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Autodesk University: Back to the Future?

Brent Rees is BIM Coordinator for Ridge; he recently attended an industry-leading, design and technology conference at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As everyone started opening the first doors of their advent calendars earlier this month, I embarked on a unique opportunity thanks to Ridge and our software resellers CADassist to attend a  three day conference called Autodesk University 2014, affectionately abbreviated to just “AU”. Further thanks must also be extended to Autodesk UK for providing an opportunity to attend the invite-only Leadership Forum which preceded the conference. The annual event was hosted by design software developers Autodesk to showcase all facets of their business to a global audience of approximately 10,000 attendees. Historically in the AEC industry we have associated Autodesk only with design authoring tools such as AutoCAD and Revit, but AU demonstrated a significantly broader range of applications with representatives from product design, manufacturing, and film making industries. The scale and diversity of the event was awe inspiring, and the speech at the opening keynote from Autodesk CEO Carl Bass (see image below) had an almost Apple-esque “Major Announcement” feel to it. This for me confirmed Autodesk’s position as a leading global business in the creation of collaborative design solutions in an era where we are all embracing by high paced technological advances.

The Leadership Forum provided a future-gazing overview of the direction of design and manufacturing tools, with insights into the benefits of infinite computing and additive manufacturing methods such as 3D printing. Developments in both these technologies mean that we are now able to resolve complex engineering challenges and create highly detailed geometric forms which move beyond anything than can be designed or created using human input alone. We were told that pioneering products using this technology have already been implemented by Formula One teams to create a variety of lower weight, higher strength components. We also had an opportunity to engage with a panel of industry experts ranging from large, multi-national companies such as AECOM, through to key stakeholders in the new Metro Rail system in Doha, Qatar. This gave a fascinating insight into some of the challenges faced by today’s AEC industry, and some of the actions that are being taken to ensure technology continue to improve processes wherever possible.

The conference started in earnest the following day, hosting nearly 800 classes ranging from innovation forums and high-level overviews of industry trends, to micro-detailed lab sessions demonstrating uses of various software tools. I was fortunate to be able to attend a broad variety of classes giving an insight into topics ranging from BIM Execution Planning through to Energy Analysis, as well as Laser Scanning through to Facilities Management. A stand out class for me was titled “Dynamo for Dummies” in which the class learnt about a free new application called Dynamo. This basically provides a user-friendly interface to allow users to easily input computer programming language into design tools such as Revit. The class showed us how to apply some very basic programming language to automate functions within applications such as Revit to resolve problems often encountered in the design office environment. However we were also shown that advanced use of the program can create highly complex geometry which could not be created without the application, and the tutor had even managed to model a cow (see image below). There was also a lively exhibition hall at the heart of the conference, allowing nearly 200 sponsor and partner organisations to showcase their products. Household names in hardware such as Dell and Leica were situated alongside newer software products such as Revizto and Panzura, as well as an example of the first ever 3D printed car (see image below). Combined with a collection of demonstrations of the latest cloud-based Autodesk products, the exhibition hall provided a good opportunity to learn more about the wide range of products available on the market today.

Ridge and Partners invest significantly each year to ensure we have access to the very latest software products, and as a result I was able to meet with Autodesk’s Global Subscription Business Manager whilst at the conference to discuss how we currently use our suite of products, and find out more about the additional benefits available to us as subscription customers. It also gave me valuable insight into some future developments regarding the sales strategy of these products, including rental schemes for software products which I’m told will change the landscape of how businesses currently adopt Autodesk products – no doubt we will see a significant shift in this area over the next few years.

Shortly before catching the flight home, there was just time attend the closing keynote. This further drove home the rise of additive manufacturing as the co-founder of US Company Made In Space explained how they had successfully manufactured the first product ever to be created in space. They have developed a 3D printer which works in zero gravity environments, meaning products can be designed on earth and manufactured on board orbiting spacecrafts. This results in a reduced dependence on fuel-hungry space expeditions to replace broken parts, and potentially extends our reach into space as crews have greater self-sufficiency. There was also a short demonstration of some technology first seen in the 1980’s big-screen classic, Back to the Future. Sadly we are still some way off discovering a time-travelling Delorean, but believe it or not we are now able float on a skateboard! The world’s first Hoverboard has been developed by a company called ArxPax and will currently cost nearly $10k. While it won’t immediately become the commuting vehicle of choice (unless your route to work is lined entirely with copper), it is envisaged that this technology could be scaled-up in future to support the foundations of important buildings in areas prone to earthquakes or flooding.

In conclusion, Autodesk University gave me a valuable glimpse into developments of the tools that are central to Ridge’s business function, as well as exposure to some ground-breaking technological advances. The hard works starts now to ensure we continue our investment in emerging technology to maintain our ability to deliver current and effective solutions for our clients.



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