Autodesk University: Viva Las Vegas

Posted on 4 Dec 2013 by The Manufacturer

James Pozzi blogs on day one of the Autodesk University event in Las Vegas, which saw the software giant announce its latest product.

Autodesk brought its premier event back to Las Vegas for this year, held in the confines of the lavish Venetian hotel located amongst the temptations of the infamous strip. Given the event is expected to welcome over 9,000 delegates throughout its four-day duration, the Venetian – built on the sight formerly occupied by the legendary Sands Hotel – was a fittingly large monolith of a location.

Monday saw two pre-Autodesk University events. There was the CAVE conference, servicing the digital creative industries (think special effects in Hollywood blockbusters) which saw talks from industry professionals, to appearances from the likes of author Neil Gaiman and Monty Python’s John Cleese. Running alongside this was the I3D summit, bringing together a selection of entrepreneurs, speakers and delegates to discuss the concept of innovation and how it has impacted them.

Much like one of the boxing undercard’s that take place during the big fights on the strip, the emphasis was on the main event. When the event kicked off, Autodesk came out of the starting blocks fast. Before the keynotes came the product announcement: the launch of CAM 360. Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president of the company’s manufacturing division, was on hand with product manager Anthony Graves to launch what Autodesk says is the completion of its 360 family. With the latter stating “everyone wants integration,” it appears CAM 360 provides just that.

Autodesk believes the software, expected to be available by 2014, will allow users to take advantage of collaboration tools and shared data storage, while improving flexibility. Unlike existing standalone CAM tools, CAM 360 is an integrated cloud-based solution which will also give users access to Autodesk’s next generation Digital Prototyping platform, which includes modelling tools found in the existing Fusion 360.

The keynotes

With the keynotes presented to packed out, arena-sized halls with queues bigger than the ones seen on America’s infamous Black Friday recently, the anticipation was naturally high. First up was a brief introduction from director of strategic initiatives Jonathan Knowles, who gamely partook in magic tricks with magicians Penn and Teller. Accompanying this was a video montage demonstrating the full scope of Autodesk’s activities, encompassing everything from animation to Tony Stark’s Iron Man.

Autodesk chief technology officer Jeff Kowalski, based out of San Francisco, opened with an Alvin Toffer quote underpinning his address: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Throughout the half an hour, Kowalski touched on some thought provoking concepts in how we approach ideas and new concepts. He said mindsets are just as important as toolsets in the 21st century, which is predicted to see 20,000 years worth of change in just 100.

Search first, make second

The silver bullet? Looking outside rather than in. The four areas pinpointed for this included:

  • Insight
  • Work
  • Tools
  • People
He touched upon collaboration models taking place today by companies which are looking to the outside. This included Airbus, which recently used a combination of silicone and a bio-based computer to generate thousands of design options to built a concept plane. 

This included the much vaunted reverse mentoring, something Kowalski said is about younger people helping their more experienced peers by offering their perspective on social media and consumer trends. 

Kowalski said that now we are scanning more of the existing world and modelling new things which don’t exist, something he dubbed a reality computer. Today it is both easier and cheaper to scan relevant reality into computer rather than do something manual/time consuming. The result? it usually leads to a richer, more accurate model than the manual approach.

Autodesk's Jeff Kowalski addresses the crowd at Autodesk University 2013.

Living in a hyper connected world means there is now a better way of working that takes advantage of all those minds, with terms and concepts such as open innovation crowdsourcing, co-creation changing the way everyone designs and creates. A notable example used was food giant Proctor & Gamble, which sought a collaborator when looking for ways how to print images onto its crisps. It eventually found a small bakery in Bologna, Italy which had already found a technology in how to do this.

This, Kowalski said, is a good illustration of what can be done when the constraints of risk averse attitudes are broken down. “If Pringles can find a little tiny bakery to print pringles in Bologna, imagine what you can do outside?,” he concluded.

Doing things differently

“How are our customers doing things differently?” was the opening gambit of next speaker Carl Bass, Autodesk CEO. Two brothers who started a guitar company using Autodesk Fusion software in the design stage provided an illustration of this. To make guitars truly customised, they invited customers into projects. The result? a customised, laser cut guitar. The conclusion was a playing of Smoke on the Water by Bass, although with the actual track blaring out, this was the rock equivalent of miming. Subsequently, one of the brothers busted out their own work to a standing ovation. It was like being at the Hard Rock Hotel down the road, before Bass moved on “from customer made guitars to ‘bad ass’ sports cars.”

Enter Aston Martin, complete with the James Bond theme. The company collaborated with Autodesk on the creation of its new Vantage sports car. The tie up also changed Bass’ own perceptions of the company. When visiting its UK facility last year, he admitted he had expected a “stuffy and stodgy” British company, but he was taken aback by the reinvention of car design by a 100-year old company.

A video showed how the new Vantage was designed. First it used a clay model, before laser scanning it, before bringing it back into alias. Thanks to this new workflow, Aston Martin got its car to market in record time. While being a great example of company looking outside traditional ways of doing things, it also is a glowing testament to the innovation taking place in British manufacturing at present. Another user, the British-owned Morgan cars, are also prominent Autodesk users, as highlighted in a short video reel of its experiences.

After a lunch which saw Anthony Graves grilled by journalists and analysts, the afternoon consisted of another appearance from Carl Bass, who presented a digital prototyping showcase. With a sometimes chaotic but never less than fun first day completed, tomorrow brings an equally busy schedule, consisting of innovation forums, interviews and roundtables. These will be detailed in day two’s entry.