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AU 2011: Autodesk’s 180 Turn with 360

Autodesk declares its intent to go after the product lifecycle management market, for both manufacturing and building industries.

In 2007, addressing the press crowd inside Zeum Theater in San Francisco, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass took a few jabs at his competitors who specialize in PLM (product lifecycle management) software suites. His memorable words were, “The only people who need PLM are the ones selling PLM … PLM is a solution in search of a problem.”

This week at Autodesk University (AU) conference in Las Vegas, Bass faced the same members of the trade press (more or less) and said, “When I looked back at my anti-PLM rap, it pleased me that we didn’t do it until we could do it right.”

With these words, Autodesk prepares for battle with the big three in PLM: Dassault Systemes, PTC, and Siemens PLM Software.

The Autodesk PLM Trinity
Autodesk 360, the company’s PLM brand, will come in two flavors: 360 for PLM (for manufacturing) and 360 for BIM (for building information modeling, aimed at architecture, engineering, and construction industries).

The one for manufacturing is made up of:

  • Autodesk Vault, for product data management;
  • Autodesk Buzzsaw, for project management and collaboration;
  • Autodesk Nexus, for business process management.

The first two components are from existing products, but the last item is a newly developed application, built on cloud and meant to operate as SaaS (software as a service). Judging from the screenshots and video captures shown to the press, Nexus will allow you to build your own customized flowchart-style business process map in a drag-and-drop interface.

Steve Bodnar, Autodesk’s VP or data management and PLM, shared some of his views on PLM. “PLM is a lot more than engineering and PDM (product data management),” he said. “We do believe PDM and CAD should be tightly coupled … PDM users and PLM users are not the same people.”

Nexus is expected to be instant-on from the moment you subscribe to it, just as you’d expect Google Plus or Facebook to behave once you’ve signed up. In Bodnar’s words, Nexus will offer “rapid configuration to fit [users’] best business practices.”

There are surprisingly few references to mobile apps in Autodesk’s debut PLM vision, despite the long list of mobile apps the company has released to accommodate engineering and design software users. When asked to clarify its mobile strategy for PLM, Bodnar said, “In the beginning, [mobile devices] will be supported via web browsers. Over time, we will develop specific mobile apps.”

Autodesk’s PLM competition Siemens PLM Software has released the second incarnation of its PLM mobile app, Teamcenter Mobility. PTC is hard at work on its first, Windchill Mobility.

Made from Scratch
To build an impressive simulation software repertoire, Autodesk relied significantly on acquisitions, resulting in the incorporation of Moldflow, ALGOR, and Blue Ridge Numerics into the Autodesk portfolio. But for whatever reasons, Autodesk chose not to acquire an existing PLM vendor (such as Arena Solutions or Aras). It did, however, signed an agreement to acquire Horizontal Systems, a provider of cloud-hosted BIM software. Most likely, Horizontal’s platform will become part of Autodesk 360 for BIM.

Autodesk hasn’t specified how or for what price it will market its PLM product. However, it states that it plans to sell it at a price point much lower than its competitors, targeting small and midsize businesses primarily.

Autodesk’s ad campaign promises “11.29.11 — everything changes.” The most significant change is Autodesk’s tacit acknowledgement that PLM, a discipline it once mocked, fulfills a legitimate need. Will Autodesk, with all its financial strength and R&D muscles, prevail over PLM rivals who have dominated the field for years? The answer will have to wait till Autodesk 360 for PLM is available for customers to do a field test.

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. As a long time user of plastics simulation packages, I was quite skeptical when Autodesk bought Moldflow. There was a 1-2 years stutter when it was hard to see what they were doing but now I am ecstatic. Autodesk has taken some of the best simulation packages – Moldflow, CF/Design and Algor – and already begun tying them together in meaningful ways.

    Companies, as Moldflow existed several years ago, were not quite big enough to be public but required the money for meaningful R&D. Autodesk has provided the deep pockets for serious R&D and enhancements.

    Simulation is in need of a good PLM system and I am hopeful they will bring excellent tools to the market.

  2. Hi Kenneth,
    Very interesting, In a few short weeks, you’re going to find yourself becoming a little more stressed. Sure, right now tax time seems like it’s ages away, but don’t fool yourself my friend.

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