Autodesk to enter PLM market

Autodesk says will offer a PLM solution from next year. Justin Cunningham talks to two of the company's executives to find out what's behind the move.

Autodesk has announced it is to enter the product lifecycle management (PLM) market from 1st March 2012 with 'Autodesk 360 for PLM'.

The company develops CAD systems such as Inventor and data management tools such as Vault that make up its Product Data Management (PDM) offering, but the move to PLM will incorporate many more business application and management tools. It says customers have been demanding PLM capability to manage wider business activities such as supply chain and operations management.

Richard Tinsdeall, sales director of North Europe, says: "Customers want to do PLM, but not everyone that wants to do it, is doing it, or feels they can do it at the moment. For Autodesk that is a big opportunity."

Autodesk is uniquely going to make its PLM applications accessible via a cloud-based subscription service. It says it wants its offering to be simpler to use and priced significantly lower than its rivals.

Lieven Grauls, technical manager for North Europe, says: "Users will go to a website and log-in, and will instantly be able to access a number of different apps to manage different business activities and product data.

"The apps we offer are probably going to give 80% of what every customer will want, and can then be optimised further for specific needs."

Autodesk say its PLM platform will give users a modern and intuitive user experience through an easy-to-configure web based interface. The result should mean PLM will take significantly less time to implement, and although initial consultation is likely to be needed, Autodesk was keen to stress this is not about growing a consulting business, but putting PLM into the hands of companies that have previously found it out of reach.

The PLM tool can work independently of its PDM offerings and Autodesk does expect some customers to use some systems and not others. However, at the point of passing the magazine for press there was no comment on exact compatibility with other software or CAD systems.

Although exact pricing has also not yet been announced, the company did allude to what it referred to as 'Old-Iron PLM' vs. its own PLM system and said the total upfront cost for a given sized company was $5.5million with a total cost of entry at just under $6million vs. its own system which will be $100,000 and $500,000 respectively.

The drivers of accessibility and ease of use perhaps point to a market niche of better PLM operation in SMEs, though the company says that larger companies would certainly not be ruled out of its sights. Whether Autodesk 360 for PLM will be able to directly compete and be powerful enough for the likes of Airbus or Toyota-sized operations to use as a direct substitute remains to be seen.

It seems Autodesk has come at PLM from a slightly different angle. Rather than develop and deploy a solution that can be used by OEMs for very large product development and operations management, which by its nature is very complex, it seems to have developed a simpler, easier-to-use and more intuitive system that is perhaps more suited to SMEs. Yes, either can probably be scaled down or scaled up as appropriate as no company wants to turn away potential business, but fundamentally both these PLM philosophies have their niches.

Tinsdeall says: "Many companies, particularly in the SME environment, currently do a lot of activities in Excel spreadsheets or on bespoke databases built in Access. [Autodesk 360 for PLM] offers them a far more connected and powerful way of doing those business applications and product management activities."

The message to existing CAD customers, many of which are design engineers, is that this is an extension of Autodesk's Digital Prototyping Solution and will allow engineers to position their activities in to the wider product lifecycle and business activities.

Functionality of the system is yet to be clearly announced, but one aspect that is known is the systems reporting tool. A 'dashboard' will be available to make it quick and easy to see the status of projects, approaching deadlines and design reviews, as well as information about various other business activities. It hopes PLM will show the impact of engineering and design decisions on wider business activities, and - like its market rival – allow companies using its system to get much more from their data than they are at the moment.

Justin Cunningham

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