The Future of Autodesk in the CAD/CAM Industry
Just when I thought the dust is beginning to settle after my last blog article about Autodesk, things are beginning to heat up again. Autodesk has been making some moves in the market lately that have the potential to disrupt business as usual. Let us start with the biggest one of these – Autodesk’s acquisition of Delcam for around $285 million. This coming in the heels of their other CAM acquisition, the one of HSMWorks, albeit a much smaller one. Just when you thought they had enough to chew on for the rest of the year, they turn around and announce that they are going to be selling a 3D printer. Yes, that is right – in
May of this year they have announced the availability of a cheap 3D printer based on a software platform called Spark. (In reality, drowned out among the noise of the 3D printer announcement, the introduction of Spark is the bigger news item here.)
With these acquisitions, Autodesk is not only making a strategic move into the CAM market, they are also announcing their intention of entering the 3D printing market.
So, What’s Going on Here?
Breaking it down, I can make the following observations:
- CAM technology from a company such as Delcam would help complete the digital prototype strategy that they have been pursing for some years now. This one makes a lot of sense.
- 3D Systems, the current leader in the 3D printer market, had realized that without software and a software platform, they really could not control the 3D printing market. With its acquisitions of Geomagic, Inus Technology and Alibre Inc. they are on the way to creating a software platform to help consolidate their position as the global leader of 3D printers. Autodesk has observed this development and is viewing this as an opportunity to enter the 3D printing market with a software platform given the enormous software assets they have. According to Garner’s 2013 Hype Cycle for emerging technologies 3D printing technology is at the peak of “inflated expectations” right now and looking at 5-10 years where the “plateau of productivity” will be reached. So this one makes a lot of sense as well.
- And the final area that they are looking is the cloud. With their expertise in offering cloud based CAD/CAM solutions, they can boast of being the only major CAD/CAM vendor who has sophisticated CAD/CAM technology offerings on the cloud. They see this as the future platform for CAD/CAM computing. With the recent revelations of spying by NSA and the general vulnerability of data on the internet, only time will tell if a cloud solution will come to be the standard in CAD/CAM. So this is something of a gamble for Autodesk.
What to Expect in the Future
So putting all of this together, one can construe this to be Autodesk’s grand vision for the future. Digital prototyping, the tagline of yesterday, is just a piece in the puzzle now. Autodesk sees itself as a Digital Prototyping and Digital Manufacturing platform provider of the future; a future it sees is more and more cloud based. It is going to take the resources and talents of a company like Autodesk to make this vision a reality.
As a footnote to this, what makes for interesting speculation is the possibility of Autodesk acquiring a 3D printing company. If Autodesk can pull this off, then it can truly dominate the manufacturing industry of the future. And that would be big! This will certainly be an interesting time ahead for Autodesk and the CAD/CAM industry in general.