Autodesk Factory Design Suite

Autodesk 2013 Product Line: Naturally Cloud-Centric

Two weeks ago, under an overcast March morning sky, a group of tech reporters began arriving at the Autodesk Gallery, a customer briefing center and a showroom overlooking the Ferry Building. The two-day event was Autodesk’s annual media summit to give members of the trade press a glimpse of the upcoming products in 2013. Outside, gray clouds above the Bay Bridge were a constant menace to commuters struggling to stay dry. In the conference room, however, Cloud (with a capital C) carried the promise of sunnier days in design and engineering. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Autodesk Tempts Users with Suite Deals for 2012

Perhaps you’re primarily an AutoCAD user, wondering if you should tinker with Autodesk SketchBook Designer to add some flair to your DWGs. Perhaps you’re a mechanical designer using Autodesk Inventor, thinking about wowing your clients with some renderings and animations created in Autodesk 3ds Max. If so, you may like Autodesk’s latest sales approach for its 2012 portfolio.

This March, Autodesk introduced a series of suites — bundles of software selected with specific workflows in mind. To list each bundle with its breakdown, along with different editions available, will stretch this blog post beyond what’s acceptable. So you can go check out each bundle at Autodesk’s designated mini-site.

Most of these suites come in three editions: Standard, Premium, and Ultimate, priced progressively higher for the added products you get.

Premium and Ultimate Max
Autodesk’s latest bundle pricing appears to offer more bangs for your bucks (or more code for your cash). The Premium Edition Design Suite, for example, includes AutoCAD ($3,995), Autodesk SketchBook Designer ($495), Autodesk Showcase ($995), Autodesk Mudbox ($745), and Autodesk 3ds Max Design ($3,495). Bought separately, these products would cost more than $9,700. Bundle pricing is $4,995.

Similarly, the Premium Edition Product Design Suite includes Autodesk Inventor ($5,295), Autodesk 3ds Max Design ($3,495), AutoCAD Mechanical ($4,495), Autodesk Showcase ($995), Autodesk SketchBook Designer ($495), Autodesk Vault (price unknown), and Autodesk Mudbox ($745) — a lineup that, if bought separately, would cost you more than $15,000. Bundle pricing is $6,495.

Digging deeper, you’ll probably notice a few common characteristics. At Premium and Ultimate levels, Autodesk 3ds Max is included as the de facto visualization software. Though not apparent in the published breakdown of the suites, you’ll find that Autodesk Inventor Fusion’s editing methods have gradually found their ways into the bundles’ geometry-editing tools.

Reclaiming Lost Grounds with SketchBook Designer
The role of SketchBook Designer seems to be to counter the encroachment of vector-raster drawing-editing programs. Not satisfied with line drawings produced in AutoCAD, some users resort to Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, ACDSee’s Canvas, Corell Draw and others packages to give their lines and arcs artistic treatment. With tools to create and edit stylized Splines and apply gradients and colors, SketchBook Designer may reclaim grounds lost to these graphics packages. Furthermore, concept drawings created in SketchBook Designer’s Splines will be easier to manage in other Autodesk packages like Autodesk Alias, laying the groundwork for complex surfaces.

Factory-Ville on Cloud Nine
Many of these suites contain workflow-specific features not available to those who purchase the listed titles separately. The Factory Design Suite, for instances, offers standard factory components (such as conveyor belts and containers) you can drag and drop into your 2D layouts. The items are preconfigured to snap to existing factory elements, so designing a production facility could be as simple as arranging digital LEGO blocks on a floor plan.

A set amount of these factory components get installed to your Autodesk content library, but the rest lives in the cloud, a remote server accessible online. They’re downloaded to your local drive as you begin selecting them for use in your plan. This eliminates the need to deliver a bloated content library with the installation files. It also lets Autodesk periodically review, refresh, and add to the downloadable library. In the future, Autodesk may facilitate the exchange of user-created content through a community portal.

Eco Material Advisor
One area where SolidWorks has a head start over Autodesk Inventor is in sustainable design development. The introduction of SolidWorks Sustainability Xpress, first as a plug-in to SolidWorks and later as an integral part of the software, marked SolidWork’s dive into CAD-integrated sustainable design. The simple, straightforward tab gives users the ability to explore a design’s environmental impact (measured in carbon emission, energy use, air pollution, and water pollution) based on choice of material, production method, and supply source destination.

Now, Autodesk is releasing its own sustainability tool, dubbed Eco Material Advisor. The tool is the outcome of Autodesk’s partnership with Granta, which specializes in material data. In its debut version, Eco Material Advisor will first appear in Autodesk’s 2012 portfolio. It’s expected to let you estimate energy use, CO2 footprint, water use, and materials cost based on your 3D design.

Like SolidWorks’ Sustainability tool, Eco Material Advisor will let you compare the environmental impact of different design alternatives (for example, one version in steel, another in PVC, another in cast iron), by using one as the baseline. This approach lets you experiment with different supply chain, manufacturing, and design variables, then pick the greenest option.

Krypton Meter
What used to be a technology preview, Autodesk Krypton, will soon appear in 2012 products as a series of meters, always ticking in the background to keep track of the energy use and cost of your design as you make changes. The feature is expected to become available not just for Autodesk software users but also for SolidWorks and Pro/ENGINEER users.

Unresolved Pricing Questions
According to Hilde Sevens, a director of product management at Autodesk, “Subscription price is not going up, so please put that out of your mind.”

Autodesk press office clarified, “The customers who currently are on a subscription (say, for AutoCAD Inventor Professional) who would be receiving the Product Design Suite instead — for these customers, there is no change in their subscription pricing despite now being on subscription for many more products. The subscription prices for the suites themselves, however, are higher than current subscription prices for standalone products (which is designed to reflect the greater value of subscription across all the products in the suite).”

At present, it’s unclear if subscription customers who receive an automatic upgrade to a suite will subsequently be required to pay a higher subscription fee (to reflect the greater number of software titles they can now access). It’s also unclear if certain titles will remain available for subscription individually, apart from the suite offerings where they appear.

In my view, it’s critical that Autodesk continues to give buyers the option to purchase its most popular titles — AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, and 3ds Max, to name but a few — individually. Suite deals sound sweet for those who need additional software, but if those who don’t need it are pressured to gobble it up, the offer could quickly turn sour.

The Sum of All Bundles
For the deep discount you get alone, Autodesk’s suite pricing may indeed strike some as tantalizing. Some bundled titles like SketchBook Designer are consumer-friendly and easy to learn, so you can easily become productive with them in no time. Other titles like Autodesk 3ds Max and Navisworks may require you to invest a fair amount of time and training in them before you can become proficient. Choosing the right bundle, or analyzing your own workflow to decide if it warrants additional titles, may be the best way to safeguard yourself from inadvertently purchasing shelf-ware.

It is worth noting that Autodesk’s 2012 suites are much more than a collection of titles with heavy discount. In addition to what you would normally get from the listed titles, you get workflow-specific interoperability among bundled titles and additional features (a good example is the version of AutoCAD and Inventor included in the Factory Design Suite). So if you’re thinking of investing in a few more complementary tittles to your collection by opting for a bundle, you’ll find that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Note: This blog post is updated on April 7 to reflect the pricing information received from Autodesk.

FactoryVille from Autodesk

FarmVille, FishVille, PetVille, FrontierVille, YoVille — there are just a handful of the environment simulation and resource management games available on Facebook, all developed by Zynga. (I know about them because my sister is addicted to FarmVille.)

If it were a Flash game of the same genre, Autodesk’s Factory Design Suite might as well be dubbed FactoryVille. But unlike the games mentioned previously, the software bundled in the suite (primarily AutoCAD, Inventor, ad Navisworks) lets you simulate how your factory will look and run using as-build data and schematics.

Someone who had a chance to put the suite to good use is Joel Neidig, a systems engineer at ITAMCO. The company specializes in supplying components to the energy market. A few days ago, the gear grinder that the company ordered arrived from Germany. It took the supplier 18 months to build, assemble, and ship it. Measuring 40 x 40 ft., the giant chunk of metal was expected to vibrate like Doomsday. To keep it in its place, ITAMCO needed to install it on a special foundation.

The gear grinder was to be surrounded by a series of 40-ton cranes, which also needed their own foundation. “As we were engineering [the setup], we realized the cranes’ foundation might interfere with the machine’s foundation,” recalled Neidig. So Neidig used the Factory Design Suite to digitally create and test the layout — before sending a digging crew to the site.

“We were able to design multiple layout options to decide on,” noted Neidig. “We actually did animations of them.”

ITAMCO factory data is archived in a combination of 2D and 3D AutoCAD files. “Some suppliers will send us a 3D model of the machine, so we can just import it,” noted Neidig, “but this one didn’t, so we redrew the machine ourselves.”

Shibai Bagchi, an Autodesk product manager, noted, “In the past 6-8 months, with the economy reviving, a lot of customers have increased manufacturing orders. So that creates a need for them to retool and redesign their factory layouts. These customers are looking for solutions to tell their layout stories in a visual way.”

The logic behind the bundle is: Factory planners and facilities managers are already using AutoCAD to draw and update schematics and floor plans; most heavy mechanical objects are designed in Inventor; so data from both sources can be imported into Navisworks to produce realistic, accurate factory models in 3D, ready for simulation, clash detection, and point-cloud data overlay. Furthermore, Navisworks lets you place red lines annotations in the 3D factory setup for engineering reviews.

The suite ships with 75 families of factory content, according to Bagchi. This lets you drag and drop stairs, conveyor belts, mezzanines, safety fences, and other elements onto your 2D drawings. “You don’t need to be a 3D modeler to understand how to use this, like how to align faces and to put machines on the floor.”

“We see many customers having difficulty designing complex layouts in 2D,” noted Bagchi. “You have lots of elevation changes, conveyors at different heights, and overhead equipments like pipes and tubes. So during the installation phase, they run into unforeseen issues.”

Along with the Factory Design Suite, Autodesk is also releasing a Plant Design Suite. These suites are created with existing Autodesk products and complementary utilities. No new software packages are included in them.

For more, watch the video report below: