Autodesk, the company that sells the software used to design and construct everything from car parts to skyscrapers, is opening up the software platform it uses to build its own products to outside development partners.
And, to encourage developers to use the platform, called Forge, Autodesk is also launching a $100 million fund to back third parties who do that sort of work. The news was announced at the company’s Autodesk University conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
A bit of history. Autodesk (ADSK), San Rafael, Calif., made its name with its AutoCAD computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software that enabled engineers to create parts on screen before manufacturing them. Since then it has branched out into product lifecycle management (PLM), simulation, modeling and related offerings. It offers similar versions of these products for civil engineers and architects who design bridges, roads, and buildings.
Over the past few years, the company has also announced cloud-based analogs to the software installed on customers’ desktops and on servers inside the customers’ own data centers. AutoCAD 360, for example, is the mobile companion for AutoCAD, and can be used by the engineer to call up plans or schematics on her device of choice. That’s helpful for a civil engineer working on a construction site.
By opening up what Autodesk now calls Forge to outside developers, the company is joining a cadre of companies that offer what techies call a “Platform as a Service” or PaaS. Forge itself runs on Amazon(AMZN) Web Services and other as-yet-unnamed infrastructure, but the goal here is for Forge itself to become something like the AWS for engineers—a single place where many products and services are available.
It’s also a bid to build out Autodesk’s partner ecosystem. Software developers outside the company will be able to access Autodesk’s visualization technology and take advantage of Internet of Things capabilities Autodesk got with its acquisition of SeeControl, Scott Reese, Autodesk’s vice president of cloud platforms, told Fortune.
SeeControl services help manufacturers incorporate sensors into their products and then manage them remotely and collect the data they spew forth. Autodesk CAD/CAM rival PTC’s (PTC) offerings which has also been pushing into IoT including some Vuforia assets acquired from Qualcomm. Another CAD rival, Dassault Systemes (DASTY)is also a player here.
That ability to convert what had been a simple sale of a product —say a truck engine—into an ongoing service, is the pot at the end of the IoT rainbow.
Manufacturers like Rockwell Automation, (ROK) General Electric (GE) Boeing (BA) are busily attaching subscription services to their physical products and that is all made possible by these millions of connected sensors.
That means they sell not just the engine or the pump or the widget, but the remote monitoring and predictive maintenance services that keep the engine, pump or widget running. Ideally that means maintenance gets done before there’s a failure. Talk about win-win.
Throwing the doors open to Forge is a great idea for Autodesk, because while it offers many specialized products, it can’t cover the entire waterfront on its own, said Monica Schnitger, founder and chief executive of Schnitger Corp, an industry analyst firm.
“AutoCad is a terrific 2-D and 3-D generic design solution and Autodesk has many vertical products, but there are many more specialized needs out there. Forge will hopefully bring more of those out,” she said.
She is also intrigued by the opportunities that Forge and SeeControl could spur. She foresees a wave of new products designed from the ground up with built-in sensors and that means manufacturers can start charging based on uptime and performance, as documented by these sensors.
“Think of an air-conditioning company that will charge based on the temperature it provides. If you’re in the desert, maybe they’ll charge you on the temperature differential between what you call your comfort level and the ambient temperature,” she noted.
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