Autodesk and PLM: Waiting for the “Ketchup Bottle Effect”
Verdi Ogewell posted on October 18, 2018 |

Autodesk is seeing nothing but upward trends, largely because, step by step, they are earning dividends on their transition to the cloud and their new business model, where users buy annual subscriptions instead of one-time, perpetual licenses. With almost 4 million users of the Autodesk’s new subscription model, CAD revenues are increasing. But what about the PLM side? Autodesk’s cloud-based platform, Fusion Lifecycle (formerly PLM 360 Fusion), has been around for a number of years nowso what's up?

Clearly, Fusion Lifecycle is gaining devotees. Yet during Accelerate, the company's recent PLM event in Toronto, Canada, I came away with the impression that Autodesk customers are generally cautiouseven a bit skepticalof PLM. They are adopting PLM in a stepwise fashion, identifying one problem at a time, finding a solution and then proceeding to the next problem.

Generally, this approach is typical of PLM implementations among SMEs and is easy to understand. While PLM is a good concept overall, it also requires changes that are difficult to implement all at once. There’s always a risk that a quick and complete conversion will end up breaking processes that work. But there are positive signs that a “ketchup bottle effect” lurks around the corner.

AUTODESK CHIEF ANDREW ANAGNOST MAKES A CUT FOR PLM! Autodesk’s PLM platform, Fusion Lifecycle
AUTODESK CHIEF ANDREW ANAGNOST MAKES A CUT FOR PLM! Autodesk’s PLM platform, Fusion Lifecycle "just" squeaked into the top ten in terms of cPDm/PLM revenue in 2017, according to CIMdata. The company earned $64 million compared to top-placed SAP PLM ($838 million), with Dassault Systèmes in second ($546 million) and Siemens PLM in third ($506 million). In the picture above, Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost opened the company's new office at the MaRS Discovery Center in Toronto. The area where the office is located is considered one of the major global innovation hubs. In the picture, Anagnost holds the scissors, standing with John Tory, Mayor of Toronto, and MRSs representative Karen Greve Young.

Strengthening workflows and processes are key to effective product development and manufacturing, claimed Stephen Hooper, Autodesk's VP for Fusion 360. He noted that, “Technologies are advancing rapidly, becoming more and more able to handle complex product information, technology and manufacturing within the framework of well-organized workflows, and collaboration is of utmost importance for those who want to be competitive.”

There’s nothing controversial about his statement. As Hooper noted, PLM software connects "people, processes and data throughout the product life cycle to a central repository of information so that everyone—from concept designer to end customer—is on the same page," sharing the same updated data, structures and product definitions.

"A single source of truth, a single source of product data,” Hooper said, “is also a key to obtain consistent processes of good quality.”

As a general observation, this is spot on; however, an SMB breakthrough remains a long journey. The initial focus has been on traditional pieces: CAD data, document and BOM management. However, the trend is a broadening field of view, making it no coincidence that multiple Autodesk PLM case studies presented in Toronto honed in on process and workflow management.

Autodesk's product realization platform is called Fusion 360 suite, which includes generative design solutions (see the rear-wheel mounting bracket). The company has lowered the price to $495 a year for the entire package.
Autodesk's product realization platform is called Fusion 360 suite, which includes generative design solutions (see the rear-wheel mounting bracket). The company has lowered the price to $495 a year for the entire package.

Still Tough to Get Smaller Companies to Invest in PLM

It can be a major challenge to get SMB’s onto PLM platforms, and Autodesk is not alone in facing this problem. Similar issues appear in the SOLIDWORKS community, where PLM skepticism and resistance to using parent company Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform remains. Instead, smaller firms often stick to Excel spreadsheets and similar methods to keep track of their product development data. 

More advanced platforms—like Fusion 360—are not all subject to the same level of resistance. Fusion 360 is a cloud-based 3D CAx (CAD/CAM/CAE) platform for product development with tools ranging from mechanical engineering and generative design to simulation, collaboration and process support. The goal is to offer a series of tools, assembled in one place with deep integration where everything is seamlessly connected.

The new pricing and the exciting capabilities of Fusion 360 were discussed during Stephen Hooper’s keynote in Toronto.
The new pricing and the exciting capabilities of Fusion 360 were discussed during Stephen Hooper’s keynote in Toronto. "Everything we do now opens generative design for a much broader audience," he said. Hooper also emphasized the value of the Fusion 360 platform. "Our technology connects people, processes and product data."

Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle also has these characteristics. It's about PLM in the Cloud, and a solution that simplifies the handling of processes and projects—especially when collaborating in project teams. Correct information should be delivered to the right person at the right time.

What Does Autodesk's cPDm/PLM Solution Look Like?

The Fusion Lifecycle platform contains a number of capabilities:

  • Bill of Materials (BOM) is, of course, a basic one. You can create, manage, visualize and share real-time BOM information.
  • Change Management. Creating reliable processes, understanding and approving Engineering Change Requests (ECRs) and Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) is key.
  • New Product Introduction (NPI) - Fusion Lifecycle's tool for introducing new products helps keep times and budgets under control.
  • Supplier Collaboration - Collaboration with the supply chain, offering access to all the information needed to quote, acquire and manage suppliers.
  • Quality Management - What it says on the tin, and all of the processes that support making that come true.
  • Product Data Management - Last, but not least, PDM or cPDm,. These solutions ensure that the Product Development Team and Development Partners collaborate on the same data, and also includes solutions for organizing, managing, sharing and tracking product data.
The PLM concept has existed for quite a while, but it takes time before these solutions trickle down to the smaller companies. Autodesk's Stephen Hooper claimed during the Toronto event that
The PLM concept has existed for quite a while, but it takes time before these solutions trickle down to the smaller companies. Autodesk's Stephen Hooper claimed during the Toronto event that "it's happening now." SME companies are cautious in general and are happy to introduce it step by step in order to not disturb existing processes. That’s why work and process flows have proven to be a useful way in for many users. Pictured above is an example of the interface.

Autodesk Sits In cPDm’s Top Ten League

Solving one problem at a time makes the implementation of PLM a potentially slow affair, and the momentum in sales of solutions is affected, becoming a similar protracted story.

It is no coincidence that in 2017, Autodesk "just" squeaked into the top ten in terms of direct cPDm/PLM revenue, according to CIMdata. The company earned $64 million in direct PLM software revenues. The list was topped by SAP PLM ($838 million), with Dassault Systèmes in second ($546 million) and Siemens PLM in third ($506 million).

Despite this, on the whole Autodesk is advancing fairly quickly in the context of PLM development. Take recent years’ PLM mindshare runner up, Aras, as an example of the time it takes to create PLM revenues. Despite a considerable number of years on the track—they swapped to their present business model 2007—they ended up on the 2017 list with only a few million more in revenue than Autodesk’s Fusion Lifecycle. “But things are starting to move faster,” asserted Hooper.

It may be that PLM in SMB environments is an example of “the ketchup bottle effect”:  nothing happens when you hit the bottom of a ketchup bottle again and again, then suddenly everything comes out of the bottle at the same time.

Autodesk has Created an Affordable Solution

The conclusion is that it takes time before the solutions trickle down to the smaller companies, even though the PLM concept has existed for a long time. Keep in mind that it has taken more than a decade for the larger, resource-rich companies to launch smooth, well-functioning PLM solutions.

Previously, it was not just a matter of complex systems and implementations, but also about money. PLM was—and still is—expensive; but not Autodesk's Fusion Lifecycle setup. And, as noted above, more and more companies are getting on the train, albeit at a leisurely pace and in fractions, one thing at a time.

The "break-out sessions" at the Toronto Accelerate event contained several proofs of this “thesis.”

AN INTERESTING PLM CASE. Chloe Watmore (middle) from Thermotex, operates a small company that manufactures thermal insulation and custom protective covers. In their presentation, Thermotex pointed to Autodesk's PLM solution as an important factor behind an expansion where their staff of five people grew to 25.
AN INTERESTING PLM CASE. Chloe Watmore (middle) from Thermotex, operates a small company that manufactures thermal insulation and custom protective covers. In their presentation, Thermotex pointed to Autodesk's PLM solution as an important factor behind an expansion where their staff of five people grew to 25.

Thermotex and Digitized Processes

Take Chloe Watmore from Thermotex, as an example. She runs a small company that manufactures thermal insulation and custom protective covers. The company’s presentation pointed out Autodesk's PLM solution as an important factor in an expansion where their staff of five people grew to 25, and where international customers dominate. Previously, Thermotex based its operations on paper documents, but invested in Fusion Lifecycle to digitize their processes.

"Today we work with QR codes to keep track of raw materials and ongoing work. Our employees now also use tablets, not paper, to receive goods and print orders. By getting digitized and well-organized processes, with data and feeds that everyone has access to, operations have been significantly improved in terms of these two areas,” says Watmore.

Step-by-Step Changes Made the PLM Introduction Less Painful

As noted above, the process was completed one step at a time. Watmore also said that Thermotex was ready to take another step forward, and that she wants to roll out PLM-based workflows that include more processes, which she expects will help boost revenue.

What were the main lessons learned about the implementation?

"It's easy to lose perspective," Watmore says. There is the, "we-have-always-done-it-this-way-phenomenon, but you need fresh eyes looking at the processes and that was one of the most important elements when we entered PLM.”

There’s also the case that any change in deeply rooted habits is likely to create uncertainty and concern with some employees.

"This is where the idea of incremental minor changes becomes so important," explains Watmore. “Starting to use tablets can be seen as a smaller "innovation," and therefore appears less threatening, and is easier to get going while at the same time giving great results. The increased traceability leads to a stronger sense of ‘process ownership’ and control. You see tangible rapid progress, and the work becomes easier and creates a better commitment. In the end, it is my experience that this also leads to the employees starting to propose changes, which can be done quickly with the help of PLM technology.”

The PLM “tentacles,” which extend into more and more corners of the business, inspire new ideas, and now Thermotex’s Watmore seeks to streamline order management and extend the concept to all purchases.

Aclara Replaced a Traditional System with Fusion Lifecycle

Several cases were presented during the Accelerate event, but it’s clear that this angle of managing and standardizing processes is something that has become many companies' entry into the PLM arena, with very good results.

Doug Frey, senior manager of quality assurance at Aclara, which develops and sells gas measurement systems and products, told about his company's trip into the world of PLM. He gave an example of the medium-sized company's willingness to get something simpler than what the larger PLM companies offered.

"We previously had a system from one of the three major PLM companies," he said. “But we thought it was incredibly difficult to maintain and upgrade. We have between 200 and 250 employees in the system, and focusing on a cloud solution felt like the right move to radically simplify these pieces,” Frey explained.

Initially, he was a little concerned about the complexity of transferring all product data from the previous system to Fusion Lifecycle. However, “It turned out very well, despite the fact that we had data from many different systems that had to be migrated. For instance, in-house we had Creo, SOLIDWORKS and Cadence on the CAD side. In the ERP area, it was Oracle, JD Edwards and Salesforce. This diversity, among other things, appeared as a result of our corporate acquisitions; for example, GE's Meter division, which had its data in Dassault Systèmes ENOVIA.”

But the transition went well and with Jitterbit/PLM Connect as a hub, the Fusion Lifecycle processes are working as expected.

Doug Frey also pointed to the value of introducing standardized process flows into the company.

INFINITE SIMULATION can turn out to be more expensive than expected.
INFINITE SIMULATION can turn out to be more expensive than expected.

The Cost of Simulations in the Cloud

Finally, Accelerate 2018 offered interesting discussions around the cost of running simulation in the cloud. Behind this is Autodesk's commitment to generative design, where simulation sessions play a crucial role. The ability for users to specify constraints, load concept cases and enjoy a tool that generates and returns alternatives that meet the design criteria feels a little bit like magic.

But even though Autodesk offered a radical price reduction for the Fusion 360 platform ($495 a year for the entire package), there are still a few questions about what it costs to simulate in the cloud.

As it turns out, the idea of "infinite simulation" and unlimited possibilities of iteration can be expensive. This isn’t necessarily because Autodesk's Fusion 360 packages themselves are expensive, but because cloud technology platforms like Azure and Amazon can produce some really juicy bills.

It reminds me of the business model that applies when buying a photocopier. The machine itself is sold at a surprisingly low price; the big expenses become evident later, when you purchase the ink cartridges.

To be able to utilize the full power of “infinite computing,” in terms of cloud-based simulation, it seems to come with an infinite bill. Martin Day, publishing and show director of Develop3D LIVE, nailed it in a LinkedIn post:

“For large and small developers using Amazon or Azure, there has been a certain amount of excitement about the capabilities it brings. The problem is the business model. At the moment, it seems to be that customers subscribe to a service, but when theyperform iterative analysis, renders or simulations, along comes another significant cost being passed back from Amazon or Microsoft. So, customers have to subscribe to gain access to the solution, then pay as they use it,” said Day.

“Too often I hear of engineers who 'just need to get their credit cards out' if they want to do a gnarly iterative analysis. In the past you paid for some software, it ran on your desktop and you ran the analysis locally. The cloud means you may get this back sooner, but you will pay cloud 'credits' for that,” Day added.

Autodesk’s senior director of design and products, Derrek Cooper, admitted that Day had some valid points; however, he noted that the promise of infinite computing is still around.

“Yes, but it comes at a cost. The main difference is that we now have the ability to surge when needed. So, while you may pay the cloud credits, you now have a choice of how many, how often and how quickly you want the results. Years ago, you had to pay for hardware in advance and predict usage on hardware that would often sit idle. It’s still early days, but I think we’ve only scratched the surface on data access and collaboration.”

Obviously, you can’t expect that services in the brave new world of product development will come for free or at low cost. Not initially, at least, but as business models mature, competition intensifies and services are more commonly used, prices tend to decrease. Cloud simulation is probably not an exception. Let’s just hope it happens sooner, rather than later.


Recommended For You