Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Sunday, December 28, 2014
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Autodesk Unveils Fusion 360 in the Cloud 

While individual manufacturers have been have begun a gradual drift toward cloud adoption, Autodesk could soon be helping more companies to take the upward plunge. The company announced on Tuesday that their latest software offering, Fusion 360, will be powered by the cloud to offer their customers a scalable, pay-as-you go alternative for PLM tools.

And in the spirit of housing the complete PLM toolset in one place, Fusion 360 brings together mechanical, industrial and conceptual design tools that had been segregated until now.

It would appear that the offering comes as the result of cloud-enabled collaboration models that are gaining momentum in the enterprise realm. For example, this move to the cloud should sound familiar to anyone using the Adobe Creative Suite, which has already brought the company a great deal of success. Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president at Autodesk, pointed to these trends as a much larger force that drove Autodesk’s design process, particularly as they relate to the gap between industrial and mechanical design.

“We’re in the midst of a new industrial revolution that places a premium on the ability to design and engineer products that are both beautiful and functional,” said Kross. “With Fusion 360, there is no longer a compromise between industrial and mechanical design. Users get both in one tool for the first time.”

With an emphasis on accessibility, collaboration features and a diverse toolkit for designers and engineers alike, it appears as though Fusion 360 may become the industry’s “jack of all trades,” especially for small-to-medium-sized manufacturers that can benefit from the offering’s modest $25-per-month pricetag.

Richard Blatcher, senior global industry marketing manager for manufacturing at Autodesk said that the company did intentionally focus their efforts around small-to-medium-sized manufacturers, entrepreneurs, makers and students.

“We built the technology with all designers, engineers and manufacturers in mind,” said Blatcher. “But clearly given the price point, the features and the functionality of the software, we are intentionally removing the barriers that have been there for [small-to-medium-sized] companies with the traditional, expensive owning software model.

With this in mind, it’s clear that Autodesk hasn’t released Fusion 360 as the end-all-be-all product, and that larger manufacturers will still lean on heftier products with standard licensing to do most of their heavy lifting.

“Fusion isn’t a specific replacement for our flagship design tool, Inventor,” said Blatcher. “We would say that we have a number of products and solutions that fit the need of any manufacturer depending on their size, their initiatives, their priorities, and the way they would like to work.”

“We will over the coming months be bringing additional engineering functionality to the tool,” noted Blatcher. “The solution is aimed at the industrial designer, the mechanical designer, and it’s focused on an individual who really wants to experiment and express form, function, look and feel—but it also needs to have that engineering functionality to ensure that [the design] will work.”

In the meantime, however, Autodesk has lured in designers with a new intuitive sculpting system, not unlike that of the 3D sculpting program, Zbrush. This fits in with the overall vision for an intuitive piece of software, but has stepped beyond in order to make the design process even faster, according to Bridget Sheehan, an MFA candidate in industrial design.

Already, guitar specialist Redpoint Studios have used these tools to launch a Kickstarter campaign called Orphanage Guitars, that is taking advantage of Fusion 360’s focus on design and collaboration tools to help manufacture custom guitars that clients can preview and approve during the design process to get a comprehensive feel of the finished product.

Rather than committing upwards of $5,000 to a luthier who may or may not correctly interpret a guitar design, Redpoint and Orphanage have transitioned to a purely digital process whereby customers pick a body shape, wood, finish and hardware, and actually see what the product will look like before making an investment.

Without Fusion 360’s cloud-based model and pay-as-you-go pricing, Redpoint’s Scott Leonard and Matthew Marris say they could not have made their business profitable.

Of course, the company also relies on Autodesk’s heavy hitter, Inventor, to handle the automation for standard routing and machining of each guitar it makes. But as far as small businesses and entrepreneurs are concerned, Fusion looks to be but a glimpse of the direction in which Autodesk is heading.

“What’s exciting about this is that more and more businesses and individuals are able to realize a huge amount of what we’ve seen talked about theoretically in the market for a number of years,” said Blatcher. “To see ideas turn into reality is the most exciting thing about this technology.”

Blatcher concluded by noting that the model that Autodesk took with Fusion by going to the cloud and a monthly payment model will soon be expected industry-wide in the future. “So it’s not a case of if it happens, it’s when.”

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