ARCHITOSH WAS IN ATTENDANCE AT Autodesk University 2022 after the long two-year hiatus brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic. It was really good to be back at a show, at a conference, and able to see fellow tech journalist colleagues and friends as well as familiar faces from Autodesk. And the energy at Autodesk University this year was excellent—a clear sign that people want to return back to pre-pandemic days when face-to-face interaction just has no true substitute.
Located in New Orleans this year, Autodesk University 2022 more than delivered on energy, enthusiasm, and a crowded tech expo filled with interesting and useful new technologies. There was just one problem—COVID. It is not truly gone, it just seems that way. And this year, in New Orleans, Architosh’s editor caught COVID at last. Hence, why these new AU22 reports are just being published now.
This author derived a clear lesson from this: keep wearing that mask in large crowds. And boy, were there large crowds at AU22 this year. Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk CEO, opened his keynote by noting there were nine thousand people in attendance in New Orleans and another ten thousand viewing the keynote online.
The Keynote Message
This author enjoys Andrew Anagnost’s keynotes because he attempts to paint a broad-brush-stroke picture of the entire technology sector and define the key trends that are changing our working world landscape. “You are here because you are really interested [in] the future of technology,” he began early on.
Anagnost quickly shifted his keynote direction by then telling a story about change, about overcoming challenges, about resilience. The large screens shifted to scenes of New Orleans and the hurricane Katrina disaster it had to overcome more than a decade and a half ago. He introduced Meagan Williams, a New Orleans native who is the city’s Stormwater Program Manager at the New Orleans Department of Public Works. She was just age 16 when Katrina struck her city. Williams, a civil engineer, would come on stage to talk about lessons from that event and how the city has learned from Katrina. “Green infrastructure is a manmade way of dealing with water [as] nature does,” she would say.
A key lesson from all of this is we have to be willing to change how we do things. We need to “acknowledge how we did things in the past may not be the way we do things in the future.”
Self Disruption—The Clouds
Anagnost then went on to say, “I know many of you are ready for this change. I think it’s time for the software tools you use to catch up to that.” He then went on to say the most important thing he said at all of Autodesk University 2022—”I believe it is time for us to disrupt ourselves.”
Autodesk’s CEO introduced three new industry clouds at AU22. “Our industry clouds are not incremental improvements to the tools you already use,” he adds, “they are different.” The three industry clouds are:
- Autodesk Fusion — the new industry cloud for design & manufacturing (D&M) sectors where Fusion has been designed to be as lean as possible. “Manufacturing today requires tools that are fluid and flexible,” said Anagnost. “Today the shop floor is where digital threads end, and I don’t think it should. I believe that everybody should be able to start digital and stay digital.”
- Autodesk Forma — is the new industry cloud for architecture, engineering & construction (AEC) but it will extend to operations (AEC/O). Architosh published an exclusive on Autodesk Forma the day of the announcement, but there were things stated at the keynote worth adding here. Anagnost noted that the first Forma offering will “reimagine early stage design with outcomes in mind.” Calling Forma a new paradigm shift for the AEC industry, Anagnost stated that some app developers think you move your apps to the web, “but that just gives you the same paradigm,” he said.
- Autodesk Flow — is the new industry cloud for media & entertainment (M&E) sectors which have been booming since the global pandemic. “The demand for new content skyrocketed during the pandemic,” Anagnost said. The first cloud product available on Flow will focus on asset management, giving users the ability to manage assets across the entire M&E production process.
“Our industries are embracing digital tools, but too often, people remain siloed in their respective jobs with disconnected processes, burdened by data that is not as useful as it could be,” says Anagnost. “The time is now for our customers to fully realize the benefits of digital transformation. Our Autodesk cloud capabilities will empower the innovators and creators we serve to be productive—more profitable.”
Of the three clouds announced at AU22, Autodesk Forma is the most unclear about what it will eventually entail. (see: Architosh, “Autodesk Begins New Era for Future of Architecture,” 27 Sep 2022) The clearest industry cloud is Autodesk Fusion. “Fusion 360 is the best example of where we’re taking our industry clouds, providing a connected environment that flows up and down a project lifecycle,” says Raji Arasu, Autodesk CTO. “As we build out each cloud, a central cloud information model will give every collaborator the right data at the right time on the device of their choice.”
One Unifying Technology
Underpinning all three industry clouds is cloud technology based on what was formerly known as Autodesk Forge. Now this technology is newly renamed to Autodesk Platform Services, a set of cross-industry APIs and services and underlying Autodesk technologies that will enable data and assets to work across not just Autodesk collections of software solutions but also those from third parties.
Though Autodesk also touted its commitment to open industry standards—something we heard more strongly stated by its sector leads talking about M&E and D&M more than in AEC—the company is fundamentally orienting its solutions and cross-industry solutions towards enabling Autodesk customers to leverage turnkey, end-to-end tech stacks in the cloud fully. Much of what is being touted is about taking data out of proprietary file formats (formats Autodesk controls) and allowing that geometric and non-geometric data to seamlessly flow between various solutions in the cloud and down to the end-user devices that will be accessing the industry clouds through a new large array of device-specific mobile apps and thin and medium-thick clients on the desktop.
Autodesk has recently acquired tools in the digital twin’s space (Tandem), pre-design space (Spacemaker), and virtual reality space (The Wild and IrisVR), and these technologies will surely find new streamlined homes in Autodesk Forma. Autodesk has already acquired several cloud tools (PlanGrid, for example) and integrated them into their Construction Cloud solutions. This pattern (along with the noted Fusion as a template example of the other two industry clouds) is likely the direction Autodesk will go to enable this paradigm shift. They will continue what they have already begun.
Who Controls My Data?
When one talks about a file-less future, meaning data will be liberated from the constraints of proprietary and even industry-standard file formats, questions naturally emerge. How will firms come to manage, store, and archive their own data in this file-less future? What happens if firms migrate away from Autodesk Forma to another rival vendor how does this data become mobile and transportable? How do sensitive government projects that are not allowed to be stored in the cloud function in this Autodesk world of three industry clouds?
Anagnost stated during his keynote that Autodesk is making key investments into open industry standards, notably IFC and USD, in the AEC market. “Open standards ensure our platform remains an open ecosystem,” said Anagnost.
As a demonstration, Anagnost showcased and discussed new Rhino connectors that Autodesk built using the new API technology in Forma. The new Rhino-Grasshopper connectors for Revit are just the tip of the iceberg, says Anagnost in our exclusive article on Forma here. These are not built in collaboration with McNeel using Rhino.Inside technology, but file-less API technology that enables round-trip geometric and non-geometric data flow from one application to another.
The Future of Revit
Very little was shown at AU22 about how Forma becomes the future direction and new paradigm shift for AEC. We did get to see small glimpses of what is essentially Spacemaker technology powering the first future offering from Forma.
In the Media and Analysts session, Anagnost stated that “Revit is not fully penetrated in the base,”—meaning largely within the Autodesk AEC base as many architects, engineers, and construction pros rely fully on AutoCAD still. “Revit has a long runway ahead of it—a decade or more,” said Anagnost. “Some people will skip Revit for Forma.” Meanwhile, AutoCAD will continue to be enhanced, the company said. In fact, AutoCAD was touted during the two keynotes.
Autodesk also aims to be the industry leader in the AEC manufacturing transformation. Off-site construction (OSC), design for fabrication and assembly (DfMA), industrialized construction, et cetera, are all new terms that define sectorial transformation in how the built world of AEC is actually constructed. With more construction of buildings taking place off-site and inside factories on assembly lines, the world of design & manufacturing (D&M) and (AEC) are converging.
This convergence may help Autodesk’s positioning in the design & manufacturing markets where the company’s two key products, Inventor and Fusion 360, do not come close to dominating the D&M market like Revit dominates the AEC market. The D&M market is dominated by three other large companies in Dassault Systemes (Solidworks and CATIA), Siemens (NX and Solid Edge), and PTC (Creo and Onshape), where Autodesk is just another major competitor. Each of these three companies generates over USD 1.3 billion or more from their D&M software and services.
Fusion and Forma will speak to each other natively.
Anagnost said during the Media and Analysts session that “Fusion and Forma will speak to each other natively.” When one looks at the industrialized construction market in the United States, one finds Autodesk Revit as the core tool on the fabrication side, where OCS fabricators are taking architect’s designs (often in Revit) and advancing them for manufacture. This direction can help boost Fusion but also put it in more direct head-to-head competition with manufacturing CAD leaders like SolidWorks, which does have industrialized construction solutions like its SolidSteel parametric solution for facades and roofs.
An ultimate goal with a big paradigm shift in AEC is linking design to manufacturing. This is where Autodesk Forma may eventually have its biggest strength, where the convergence of AEC and D&M can get streamlined within a seamlessly integrated set of cloud solutions.