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Autodesk University Explores Manufacturing – And the Future of the World

Pat Evans
By Pat Evans Contributing Editor, SME Media

What does the future of the world have in store for mankind?

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Attendees filter into the lively Autodesk University event in Las Vegas.

That question was posed by Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost at the Autodesk University 2019 opening keynote on Nov. 18 and helped set the stage for the rest of the week at the event in Las Vegas Nov. 18- 21. His message, in turn, was industries, companies and people across the globe can all move the world in the right direction.

“What does the future look like?” Anagnost said. “An economist might say that automation is going to take half our jobs. A journalist might point you to the bleak headlines about our bleak future. And of course, a technologist like me might tell you that only technology can save us. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. Because although technology can be a positive force, there are forces pulling us in other directions.”

The highlight of the week was that opening keynote, propelled by an electric light show and a performance by a DJ, as well Anagnost’s inspiring message and side discussions by Build Change Forever Founder and CEO Elizabeth Hausler and Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Director Asa Kalama.

Any attendee listening surely left the room with motivation to find opportunities to better the world through their work. As the world’s population continues to grow and technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, so too do the opportunities for virtually anyone to experience an enormous amount of prosperity. Currently, 4 billion people enjoy mobility and prosperity, according to Anagnost, but with more things for more people comes the potential for massive negative impacts.

Anagnost discussed the new demands created from this increase in prosperity, ranging from more housing and hotels to more transportation options, including cars and planes.

“We know that more is inevitable,” Anagnost said. “So, how can we solve a problem of such enormity, of such complexity? It’s a massive challenge but it’s also a massive opportunity.”

His main message: “Technology can help get us there.” Expanding on that, Anagnost said the first step is using the world’s energy and materials better and how those are used affect everyone globally. He also mentioned the ability to harness automation to create more meaningful work for the workers displaced by it. The automation point was especially prudent to a statistic he brought up, that half of U.S. construction workers are more than 45 years old.

“Together we have the opportunity to create a more sustainable, equitable and more prosperous future,” he said. “We need to fundamentally rethink the way we build.”

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Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost talks about the development of new wheels with Volkswagen during Autodesk University’s general session keynote in Las Vegas.

Construction, Anagnost pointed out, makes up a third of global waste.

To amplify the message, Anagnost said the past decade has seen U.S. hotel construction time increase dramatically with the decrease in skilled labor. With that transition, Anagnost showcased Marriott’s $65 million new, 26-story NoMad Hotel in Manhattan. Using pre-constructed modular rooms, the hotel will be the tallest modular hotel in the world, constructed quicker and with less disruption to its neighborhood and with less waste.

The connection for Autodesk to the NoMad project was the contractor, Skystone using Autodesk’s Revit to help build a library of parts that can be mixed and matched for parts during the prefabrication. Skystone also uses AutoCAD, Assemble and BIM 360.

Changing Existing Homes

Revit, along with Dynamo Script, is also the connection the brought Hausler on stage to talk about her work at Build Change, which helps renovate existing housing styles across the globe to better survive mounting environmental challenges.

“We need to find solutions people want,” Hausler said. “Isn’t that what designers do?”

Hausler said prior to incorporating Autodesk systems, her team could retrofit up to 500 houses a year with three people working four or five days. Now, the same process takes one person three hours, a 97 percent decrease in time.

“These technology advances are key to scale,” she said. “We can’t scale just by building more housing; we need to make existing housing better.

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Build Change Forever Founder and CEO Elizabeth Hausler talks about her organization's efforts to innovate the world’s housing at Autodesk University.

“Better housing means healthier communities and happier people.”

Hausler said the way the world is increasing demands on housing globally is also increasing the need for innovation in helping homes across the globe. She used the example of an earthquake in Medellín, Colombia that destroyed rows of houses, with 50 percent of houses not ready to sustain another such disaster. Hausler called the disaster a “canary in a coal mine.”

“One ‘big one’ hits any number of cities across the globe and the loss of life and housing, economic progress and social progress will happen on a much larger scale,” she said.

Volkswagen and Airbus

Anagnost also discussed several Autodesk projects with Volkswagen and Airbus, highlighting the importance of generative design.

With Volkswagen, Autodesk engineers worked to literally reinvent the wheel. It makes sense that Volkswagen might want to take on such a task, as Anagnost said the auto company is spending $50 billion to produce 22 million electric vehicles by 2028.

The new wheels are 18 percent lighter, along with reduced time in design and manufacturing, which Anagnost said has changed VW’s supply chain and ecosystem for the better.

With Airbus, Autodesk helped design a new factory for installing engines. The airplane manufacturer desired to build a single factory bay to assemble engines more quickly with more efficient flows. The team had to overcome 10 constraints: lot efficiency, construction cost, sustainability, employee work conditions, logistics flow, customer experience, daylight and flexibility. Two options emerged, a bigger factory with an unconventional footprint, or an optimized facility in a smaller footprint.

“Generative design is helping us create a more sustainable architectural design that better accounts for critical human factors and work conditions,” said Bastian Schaefer, a designer with Airbus. “It has also expanded our way of thinking and our approach to design by overcoming preconceived notions and blind spots. Whichever design we choose, we know the factory will function more efficiently and will be less costly to build.”

A New Space Age

Continuing with the lighthearted attitude of the keynote, Kalama hit the stage and discussed the creation of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World and Disneyland resorts.

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Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Director Asa Kalama talks about the difficulty of engineering a real-life Millennium Falcon.

Disney used Autodesk Revit, Shotgun and BIM 360 to help navigate the massive undertaking it took to build yet another city-like structure. Kalama said there’s a city-amount of hidden infrastructure to the facility. Each sub-park of the Disney resorts maintains its own power plants, water plants and transportation systems, meaning the company’s engineering and design crews have the ability to constantly improve their processes and how they work. “Coordinating all their efforts was a herculean task,” Kalama said.

Kalama said BIM 360 helped coordinate all the efforts, while Shotgun, normally used to help track media assets, was used to inventory props. At the heart of Disney’s creation of new lands to entertain the masses, Anagnost said each industry can learn from the way they work and innovate. “We could all use a little bit of that magic in our own work,” he said. “We need to give people the opportunity to see how these industries are changing and the important role technology Is playing.”

Automation Domination

Anagnost briefly mentioned the doom and gloom of automation during the general session keynote, but Autodesk Vice President of Design and Manufacturing Business Strategy Greg Fallon tackled it more head on. Like Anagnost, however, Fallon prefers to view the robotic future with optimism. Automation can provide humans with the ability to focus more on design, sustainability and engineering, rather than the nuts and bolts. Those new areas of focus can lead to healthier, more prosperous futures.

“In our industry, automation holds great promise to make us more effective at our jobs,” Fallon said. “Automation will help us meet the daunting challenges we face as a global society and will help us design and make the products that will help a growing global population thrive while we save our planet.

Fallon said the manufacturing sector will spend $580 trillion on IT, noting the massive increase in technology realization, but also noted that much of the people, data and tools are scattered throughout offices and cloud. Because of that, a third of a worker’s time is spent recreating or searching for data and information. “Today’s gap is between what can be and what is,” he said. “We have an opportunity to do better."


The theme of 2019 Autodesk University in Las Vegas was innovating for a more sustainable and prosperous future through design and manufacturing.

Changes to Fusion 360

While the show was certainly entertaining in its own right, the week wasn’t without notable news.

Autodesk announced a new electronics component to Fusion 360 to help its customers innovate. The new capabilities include printed circuit board design, schematics editing, SPICE SImulation and library management.

Anagnost also introduced a new collaboration with ANSYS during the conference’s design and manufacturing keynote. The new collaboration will result in “advancing simulation technologies within design and manufacturing.” The partnership has already resulted in connected workflow between Autodesk Fusion 360 and ANSYS Mechanical.

“You can’t do better design and can’t make better decisions if you don’t know how something is going to perform in the real world—if you can’t understand that, you can’t make it better,” ANSYS CEO Ajei Gopal said. “Together, if we start helping engineers, students and designers understand what the potential is with simulating in real-time, we can change the way the next generation does things.”

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