2023 is in the rearview mirror and I’m reflecting on a few things that Michelle Boucher and I learned and what they mean for our industry. Here are some takeaways from Autodesk University 2023, including AI and PLM strategy updates, that will have a big impact on the industry. This is only a small portion of what we learned from multiple presentations and conversations, it’s always hard to decide what to report on from these large conferences!
Not surprisingly, one of the biggest takeaways from AU2023 was related to the increased attention being placed on artificial intelligence (AI). AI was a central conference theme and it’s clear that Autodesk believes in its potential. Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost dedicated a portion of his keynote highlighting the ability for AI to change the way people work. Although a lot of the attention in the market today is about generative AI, thanks to the increased attention created by ChatGPT, Andrew also pointed out how AI can automate away non-value-added (NVA) work. A tangible example of automating repetitive, NVA tasks with AI is creating drawings and documentation with Fusion automated drawings. Autodesk shared other examples across the industries they serve.
It’s important to point out that Autodesk is not new to AI. We’ve been in conversations with Autodesk about AI for a long time. Autodesk was one of the first large engineering software vendors to focus heavily in generative design and has been at it for some time. They are continuing their investment in generative AI to augment human innovation, for example they announced an acquisition of Blank.AI to rapidly develop design concepts for the automotive industry.
Autodesk has invested a lot of brainpower into how AI can make a difference for their customers. They’ve also invested a lot of expensive computing power to develop AI models from the vast amount of data they have access to. They have learned a lot and we expect to see continued AI capabilities rolled out at all levels of Autodesk products. To support this, Autodesk announced Autodesk AI to provide intelligent assistance and generative capabilities across their software portfolio as a part of the Autodesk Platform.
Autodesk VP Vikram Dutt further shared their vision for AI, “The cloud has connected our customers’ data, and it’s enabling AI to unlock new ways of working. We really believe we’re on the cusp of a new era, one where AI will fundamentally change the way our customers do business, unleashing both their agility as well as creativity. And we believe our customers really need an entirely new way of working.” It’s a bold objective that offers significant potential. We’re keeping our eyes on the progress.
Design & Manufacturing – PLM
We were also excited to get an update on the solutions for the manufacturing industries. Given that one of the biggest challenges with AI initiatives is having trusted, organized data we’ll start with data management. We were excited to see Autodesk integrate a “PLM Summit” into AU. The summit was a dedicated track for PLM customers to learn how to get business value from PLM. It was a well-organized, well-attended, collaborative event that primarily focused on Fusion 360 Manage and allowed users to openly share tips and techniques and what they’ve accomplished with the system.
Fusion 360 Manage is a flexible, workflow-oriented system. Fusion 360 Manage complements Autodesk’s extended PDM solution, Vault. They also offer their still relatively newly acquired Upchain solution that supports what they described as “fully cloud PDM with some PLM capabilities,” which is well suited for design-centric, multi-CAD environments.
Although there is some overlap in the offerings, Autodesk is investing in integrating all of these solutions with Fusion, their industry cloud for manufacturing. In a presentation on Autodesk Fusion Data Management, Jeremy Lambert explained that their goal is a single, unified industry cloud with capabilities from Prodsmart, Fusion 360 Manage, Fusion 360, Vault, and Upchain.
Fusion is clearly Autodesk’s long-term strategy for the manufacturing industry. Fusion is a pure platform built from the ground up and goes well beyond PLM. As described by VP Cloud Data and PLM Derrek Cooper, Fusion is CAD, CAM, PLM, and MES data in a graph database, decoupled from logic, run through APIs. It leverages a common data model across applications, which is the target for integrating Autodesk’s PDM and PLM offerings.
Design & Manufacturing – General
As the vision for Fusion shows, Autodesk design and manufacturing goes beyond PLM. AU gave us the opportunity to hear from EVP Design & Manufacturing Jeff Kinder and others about how they support the industry. Jeff shared a number of updates and customer stories, including how Rivian uses Fusion to develop more / faster prototypes, create real-time rendering, ensure design and manufacturability, and manufacture using CAM / CNC to machine prototype parts.
Rivian spoke as well, explaining how Fusion enables them to work on a common data model to understand if a design is manufacturable, and if not change it in the design tab and move back to the manufacturing tab. They also shared how they leverage VR / AR to eliminate early physical models using VRED. This is a great example of how Fusion is intended to work across functions. In fact, Rivian shared how Autodesk can help a manufacturer with everything from AEC for the plant to line planning and factory layout, all in the same data model. As Jeff Hammoud, Rivian Chief Design Officer, shares, Fusion provides “seamless data sharing across the organization.” This helps them rethink not just their product, but their manufacturing processes.
There is so much more to share, including a new partnership with Cadence and well-received enhancements to existing products like Vault with numerous user-driven enhancements and Inventor adding IFC in Inventor for industrialized construction and sheet metal tools. There isn’t room to share it all.
Design & Manufacturing – Supporting The Factory
One last area I want to focus on is the factory. Autodesk is the “design and make” company. Their strategy goes beyond engineering to the plant. They’ve extended their factory planning and manufacturing portfolio by partnering with CloudNC for AI toolpaths and acquiring a factory simulation solution to extend their ability to help manufacturing engineers understand factory flow and bottlenecks. Beyond that, it will be very interesting to see what they do with Prodsmart and how they evolve to support plant operations. I asked Steve Hooper, VP Product Development, about future for manufacturing planning and execution. He mentioned that they already have capabilities for manufacturing engineers / process planners, from the plant / facility design, 1D planning, factory design, CAM, and CNC. He explained that he does see going deeper to support others who are left out of factory technology and need a digital thread solution that extends to lines, workcells, and workers. We’ll be watching this space.
Architecture, Engineering, Design, and Construction (AEC)
We also heard from Amy Bunszel, EVP of AEC Design and Jim Lynch Senior VP, GM of Autodesk Construction Solutions. In a similar way to manufacturing, supporting AEC is all about the data. Autodesk continues to invest in BIM, with industry-leading Revit solution moving to Forma, their industry cloud for AEC. As Amy explains, “Forma is AI-powered design.” Autodesk shared some great examples of using AI in AEC to test different concepts, showing the impact of designs on sunlight, noise, and solar array positioning, and shared that these kinds of capabilities will eventually cover the entire BIM process.
Autodesk has a leading position in AEC and there is much more to share, but I’m going to limit my commentary to one more exciting update related to the the intersection of D&M and AEC, industrialized construction. There was a very interesting presentation and exhibit from Factory OS sharing how they use Forma for sustainable modular construction, working collaboratively in the cloud , around a common language and drawings. The parallels with Fusion are noticeable, and both supported by Autodesk Platform.
Autodesk Platform Services
Sitting behind the industry solutions for manufacturing, AEC, and media & entertainment is the Autodesk Platform. As announced at AU last year, The Forge platform is now Autodesk Platform Services (APS). APS is a significant investment in the future, shared across all industries. They’ve taken a data-centric approach with a granular data model, interoperable apps, and APIs on the cloud. Autodesk took this approach early and started from the ground up with the fundamentals. Autodesk shared some updates including continued investment in APIs and Autodesk Docs, offering cloud document management and a common data environment (CDE). Autodesk is extending what is already one of the most advanced platform strategies. Again, this is a space to watch as the Autodesk Platform continues to mature and offer comparable capabilities on a cloud platform.
There is a lot that I’ve left out, but I hope this gives you an idea of what we took away from the event. Thank you to Jason Love, Christa Prokos, and the entire Autodesk University team for coordinating our AU2023 experience and putting together such great learning opportunities.