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Autodesk University 2017 Recap: What’s New for Design and Manufacturing

Sam Sattel


The first day of Autodesk University 2017 was all about automation. Being able to do more, better, with less. By the time day, three rolled around, automation was in full swing. It’s here, right now, available to all. The day three keynote speech showed off some surprising announcements for automation in the design and manufacturing space. Here’s what we saw.

Is Automation Good or Bad?

Some consider this the best time to be in the design and manufacturing industry, others consider it to be the worst. One thing for certain, automation is taking off in ways we’ve never seen before. With things like Generative Design, augmented reality, and 3D printing, there’s a lot shifting underfoot.


Generative Design offers a new perspective on how we make. (Image source)

Yes, all of these new technologies will absolutely automate some of the tasks that we’ve been manually repeating for years on end. Automation can:

  • Free up our imaginations to be more creative and innovative
  • Free up the constraints of the traditional manufacturing process
  • Allow us to augment natural human capabilities with new technologies

How many of you reading this have a smartphone? Probably everyone. The last time you had to remember a fact or a figure was probably never. You just Googled it. This is automation at work. For those with smartwatches, when was the last time you had to manually enter any information about your physical activity? You don’t, your watch just tracks it for you.

Point being, automation is all around us, impacting every aspect of our lives. We’ve just become so used to automation as a commonplace variable that we no longer see it as frightening or threatening anymore. It’s just good. This is how we see automation in the design and manufacturing space playing out.

Our Industry Is Changing

We’ve talked about how automation can free up our imaginations to be more creative and innovative, but how? Take the traditional milling machine as an example. You can still smell the grease looking at the picture below!


Milling machines, still in use today. (Image source)

This machine has gotten us to where we are today, but you can only be so creative taking a block and cutting off some corners. At the end of the day, it’s still just a block. Our imaginations are so much more capable than this.

This is where design automation and new manufacturing technologies come in to free us from these limitations. Here’s a couple examples that are happening today:

3D Printed Bridge

Below you’ll see a bridge being built by MX3D. This isn’t just a normal bridge. It’s 3D printed in steel and will span a canal in Amsterdam. While we can all imagine something like this, it would have never been possible to create without advancements in design and manufacturing automation.


3D printed bridge in construction in Amsterdam. (Image source)

How did the MX3D team even make this? They used automation software coupled with a welding machine to create a large-scale 3D printer that could work with steel. What’s even more amazing with this bridge is that they made it with less materials than a traditional process would have used. 3D printing is additive, so you just add the materials you need instead of chipping away.

Generative Designed Shoes

How about something a bit smaller in size, take this Under Armour shoe as an example. This company has fully embraced the power of automation to bring their design and manufacturing process together. This has allowed them to design an innovative shoe.


The power of Generative Design made this sole possible. (Image source)

The sole of this shoe has such complicated latticework you could never design and manufacture it with traditional methods. This was only possible by using Generative Design technologies and additive 3D printing.

This Technology is Ready, Right Now

All of the technology that made these two achievements possible is available right now. The convergence of design and manufacturing into a unified whole isn’t something happening 10, 5, or even 2 years down the road. We have this technology right now, and you have access to them.

We’re no longer living in a world where you graduate as an engineer and go to work your 9-5 to bring someone else’s idea to life. These days we’re all blending engineering disciplines, and some of us now have the power to pursue our own goals and ambitions. Automation makes this possible for you.

Take for example Modbot, a startup in San Francisco that is redefining robotics. This team made modular robotics accessible to everyone which required completely rethinking how they work. Instead of a bunch of specialists, the engineers on their team had to embrace multiple engineering disciplines.


Modbot in its early days of prototyping and testing. (Image source)

It wasn’t about passing one part of the puzzle down the line. It was about seeing the product as a whole. Using some of the automation technologies we’ll be talking about below, Modbot has successfully designed and manufactured a modular six-axis robot. They’ve also won contracts with Boeing and Siemens, two of the largest manufacturers in the world.

So what kind of new technology made this possible for Modbot? At this year’s Autodesk University we were excited to announce four new technologies and enhancements to your design and manufacturing world.


We introduced AnyCAD to Inventor 2016, now we’re bringing it into Fusion 360! AnyCAD allows you to link data together between different platforms with a complete history timeline. This allows two platforms like Fusion 360 and Inventor to work together more intimately than ever.  Or even Fusion 360 and Solidworks…or Any CAD system!

How would this play out for Modbot?

Take their robotic arm as an example. An engineer can build up a CubeSat in Inventor, then share that design with a production engineer with Fusion Drive and AnyCAD. This allows the production engineer to open the Inventor data directly in Fusion 360. Not only can they modify the soft jaws on the robot, they can also test up to 20 different FAE studies using the power of the cloud.


All of the changes made in either design environment are connected together. When you make a change anywhere, it’s now reflected everywhere. Truly everywhere. Not just in the parts and models, or 2D documentation, but also across any simulation studies or NC code for CNC machines, all the through manufacturing.

PCB Integration and SPICE Simulation

The intelligence of the Modbot robot comes to life thanks to some advanced electronics. In the past an EE might have designed a PCB, passed it onto an ME, and hope the board fit properly. These days are over. Now with Fusion 360 Integration in EAGLE and SPICE simulation, it’s possible to blend electronics design into the product development world.


Take for example Modbot’s robotic arm. The PCB needs to be circular, so this can first be defined in Fusion 360, then pushed to EAGLE. From here we can run SPICE simulation. Then it’s time for component placement and routing.

That might be the end of the process on the electronics side, but it’s just the beginning. The rich amount of data provided can then be opened in Fusion 360 for thermal simulation. This allows you to see heat dissipation on your board in real time.


Generative Design

Generative Design is presenting some radical opportunities for the way we design and manufacture products. The Amsterdam bridge and Under Armour shoe are just two of many examples currently being made. We want this technology to be more than just for research, which is why we’re excited to announce that Autodesk Generative Design is now available to Fusion Ultimate customers!


With Autodesk Generative Design, you can take something like the swingarm on an electric motorcycle and completely redefine how it looks and works. This all begins in Fusion 360 by defining the mating points, loading conditions, and materials that will be used. With these parameters plugged in, we can then use the power of Autodesk Generative Design to explore a variety of design solutions.


Fusion Production

It’s one thing to automate the design and manufacturing process in the digital realm. But what about connecting that digital process to the physical production of a product? With Fusion Production, this is now possible.

This new software allows you to take information defined in the design and engineering process and provide people on the physical manufacturing floor with your data. Now the entire engineering and production process can come together as a whole!

KMP is a Fusion 360 customer and develops powertrains for racing vehicles. They use Fusion Production to take a design from conception to production, and all of their data stays connected in Fusion.


Operators on the shop floor can access design information from the engineering team wherever they are with a mobile device. No more being tethered to a computer, their entire product is connected to the cloud. If they need to schedule a specific job as the priority, they can initiate that process in Fusion and the manufacturing floor will shift their priorities.

Connecting Design & Manufacturing

As a company, we don’t believe that you can keep design and manufacturing separate anymore. The two processes are intrinsically linked and we aren’t working in silos anymore. This is why we believe it’s our job to make this technology accessible to as many of you as possible.

All of the new technologies you saw above are available right now with the design tools that you already know and love. Automation is here, and it’s going to free us all to do so much more. We’ve shown you how design and manufacturing can converge. Now it’s your turn to create and build more, better, with less.

Watch the full Design and Manufacturing keynote from Autodesk University 2017 to explore the future of engineering automation!

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