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Autodesk Seeks Growth Through New Uses Of Its Platforms And Unified Data Management

When most people think of Autodesk, they probably think of the company’s rapidly growing collection of design software and service solutions for engineering, architecture, manufacturing and construction. Those business areas go all the way back to the company’s founding in 1982. They all quickly came to rely heavily on the company’s first product, AutoCAD, which took advantage of the advent of the desktop computer to build the most successful computer-aided design program in the world. Now, nearly 40 years later, Autodesk is a multi-billion-dollar business, with annual revenue of $3.8 billion and net earnings of $1.2 billion.

Until now, Autodesk has grown by developing its own new design tools and acquiring companies that have developed others. But where does the company go from here?

The first thing to know is that it’s expanded beyond those technical design roots into things like media, entertainment, and even water management. So while Autodesk still helps manufacturers like SRAM and Hyundai do super-cool stuff like reimagining the design of the bicycle crankarm and designing the ultimate mobility vehicle, it also helps the folks at LAIKA Studios make their movies.

The more important thing to know is that at Autodesk, the big focus now is on knitting everything together. “What you’ll hear a lot about around here is the platform approach, with Forge tying all the data together,” said Scott Reese, the company’s EVP of Product Design and Manufacturing Solutions. “We’ll leverage AI to automate the creation of drawings from data, and to auto-create G-code for production machines. We’ll also use generative design to digitize the processes and get to a push-button shop floor.” Forge is Autodesk’s cloud-based developer platform, and generative design is a set of algorithms within the company’s Fusion 360 design software that allows engineers and designers to input required parameters and run through thousands of design iterations to generate optimum solutions.

“Forge is not new–it’s been around a long time,” added Autodesk President and CEO Andrew Anagnost. “Forge is going to play an increasing role across everything our customers do, and across our various stacks. The journey is to create a collaborative relationship between the user and the machine.”

It’s a bold vision that will affect every platform, and will revamp how customers interact with the technology and create new designs. “We’ll automate everything that a machine shop does,” Reese said. “Then it gets exciting–how our different business areas converge. We’ll apply manufacturing automation to construction and all our other areas. For example, we’ll use generative scheduling wherever time is critical.” Generative scheduling uses machine learning to automatically produce optimized project schedules, and originated with Autodesk’s ShotGrid platform, a cloud-based production tracking, review and asset management suite that was originally aimed at the entertainment sector. A key element of the company’s vision for the future is leveraging its numerous tools and platforms that were designed for particular industry segments to serve all its disparate customers.

“Something we talk about a great deal is the convergence of all these tools,” said Jim Lynch, SVP and General Manager of Autodesk Construction Solutions, whose team focuses on improving the way building construction teams connect and use data across their project lifecycles, with the goals of reducing costs and bringing more predictability and sustainability to construction.. Industrializing construction by applying design and manufacturing techniques to the built environment, linking building processes together, is one big way of doing that. “Autodesk is really in a unique position to help industrialize construction, using our tools like Autodesk Construction Cloud, Fusion 360 and Inventor to reduce waste and build faster and more efficiently. Because construction is so complex, there are a lot of intricacies in its processes. We want to enable a better future for construction by connecting those processes and the teams and data behind them. Our studies show that about 50% of rework in construction is due to poor data and communication. Fixing that will save billions.”

Diana Colella, SVP of Entertainment and Media Solutions, echoed Lynch’s perspectives. “There’s a convergence of tech that’s happening,” she said. “Game engines are being used in Design and Manufacturing and in Architecture, Engineering and Construction–all for visualization. We’ve now started sharing tech across our businesses.”

“We’re helping our customers with digital frontiers,” said Amy Bunszel, EVP of Architecture, Engineering and Construction Design at Autodesk. “We help them enter the digital age. We start with automating manual processes, then on to digitalization–automating mundane tasks, for example. A big focus is on outcome-based design. We understand the importance of choices. Construction is target-rich, with huge waste. Assembling offsite can help, and it improves safety too. We help them deliver more sustainable and resilient outcomes.”

That sustainability focus is obviously not unique to Autodesk. Joe Speicher, Head of Sustainability, sees the company’s holistic technology approach as an advantage not just to increase sales, but as a way to aid its customers in their sustainability efforts as well. “Our customers design and make the world,” he said. “There’s a very high likelihood that any company’s product went through an Autodesk tool. The industries we serve are associated with very high CO2 emissions. We have an outsized influence in this space–we can help. Autodesk as a company recognizes that for the future of industry, we need to take into account climate change, labor, inequality, and so on. We’re building data infrastructure to be inclusive of carbon impacts, with learning and training opportunities.” Autodesk has a tool within its Revit building information modeling software specific to that goal, Total Carbon. It combines Revit data with open-source energy analysis and material carbon data, in the cloud, to provide insight into the embodied carbon of a project from design through construction and operation.

“The future we're imagining is everywhere and for everyone,” said Anagnost. “Our goal is to offer maximum flexibility and accessibility to our solutions." While Autodesk will continue to be on the lookout for further acquisitions and partnerships that expand the range of the tools and platforms it offers, a primary driver of its future growth will be in the expanded use of existing platforms, facilitated by advances in centralized data management via AI and machine learning.

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