"It's clear the world is changing, and the way we do
our work is changing."
That's how Autodesk
President and CEO Carl
Bass kicked off the General Session at Autodesk University 2009, noting design engineers are facing tremendous global competition and pressure to
work more efficiently.
More than 5,500 people are
attending this year's three-day, live event, along with 16,000 people from
around the world who logged in to the first-ever Virtual Autodesk University.
"What can you do to stay
competitive?" Bass asked the audience who had presumably come to do just that –
by attending classes and hands-on training sessions from Autodesk instructors
and experts. He noted although one of the best ways to be competitive is
through the use of technology, technologies go along a continuum – from
impossible to impractical to possible to expected to required – and the
right timing is the critical factor. Too early, it's impractical, too late and,
well, you've missed the boat. "If you think about it, the Newton was ahead of its time. And everybody
knows about the Prius, but who remembers the EV1?" he asked. Get the timing
just right, though, and you've hit the sweet spot.
Bass noted CAD, too,
traveled along this continuum from impossible in the 1960s to now 2D and even
3D being required. He outlined five new capabilities that are now moving into
the sweet spot, aided in large part by the availability of cheap, web-based
computing that gives people access to their data virtually anywhere, anytime and the complementary development efforts at Autodesk.
"This kind of technology
shift happens only every 10 to 20 years and today it is having a major impact on
how design work is done," he said.
The first capability Bass
discussed is Exploration. "Design is all about looking at alternatives, but it
often isn't very practical. When people have to spend days or weeks exploring
different solutions they won't explore so many," Bass said. With the ability to
embed information, for example regarding the manufacturability of various
parts, into the geometry, he said new tools are giving engineers constant feedback
on what actually can be built, winnowing down the number of options to a
credible few for them to focus on.
A second capability is Analysis,
which Bass noted should be happening at every stage of the design process from
concept to finished product. But it is often too onerous. New tools, he added,
will help engineers generate and analyze hundreds of options in the same amount
of time that it now takes to analyze just one. "Ongoing analysis with real-time
feedback about different aspects of the design will allow the user to explore
the design space freely while respecting the parameters of the process," he
Storytelling is a third
capability, said Bass, noting there is a story behind every creation and
that visualization helps companies and design teams win support for a project.
"We at Autodesk are researching new ways to help project teams by leveraging
things like character technology developed for games and simulations that help
engineers understand how people interact with a design," he said.
A fourth and increasingly
important capability is Access, which Bass says Autodesk is committed to and is
actively developing products for a range of platforms so that users can access
their data and projects in multiple ways. "We've released several products for
the Mac and are working on quite a few more," he said. Notwithstanding the
positive reaction from Apple fans, Bass said a nice side benefit of developing
for multiple platforms is that you wind up with much more flexible technology
that can be employed in new environments.
Bass also described an
initiative called Project
Twitch, for which Autodesk is testing remote delivery of applications like
AutoCAD and Inventor over the web. "I am talking about the exact same software
you are used to running on your desktop machine, but now it's running on a
machine that's much more powerful." He noted users can test drive it at Autodesk Labs online.
Autodesk also has extended
its Sketchbook digital sketch product with an app for the iPhone called Sketchbook
Mobile. Bass says the $3 app has been downloaded 1 million times, and people are using it in some unbelievably cool ways. "People used to sketch on
napkins because they were readily available; now carrying around tools like
this allows you to make a digital sketch anytime, anywhere and take these
sketches and integrate them directly into your workflow," he said.
Collaboration is the fifth
and final capability, and Bass concluded by saying web-based computing
opens up entirely new ways for engineers to work together, from enabling
markups and edits that are shared with everyone in real time to multiple people
marking up and editing at the same time. If that sounds slightly nightmarish,
it does have the benefit of eliminating all those multiple versions of designs floating
Of course, data must also be
shared, and Autodesk is working on ways to route the information to all
participants without the need for extra manual steps. Just in the way that Facebook,
Twitter and other social networking tools allow people to selectively follow
what other people are doing that is of relevance, Autodesk is exploring this feature
for applications in the design space. "Say you change something in your design
and a message goes out to all team members automatically," said Bass. "What this
allows you to do is to focus on what really matters, which is better design."
George Leopold's talk at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis helped restore astronaut and engineer Gus Grissom's role in the beginnings of NASA, and outlined how Grissom played a pivotal role in winning the Space Race.
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