AutoCAD 360 and Fusion360 now run natively in GrabCAD’s Workbench environment.  You can get a free trial of Fusion 360 and a free trial of GrabCAD Workbench  to test this out for yourself.  

A few years from now we may look back on this time and call it the inflection point for cloud-based PLM; the point when the rate of change in the development of useful tools markedly increased.

By way of background, AutoCAD 360 and Fusion 360 are Autodesk’s cloud-based CAD tools.  Fusion 360 has only a thin client on the user’s PC (~114MB) - all model creation and versioning is in the cloud. You can learn more about it in Scott Wertel’s announcement from Tuesday, Chad Jackson’s post and in my Fusion 360 pricing update. 

GrabCAD is an online community of 700,000 design engineers.  They recently introduced a 100% web-based collaboration environment called GrabCAD workbench.  Workbench supports file sharing, viewing and annotation.  When the Workbench beta was launched in April, I wrote that it was going to have a hard time getting adoption because of the time required to upload and download large files to the cloud.

Seems like that problem is now history.  Let me explain.

What can AutoCAD 360 and Fusion 360 do within Workbench?

I saw a demo of AutoCAD360 (2D) and Fusion360 (3D) running natively in GrabCAD’s Workbench.  What Kevin Schneider, Sr. Manager for Fusion 360 demonstrated was:

·         Locating and opening a 2D DWG file in Workbench (not news)

·         Viewing and annotating the model in Workbench (cool, but still not news)

·         Opening the DWG using Autodesk360 within the GrabCAD Workbench and editing the model geometry seamlessly and natively.  Note that there was no downloading nor uploading. (That’s news!)

·         Opening a Fusion 360 model within Workbench, editing the geometry and saving it, all without leaving the GrabCAD workbench. (More news!)

I didn’t see opening and modifying a neutral file in Fusion 360, but that functionality is part of the package that is announced today.  


Why this partnership?

I had a follow-up chat with Hardi Meybaum, CEO of GrabCAD and Richard Blatcher, Industry Manager at Autodesk. 

Hardi pointed out that the vision of Workbench from the outset was to help design teams share data.  The new Workbench beta users have made it clear to GrabCAD execs that they don’t want to leave the Workbench environment to push files back and forth with desktop-based tools. 

Hardi explained how this integration benefits users, “Autodesk is delivering authoring tools in the cloud.  Our users want to work inside GrabCAD, so it made sense for us to bring these tools into Workbench.” 

He went on to say that this is not simply publishing files to Workbench using GrabCAD’s API, which is something we’ve reported on previously, most recently with Luxion’s Keyshot.  Instead, this announcement is a much tighter integration that requires Fusion360 to actually work within GrabCAD. 

Richard Blatcher added to Hardi’s point, “Many trends had to converge to make this happen.  Autodesk is delivering the first cloud-based mechanical and industrial design tools.  At the same time, designers and engineers are demanding the ability to collaborate in an open and heterogeneous environment.  With this announcement we’ve removed significant barriers to accessibility and usability.”

For those of you who know GrabCAD only as a place for engineers to compete in design contests, this puts the company in a new light.  Now GrabCAD Workbench users can work on real-world projects and actually edit models collaboratively.  

While many of the cloud-based software demos that we’ve seen recently are of the beta or soon-to-be-released variety, Richard insisted that this is the real thing saying, “This is not a product vision; this is available now.”

The version of Fusion 360 from Autodesk (ie, not this package) supports opening and editing many file types, including Solidworks, Solid Edge, PTC Creo and CATIA.  The GrabCAD Workbench version of Fusion 360 only supports neutral file formats for now, but Richard pointed out that we should expect these additional file types to be supported soon.

How much will the Fusion 360 / Workbench solution cost?

GrabCAD Workbench is available free for small teams that don’t require extended functionality, such as extra file security.   For users with more than 5 projects or who need additional features, the fees start at $25 per user per month.   

To add the functionality of Fusion 360 or Autodesk 360 there will be a to-be-announced subscription fee that will be collected by GrabCAD.  For now you can test drive AutoCAD 360 or Fusion 360 within GrabCAD’s Workbench for free with a 90 day trial. 
CAD in the Cloud makes a world of sense.  I believe that someday it will be the way everyone works because it allows collaborative design across geographies and companies (and devices) in ways that desktop tools cannot.  The biggest issues stopping adoption have been i) data security, ii) upload and download speeds, and iii) getting all designers on an interoperable platform. 

This announcement goes a long way towards addressing the upload/download issue and lays out a vision for interoperability.  And while the security model may not be good enough for defense contractors, it’s likely better than most small design teams have now. 

My take is that this announcement marks the start of true cloud-based design for a wide range of users.  


 

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