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Autodesk Talks to Architosh About Fusion 360 and The Sea Change in Product Design

In this special article Kevin Schneider, Director for Fusion 360 at Autodesk, talks to Architosh about the sea change going on in product design and how Fusion 360 was created to respond to the changing trends in product design and manufacturing—areas of the market that have blended into tighter formations as part of the lean startup culture.

Earlier in the fall Autodesk’s Kevin Schneider, Director for Fusion 360 at Autodesk, spoke to Architosh about the latest developments with that product and its impact on the manufacturing and product design world.

Autodesk’s Cloud Strategy: Creating A Sea Change

Back in late September Autodesk made some pretty big news on the Mac side of the CAD market when it announced that its Fusion 360 app was going live on the Apple Mac App Store, marking another moment for the App Store and the professional applications market. Schneider was quick to point out that “this is the first MCAD product on the Mac App Store.” Indeed, there are very limited CAD and professional 3D apps of any kind on the App Store, though the genre grows each year.

So what’s changing the landscape?

“Five years ago we [Autodesk] saw new trends emerging,” says Schneider. “We started to see the hardware open source movement, we started to see KickStarter, Nest, Oculus Rift—basically a resurgence in product development.” Schneider continues by saying that crowd sourcing doesn’t have to be public…’new shoring’ is about bringing little manufacturing back to the US where technologies like ‘additive manufacturing’ are changing the product manufacturing landscape.

And a lot of this is being driven by the newest educated workforce. “If you look at the younger generation,” says Schneider, “you can see towards the future. Today’s 18-year olds and their expectations are radically different when they come into the workforce because their world of computing is conceptually different than 45 year olds.”

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As a result of these two major force multipliers Autodesk adapted. “The conventional way to go about this is to cobble together desktop apps,” notes Schneider, “where you are responding to the new trends but going about it using traditional views. We needed to create a sea change…we needed to rethink the whole problem…”

A Single Source of Truth

The design to engineering to manufacturing pipeline is under great pressure in the global competitive landscape to improve. And the technologies—a lot of them—are out there in the offering, tempting companies big and small, to regroup and rethink everything about how they go-to-market. In the traditional model we have the 80’s-90’s era MCAD mindset where multiple parties are struggling with passing CAD data around and fighting file format compatibilities and keeping things straight.

Companies today are no longer interested in coping with those limitations and frustrations. “The single-source of truth from what the whole team is working…that is vitally important in today’s fast-paced iterative driven market,” adds Schneider. And while that mantra is compelling, it must over-come the “best-of-class” tools mindset which also dominates thinking in the product design world.

01 - Autodesk Fusion 360 Ultimate is the most complete offering in the Fusion 360 lineup.

01 – Autodesk Fusion 360 Ultimate is the most complete offering in the Fusion 360 lineup.

Of course Autodesk is hardly alone is this perspective and proposition. It’s largest competitors too see the market evolving. And while both Autodesk and its competitors adapt they carry the load of maintaining the status quo for the bulk of their MCAD and product development customers using the systems and tools they have always used. Schneider explains that the Fusion 360 line isn’t meant to replace Autodesk Inventor. Nor does it offer, feature for feature, a new path for Inventor customers. Instead, Autodesk created a new product development line for a new generation of product developers who are emerging just now in response to the biggest drivers in the manufacturing and product world.

“We re-thought the entire equation with Autodesk Fusion,” says Schneider. “We looked at the trends and asked, ‘what makes a great product development platform?’ and the result of those questions is the platform we’ve been working on in Fusion 360.”

The Openness Perspective: How It Drives Platforms

If one looks at the Fusion 360 website and its marketing images you are instantly struck by the young manufacturing bucks presented. This isn’t grandpa’s MCAD. And no 45 year old MCAD jock working for, say, Caterpillar or Volvo, are pictured either.

And you will notice something else. Laptops. And not just any laptops, but MacBook Pros.

One of the things Kevin Schneider has spoken about since we’ve started having conversations about the Autodesk Fusion product line is the high presence of product designers working on the Apple Mac OS X platform. Autodesk wasn’t the first MCAD or CAID company to recognize this trend. To give credit where credit is due, it was really Altair Engineering that put its stake in the ground on this recognition more than five years ago when it acquired Vicenza, Italy, based solidThinking. However, to be fair to Autodesk, unlike its key rival in SolidWorks Corporation, they clearly see, recognize and have responded.

“There is a key ‘openness perspective’ associated with this trend in manufacturing compared to the average design firm with the 20-year old veteran,” remarks Schneider. “People want to be able to work on different platforms and from anywhere at anytime. That’s a key aspect about industry-leading collaboration and Autodesk clearly understands that.”

And speaking of collaboration, Autodesk’s own development of Fusion 360 has also gained from this perspective, as the company is living and breathing its own mantras. The Fusion development team has gained from the AutoCAD group, the Maya group, and of course from the Inventor teams. Recognizing that no one car will fit everyone’s needs, Schneider says that Fusion 360 isn’t for everyone either.

“We are focused on hardware startups…toys, appliances, devices, packaging, et cetera,” says Schneider, “because the needs are different. Autodesk Inventor may over-serve many of these startup customers. This is like a lean startup tool,” he adds.

Editor’s Notes

At this time of this interview Schneider remarked that Fusion 360 Ultimate had a major update pack coming in November. That update was recently released after several push-backs. You can read more about the Fusion 360 Ultimate package here.