Forge DevCon 2018: Unraveling the Mystery of Autodesk’s Development Platform
Jeffrey Rowe posted on November 26, 2018 |

I just returned from Autodesk University 2018, the 26th edition,where I rubbed elbows with more than 11,000 Autodesk customers, employees and pundits. I arrived a day early before the official AU festivities began to try and get a better understanding of Autodesk’s Forge platform at Forge DevCon,which was expected to have more than 1,000 developers, customers and others in attendance.

What Is Forge?

Forge is an application program interface (API) platform, as well as supporting materials—SDKs, sample code, documentation, etc.—and a community of developers and customers that use those APIs. Although Forge is intended for Autodesk customers and third-party developers to be able to use its web services, the company uses Forge for its own internal development of cloud-based services. Developers can leverage Forge in the same ways that Autodesk does.

It appears that there are more development engineers working on Autodesk cloud APIs than on traditional desktop APIs—several hundred versus around a hundred. Autodesk realized it needed to double down on the cloud and invest heavily in it. If it missed the boat on the cloud, the company could be in a world of hurt for a long time.

The Forge Platform is defined by the following seven groups of APIs, which Autodesk is well on its way to fulfilling:

The seven groups of APIs that define Forge. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
The seven groups of APIs that define Forge. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Authentication – Authentication for Forge is based on the industry standard, OAuth, an authentication protocol that allows you to approve one application interacting with another without giving away your password.

Design Automation API – Provides the ability to run scripts on your design files, taking advantage of the scale of the Forge Platform to automate repetitive tasks. Ordinarily, you would have to download all the files, run a script on them in desktop AutoCAD and then potentially upload them all back to the cloud. With the Design Automation API, you can offload all that processing to the Forge Platform, which can process those scripts at a much greater scale and efficiency.

Reality Capture API – Lets you use Autodesk’s desktop and cloud solution developed specifically for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and drone processes, ReCap Photo. You can add geo-based metadata by setting Ground Control Points (GCPs), selecting specific geographic coordinate systems and tagging images with GPS information. The integration of this geo data results in accurate textured meshes, point clouds and orthophotos.

Data Management API – Gives you a unified and consistent way to access your data across BIM360Team, FusionTeam, BIM360Docs, A360Personal and its own ObjectStorageService. The Object Storage Service allows your application to download and upload raw files, such as PDF, XLS, DWG or RVT. Coupling this API with the Model Derivative API, you can perform a number of workflows, including accessing a Fusion model in Fusion Team and getting an ordered structure of items, IDs and properties for generating a bill of materials in a third-party process. Or, you can superimpose a Fusion model and a building model to use in the Viewer.

Model Derivative API – Lets you represent and share your designs in different formats, as well as extract metadata into various object hierarchies.Sixty different file input formats are supported. With this API, you can translate your design into different formats, such as STL and OBJ, but you can also have it translate your designs into SVF for extracting data and rendering files in the Viewer.

Viewer – This is a WebGL-based, JavaScript library for 3D and 2D model rendering. The Viewer communicates natively with the Model Derivative API to fetch model data, complying with its authorization and security requirements. The Viewer requires a WebGL-canvas compatible browser that includes Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer.

Webhooks API – A webhook sends data to endpoints (URLs) when a certain event occurs. It is triggered by events occurring in web applications. It then sends real-time data to applications listening to it. Since the data is sent immediately, using a webhook is more efficient that frequently polling for updates.

Essentially, to forge is to make or shape a metal object by heating it in a fire or furnace or beating and hammering it. In the context of Autodesk’s Forge, data is the metal and APIs are the heat.

The Forge development advantages for Autodesk partners are potentially huge because they can build off of Forge just like Autodesk does internally and as the company did with AutoCAD and Autodesk Developers Network (ADN) years ago. Forge lets Autodesk build out its development ecosystem dramatically using the Forge approach. However, Forge has not replaced ADN. Rather, it supplements it. ADN developers can also be Forge developers.

As for a  generic/typical workflow process for developing a Forge app, it’s really more about steps or pieces than a true workflow. At this point, there is no “typical” process because the markets Autodesk serves are so different, but there are several common components. The company has what it calls “accelerators” where software development customers can come for one-on-one training/enablement and leave with a working app, whether a proof of concept or more advanced stage going into production.

Who Is Leading Forge?

Forge is headed up by Sam Ramji, vice president, Cloud Platform. When I spoke to him, he had been on the job at Autodesk for a whopping 125 days.

Ramji joined Autodesk to lead its cloud platform efforts. He came to Autodesk with a lot of great experience as the vice president of product management for Google Cloud Platform, founding the Cloud Foundry and heading open source and platform strategy for Microsoft.

When asked about the essence of Forge, Ramji said, “Forge is simply software that connects to other software. In other words, plumbing. What’s great about plumbing is that if it’s working, you don’t hear from anybody. If it’s not working, then that’s something else.”

He passionately stressed that his main goal at Autodesk would be ensuring that data flowed smoothly through the platform via the APIs.

Sam Ramji, vice president Cloud Platform at Autodesk,discusses the Forge Platform at Autodesk University 2018. (Imagecourtesy of Autodesk.)
Sam Ramji, vice president Cloud Platform at Autodesk,discusses the Forge Platform at Autodesk University 2018. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Autodesk itself uses Forge as its development platform and now has more than 1,000 customer companies that develop on it. There are approximately 1,000 people involved in the cloud platform at a company with just over 10,000 employees. Ramji, with his deep cloud experience, and new charges are a big part of Autodesk’s cloud investment.Historically, platforms have served third parties. Going forward, he said the platform will serve customers and products.

Autodesk is committed to building a platform that serves the design community.

“Developers create things where bits move bits, whereas typical Autodesk customers create things where bits move atoms,” Ramji said.

The biggest Forge market segments now are enabling software development in construction and design/manufacturing, especially advanced manufacturing where design is connected to manufacturing, something Ramji called “industrialized construction.”

“The best business model for the 20th century was a product company that controlled everything” he said.” At the end of the 20th century, the platform business model came out that was all about developers (Microsoft). AutoCAD was Autodesk’s first development platform where functions and capabilities could be added via partners.

“In early 21st century, the platforms became connected as APIs were introduced to make data flow across the Internet. The new connected platforms had the potential to precisely serve a huge community through availability durability, scalability and reliability to provide the data needed to build a product.

“Forge is about making data available when you want, the way you want, under the right data privacy and policy that you require. Autodesk’s charter is to be a good data custodian that turns that data into information, that turns that information into knowledge, and turns that knowledge into wisdom.”

Although Forge has been around a few years, Autodesk realizes it still has a long way to go to realize the true potential of the Forge platform, which will take engineering and working as a community to ensure fulfillment of the promise.

Forge can help eliminate data silos through connections with a unified data platform and go beyond task-based roles to true process automation.

Autodesk hopes Forge forms the foundation for manufacturing and construction because Ramji considers Forge as everybody’s platform. The intent is to have it act as the anchor of a vast global community that can contribute to make it better.

What’s New in Forge Platform Development?

“We have a new public beta—Design Automation API for Inventor,” said Brian Roepke, Autodesk senior director, platform management and experience. “This was highly anticipated by our community because they can now write scripts and add-ins that automate tasks for AutoCAD and Inventor in the cloud. Design Automation for Revit is being previewed this week with public beta coming by the end of January 2019. In addition, this week we are releasing BIM 360 API enhancements including API support for Issues, RFIs and Checklists.”

He said on the on the Forge Developer portal there is a public beta for design automation API for Inventor. With it, you can essentially run any Inventor API commands as a service performing tasks such as creating, editing, publishing models, modifying and simplifying geometry, or putting them in workflows, such as iLogic and configurators.

Forge Fund Continues Investment in Cloud Platform

As part of the bigger Forge program, the Autodesk Forge Fund was established to invest up to $100 million in companies developing innovative solutions or services on or connected to the Forge Platform. Some of the major investments include:

  • Assemble Systems— With funding led by the Autodesk Forge Fund, the company is establishing itself as a leading innovator in the BIM and construction data management space.As a matter of fact, things went so well with the investment that in July, Assembly systems officially joined Autodesk.
  • eSUB– eSUB is a mobile application and cloud-based project management solution that helps commercial subcontractors across various trades manage day-to-day operations. eSUB offers tools to connect field workers with office managers and assists them with initiating and managing project documentations. It eliminates manual processes of tracking projects and automates labor tracking and communication.
  • Project Frog— Develops a cloud-based platform to standardize and simplify data flow between the architecture studio, factory and jobsite. The funding from Autodesk will accelerate the efforts of both companies to create a connected ecosystem linking architectural design to industrial fabrication.
  • ManufactOn—ManufactOn is a mobile/web platform that helps construction firms plan, track, and manage both prefabrication and regular material handling. Autodesk’s Forge Fund investment in ManufactOn advances industrialized construction by providing construction firms the tools needed to manage the fabrication supply chain.
  • Rhumbix — This is a mobile platform designed for smarter construction sites. It closed an $8 million round of funding led by Autodesk that combines field data and labor productivity platform with Autodesk BIM 360 laying the foundation for unprecedented levels of insight into project performance and cost controls.
  • Smartvid.io— Smartvid.io focuses on using artificial intelligence in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry and the built environment as a whole. All construction projects have a large number of photos and videos taken every step of the way. Smartvid.io has developed a “smart photo and video management platform” that uses synthetic vision and deep learning for communicating vital aspects of projects.

The Future

What’s next for Forge? It’s all about the data!All week, Autodesk stressed that we have to stop just thinking about the apps and start thinking more about the data.Data is at the center, the central source of truth, but the need for standard, clean, consistent, normalized data is essential.

Like much of the rest of Autodesk these days, much (a majority?) attention regarding Forge is being paid to the AEC market with an emphasis on building information management (BIM). That in itself is not a bad thing, but it does point to the general direction of the company. Even the Forge fund leans to the AEC side.

For Autodesk, Forge is a big part of its future for manufacturing. Ramji sees it as much more than a cloud platform. He sees it as a technology platform that will increasingly be the major business model for Autodesk.

“Because it is a unified data platform where all data resides in one place, Forge ensures absolute data integrity,” he said. “Even much more than just a technology platform, Forge is everybody’s platform.”

Forge is growing far beyond just accessing APIs. I expect to see a lot of announcements throughout the coming year, including capabilities for generative design.

Autodesk has always been an automation company. Today, more than ever, that means helping people make more things and better things, with less—more and better in terms of increasing efficiency, performance, quality and innovation; and less in terms of time, resources, and negative social and environmental impacts. I would consider Autodesk Forge as the integral part of its automation plans going forward.

Click here for more information about Autodesk Forge.


Recommended For You