In a post on this blog six months ago, I wrote:
“It is my prediction that a version of AutoCAD in the not so distant future will have 3D direct modeling capabilities equivalent to (or probably better than) what we see today in SpaceClaim and Solid Edge ST.”
Today I would like to reiterate my prediction once again. I believe it will eventually happen. It seems to be the most logical thing to do.
AutoCAD has the largest base of CAD software users. Every other CAD software vendor is trying just about everything in its power to woo this huge base. Not always to make them dump AutoCAD and adopt their software, but sometimes to sell them stuff that works with AutoCAD. For example, an AutoCAD 2D user wanting to do some serious 3D work is more likely to use a direct modeling system like SpaceClaim rather than learn a parametric modeling system like Inventor.
In recent times Autodesk has been making the right noises in terms of adding 3D capabilities to AutoCAD. They even hired a Product Manager called Guillermo Melantoni for that exact purpose. Clearly the idea here is to prevent customers wanting to adopt 3D in their work flow from looking for technologies outside of the Autodesk stable.
Assuming that Autodesk does not piss off its AutoCAD customers too much with its pricing, subscription and product retirement policies, AutoCAD users would prefer to look for technologies that they need within the Autodesk stable itself, rather than risk jumping ship to another CAD vendor. So with Inventor Fusion, Autodesk is offering its AutoCAD customers a reason to stick with them. I don’t believe the purpose of Inventor Fusion is to make people switch from SolidWorks or Solid Edge. Rather it will be more effective as a deterrent for preventing AutoCAD users from looking to other CAD vendors for solutions to adopt 3D in their work flow.
But lets move a step further and take a closer look at my prediction. AutoCAD is a platform that is used across several industries. Inventor Fusion will be an answer that will work only for the MCAD industry. What about the others? Doesn’t it make sense for Autodesk to add direct editing capabilities right inside AutoCAD itself? In AutoCAD 2010 they already added 2D constraints and I am sure 3D constraints is on its way. So all that is left to do is link the constraint system to the underlying modeling kernel and you have an Inventor Fusion like technology right inside AutoCAD. I am sure there is a lot of work involved here, but my point is that the situation is ripe for Autodesk to do this. And so is the business case.
The underlying logic of my prediction is based on the simple assumption that if you give AutoCAD customers direct modeling capability right inside AutoCAD itself, a software that they have learned to trust and are quite familiar with, Autodesk actually ensures that their customers stay with them. Obviously some AutoCAD users may move to Inventor for the Digital Prototyping features, but the ones who simply want to model in 3D will not find the need to look elsewhere. Moreover, this way Autodesk can effectively market AutoCAD and Inventor with Digital Prototyping as an explosive combination that can make a huge mark in the MCAD space. Right now, AutoCAD and Inventor look and feel like two opposites sides of two different coins.
The beauty in all of this is that adding direct editing to AutoCAD does not break it or change it drastically. An AutoCAD user can still work in 2D just like how he did a decade ago. For those who do not need it, life will remain the same. But for those who do find the need for direct editing, life will be much easier and will gladly sign those subscription payment checks. In fact, I would be extremely surprised if Autodesk does not add direct editing capabilities to AutoCAD immediately after they have let the world test the technology in Inventor Fusion.
Like I said, it seems to be the most logical thing to do. If any of you can think of a reason why Autodesk should not go down this road, I would like to hear from you.