Big Fat Disclaimer: This article deals with certain predictions that are a result of the opinion of the author. Autodesk, Inc. does not indicate their 3 and 5 year plans, and obviously did not cough this information up.

The Future of Autodesk Fusion 360 on PLM

Let me start by saying that I love PLM 360 more every day, and the new PLM 360 foundation is a powerful idea, and a great step in the right direction for the future engineering products at Autodesk.

PLM 360 is currently only a container and manipulator of data. That’s it. Given enough love, it can turn an inefficient system of data management into a support tool that will increase efficiency of any business. Scott and I went to Autodesk University to discuss with the product teams and decision makers, how the company will shape this product in the near future, to see how others have adopted the product, and the possibilities for its implementation. The following is not only about PLM 360, but what that platform is transforming into in the years to come.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Many Autodesk product-using professionals have for some time voiced concerns and desires about the tools that they use daily. There are a few things that you might be surprised to hear have been noticed, and are being addressed:

  • You want better interoperability; Exports suck
  • You want Vault to not be such a PITA intensive setup and maintenance problem
  • You want better surfacing tools
  • You want not to be burdened (or limited) by costs of high-performing hardware
  • You want integrated CAM and simplification
  • You want a BIM / object oriented civil product

Well guess what! You are getting them, and more. The trick is, the greatly awaited present may not be wrapped the way you’d like.

The Next 3 Years

The image above is a representation of how I see the next three years shaping out with the Autodesk PLM 360 product, and all that manufacturing ‘stuff’ on the cloud, and what I think we will see:

  • A PLM 360 backbone that contains ALL the company data, for everything you do. Your models, your client information, your analyses… you name it, it’s up there.
  • A single point of reference that allows aggregation of any data within the engineering scope. Call it PLM / PDM/ whatever. You shape it how you need. You manage it how you want.
  • Modeling, Simulation, and CAM software that is integrated, and feeds off the same data, but relates it differently in relation to the mode of work that you are doing.
  • A Social type exchange of information, both in collaborative and decision making efforts. (I was really against this until I ran into a few people, and the light went on.  More on this soon!!!!!)
  • Virtualized datasets, capable of being connected globally, allowing unprecedented collaborative efforts in a seamless workflow. Everyone in the effort sees the same data, same results, no matter where they are in the world, in an organized, fluid manner.

Why Have I Said This?

Autodesk has already stated that PLM 360 will be the foundation from which all 360 cloud products will emerge. You may feel that this as more of the same ‘forcing the cloud on the design world’. I however feel differently.

“Data is at the center of the product design process, and the cloud frees that data to be accessible anywhere, anytime…Autodesk Fusion 360 will give designers and engineers the first powerful, easy-to-use and complete cloud-based design solution.” stated Buzz Kross, senior vice president of Design, Lifecylce, and Simulation in a recent Autodesk news release.

This is a seriously positive step.

Autodesk has seen that the best way to get all the applications singing the same tune is to get them on the same server platform along with the data that everyone is using. While there are a mountain of issues to resolve between now and when this concept goes hot, I don’t think any of us can bring a reasonable argument that this concept is anything but the best, most direct, least common denominator approach.

Furthermore, I’d venture a guess that in 10 years time, the thought of having to go here to get this model data, and go elsewhere to understand how the data was used will be a joke. Something old people had to do.

This isn’t a new concept really. It’s been in the planning for some time. the trick was how to get it all together. I refer you to the conversation I had with Jay Bhatt, former Vice-president of AEC in October of 2010:

“The future of BIM in design technology really isn’t just about how information should be managed, but additionally we ask the question “how do people use this information and behave around this information?”. We are helping to change how this information is delivered and how the subsequent behavior and result is accomplished. There has to be one version of data, and that has to be the true version of the data. It has to flow back and forth seamlessly, and not be a series of separate actions. That is the key.”

It sounds like exactly what I have been saying for years, and exactly what the company is doing today.

Nearing the Ragged Edge

I think that Carl Bass’ statement that everything will [only]  be available via the cloud in the next 3 years was a bit summarized, but pretty much what the target is. I think that he could have said that the only access to the ‘Next Generation’ of technology will be available via the cloud.

  • Civil 3D will never hit the cloud
  • Inventor Professional will never hit the cloud
  • Vault – well you can call PLM 360 a ‘Vault’ if it makes you feel better.

I don’t think that the company is going to spend any more money on their land based product than they have to. They see the future, it’s only a matter of making it work with new ways of thinking, while delicately (or not) phasing old thinking and old products out. Some cloud only initiatives are taking off, and the more that happens, the more desire there will be to have those ‘cloud’ benefits, and willingness to suffer without some old ones.

Here’s a statistic to help reinforce the point: BIM 360 – 1200+ daily active users (70+ new users added every day).

imageWondering then, what the company has for your future? It’s already out there.

Fusion 360, PLM 360, Formit, Simulation 360 solvers, Falcon, Vasari, Simulus, Infrastructure Modeler, AutoCAD WS, etc.

These products are being refined with additional value and capabilities. Many will be phased out and into other products, but this is the future. The PLM 360 / Fusion example I gave above; Expect to see that rocking by the end of 2015. While the flagship products will continue to dominate the landscape for a while to come, you should be able to see the writing on the wall.

Did I Mention Vault?

That’s right I said it. That pain in the ass platform that you snuggle up to every night knowing that your data is secure and organized is a goner. I’d bet Buzz Kross would be happy to put the first slug into it too.

Discussions with Oleg Shilovitsky, the product teams, marketing, and analysts have left me pondering a puzzle that didn’t match up. It wasn’t what was said, as much as what was being avoided. When asked about Vault connectivity, those that would comment simply acted as if it were a trivial, bump in the road concept from misguided individuals. This is of course complete BS. No one really answered the question, which became more obvious after reflecting on the big picture and recent product publicity.

Let me ask you:

  • Is it wise to continue to develop Vault extensively when your company outwardly states that Vault’s connectivity with the new PLM 360 and cloud technology is unnecessary and a poorly conceived notion?
  • Would you hand off the only connectivity between two hugely important platforms (Vault –> PLM 360) to another company (Jitterbit),  if you were going forward with the development of both?
  • If your new flagship technologies (Fusion 360 and her little brothers CAM and SIM) are drinking from the same online pool, how will they access the data in the disconnected Vault?
  • In light of that, how is it conceivable, to keep developing this complex, disconnected beast that we call Vault?

I cannot see how it is in Autodesk’s best interest to continue Vault production beyond 2015 +/-. In my opinion, the PLM 360 platform will serve that purpose after some additional value is added (and perhaps another evolution of the technology).

What Other Conclusions Can Be Made?

No Install issues; No data migration issues; no connectivity issues; No update issues: Sounds good to me.

I am not afraid of some new software. I however, am concerned with many things that most of us are:

  • * Internet connectivity and throughput
  • Licensing
  • Robustness and model control
  • Flaky interface
  • * Documentation
  • Security (Some of you are worried, not me)
  • and losing the ability to ‘just fix it’ like we’ve all learned to do

* Check with us for the next posts on the subject. I’ll show you how these will most likely get accomplished in a pretty clean manner.

The internet speed and coverage issues are continuously being improved. I suspect that Autodesk has an expected connectivity and throughput infrastructure target that coincides with their new technology’s development and enhancement plans. When these timelines come together, these future technology initiatives will serve as the company’s new product line.

I’ll leave you with the following quote. It may give you some indication about how Autodesk will proceed into 2015 with the development of old and new technologies:

“The great thing about this next generation of tools is that you don’t have to embrace them all
at once
. Not at all. We built them to complement how you already get your work done. You can
adopt them at your own pace.” Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, Inc.

…but adopt them you will.