Autodesk

Autodesk Jumpstarts Connectivity With IoT Discovery Toolkit

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Through the Internet of Things (IoT), huge volumes of data can be collected from physical devices, including equipment, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with sensors, software and electronics used to expose and exchange data. While the concept behind IoT is quite appealing and many manufacturers already collect massive volumes of data (from sensors in these devices), that data has gone largely underutilized. Why? Because when it comes to connecting physical devices, making them smart and secure, the devil is in the details. Seldom is it as simple as it might sound, especially without a single universal standard for connectivity. And yet the payoff can be huge in terms of the possibility of new revenue streams, optimized performance and potential product improvements.

These potential benefits have prompted Autodesk to create the IoT Discovery Toolkit. The new toolkit, powered by Electric Imp, an industry leading IoT platform provider, and combined with Fusion Connect, “is intended for use by industrial manufacturing OEMs who are interested in implementing secure connected products for their business.” This new offering lets users build out a prototype of a secure end-to-end IoT solution in minutes. Yes, you heard that right – in minutes!

Why Bother?

While the Internet of Things (IoT) has caused a huge stir in other industries, it has been met with less excitement in manufacturing. Many feel it is nothing new. Manufacturers have been collecting massive volumes of data (e.g. through sensors on the shop floor) for decades, but as noted above, this data has been grossly underutilized. And yet while 74% of manufacturers participating in our Mint Jutras 2017 Enterprise Solution Study indicated IoT was “well understood,” only 22% have deployed or are in the process of deploying these technologies. And one out of three that claim to understand it well also feel it is not applicable to their businesses. That may well be true for a small few, but we believe many more might just be missing something.

Of course the target audience for Autodesk’s IoT Discovery Toolkit isn’t every manufacturer, but instead those that manufacture machines or equipment with the potential of being smart and connected. These types of manufacturers benefit directly from the toolkit, while their customers benefit indirectly.

These original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can directly benefit in three ways:

  • Offering new services based on new data, or even “old” data that is now more readily available in real time or near real time
  • Optimizing performance of equipment in the field, possibly including reducing the cost to service and maintain
  • Bringing IoT data back into the product life cycle in order to improve the product

One of the customers of Autodesk’s new partner Electric Imp provides us with an amazing example of all three. Pitney Bowes is perhaps best known for its postage meters. If you’ve worked in any modern day office you are likely to be familiar with their equipment, used for office mailing and package shipping. In the past these were quite simplistic. They were loaded with postage rates and funds that were automatically depleted as you weighed your letters or packages and printed postage. But you had to monitor usage and make sure you didn’t run out of currency loaded. If something went wrong with the system, you waited for a replacement because it wasn’t worth the cost of sending a repair technician onsite.

But over time, these mailing systems have gotten a lot smarter. They are no longer just postage meters; they are now sending devices, connected to the Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud. While they still process daily mail and print postage quickly and accurately, they can now also compare options from major carriers like the United States Postal Service (USPS) and UPS, monitor ink levels and automatically replenish the currency consumed in printing postage. Even better, they can be monitored and problems can be diagnosed remotely.

While this all sounds simple enough, remember, in printing postage, Pitney Bowes’ customers are essentially printing currency. So there are very specific security concerns. And because these meters can be installed in any kind of office environment, the “connection” must be simple and require no technical skills. Pitney Bowes is now shipping IoT-enabled meters and is also retrofitting this capability into existing machines. IoT had to be self-installable, which was one of the major reasons they decided to go with Electric Imp.

As a result, Pitney Bowes added new services while also providing a higher quality of service to customers. According to Rick Ryan, a fellow at Pitney Bowes, “Customers love to see data. We had previously delivered service by replacement because it was was too costly to send a technician out. We were getting a lot of good equipment back that didn’t need service.”

While Pitney Bowes might be best-known for these postage meters, it also has a more sophisticated offering, including room-size equipment that stuffs envelopes and does all the physical preparation to send multi-part mailings to the postal service.

Mr. Ryan tells us, “This is sophisticated machinery with lots of motors and sensors. We used to collect a lot of data on site, when a service technician visited periodically (once a month maybe). Customers might have put the whole system on their network, but it was typically ‘air gapped,’ especially when they were handling sensitive materials that might not be their own [think annual reports, financial statements, etc.]. We have now partnered with GE for analytics and put it on a Cisco network. We perform predictive failure analysis and maintenance on the equipment. While we give away the IoT service because it reduces our maintenance cost, we also offer a premium service that will recommend new services and/or products [think cross sell and up sell opportunity]. And with access to more data, we also have the added benefit of being able to spot trends across our installed base of customers and continue to improve our design.”

Overcoming The Biggest Challenge

While security is often cited as a concern in connecting devices, perhaps the most troublesome challenge of all is the lack of universal standards in connections, including protocols and even couplings. Think what it would be like if your country didn’t have a standard electrical connection. Today when we travel to a different country we need to carry the appropriate electrical adapter in order to plug in our appliances and charge our mobile devices. What if you had to do that even when moving around your own country? Pretty inconvenient, right?

As Bryan Kester, director of IoT for Autodesk says, “IoT is a very complex challenge because it combines a wide range of hardware, networking and cloud technologies. By teaming up with Electric Imp, our goal is to simplify the technology so that businesses can move straight to evaluating IoT business opportunities.” This is one of the advantages that led Autodesk to team up with Electric Imp and make use of its patented setup solution, BlinkUp™. According to Electric Imp…

BlinkUp works with iOS and Android smartphones and tablets to connect your products to the Internet in just a few seconds. Taking WiFi configuration information from the mobile device, BlinkUp transmits that data by rapidly flashing light pulses on the device’s screen. The data are read by an optical sensor tied to the product’s integrated impModule™ hardware in a truly one-step process without the need to scan barcodes, note down device IDs, or leave the mobile app to delve in settings screens.

BlinkUp uniquely combines the snoop-proof security of a wired connection with the convenience of wireless communication. Unlike other setup mechanisms, such as near-field communications (NFC) or Bluetooth, BlinkUp does not require the device being configured to incorporate special hardware or to be paired with the product.

Yes, the IoT Discovery Toolkit is actually a (small) piece of hardware. You will have to request a kit from Autodesk. It comes pre-enabled to work with any device, network and cloud technology. This is how you get started with the IoT Discovery Toolkit:

  • Create an Electric Imp Account (included in the toolkit)
  • Connect and activate the device – just put the small box on the device, no diodes to connect
  • Create a Fusion Connect account (included in the toolkit)
  • Open the dashboard to see the temperature and humidity of the connected device

This of course is just the beginning of a new adventure in IoT enablement. All the experts agree, you will want to start with a small prototype. Don’t try to move too fast or do too much all at once. Be selective in what data will have the greatest impact. Trying to analyze massive volumes at first will likely lead to confusion and the potential for abandonment. Building an IoT enabled product from scratch can take longer than you expect. Have the patience to pursue that first prototype, which will be easier to do knowing that using the IoT Discovery Kit, you will not be throwing that effort away. All you do and all you learn will be transferable to your “real life” adventure.

And a clear message from those who have gone before you: IoT has the potential of creating a systemic shift affecting all aspects of your company’s structure and culture. You won’t be just making widgets any more. Of course you will still manufacture your product, but you will potentially have much more including

  • Product as a service, possibly replacing and/or adding new revenue streams
  • Better insight into how your products are actually used
  • Lower costs of maintenance
  • Better data to help you improve your design

If you think IoT is not applicable to your business, perhaps it is time to reevaluate that conclusion. If you are hesitating to get started, Autodesk’s IoT Discovery Toolkit might just be the push you need to jumpstart the process.

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The Force was Strong at Autodesk University (#AU2015)

Attending Autodesk University (AU2015) is a pleasant change for me. First of all, it diverges a bit from my usual focus on ERP. But as I have been saying for years now, the footprint of ERP has been expanding to the point where it is hard to tell where ERP ends and other software categories begin. Indeed, many ERP players have ventured into design software (largely PLM solutions), data management, and more recently the Internet of Things (IoT), all of which lie squarely in Autodesk’s wheelhouse. And of course, while I don’t limit my writing or research to a particular industry, manufacturing (a key industry for Autodesk) is “home” for me.

I came to “know” Autodesk better a couple of years ago when I worked on a project with them as they partnered with NetSuite, integrating ERP and PLM. That partnership is still strong today, expanding into the area of configure, price, quote (CPQ), as well as IoT. AU2015 is a good opportunity to refresh my knowledge of and my relationship with Autodesk itself.

But that’s not the only reason why AU2015 is a pleasant change for me. Even more appealing: Being surrounded by a vibrant crowd of innovators that see technology as a potential game changer. It seems I spend a lot of my time these days convincing business leaders of that potential. Even those who might be innovators in their own fields seem to undervalue and underappreciate what technology can do for them in terms of the (back office and front office) software that runs the business. Even as their current software might keep them locked out from this competitive advantage, because they spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) getting it up and running, they are simply reluctant to rip it out and replace it, often convincing themselves “they can’t” or “it’s not worth it.” It’s my job to convince them otherwise, showing them the potential for game-changing results. Innovation can’t reside exclusively in a silo all by itself. It needs to connect back to the people and the software running the business.

Many in the Autodesk community have already made the connection between technology and innovation. So it is very refreshing to see and hear so many business leaders chomping at the bit to take advantage of these new technologies in order to accelerate innovation and really change their own game. Company after company came on stage during the Innovation Forum within AU2015 with bright new ideas and applications for technology.

Companies like…

LMN Architects that actually took it upon itself to develop software to use in validating designs. Turning to its in-house LMN Tech Studio for its Cleveland Civic Center project, it developed a 3D digital model of the façade, using parametric modeling techniques to help them convert a hand sketch of the window pattern into a set of fabrication-ready glass and precast-concrete panels. The team used a 3D printer to print out the basic panel form, then used this as the basis for a plaster mold to generate its own complete scale model. Tech Studio set a new standard for team wide collaboration and completely redefined the role of technology in design. As a result, they were able to complete the Cleveland Civic Center project in just 3.5 months (a typical project is 13 months).

JE Dunn Construction also developed a tool in house (called LENS), not for design, but for estimating. LENS allows you to develop a full estimate based on a simple sketch.

GE FirstBuild (yes even old dogs can develop new tricks!) is a partnership between GE and Local Motors formed to “create a new model for the appliance industry, engaging a community of industrial designers, scientists, engineers, makers and early adopters to address some of the toughest engineering challenges and innovations. FirstBuild will then manufacture those designs in its Microfactory for rapid product introduction and iteration.” Its first ever Appliance Hackathon developed 5 new prototype appliances. And as GE’s product evangelist Taylor Dawson (@J_TaylorDawson) said on stage, “A prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” Amen!

These are just a small sampling of companies, ranging from very small, early stage startups to large enterprises taking an innovative approach to using the software, services and platforms Autodesk provides. And it’s not just companies that are innovating. Matt Flail and Tim Ganter, industrial design students at Philadelphia University’s masters program came on stage to describe how they are taking a giant step beyond custom orthotics (the kind that fit inside shoes.) Instead they are making the whole shoe, using 3D scanning and 3D printing to create completely customized footwear that is made to conform exactly to the wearer’s needs. Their thesis project is called FOOTPRINT: 3D Printed Custom Algorithmic Footwear and their goal is to produce cutting edge shoes by incorporating 3D scanning, algorithmic model development, rapid manufacturing, and advanced textile technologies.

And Autodesk itself is no slouch when it comes to fostering innovation. There were several themes interwoven throughout the event to prove that. The overriding theme was “the future of making things.” To this end, Autodesk is on a mission to fuse three components that have previously been treated separately: Design, Make and Use. There are a lot of technical components here. We heard about generative design, and building intelligence and machine learning into smarter products. We heard about 3D printing, not just for printing trinkets, but some really valuable industrial and medical uses, from body parts to tooling. Attendees even assembled 3D printed hands with e-NABLE, a non-profit that provides customized 3D printed prosthetics for children.

So what is this fusion of design-make-use really all about? I think a quote from the stage really sums it up: “Stop trying to make people want what you make. Instead make what people want.” And recognize that people sometimes don’t know exactly what they want from a product until they use it. Therefore what people want continues to evolve as products are used. A smart product, connected through the cloud, can indeed continue to evolve even as it is being used.Storm-CHRON

This philosophy fit nicely into a fun kind of theme at Autodesk University – Star Wars. Complete with Storm Troopers!

Always drawn to fun analogies, I’ve picked up on the anticipated Star Wars craze in some of my recent writing (contact Lisa Lincoln at lisa@mintjutras.com if you are interested in learning more). A couple years ago I had fun with a Star Trek theme as I wrote about “Next Generation ERP” moving into the final frontier. But that concept of next generation software can be applied to a lot of different software categories.

Star Trek was all about sleek and futuristic technology, including starships that could travel at warp speed, transporter beams, (wireless) communication devices, weapons that could be placed on “stun,” and other electronic gadgetry that might not seem so futuristic today. But all these pieces of technology had something in common. They weren’t just cool to have; they served a real need -solved the right problem, perhaps?

The Star Wars franchise was (is?) better known for “the Force.” The Force was an energy that could be harnessed to perform supernatural feats and to amplify other common physical traits of speed and reflexes. Of course the original movie relied on some futuristic technology at the time, particularly in the use of robotic droids and space travel, but it was more about enhancing human performance. While we haven’t yet achieved the same level of progress in space travel, robotics don’t seem so futuristic today and in fact we saw them featured prominently on the AU2015 show floor. More importantly, the Force at AU2015 was really about enhancing the performance of people, products and organizations.

This supports a concept Autodesk CEO Carl Bass (@carlbass) emphasizes – one of “reframing.” He encouraged his audience to ask themselves: Are you solving the right problem? The example he used: Did you know there is a higher energy impact in making a car than driving it over its lifespan? So is reducing fuel consumption really the right problem to solve? I guess it is for the consumer paying at the pump, but maybe not so when you consider the greater good. But just asking the question is a giant step in the right direction.

But solving the right problems is going to be a group effort, which is why Autodesk is relentlessly building out the ecosystem, with more than just software and design tools.

 

Its cloud-based Forge ILogo_Colornitiative, announced during the event, is a three-pronged effort to transform how products are designed, made and used. The three major components include a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, a robust developer program, and a $100 million investment fund. The components:

  • Platform-as-a-Service – The Forge Platform is a set of cloud services that span early stage design, engineering, visualization, collaboration, production and operations. Open application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) enable small and large software developers alike to build intuitive solutions to real problems.
  • Developer Program – The Forge Developer Program will provide ongoing training, resources and support to the developer community. Autodesk will host an inaugural Forge Developer Conference next June.
  • Investment Fund – The Forge Fund will provide up to $100 million in funding, as well as business and technical support to start-ups that are working to deliver innovative solutions and services on or connected to the Forge Platform. This investment will be made over the next several years.

But of course for the Force to be strong, there must be at least the implication of some magic – remember those seemingly supernatural powers? For a company like Autodesk, I think the keys to unleashing this “magic” lies in harnessing data from the Internet of Things (IoT). As Mr. Bass points out, we are rapidly approaching a time when everything will have an IP address and everything is addressable. This opens the doors to a whole new level of understanding of how products perform and how they are used.

IoT is not a foreign concept to manufacturing. Manufacturers have been collecting enormous volumes of data from sensors on the shop floor for many years now. But much of that data has lain dormant because these manufacturers didn’t have the tools and technology to really harness it. Of course the most intuitive use cases for harnessing that data has been in maintenance. Don’t schedule downtime for unnecessary preventive maintenance. Don’t wait for products to fail. Predict failure and perform maintenance optimally based on data collected by the product itself.

In the future of making things, we need to apply this same concept to any kind of consumer, medical or industrial product, move it beyond maintenance and harvest that data to help us improve the products themselves, along with efficiencies that measure human performance. That means we need tools to make it easy to connect all these addressable sources of data. I think this must have been at least part of the consideration in Autodesk’s acquisition of SeeControl last summer, which resulted in the announcement of Autodesk SeeControl at AU2015.

From Autodesk:

The Internet of Things refers to the growing ecosystem of physical things embedded with electronics, software, and sensors that are connected to the Internet and to each other. When these things are products sold to end customers, manufacturers can gather and stream data about how they are being used to offer valuable insights, allowing them to respond to the needs of their markets and individual customers. Connected products also create new insights for the people who design and make them, helping companies better understand their use and improve them over time.

Autodesk SeeControl allows manufacturers to monitor how their product performs in the real world and use live data to optimize future versions. They can keep products running at peak levels, identify potential for failure before it happens and schedule maintenance downtime when it is least disruptive. Ultimately, manufacturers can bring their customers a level of enhanced services based on information about real world product performance and consumption.

Autodesk SeeControl is absolutely native to cloud and device agnostic. Most any protocol you encounter has been accommodated, but if you find a new one, Autodesk can add it generally within a couple of days. But even better, it requires no specific technical or programming skills to connect new devices. Most any business analyst or product manager can get in and do something meaningful with hardly any keying. Just point and click.

The connected product journey has begun – the journey to customer discovery, better next design, advanced services and product as a service.

In conclusion, whether you are looking to

  • Re-imagine the future of making things
  • Fuse the design – make – use processes with connected products
  • Solve the right problems or
  • Simply bring innovation to your business and your customers

…Know that the Force is strong at Autodesk. May the Force be with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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