Autodesk, Inc. [NASDAQ:ADSK]: Simulating the Future of Manufacturing

Greg Fallon, Vice President, Simulation Since the very onset of simulation at the stables of commercial enterprises, it has carved a niche market for itself, enabling manufacturers to quantify and observe product behavior. But, given the existing cost-intensive relationship between simulation and manufacturing, the present-day industry is haunted by numerous concerns: What about the small-and medium-sized enterprises that can’t afford incumbent simulation? What about the everyday engineer who might conceive a life changing idea? Will simulation be able to recreate disruption in the face of a transforming industry? Striving to address such concerns is Autodesk, Inc. [NASDAQ:ADSK], a market leader that believes that it’s time simulation comes out from its island of excellence into the hands of every engineer, designer, and innovator— allowing them to make a difference to millions of lives and to prepare the industry for the future of manufacturing. Standing at the forefront of “democratizing” simulation, Autodesk is re-inventing and reapplying the technology that’s roots lie in the previous millennium to the product development process. “There is a revolution happening in the Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) market,” asserts Greg Fallon, vice president of simulation at Autodesk. “The need to change the esoteric approach of simulation is growing among companies. For too long, simulation was performed in parallel, or outside of the product development process. But simulation needs to be deeply integrated into the process that it can empower users to add context, insight and options that enable the development of better products.”

The impact and value of simulation technology is evident with examples such as Biolite, a New York City-based startup. Trying to develop a high-efficiency woodstove that generates electricity from burning wood to charge personal devices, Biolite turned to Autodesk’s Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) products. With the ability to simulate and optimize air flow for better combustion, the resulting product was a low-cost, life-changing innovation, making the lives of thousands smoke-free, safe, and comfortable.

“An important factor in the company’s choosing to work with Autodesk was our pricing, which made simulation affordable to Biolite,” says Fallon. At the core of such accomplishments lies Autodesk’s extensive investment and experimentation in cloud technology, which is re-balancing the competitive landscape by allowing manufacturers to develop quality products and compete in the global market.

“Cloud-based simulation capabilities can help manufacturers envision beyond how a product works, unlocking the potential to solve additional problems. This way, they can integrate additional value into their products,” complements Seth Hindman, simulation product strategy and management executive at Autodesk.

Cloud technology helps Autodesk tackle another issue plaguing the current simulation market: collaboration capabilities. The component of Autodesk’s “up-front invisible simulation” initiative that aims to integrate simulation with the entire design and manufacturing process is Fusion 360. A complete cloud product development platform that combines CAD, CAM and CAE, Fusion 360 fosters visibility into ongoing simulation projects so that every participant can collaborate on the design process. In a market where most simulation tools can set back a manufacturer by thousands of dollars, Autodesk surfaces vigorously with its cost-cutting theme, making Fusion 360 available at prices as low as $25 a month. Being cloud-based, Fusion 360 also affords immense computational power to users without in-house infrastructure maintenance, significantly reducing solve times. “Through up-front, invisible simulation, we aim to make this technology available as a tool that can be used while new ideas are generated, and not just a tool that is used after an idea is validated,” asserts Fallon.

The Answer to a Transforming Industry

Since Autodesk’s debut in 1982, the manufacturing industry has come a long way in terms of available technologies and materials.

Through up-front invisible simulation, we want to make the technology available as a tool that can be used as and when new ideas are generated, and not just a tool that is used after an idea is validated

With the availability of technology for commercial deployment, 3D printing and advanced materials have become the driving factors behind what Autodesk calls the future of making things, stirring up the idea of bespoke products in the industry. Imagine, in the future, cars that will allow customization of the seats, steering wheels, and instrument cluster to almost everything as per a customer’s demand, right at the point-of-sale.

Autodesk foresees ideas like this transforming into disruption, and positions itself at the very center of it, with a sophisticated array of tools: “A trend among manufacturers―especially in transportation―is the growing inclination towards lighter and more durable composites,” says Fallon.

Simulation techniques based on advanced materials and composites are changing the way structures and materials are perceived. Autodesk’s Moldflow and Helius family of products are structured to empower companies looking to leverage the scope of advanced materials for manufacturing. Moldflow products are the leaders in injection molding, combining extended capabilities with Helius that enable superior carbon fiber composites simulation. The two families of products enable companies to simulate and better understand the properties of advanced materials such as micromechanics and residual stress, which behave very differently than ferrous materials and are new to many companies.

Clients have taken advantage of Helius PFA for performing progressive failure analysis to provide insights into loading parameters and the nature of failures, and to effectively minimize re-design costs: “With predictive capabilities around progressive failure analysis of advanced materials, our focus is to help manufacturers envision a material’s performance in the as-manufactured state, instead of the as-designed state,” states Hindman.

With an added focus on additive manufacturing, Autodesk particularly specializes in 3D metal printing: “With considerations of solidification and heat transfer factors, our new offerings around 3D metal printing will be able to predict metal distortions in order to ensure that the printed part conforms to the designed part specifications,” states Fallon.

Autodesk’s excellence in generative design and 3D printing was demonstrated last year, when the company collaborated with Airbus to synthesize the world’s largest 3D printed airplane cabin component, touted the “bionic partition.” The process involved employing custom algorithms to generate a design that mimics cellular structure and bone growth, which could only be produced using 3D printing techniques. This innovative approach rendered the structure stronger and 45 percent lighter in comparison to conventional partitions. The reduction in structural weight enables a reduction in fuel consumption, benefitting Airbus.

While helping clients as big as Airbus on one side, Autodesk’s innovative products prove simulation’s equally matched capability for smaller manufacturers, as well. For instance, being a dedicated mountain bike manufacturer, it was essential for the California–based Niner Bikes to produce bikes with the best possible stiffness to weight ratio that can tackle demanding riding conditions. Autodesk Nastran, a mechanical FEA stress analysis software, is an integral part of the design process at Niner. The application of Autodesk Nastran helps the manufacturer shave off precious grams during the design phase without compromising on strength; this even allowed Niner to devise new testing strategies that current protocols don’t cover.
Setting the Trends

According to Fallon, another recent market trend is the change in the nature of the manufactured product itself. He exemplifies the rise of an IoT ecosystem, which in turn is introducing a plethora of inter-connected smart products powered by sensors. Such products can transfer data to the manufacturer as soon as they hit the market, furnishing instantaneous, real-time insights about how the product behaves in the real world. “IoT and smart products are resulting in a closed loop development process, which is changing the design process a manufacturer has to go through,” says Fallon. With in this burgeoning IoT space is Autodesk Fusion Connect (formerly Autodesk SeeControl)—a cloud-based, no-code, IoT service that allows manufacturers to collect, analyze and manage data generated by smart products.

The latest in Autodesk’s simulation portfolio is Forge, a cloud-based development platform rolled out at the recently convened Autodesk DevCon, which took place at Fort Mason in San Francisco, CA. The platform provides valuable resources, including intellectual properties, APIs, tool-kits, one-on-one support and code samples, enabling users to create custom applications and services. With a value proposition for small and established companies alike, Forge can be used to create turnkey applications leveraging simulation. It can also be used for research and consolidating turnkey product development processes without undertaking the perceptible hassles of infrastructure maintenance.

"CIOs, more than at any time in the past, are facing a series of enduring trends which require them to expand their traditional competencies. Technology is the main catalyst for business disruption"

Backing the platform is the $100 million Autodesk Forge Fund, which is already making its presence felt in the market. India-based, Centre for Computational Technologies (CCTech) created a cloud-based open source CFD tool called OpenFoam, which leverages components of Forge. CCTech grants cost-effective access to OpenFoam and, being cloud-based, the platform bestows customers with the capability to simulate without the constraints of managing massive computational power, which is usually required for simulation.

The Forge platform can be particularly instrumental in creating applications that are recursive in nature, rendering the capability of customizable simulation. For instance, an eyeglass manufacturer may have different sets of similar designs. Instead of developing applications for every new design, Forge can help create one custom application to serve as a template for similar designs.

Simulation for Tomorrow

The world stands witness to Autodesk’s vision of Simulation through its Hackrod project: an attempt at creating the world’s first car chassis designed using Artificial Intelligence (AI). This project marks one of the industry’s first attempts at demonstrating the feasibility that the future of simulation will be powered by AI and machine learning.

Autodesk’s Project Dreamcatcher, which is the technology at the core of the Hackrod project, implies a paradigm shift in how products are designed and engineered, one where even non-technical people will associate themselves with design and engineering. Dreamcatcher is capable of reducing the time required for the creation of a design pipeline to a small fraction of what was required with a traditional approach by simultaneously sketching and analyzing hundreds, or even thousands of design options. This is steering tomorrow’s simulations toward where a designer will define problems and goals and collaborate with a system that will synthesize numerous design options to choose from.

It is apparent that when simulation for next generation arrives, no idea or concept will land in the trash just because someone couldn’t access the solution. It will be a democratic ecosystem created by Autodesk that will transform every idea of worth into a physical product.


San Rafael, CA

Greg Fallon, Vice President, Simulation

A software company reimagining the Simulation landscape in tune with a transforming manufacturing industry.