Autodesk, a multinational software company based in San Rafael, California, makes 3-D design software used by everyone from automotive manufacturing giants to Hollywood studios. Now it is betting that those digital tools will have an increasingly powerful role in what happens on factory floors, enabling manufacturers to embrace more flexible strategies that deliver more customized products.
Buzz Kross, who heads the company's manufacturing industry group, says the manufacturers he works with see an opportunity in new technology at a time when they sense that the boom in outsourcing to China has run its course. "There have always been companies that differentiate based on their ability to manufacture most efficiently, and others based on design and invention—it's the difference between GM and Tesla," says Kross. "Now a lot of manufacturers are leaning more to the design model."
Kross says that rising costs in China's maturing economy and high-profile problems with out-sourced components, like those that plagued Boeing's 787, are making the model of high-volume, low-cost outsourced production less economically attractive. The result is that a wider range of companies are considering adopting a more flexible, premium approach to manufacturing that has previously been limited to a relatively small niche. Kross is trying to help that trend along with software such as Inventor, which provides a way to digitally prototype and test mechanical designs, and Streamline, which enables engineers, designers, and managers to collaborate on a design. Both are intended to speed the journey from digital drawing board to factory floor.