Fusion 360 Manage Extension Announced at Autodesk Accelerate
Michael Alba posted on September 09, 2019 |
Stephen Hooper (right), vice president and general manager of Fusion 360 at Autodesk, and Steve Miller (left), CIO of Steelcase, presenting the opening keynote at Autodesk Accelerate 2019.
Stephen Hooper (right), vice president and general manager of Fusion 360 at Autodesk, and Steve Miller (left), CIO of Steelcase, presenting the opening keynote at Autodesk Accelerate 2019.

Within the last year, software supplier Autodesk announced several changes to its cloud-based Fusion 360 CAD platform. First, the company consolidated the platform into a single offering. The entry-level tier, Fusion 360 Standard ($310/year), and the pro-level tier, Fusion 360 Ultimate ($1,535/year), were combined into one Fusion 360 for $495/year.

Next, Autodesk announced a shift in the Fusion 360 paradigm by introducing the concept of extensions. While users would maintain access to the base Fusion 360 platform, those in need of more specialized tools could obtain them by renting an extension for $125/month. The first extension was the Manufacturing Extension, which would grant users capabilities for manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing, drilling automation, surface inspections and more.

Stephen Hooper, general manager of Fusion 360 at Autodesk, revealed that in the few short months since the Manufacturing Extension’s release, users have been eagerly jumping on board. “It’s still early days for us,” he said. But now that Autodesk is finished with the hard part—porting over the functionality of its PowerMill machining software—the Manufacturing Extension can benefit from quick updates.

“The big piece of work was the kernel that’s used for the machining strategies in PowerMill—we had to move that across to Fusion,” Hooper explained. “We've done that now. So essentially the heavy lifting’s done. What we’re doing now is turning on functionality. That’s the fourth axis rotary, selective toolpath editing, and the other machining strategies that PowerMill offers. We can turn all of these on once we have the UX built out for it. So, we should be able to move at a pretty fast rate.”

In fact, the same can be said for extensions in general. The Manufacturing Extension was the biggest step, as the development team had to establish the entire framework for Fusion 360 extensions. Working out how to flip on and off sections of the software, building the capability to update only those sections, and developing the business model of extensions were all hurdles that Autodesk has now cleared.

“The important thing is we have the framework established for it now,” Hooper said. “It’s been a challenge to get that set up, but now it’s set up, it paves the way to other areas.”

Extending Extensions

We connected with Hooper in Grand Rapids, Mich., the setting for this year’s annual Autodesk Accelerate conference. The event took place at the city’s Steelcase Learning + Innovation Center. The facility was just as cool as you would expect from a company that specializes in innovative office furniture. Actually, scratch that—it was cooler. The walls were lined with artwork, including an original Warhol. A beautiful Chihuly sculpture greeted visitors just past the entrance. There were unique Steelcase workspaces throughout where employees can work alone or openly collaborate. Even the auditorium where Hooper gave his opening keynote was filled with assorted armchairs—there wasn’t an uncomfortable seat in the house.

Original artwork at the Steelcase Learning + Innovation Center. (Warhol left, Chihuly right.)
Original artwork at the Steelcase Learning + Innovation Center. (Warhol left, Chihuly right.)

It was during his opening keynote that Hooper revealed plans for a new Fusion 360 extension: Manage. Like the Manufacturing Extension, the Manage Extension will give users specialized tools to extend Fusion’s existing management capabilities.

“What it does is it takes that core Fusion data management environment and it extends it to introduce things like engineering release management and bill of materials control,” Hooper told the Accelerate crowd. “The same type of technology that Inventor customers have access to through Vault Professional. And, of course, we’re also connecting these technologies together through a concurrent cloud framework that we’re currently working on.”

Hooper explaining the planned connection between Fusion 360, the new Manage Extension, Vault, and Fusion Lifecycle.
Hooper explaining the planned connection between Fusion 360, the new Manage Extension, Vault, and Fusion Lifecycle.

Hooper went on to give the Accelerate attendees a brief preview of the new extension.

“We’re now starting within the Manage Extension to introduce things like item assignment, and that item assignment will connect directly with Fusion Lifecycle,” Hooper said. “It will be able to employ things like automated item numbering to conform to your company standards and your workflow process management. And that will be surfaced directly inside of Fusion."

“It will also employ things like item classification,” Hooper continued. “Item classification is a technology that we’re working on within Fusion Lifecycle today, but it will also be accessible directly within the design environment. So, as you assign an item number within a mechanical bill of materials, you’ll be able to classify that item and have that information follow through into Fusion Lifecycle. Ultimately, what you’ll end up with is an environment inside of Fusion 360 where you can fully define an assembly and have a representation of that bill of materials directly inside of Lifecycle that’s linked through to the design environment. And that means Fusion 360 can be used directly with Fusion Lifecycle.”

At this point, Hooper showed a short clip of a Fusion 360 user editing metadata properties while a user of Fusion Lifecycle simultaneously edited the same properties.

“It means that you don’t have to check in, check out, save, or worry about overwriting someone else’s data, in the same way that Google Docs allows multiple users to work on the same set of data at the same time,” Hooper said. “Non-engineering organizations will be able to access that information through Fusion Lifecycle and edit the same set of data that your design or production engineers are working on. And they’ll be able to do that concurrently.”

Hooper’s slides previewing the forthcoming Fusion 360 Manage Extension, including item assignment and integration with Fusion Lifecycle.
Hooper’s slides previewing the forthcoming Fusion 360 Manage Extension, including item assignment and integration with Fusion Lifecycle.

As for when the Manage Extension will be live, all Hooper could say was that it will be available next year. “We’re still very much in the process of building it out,” he admitted.

Coming Up Next

It’s fun to speculate about what extensions Fusion 360 might introduce after Manage is released. It’s fun, but we don’t have to, because Fusion 360’s general manager can do it for us.

“We haven’t formalized a release schedule for anything yet,” Hooper told us. “There are obvious candidates. There’s all sorts of opportunities. Anywhere where there’s a specialist discipline.” A few possibilities that came up in our conversation were extensions for computational fluid dynamics (CFD), nonlinear simulation, and plastics injection molding.

Hooper also took the opportunity to reiterate Autodesk’s vision of Fusion 360 extensions: extra tools for those who really need them, with a capable general platform underneath.

“A core principle is that a Fusion client that’s 500 dollars is supposed to give you access through the entire design and manufacturing process at a generalist level,” he said. “If you’re a very skilled, experienced production engineer or machinist, you’re going to need access to some capabilities that would overwhelm most other people.”

And why not just cram all those tools into a one-size-fits-all platform? “If we threw everything into one monolithic client and turned it all on at the same time, you’d end up with this huge kind of bloatware. You’d end up with this huge client that would take hours to download and install. And you’d have so many different toolbars and environments, you wouldn’t know what to do with them all. You’d only use a fraction of it,” Hooper explained.

“This way we can just make it available to people as and when they need it, and charge for it on demand on a consumption basis,” he added. Whether or not you agree with that philosophy, it seems that software on demand is where the road is headed, and Autodesk has its foot on the accelerator.



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