn’t limited by technology but by business implications: how to price and what to offer to which customers. He believes that Fusion Connect will radically transform his business for the better.

Two main takeaways from the event: Autodesk was late coming to the PLM party and so decided to create its own definitions. Rather than a business process focus, Fusion is all about the tools needed to capture ideas, create prototypes and perhaps, eventually, launch into full-on production. For that, you need PLM that lives behind the scenes. PDM to manage CAD models on your desktop (aka Vault) or in the cloud. Collaboration, view and mark-up. And some great CPQ capabilities, for businesses where that’s relevant, tied into BOMs for production.

For PLM diehards, traditional capabilities exist and are growing stronger. BOM management, change control, new product introduction, collaboration –internal and with suppliers, quality processes … So many people see PLM as a huge, monolithic, expensive project. Is it worth it? That’s the real question. Yes, it can improve product quality, cut time to market, reduce waste, improve compliance — but PLM is ultimately a people problem. Over lunch one day, I had the privilege of hearing about a company’s journey: excitement, obstacles, wins/losses. Cloud-based PLM, like Fusion Lifecycle, makes many things easier to digest. Not easy, but easier.

Lastly, we can’t underestimate the power of a platform. As I’ve been writing lately, platforms make it easy for buyers to adopt one technology and then grow within the platform as their needs get more complex. In the case of Fusion, some CPQ speakers said they are investigating Autodesk CAD/CAM. Others are looking from PLM to Connect. Or adding CAE to CAD. By staying within the Fusion ecosystem, they expect the products to work nicely together which removes some of the friction of going for commercial, unallied solutions. Is it all PLM? No. But does that even matter?

Note: Autodesk graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The title image is of Stephen Ambrose holding his synthetic eardrum, courtesy of Autodesk. Is that cool, or WHAT? PS: Turn down the volume on your earbud. Now.