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Autodesk Tools for 3D Printing

October 26, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 09:47

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates.

In May 2014, Autodesk acquired the UK’s Within Technologies for $88 million. The acquisition escaped the attention of the media because Autodesk did not announce it. We became aware of the transaction through a conversation with Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk’s chief technology officer. He said that it is not a secret, and the company will probably announce something when it has more detail to share.

Within Technologies is a London-based software company that developed the Enhance software. Enhance is used to reduce part weight and optimize part design by converting a solid part into skins and internal lattice structures. The software allows users to specify loading requirements, and then it automatically optimizes the topology and unit size of the lattice members. It is also capable of varying the size and density of the lattice and skins.

within
Optimized spinal implants, courtesy of Within Technologies

Two weeks before acquiring Within, Autodesk acquired the Nastran solver from NEi Software. Nastran is a proven finite element analysis product for analyzing linear and nonlinear stress, dynamics, and heat transfer characteristics. Autodesk has since added two new products—Nastran and Nastran In-CAD—to its simulation software portfolio.

These developments are a positive sign for the additive manufacturing industry. When and if Autodesk integrates the capabilities of Within Enhance into Inventor, Fusion 360, or another software product, AM designers will have new, powerful tools for designing and analyzing models created for additive processes. Currently, good design tools for AM are lacking, so we believe that these powerful capabilities will help accelerate the adoption of additive manufacturing.

Carl’s Workshop

October 12, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,machining — Terry Wohlers @ 16:09

When I first contacted Autodesk in 1983, the vice president of market and sales answered the phone. I doubt the company had more than a couple dozen employees at the time. It was founded just a year earlier. Fast forward to October 2014. Autodesk now employs 10,000 people, generated $2.3 billion in its most recent fiscal year, and has a market cap of $12.2 billion. Not bad for a company that started with software for computer-aided drafting.

I had the privilege of spending 1.5 hours, one-on-one, with Carl Bass, Autodesk’s president and CEO, last Thursday. He is not your prototypical corporate chief executive. Carl dresses casually, is down to earth, and gives his full attention to you. Not once did he check his phone or seem preoccupied, even though he was going to greet and present to U.S. Navy admirals directly after my departure.

We were less than two minutes into our meeting at the impressive Autodesk Gallery when Carl asked if I wanted to see the company’s Pier 9 Workshop. Gonzalo Martinez of Autodesk had told me about the facility around the time it was being launched, so it has been on my “must see” list since then. Getting to visit it was a treat, but having Carl serve as my personal guide made it even more special.

I was surprised by the size and amount of equipment at the facility. The place is filled with large and advanced CNC machinery, and nearly everything you’d need to manufacture a product in metal, wood, or plastic. The number of high-end 3D printers, alone, was unexpected. See this video and these images to get a look inside. The 120 mostly young and energetic employees at the site made the place buzz with activity. The workshop includes some of Autodesk’s own photopolymer-based 3D printers, which are being developed as a part of the Spark 3D printing effort. The resolution and detail that is possible with the small machine is impressive.

When leaving the Autodesk buildings, I bumped into some business acquaintances on the street and they reminded me that Carl himself uses a lot of the workshop equipment. He knows how to program the CNC machines and run the 3D printers. In fact, he has been running a 3D printer at his home for many years. I asked Carl if he knew how to operate his company’s software products, such as Inventor and 3ds Max, and he replied with a firm Yes. With so much going on and so many people wanting his attention, I don’t know where he finds the time. If I worked for a company, such as Autodesk, I’d want to be close to the Pier 9 Workshop, and have Carl as my boss.