Last week at IMTS it was my privilege to attend the Customer Advisory Board for primarily Autodesk CAM products namely HSM all flavors and Fusion 360 the same. Delcam lives in a bit of a different world and hardly anything regarding them came up and I don’t recall an actual current Delcam user there.
I took three pages of notes on things I found relevant or interesting and still have not settled upon how to word what I saw and heard. The meeting gave me pause though and I find myself rethinking what the future holds and why for CAD and CAM. This will take three posts so bear with me and read them all. If you have not figured it out yet I am not a Twitter type individual and I believe many things can’t be covered in a few paragraphs unless you wish to do so superficially. I want to know and understand and I assume you do too.
There is a dividing set of paths regarding industrial software coming up and two directions people will take. The first which is where I reside and intend to stay is permanent seats for the sake of user control and security. About security. I heard the oft repeated tedious straw man argument that surely since we all do banking and purchasing online, that we trust our money online, the same must hold true with the intellectual property that resides in our designed products. I had to explain yet again why this is most emphatically NOT true. It goes like this.
Every month you receive a consise update on all your online financial activity and you can verify everything that has transpired. If there is fraud and you catch it within a reasonable time frame, and you are given tools to do so with monthly statements, you will be made whole. This week I had to fiddle around with my credit card company while purchasing some stainless steel funnels. Money was going to an unusual place and they wanted to know it was me before they approved the transaction. This happens more than I wish which tells me that financial transactions online are way to porous to threats and this irritation is one of the tools to combat fraud. But you can be made whole here for damages.
Your intellectual property goes away and there is no finite way of auditing what it was and when it was that I know of. Plus what is the value? The cost of R&D plus marketing plus tooling and raw goods and wages and all that stuff needed to bring a product to the end-user. What is the value of something where inspiration may only strike once in a lifetime? Add into that the potential which may not be possible to calculate until there is a history of sales to predict by. Trivial things like Hula Hoops or Pet Rocks sound really stupid until you realize that the person who did it became wealthy off of it. And that in this day and time the Chinese knockoffs can get your product to market quicker than perhaps the original designer could who had to jump through the legal and governmental imposed whatevers whereas the thief in China did not. China is not the only threat they are just by far the worst one.
So once a month or more your financial transactions are comprehensively scrutinized and if you have to go online with your intellectual property it is a crap shoot and the best you can do is best practices to stop hacking. Financial things are covered and not one company involved with online intellectual property from the server farm to the software author your ISP and the internet backbone will do the same for the life blood of your company. Read the EULA or T&C of any one of those outfits and see for yourself. I did and you won’t believe how little faith they have in the online security of the services or products they sell to you.
One of the “exciting” possible future things was the idea of Blue Tooth communication between PC’s, smart phones and CNC equipment. Yes you too can stand in front of your mill with your smart phone and edit your CAM program on the fly and update your workstation file and on and on. Made to appeal to the lazy side of people this wonder would allow instant communication and CAM plan updates blah blah blah. I do that quickly now with my workstation and USB Flash drive which is all of maybe eight feet port to port. We won’t however talk about the little blue tooth receiver planted in the weeds next to your shop that also receives all your lazy man’s time-saving of seconds or a few footsteps. The real-time savings of course accrue to the dude who got your CAD and CAM data and did not have to do anything other than record it. He will surely be excited. But yes I guess the cool factor was there for those who like this sort of stuff.
All that being said though I think that in many ways Fusion 360 and the people who use it are going to be a big influence on the future. Far more profoundly than I thought possible before I met actual users and why they were there and what they were doing with it. I still sit and think of this each day and wonder just how much of what I have taken for granted will reside on one fork of the path and just how much over time will migrate to a way of operation that is wide open to security problems as I see it. Which leads to the question of just how many small guys need that security? That need that security at the permanent seat or full-blown design and machining software price? That would not be able to start a business with really scarce capital unless software was cheap.
The numbers of people who are actually using Fusion360 after downloading and not an aggregate of downloads and not used + downloaded and then used like many report as the valid number is huge. No I am not allowed to state the number we were told but if that number is true it is staggering. I see no reason to doubt it either by the way. I was impressed with the Autodesk staff present compared to the ones I have met elsewhere with other companies for the no BS blow smoke up your rear attitude they had.
Autodesk is I think the world leader in aiding startups to begin and prosper with relevant software. They generate huge armies of students that know the products and do not have to be trained nearly as much since they have the basics from school. Solid Works (not Dassault’s nightmare Catia however) does this second best but waaaay behind. Siemens UGS has no clue how far behind they are and I think of Solid Edge and how you can’t find anyone to hire 99% of the time already trained. Well maybe only 95% but who cares. Solid Edge is incredible design software compared to Inventor but you would never know it since you can hardly find users of it plus the only integrated CAM product for Solid Edge namely CAMWorks is not user friendly or reasonably priced. UGS and now Siemens are to blame for this. Autodesk lets you use full-blown seats of sadly now subscription only software for FREE if your company makes less than $100,000.00 per year.
The idea that I first had about the Autodesk Juggernaut steamrolling the competition a couple of years ago was most thoroughly reinforced last week.
At IMTS a few things I found of interest. CAMWorks was set up in a smallish sized booth with not much traffic I could see. Gee I wonder why? Mastercam had a TON of sales demo dudes and as far as I could see way to many of them twiddling thumbs. They were quite proud of finally adopting the ribbon bar and organizing their GUI better many years after most of their competition did. The new Mastercam has been well received though by local users I know so this is a good thing for them and their long suffering users. Esprit had a high volume demo stage but I don’t think there were high volume sales being generated. Vero was there and did not look to be a hopping joint. Autodesk had a number of sales guys, maybe to many I don’t know you tell me but they also had lots of constant traffic especially for HSM and Fusion 360. Delcam not so much and since the price of Delcam products can jump up to $80,000.00 at times I can see why not. CAM competitors to HSM and Fusion need to be very afraid for their future.
Haas from what I was told was busy from the beginning to the end. You had to force your way through their booth. I went there Friday afternoon on the last day of the event and was stunned at the traffic. There was no other machine tool builder there I could see with even a reasonable sized crowd to compare with what Haas had. Of course I am a Haas guy and a buy American first guy if possible and love American manufacturing success stories that profile how ingenuity can thrive even in the communist state of California. Hey Haas, get a move on and go to North Carolina where you will be appreciated for the jobs you create instead of being an “enemy of the environment” and “capitalistic swine oppressor of the working class”. Or Tennessee perhaps near by my shop would also be nice 😉 We like jobs here and no state income tax and we Tennessee Deplorables keep the socialists confined to college campuses and liberal newspapers few will read.
Coming up in the next week or so two related topics. The future with Fusion 360 and why it matters and the culture I found associated with the Autodesk employees I met primarily on the CAM side of course.
Speaking of security. So today Yahoo is caught and forced to admit that up to 500,000,000 users may have been compromised. No that number is not a typo. This started in 2014 and is just now public knowledge. Unlike financial monthly statements which provide auditing capabilities the intellectual property of all users at Yahoo was jeopardized for up to two years and none the wiser except for the crooks and perhaps Yahoo since I assume they must have had some knowledge of bad things going on. If they did not that is even worse and this is a prime example of online peril if you are forced to go there. Can you picture AWS in this situation with your data? They can and that is why their T&C absolves them of any liability where YOUR stuff is concerned. How I love the cloud, let me count the ways.