AECCafe Special News Report: Autodesk University Addresses the Future of Digital Design

 By Susan Smith

Over 3200 attendees visited Autodesk University this year in Las Vegas December 3-5, up 15% from last year. a large number for a one vendor conference.

The conference opened on Tuesday with mainstage introductions made by Autodesk’s Technical Evangelist Lynne Allen, who gave attendees background on Autodesk since it opened its doors in 1982. This year marked the 10th anniversary of Autodesk University.

Exhibit Hall Entrance

These basic facts about Autodesk were stated: it is a $947 million software company, with 83 offices in 160 countries, 3700+ employees (and 450 dogs and sometimes cats), 5+ million users. The company also trains over 2 million people per year.

Allen said that Carol Bartz, CEO and President of Autodesk, is always two to three years ahead of the company in her vision of what's to come. She has made "digital design data" her mantra, and it is coming to fruition. "Our customers make everything that God doesn't" said Bartz in her keynote.

She stressed how important it was for users to keep an ongoing dialogue going with Autodesk. Digital design data is turned into blueprints, and becomes someone else's problem downstream. After digital design data leaves your hands it needs to remain digital information that can drive the entire lifecycle of goods and services, which results in precision, greater capacity and value downstream and across the project. "Paper design data can't have a future," claimed Bartz.

Carol Bartz delivering keynote

Digital design data empowers organizations and allows them to create richer geometric and mapping data. Carol said that in 20 years’ of business, the first decade of Autodesk was a pioneering decade, the second decade was focused on design, and now at the beginning of the third decade they are in a state much like the first decade. Innovation is key, and "we have a strong interest in moving design to the next level."

City of Vancouver

GIS Manager Jonathan Mark of the City of Vancouver gave a talk on how they use GIS for the city. They make use of many GIS products in order to deliver information to more people. Mark said that last year "MapGuide put GIS on the desktop."

Vancouver is a city of 550,000 people within 44 square miles. They are bordered on three sides by water, and have incredible views of both sea and mountains.

They were challenged with bringing GIS and CAD together in-house. The effort has integrated data into the business process and makes it possible to integrate GIS with design data. Their front end data repository, VanMap, has publicly accessible mapping tools, and makes it possible to keep information available and current.

VanMap offers geographic information on city projects, street closures and much more. City planners and architects can find view corridors on the website and can calculate approximate height of buildings and views so they can be sure to create structures that do not inhibit views.

Exhibit Hall

Other advantages of VanMap on the website include information for youths, voting locations and zoning data available city-wide or by parcel.

Before Autodesk purchased Vision GIS, Vancouver was using the product and wanted it to "talk" better with Autodesk products. With the acquisition and the use of Design Server, all the products are reinforced and communicate well.

Autodesk's commitment to Oracle Spatial is important because it allows Vancouver to leverage data even more. "We want to take GIS to a place where it's just another icon on the desktop," said Mark. For more on the City of Vancouver, see

J.S. McNamara

The company J.S. McNamara got its start in 1984, and for 18 years was a fuel engine service. It is now responsible for designing the body, or outer shells of autos, and boasts a $45 million annual revenue.

Their latest achievement is the design of the Hummer 2, which as Rick Carroway of McNamara described it, has a macho image "like a Suburban on steroids." Carroway began working with 2D AutoCAD in version 1.0 and has been with the company ever since, constantly asking his boss for upgrades. Before Inventor came along, he asked to get CATIA in house, and his boss said no. His boss told him to find a low cost 3D solution.

When Mechanical Desktop, then Inventor came along Carroway was won over to Inventor by the price and the proven support of Autodesk over all those years.

The reasons for going with Inventor were as follows:

  • Proven support
  • Accuracy
  • Competitive
  • Time to market

After implementing Inventor, the company made their budget and on schedule.

The Hummer was a make or break job, according to Carroway. They were able to help GM create the vehicle in sixteen months, using Inventor.

Thomas Bus wanted to upgrade the design of their vehicles to the 1990s, and they wanted McNamara to use Pro/E, which they didn’t have. "We told them we use Autodesk Streamline, and they could use it for their reviews," said Carroway. "With Streamline, we could provide feedback, stay on schedule, and signoff quicker."

What Streamline gives the company is the ability to

  • Be more connected to customers
  • Reduce costs
  • No prototyping
  • Less traveling

Autodesk Inventor allows the company to

  • Be more flexible
  • Do Surfacing
  • Have the ability to compete with big systems


Value of Design

CTO Scott Borduin talked about the value of design, stressing decreased costs, increased innovation and shorter time-to-market as factors to increase design value. He described PLM as "getting the right data in the hands of the right people at the right time."

Better data distribution is needed across various disciplines, he said. We need to reduce cycle time for critical work processes while maintaining data confidence and security, and overcoming technological and environmental limitations.

For those goals, Borduin stressed the need for tools in the following areas:

1) Authoring, creation such as Revit, AutoCAD, Inventor and civil and mapping tools

It’s not possible to simply author and stick the creation somewhere, the process also involves the need to

  • Notify of change
  • Manage
  • Secure
  • Store
  • Version
  • Mechanisms to transport information

2) Manage with such tools as Streamline, Buzzsaw and MapGuide

3) Transport with tools such as LAN, Internet, DWG

4) Integrate with APIs, Web Services, Open formats

5) Use — paper, browser, mobile computer, Express Viewer



The products DWF 6 and Autodesk Express Viewer were reviewed. Features of DWF 6 include:

  • Design Web Format (DWF)
  • Holds any kind of information
  • Simple, secure, scalable, open
  • Small, fast download
  • Foundation platform for collaboration

DWF 5 can contain drawing sets and cross reference between sheets and can publish multiple sheets in one DWF. You can also publish full content and on the receiving end a user can query that intelligence. The design code for DWF 6 will be posted on the website for developers.

Autodesk Express Viewer was released last week during the conference and views all DWFs.

Summarizing Thursday's industry sessions: Senior executive Buzz Cross talked about the Autodesk concept of mainstream PLM -- they want to democratize PLM with easy to use solutions that allow you to have the solution up and running within a couple of weeks. This is very different from current PLM systems which require sometimes up to two years to implement, and are very complex.

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