Wednesday, February 20, 2008

PSAUG and Seattle CAD Camp

I'm off to Seattle.

Tonight is the Puget Sound AutoCAD User Group meeting at Renton Technical College. Shaan Hurley was supposed to be there this evening to give members their first look at AutoCAD 2009. Unfortunately, he had to cancel at the last minute due to a family matter, but Alex Lepeska has stepped forward to take over that presentation.

Tomorrow I'll be attending the AUGI CAD Camp in Seattle, this time as an attendee and official AUGI photographer and videographer. I'll be conducting attendee interviews for next year's AUGI video as well as shooting photos for the CAD Camp website.

I look forward to seeing everyone in Seattle and hope to follow-up with any additional information I glean on the next release of AutoCAD and other Autodesk products.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Autodesk World Press Days 2008—Day 1

It’s that time of year again—time for Autodesk to announce the next release of all of its myriad software products. As it did last year, Autodesk is once again hosting its Autodesk World Press Days event, and I am here in San Francisco at the beautiful Mark Hopkins Hotel at the top of Nob Hill along with 150 other press and analysts from more than 50 countries.

From the looks of the first day’s schedule, it was pretty obvious that we weren’t going to actually see much of the new software. That would happen on day two.

Day one began with an opening presentation by Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, who began by noting that the role of engineering and design is becoming increasingly more important. Autodesk has had a 25-year history of success. The company currently has more than 9 million licensed users worldwide, and Mr. Bass was quick to point out that there are many times more than that when you begin to factor in the unlicensed copies of the company’s software. 98% of the Fortune 500 use Autodesk software, a number that rises to 100% when you narrow it down to just the Fortune 100.

Autodesk’s five year growth has exceeded 20%, with net revenue of more than $2 billion, and the company expects growth over the next five years to continue to exceed 15%.

Mr. Bass says that there are four important macro economic trends that are changing the world:

  • Digital Life: Everything has gone from analog to digital. We’re also multitasking in ways that we never could have imagined a few years ago.
  • Globalization: Digital connectivity has been a large contributor to globalization. Arbitraging of cheap labor has driven globalization in the short term, but this will slow down as the global standard of living improves. There is a much bigger opportunity for those who develop new business models. Commoditization is a much bigger issue. Local protections no longer assures design; there are plenty of people out there trying to copy and improve on what you’ve designed. So companies must focus instead on how to differentiate themselves by continuously doing things better.
  • Infrastructure Boom: Infrastructure improvements will total $40 trillion. Even in mature economies, half of the buildings we will have in 25 years haven’t been built yet. In developing countries, that number approaches 100%.
  • Climate Change: If we don’t change our behavior, energy usage over the next 25 years will double. We therefore have to find better ways of producing energy and at the same time become much smarter about consuming it.

These four trends together represent a tremendous challenge. But Autodesk’s software provides many of the means to meet these challenges, such as new building models that let designers experience their designs before they build them and better predict how those buildings will perform in the real world.

Carl Bass was followed by other Autodesk executives as well as a number of customers who described how their companies were using Autodesk software. For example, Peter Horbury, executive director of design for Form Motor Company, explained how Ford is now able to get new cars from design to showroom in 14 months while also recognizing a 25% cost reduction at the same time. He also showed how Ford uses the world’s largest milling machine to create full-scale models of prototype cars, enabling a 25% reduction in design time.

He was followed by Laird Landis, senior technologist at General Motors. GM now uses Building Information Modeling to create, visualize, and analyze the company’s facilities worldwide and has determined that it can save 3% to 5% of total construction cost through the use of BIM technology. All future GM projects will be done entirely in 3D, starting with a 1.5 million square foot facility in Lansing Delta Township. Eventually, GM expect to be able to construct new plants 25% faster while saving 10% to 15% of total construction cost.

The most compelling presentation of the morning came from Brady Nadell, senior engineer at Parsons Brinkerhoff, and Bart Ney, public information office at Caltrans, who showed how they used Autodesk software to create a communications plan to keep the public updated to possible traffic disruptions during construction of the new Bay Bridge linking San Francisco with Oakland. Caltrans plans to keep the existing bridge open throughout construction, and the various images and animations produced clearly explain how this will be done.

They were followed by George Joblove, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Sony Pictures Imageworks, who showed a Sony demo reel and explained how increasingly important visual effects have become to the company’s motion pictures. But more inspiring was Sheena Duggal, a visual effects supervisor, director, and compositor at Sony Pictures Imageworks, who showed her short film showcasing the Chicago Spire, an new residential development designed by architect Santiago Calatrava that is sure to become an iconic addition to the Chicago skyline.

Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk’s chief technology officer, highlighted Autodesk’s focus:

  • Experience it before it’s real
  • Study design alternatives
  • Develop design innovation
  • Help customers gain a competitive advantage

Other themes:

  • Visualization: Capture the appearance of what the product will look like in the real world
  • Simulation: See how the product will behave in the real world
  • Analyze: Capture measureable performance in the real world

In a session on how gaming is driving development, it was noted that more than 25% of gamers are over 50 years old. Gaming software sales in the US grew 28% last year. When you include hardware that figure jumps to 40%. Nintendo has the same market cap as Disney. Keys to successful gaming sound a lot like Autodesk's focus: performance, immersion (it seems real), and interaction (making it easy to use). Director James Cameron is working on a project aimed at being able to direct digital characters. Architects are becoming digital directors themselves. As graphics technology goes mainstream, more people are using 3D technology to communicate their ideas and animate those ideas so that they can be experienced over time.

This all led up to the announcement today by Autodek of the launch of Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009, a new version of 3ds Max aimed specifically at architectural visualization.

Phil Bernstein, Autodfesk vice president of industry strategy and relations for the company's AEC Solutions division then took the stage to talk more specifically about Autodesk's vision in the AEC industry. Some of his comments:

Buildings have a very fundamental impact on the environment. Sustainable design is a philosophy to understand how a building's design affects its environment. In order to understand how a building behaves requires that you first create a digital model of it

Buildings have to be visualized and executed in a global context now. Autodesk's AEC customers now need to understand how they practice in a worldwide sense, either to design projects in other areas of the world or to understand how consumption in other areas of the world affect the availability of materials where they are building.

As the developing economies grow, we're going to have to develop a lot of infrastructure. There is going to be a tremedous increase in AEC activities. Processes we use will have to change dramatically.

Bernstein joked, "We are the only industry that builds full-size prototypes (the actual building) and then skip the final step." Technology is changing the way we practice. We're moving from traditional design and bid to collaborative project teams. BIM is the catalyst that is making many of these things possible. We can now create digitally correct prototypes that make it possible to analyze the building and then use the model to deliver the appropriate information to the cliet.

Bernstein was followed by Rick Thoman, corporate BIM integrated practice coordinator for SmithGroup, the sixth largest architecture and engineering firm in the US. He noted that we have operated far too long in a world of design, bid, build, litigate. We draw too much in order to protect ourselves from litigation. Now, all documentation is done using computers. It's no longer an option to not use BIM. The model is now a bridge between the design team and the construction team.

Thoman then handed things back to Bernstein, who announced Autodesk's plans to acquire Carmel Software and Green Building Studio. The Carmel acquisition has been closed and the company is about to close on GBS. As to whether the GBS tools will be folded into Revit Architecture 2009, Bernstein would not comment as to how the tools would be added to Autodesk's current products.

Detailed looks at new releases of Autodesk software will have to wait until individual break out sessions and some of the more product-oriented presentations scheduled for tomorrow.

You can also read additional coverage of Autodesk World Press Days 2008 more specifically targeted at Revit users on my other blog: