Autodesk Rounds Out 360 Portfolio With Cloud-Based CAD

If there were lingering doubts about whether Autodesk was fully committed or merely experimenting with the cloud, that ambiguity should be put to rest with its latest announcement: Autodesk Fusion 360, what the company claims is the first comprehensive 3D CAD program to support the emerging delivery paradigm.

Obviously, Autodesk is no stranger to the cloud. I the last year it debuted a full lineup of services, from consumer-oriented 3D modeling and 3D print solutions to full-blown professional tools, including its Autodesk 360 PLM and Autodesk 360 Simulation offerings. Still, the big holdout in Autodesk’s cloud-based lineup was traditional 3D CAD. While users and experts have slowly been warming up to the new software delivery model, they’ve remained skeptical about CAD delivered in this fashion due to concerns around the security of design IP as well as issues related to performance when modeling complex 3D geometry over the Web.

Autodesk Fusion 360 melds keys functionality from Autodesk platforms, including parametric, direct, and surface modeling capabilities. Image courtesy of Autodesk

Keith Perrin, Autodesk’s senior industry manager, says those concerns (myths, he calls them) are fast abating and companies are coming around to the benefits associated with using CAD and other design tools in the cloud, including lower costs, ease of administration, and the ability for easy collaboration and scalability, particularly in the face of globally-extended design teams.

“We are seeing many more people be open to the idea of the cloud and exploring how they might use it in a more intelligent way then when we first started these efforts,” says Perrin, adding that Autodesk’s cloud-based PLM and simulation offerings have paved the way for this latest journey around CAD.

In that vein, Autodesk Fusion 360 leverages the standard Autodesk 360 cloud-based platform, including its collaboration capabilities. Borrowing liberally from Inventor Fusion, Autodesk’s technology that unites parametric and direct modeling workflows, Autodesk Fusion 360 also integrates key functionality from other Autodesk platforms, including AutoCAD, Maya, Alias, and the Tsplines surface modeling capabilities acquired last year, Perrin says.

“In some cases, we’re leveraging experience and learning, and in other cases, it’s the code itself,” he explains. “The UI (user interface) elements in Fusion are present in this new cloud-based tool, a lot of specific capabilities from Tsplines have been brought across, and there are parametric capabilities from Inventor. We’re bringing those elements together as a service on the cloud and we can expand from there pretty rapidly.”

One of the primary differences Perrin notes with Autodesk Fusion 360 is a radically different user experience, one that conforms to the role and level of user experience. Specifically, Autodesk Fusion 360 brings less skilled CAD users along with built-in guidance to speed the learning curve while there is deeper functionality for design experts. With the combination of the revamped user interface and cloud paradigm, Autodesk sees the tool appealing both to its traditional user base potentially looking for a complementary use case mode, in addition to smaller design shops that may have been shut out from the traditional CAD experience due to cost or lack of expertise.

In addition to mechanical CAD and industrial design features, Autodesk Fusion 360 sports a new user interface along with social and crowdsourcing functionality. Image courtesy of Autodesk

Autodesk Fusion 360 is slated to be commercially available early next year, and while Perrin says specifics on pricing and licensing terms have not been finalized, he expects it to follow a similar path as other Autodesk 360 offerings, including availability on a term basis in addition to tiered usage pricing.

“With Autodesk Fusion 360, we expect to address different markets in ways we haven’t been able to before,” he says, specifically citing smaller companies and professional users.

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