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Autodesk’s digital prototyping push

High-end software developer says new 3-D modeling effort will not kill 2-D CAD in the markeplace

While Autodesk is pushing “digital prototyping” – an engineering process that uses 3-D modeling and reams of data to visualize and analyze designs without making physical prototypes – the company isn’t abandoning its traditional 2-D computer-aided drafting (CAD) customer base.The push is evident across product lines, but “there’s still a tremendous amount of 2-D workflow,” Jim Lynch, Autodesk’s vice-president of marketing for its architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) division said at the company’s worldwide press event last month.

Digital prototyping manifests itself in AEC products as building information modeling (BIM), which Autodesk defines as the use of co-ordinated, consistent and computable information about a building project.

Autodesk is trying to move the construction industry toward BIM, Lynch says, “but we recognize that 2-D processes will be around for many years,” and Autodesk will continue to support 2-D workflow.

“We’ll help (customers) through the transition. We won’t force the transition . . . the last thing you want to do is force your customer to go somewhere when they’re not ready.”

More intelligent building design is critical – the world faces 30 per cent population growth by 2025, and buildings consume 36 per cent of the world’s energy and produce 30 per cent of its greenhouse gases, said Jay Bhatt, vice-president of Autodesk’s AEC division. Half the buildings Americans will live and work in by 2030 haven’t been built yet. China is building 300 new airports on the scale of Beijing International.

“This is a time of huge change for the building industry,” Patrick MacLeamy, CEO of architecture and engineering firm HOK, said Monday. “The next decade will be a very telling one for the industry.”

Rebranded products
Autodesk also announced updates: Revit Building has become Revit Architecture 2008; the Revit Systems product has now become Revit Structure, for structural engineering, and Revit MEP for mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering. The AutoCAD portfolio now includes AutoCAD Architecture, Civil 3D (civil engineering) and MEP products.

“We really looked at these (products) and tried to articulate what they do,” Bhatt explained.

In addition, Autodesk is offering a collaborative project management application in a software as a service offering.

Communication is increasingly a challenge for the industry because of its globalization, Lynch said. “Design teams are not just in one office, not just in one city, not just in one country,” he said.

Autodesk also announced 403 new features in its manufacturing suite, which includes Autodesk Inventor and AliasStudio. The latter, acquired when Autodesk bought Alias about 14 months ago, is now integrated as a design front-end for the manufacturing suite.

According to Andrew Anagnost, senior director of CAD/CAE products, the digital prototyping process is aimed at connecting “islands of competency” – ideation, engineering and manufacturing – in product development.

Most product concepts evolve on whiteboards or paper, he said. “Not enough digital information is captured at the concept stage,” he concluded.