Design Engineering

Autodesk does PLM

By Design Engineering Staff   


CAD giant unveils Autodesk 360, cloud-based PLM for price sensitive market segment.

LAS VEGAS — At AU 2011, Autodesk, Inc. announced that, after years of eschewing the engineering software category, it would officially enter the PLM market with a product called Autodesk 360 for PLM.

The new solution is actually a melding of three software offerings, two established Autodesk products integrated with a third new one, each to address a distinct PLM function. For product data management — check-in/check-out, BOM tracking, engineering change management — Autodesk will continue to provide the tiers of its locally installed PDM product, Autodesk Vault. As part of its new Autodesk Cloud series of online products, Buzzsaw and Buzzsaw Mobile will enable cloud-based secure document exchange and supplier collaboration through a firewall.

The new piece of the puzzle is Autodesk 360 Nexus, a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) component to handle the business processes surrounding the engineering function and design data. Although the company hasn’t revealed specific capabilities yet, it did say that Nexus will come with a set of pre-installed applications to handle common functions such as project management, supplier management, quality control and compliance tracking, among others.

Accessed through a browser, Nexus isn’t locally installed software that’s bought from a value added reseller. Instead, companies will “rent” access to the back-end databases and assorted software that store and organize the “meta-data” associated with engineering designs and documents.


Likewise, the user interface that collects and displays that information will reside on Amazon’s Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) servers and function like web pages with standard data input fields. Navigation is largely through familiar tabs and hyperlinks. As such, Autodesk says Nexus is highly configurable, making it nimble enough to mold to a company’s existing business practices rather than forcing users to conform to the one-size-fits-all “best practices” approach associated with traditional PLM products.

In addition, Autodesk says 360 customers will be relieved of the weighty costs of lengthy deployments, extensive configuration processes and enterprise database licensing. Instead, they can allow Autodesk to handle the IT heavy lifting in the same way a company might off-load hosting and maintenance of its corporate e-mail servers to third-parties.

“Based on the original business model, traditional PLM has always been very, very expensive,” said Stephen Bodnar, vice president of PLM and Data Management, Autodesk. “We feel true PLM shouldn’t be beyond the reach of any customer. Autodesk 360 for PLM will enable customers of all sizes to achieve the full promise of PLM with a scalable, configurable and intuitive solution.”

Taken together, Bodner said the components of PLM 360 (Vault, Buzzsaw, Nexus) will on par with “big iron” solutions such as Windchill or Teamcenter. The target market are SMBs that couldn’t (formerly) afford large scale rollouts. At the same time, he said that Nexus can function as a front end for other PLM and ERP products already implemented by large enterprises. However, the strategy for Autodesk 360 for PLM isn’t to displace large installations of competing PLM products, said CEO Carl Bass during the launch announcement, but to potentially work in conjunction with them.

“We find that those installations are like Chernobyl,” he said. “You can’t pull it out; the best you can do is encase it in a concrete.”

As yet, Autodesk hasn’t specified pricing for 360 for PLM, but Bodner says that after studying other PLM implementations, a 200 employee installation runs approximately $6 million as opposed to $500,000 for Autodesk 360. Even after the initial setup period, he says PLM 360 will still cost half that of traditional solutions.

As yet, Autodesk doesn’t have an exact launch date, but the company expects it to become available in the first quarter of 2012.


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