Autodesk #XLR8s its way to Fusion

Sep 24, 2018 | Hot Topics

(Sorry – really bad hashtag-based pun. XLR8 = Accelerate, and the complete hashtag for the event was ##XLR8Fusion.)

Autodesk’s first Accelerate event happened when PLM 360 was oh-so-new. Autodeskers, VARs and early adopters huddled around laptops to work out how to define, digitally. workflows into workspaces. We thrilled as customers spoke of automating tasks that used to take time from more value-creating pursuits. Deep dives into numbering and naming schemes and defining permission hierarchies — all without a dedicated IT department! The excitement of it all! Since that first event five years ago, so much has happened both technologically and within Autodesk that this narrow focus no longer serves the company or its users.

A couple of years ago, Autodesk started to morph Accelerate to focus more on its Fusion 360 platform and on the idea of a cloud-based, single point of entry into a larger product set. This fed into Autodesk’s subscription-only strategy since new product/new customers don’t need convincing to move from perpetuals. But it’s also a way to ease single-solution buyers into a naturally more comprehensive solution: Fusion includes mechanical CAD, simulation, CAM, PLM and IoT, and it will soon include the more recent Eagle EDA tools, too. The concept is that a user’s one tool set will do everything (s)he needs, with one data architecture to seamlessly move between functions.

The poster child app for this approach has been Autodesk’s generative design capability, a mix of CAD and simulation that came out of Project Dreamcatcher. Users specify constraints and load cases for their concept, and the tool generates dozens or hundreds of possible alternatives that meet the design criteria. By combining advanced CAE with early-stage design in a user interface that’s geared to non-experts, Autodesk eases users into CAE, gets them to use cloud computing resources and ensures that their most valuable tasks all happen within Fusion — a solid piece of marketing and technical execution.

But there is a niggling flaw: by embedding all of this into one platform, focus is lost on the individual bits. Did you know that Autodesk still sells Moldflow, an advanced plastic injection mold simulation solution acquired in 2008? Or that its generative design solution is actually advanced physics? Or that the CAM solutions in Fusion draw on its many CAM acquisitions, including Delcam? Platforms are only as good as their weakest component and by burying the technology, Autodesk is at risk of letting others claim technical leadership in mold simulation, simulation, CAM and other niches.

Another capability that’s not apparent in the overall Fusion story is that it’s actually a PLM solution, too, and that’s where my time at Accelerate comes full circle. I flew to Toronto seated next to a gentleman also attending Accelerate as his company’s go-to PLM expert. He wanted to know what was coming for PLM 360, now rebranded as Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle. Autodesk doesn’t present much at Accelerate, so I didn’t see anything that would help him plan (I hope he had a meeting that addressed his questions!), but the customer presentations showed that PLM 360/Lifecycle users were seeing significant benefit even if they didn’t use any of the rest of the Fusion platform.

All of the presentations were excellent but one stood out for me: Chloe Watmore of Thermotex now runs the company her parents had started. She’s turned a five-person, paper-based manufacturer of makes thermal insulation and custom protective enclosures into a 25-person company that has mostly international customers. Ms. Watmore saw that the company could not compete at the level it wanted to if it didn’t change. She implemented PLM 360/Fusion Lifecycle to bring some digital order to the paper chaos. QR codes now help track raw materials and work in progress. Her customers can’t directly access the QR-based data but often snap a photo of the QR code and ask “make me some more like this”.  Workers use tablets, not paper, to receive goods. Orders are entered digitally. Ms. Watmore said that she wants to roll out PLM workspaces to more processes and seems to very firmly believe that doing so is critical to meeting customer expectations. And that, in turn, is helping to double revenue and growing the workforce. What did Ms. Watmore learn in her implementation? That outside eyes are critical to looking at processes, dispassionately, and changing them as needed. That some people don’t adapt to change and others can surprise, citing one over-60 worker who is now the go-to guy for anything tablet-related. That marginal innovation (in other words, small changes) can be less threatening and often yield big results. That traceability leads to stronger ownership, and that ownership leads to employees suggesting changes that technology can help implement. Ms. Watmore started modestly, with sales order entry but now has PLM tentacles throughout her enterprise. Her next steps? Costing to enable faster quote generation, and expanding into purchasing, to get to supplier data in under 8 minutes.

Is Thermotex a Fusion 360 CAD user? No. Do they use Fusion 360 CAM? I don’t believe so. But Fusion 360 Lifecycle is a key workflow enabler, and the thinking that went into its implementation led to innovation and change.

And THAT’s what Autodesk Accelerate is now about, and is the message that I believe Autodesk is trying to get across: Technology for its own sake isn’t sustainable, and it should be nearly invisible to trained users. Users need to make chairs or thermal insulation or nifty 3D printed parts and all of the technology they use exists only to serve those objectives.Simulating early (with generative design or more traditionally) means the design will be fit for purpose. Tying together design and manufacturing means that, ultimately, we won’t be able to design something we can’t make. THAT’s the point of Fusion 360 –platform, scope, integration, Forge and the rest of it– and Autodesk’s plan for addressing its manufacturing customers.

A last thing: Accelerate also attracts value added resellers (VARs). They’re there to support customers who may be speaking, to meet with Autodeskers, to hear what’s buzzing. And to talk to one another about the complicated business of being a VAR in a changing world. Think of their transition: from sellers of perpetual software with maintenance contracts to subscription-enablers and, increasingly, to a support world that revolves around consumption-priced usage. The only way to succeed today is by offering unique services that customers need (perhaps in implementing PLM, specialized training, or helping define generative design strategy) or knowing an end-industry so well that they support both the technology and the use case. In any case, it’s not going to be easy, but the vibe was of possibility rather than pessimism.

One note: today, literally today, generative design is only available with a Fusion 360 Ultimate subscription. Starting on October 7, 2018, all Fusion 360 functionality will be collapsed into one offering, at $495. For comparison, Fusion Ultimate is now $1535 per year.  Why would Autodesk offer $1535 worth of software for $495? To make tools like generative design available to a wider audience, to lower the barrier even more to spur adoption, and to realign pricing with how it sees customers using Fusion. Ultimate subscribers today get 1000 cloud credits with an annual subscription; starting October 7, each user will get 100 credits upon subscribing and will need to purchase more if the actually want to do generative design or simulation. Check here for how the price change might affect you.


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 cover image was created by ink factory, the visual note-takers Autodesk hired for the event, courtesy of Autodesk. It shows the generative design of some sort of bracket. A low-tech drawing of a high-tech process. Cool, right?