Autodesk University 2014 was abuzz with VIP client meetings, product planning, and round-table discussions amid all the classes and presentations that were offered. If you were idle it was not for lack of interesting opportunities to plug into (it was probably because you got lost between the North and South Convention Centers at Mandalay Bay and gave up).

I wanted to look at the overview of the Autodesk 360 umbrella, which received the lion’s share of love from Autodesk in 2014. AU was no less gracious. While 360 was not the only thing going on at AU 2014, (far from it actually), but it’s a great place to start.

Connectivity, and … well more connectivity

One of the main themes in the products and presentations was connectivity. Whether it be software platforms, or people through any means, connectivity was a distinct part of the discussion.

“We disrupted the market with an era of documenting ideas. Then we had an era of using computers to optimize a product. Now we have an era of connection. People expect things to be connected”, said Andrew Anagnost, Sr. Vice-President of Autodesk. “When they are not, things are considered to be wrong”. His discussion went onto some specifics including how a portion of Fusion 360’s adoption has been out of the connectivity it provides team members.

Autodesk believes that connectivity is a function of technology today and that collaboration is a key byproduct of that that trend. The company wants to connect designers and thinkers in a powerful, invisible, and intuitive way, enabling solutions to problems both big and small.

Autodesk 360

The manufacturing focus seemed to lie primarily with Autodesk 360, Autodesk’s evolving collaborative cloud space, whose development cycles have exhibited some odd behavior at times. Autodesk brought the product to market address the change in people’s social behavior on the cloud, but at a time when their professional behavior had not changed. Poor adoption resulted as the product did not fit within the boundaries of most design companies, and few ‘knew what to do with it’.

Looking back I can see the logic, positioning a product to fulfill the needs of an ever increasing social fabric in professional workflows, like what occurred with DropBox. The only real problem is waiting on the ROI. Autodesk has been in the long game for some time, and continues to operate that way.

Autodesk has spent a substantial amount of resources on A360 in 2014, putting the product into motion with a realistic plan of its future development and business model.

  • Integration with the other 360 products and services
  • Borrowing a portion of PLM 360 architecture to implement some form of data management
  • Increased understanding of file dependencies and architecture, including software products far beyond those at Autodesk
  • Continued path along a simplified UI, tuned towards an invisible interaction with necessary automation of design workflows
  • Subscription fee based model

The A360 UX team is full on with all manner of energy about putting an innovative and [actually] useful interface into play. My conversations with their team members were a ‘strap yourself in’ kind of experience; really cool to be honest.

Fusion 360

Fusion has developed rapidly in 2014. Comparing Fusion 360 Ultimate (released this fall) with Fusion in the past 3 years tends to indicate a substantial pull away from the ‘new way of doing things’ product to a more mainstream product with a great deal of room to grow. While the original direction of the product was not intended to ‘replace Autodesk Inventor’ in the future, the current model seems to be taking shape that way.

Desktop based, with a cloud licensing and storage service built in

  • A360 integration
  • Largely sketch driven with dependent parameters
  • Basic drawing interface that is still in complete flux
  • Built in CAM, Rendering, and Animation
  • Optional history and non-history based workflows

Autodesk Fusion 360 CAM

I am quite fond of Inventor and enjoy using it. I am also open to a new product with vast amount of room to evolve, grow, and innovate the CAD experience. I think Fusion has the capacity to do so, and if that is the direction that Autodesk has chosen, then good. I like inventor, and I bet I will like Fusion 360 and beyond.

Some great integrated functionality that is coming / returning:

  • Sheet Metal
  • Linear Static, Thermal, and Modal Simulation
  • 5 Axis CAM


PLM 360

Autodesk is developing a cloud based, hybrid PLM-PDM collaborative product, and intends on giving its customers the first ever end-to-end PLM solution in the cloud. Following along similar lines to what we saw earlier this year, the PLM team delivered a presentation showing some of the proposed enhancements coming this spring. These enhancements coincide with the Autodesk 360 timeline for integration with PLM 360 and the new data platform that is consistent throughout the 360 cloud products.

These presentation showed:

  • Architecture sharing between A360 and PLM 360
  • A360 viewer for model data and documents
  • The new mobile app
  • New UI architectures improve user experience including dashboard enhancements, graphs, etc.

Autodesk PLM 360 enhancements at AU2014

What is not clear yet is if this product is a new offering (and subscription) altogether, or simply enhancements to the existing PLM 360 service.

This opens quite a few doors that were closed to the Small to Medium sized design firms that work on collaborative, highly fluid design workflows. Will this fulfill all those SMB management needs we discussed this summer, including simulation data management? That’s another discussion. J

Additional Thoughts

Autodesk‘s individual 360 products are beginning to take shape and direction. Some of their respective enhancements are quite nice and their development team’s goals and enthusiasm are quite compelling. However a step back to see a bigger picture is in order.

With the inclusion of Fusion 360 Ultimate, Autodesk may corner the market with a complete manufacturing portfolio integration including a collaborative, cloud based management and storage.  One product or another may not fit numerous company’s needs, however the full spectrum of integration and accessibility will likely attract more customers that are willing to give up a little now, banking on a rapidly maturing productive space. At the very least, they will likely pick up a seat and see what they can do with it. The key piece to this puzzle is PLM 360, if some of the UI issues have been worked out, and how it will behave around data and Fusion 360.

I think Autodesk would be wise to have a full 360 portfolio outlay with seamless integration prepared for March when PLM 360’s enhancements are expected to emerge. Many people will be watching to see how the PLM release will shake out.

Images courtesy of Autodesk, Inc. and Stephen Ransom, Flickr Creative Commons Licensing