Imagine, a major CAD company JUST selling design tools. It makes no sense in the age of PLM and large enterprise systems that oversee product conception, design, use and end of life. How refreshing it was when I interviewed Buzz Kross, senior VP in charge of Autodesk’s manufacturing side.
“We just do design tools. We’re nowhere near done with them. SAP handling BOM numbers does not handle the creative side of design,” says Kross. That’s an interesting position from one of the largest — Autodesk is a $2.5 billion software company with nine million licensed customers — and at age 28, a well-established CAD, CIM and CAE player.
Autodesk has been a bit of wild duck. In 1982 when it was founded, CAD tools were hugely expensive and almost all minicomputer-based. Twenty or so years ago, a company introduced a sub-$100k CAD workstation that was considered a breakthrough. Even a decade ago, CAD largely ran on specialized and expensive high performance hardware, not a toy like the PC. Of course, now we know. Everything runs on the PC architecture, including the world’s largest server farms. Autodesk has always embraced the PC as it core hardware platform and the notion of packaged software.
“I don’t think PLM solves design problems. They do it because they can make more money,” says Kross.
Ok, Buzz, I’ll let you get away with that one. We know that big and smart companies like Boeing, Toyota, Volkswagon and other large engineering companies are not stupid and they’ve signed up for PLM in a big way. However, implementation has not been easy: just ask Airbus. But large enterprises need to bring order and cost control to their design and product life cycle efforts and PLM helps them do that.
Capturing the heart and minds of large enterprises isn’t the end game for Autodesk. “Our focus isn’t on a small number of customers. It’s on small companies. We make packaged software. Service is less than 10% of our revenue. Our revenue comes from licensing,” he says.
Selling design tools might sound like an old-fashioned strategy and it’s not a game anyone can get into. With the need to support myriad standards and rising levels of sophistication, it would cost “hundreds of millions” writing a suite of new CAD package from scratch, says Kross.
In my travels, I come across Autodesk’s 3D CAD package Inventor all the time. It was used by Bosch Rexroth to redesign the locks machinery at Welland Canal, a $64 million project. Design Tools? It’s an interesting idea whose time may have just may re-arrived. Or never left.