Autodesk Ushers In the Era of Cloud CAM

As manufacturing is one of the major growth opportunities for Autodesk, during the recent Autodesk University 2013 conference the vendor unveiled Autodesk CAM 360 , the industry’s first cloud-based solution for computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), based on the 2012 acquisition of HSMWorks Apps (“HSM” stands for “high-speed machining”). By leveraging the cloud, CAM 360 allows users to take advantage of collaboration tools and shared data storage, and provides users with ease of use and flexibility.
Since a difference of mere hours in the fast-paced manufacturing process can nowadays impact time to market, companies should benefit from the flexibility to proactively address any manufacturing problems or irregularities that might occur during the virtual “design–to-manufacture” process. CAM 360 allows users to rapidly engage with co-workers and customers, and turn around the machining projects much faster than before. Centralized data storage, online collaboration (e.g., no need to reverse engineer clay models shipped between departments, as was typical practice), and access to info anywhere and anytime via multiple devices are the main benefits of cloud digital prototyping (see Figure 1). Hardly anyone makes anything at a single place any longer, and collaborative online tools are a must.

Figure 1. Quality Measuring Paths
Autodesk’s Digital Prototyping Journey
CAM 360 builds upon Autodesk’s existing suite of cloud service offerings for manufacturers, i.e., the next-generation tools to create, simulate, and turn digital prototypes into physical reality. The more one can use digital information in place of physical models that are expensive and time-intensive to build, the more effective and efficient the design and manufacturing should be.
Two years ago, Autodesk launched PLM 360, creating a new paradigm for product lifecycle management (PLM) software. In September 2012 came the cloud testing and analysis product Sim 360 (formerly Simulation 360). At the end of 2012, Autodesk ushered in a new era of cloud-based 3D computer-aided design (CAD) with Fusion 360.
The final piece of the Autodesk solution for cloud manufacturing services is CAM 360. Unlike standalone CAM tools, CAM 360 is an integrated to allow users to take advantage of Autodesk’s next-generation digital prototyping platform, including the modeling tools found in Fusion 360 (both parametric/history-based and direct modeling capabilities come from the 2011 acquisition of T-Splines). At the core of these services is the Autodesk 360 platform-as-a-service (PaaS), which is project-centric Facebook-like social design platform on to which cloud apps such as CAM 360 can be bolted (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. CAM Dashboard
Although originally built to be delivered on-premises, HSMWorks was a natural fit for the cloud since it has already had multicore 64-bit architecture. There are three versions of CAM at Autodesk:
  1. On-premises HSMWorks (for SolidWorks)
  2. On-premises Autodesk Inventor HSM
  3. Cloud Autodesk CAM 360, which is HSMWorks re-architected on Autodesk’s Neutron core of the Autodesk 360 platform to work smoothly with Fusion 360 and other Autodesk 360 cloud products (currently with no integration to other CAD systems out of the box)
The above three CAM versions have more than 95 percent the same CAM capabilities, which are platform independent; the differences are about implementations, integrations, etc. Thus, CAM 360 is the multiplatform computer numerical control (CNC) programming solution that transcends the normal limitations associated with traditional desktop workflows. CAM 360 is expected to be generally available next year in select markets, with beta release in December 2013. While the pricing is not firm or official, there are indications that the 2.5 machining axis version will be free, with $75 per user/month for 3 axis, and $150 per user/month for 5 axis.
While Autodesk cannot legally discuss anything about its plans with recently acquired Delcam until the acquisition closes early next year, my guess is that it is going to be the on-premises CAM system for perhaps more complex requirements (it has long been certified for Autodesk Inventor). This offering will more likely compete with Dassault Systemes’ CATIA Machining and Siemens PLM Software’s NX CAM, both strong CAM solutions on the market. PTC has Creo 3D CAM extensions, which, as relatively new solution, have yet to prove themselves in the market.
Cloud Digital Manufacturing—The Next Frontier?
Siemens Tecnomatix and Dassault Systemes DELMIA are the digital manufacturing software category leaders. With these solutions the final object is a finished product, meaning the focus is on how to plan and simulate the assembly, robotics, ergonomics, etc. CAM, which basically is about subtractive manufacturing (by removing material, as opposed to additive manufacturing or 3D printing) can also be seen as a part of digital manufacturing. More precisely though, CAM is about digital part machining.
Autodesk has for some time had in preview mode the Process Analyzer digital manufacturing product, and one should expect its cloud 360 series counterpart soon. But for now, CAM has been the central theme of this year’s conference, and digital manufacturing might get its spotlight as some other future event.
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