UK-headquartered CADCAM software specialist Delcam was acquired by America's Autodesk in April last year. Just under one year later, with the stepping down of the Birmingham-based firm's president, Clive Martell, it was announced that Pete Baxter would be leading the company in the new role of vice president (a simple aligning of Autodesk role naming convention).
Baxter comes from the Autodesk side of the business, having joined the organisation in 2004 and, most recently, was vice president of sales, serving as the country manager for Autodesk in the UK. He has an architectural and construction background, but has held a number of sales roles that have taken in manufacturing, architecture, engineering, media and entertainment, and, of course, the well known Autocad product.
For the last five years, he has been involved in developing the strategic accounts business, specifically with respect to Autocad, which used to be a 100% reseller product but whose strategic global accounts are now serviced directly. And the engineering space is where he was most recently involved with that activity.
"Most of the roles I've had have been cross-industry. My background is in architecture and construction, but I have been selling to a range of industries, as part of that manufacturing, and I'm now moving into the Delcam role, being brought in mainly because of my commercial and sales experience," he offers.
When Autodesk took over 750-employee Delcam, it said that the UK CADCAM specialist would, unusually for an acquired company, operate as a wholly owned subsidiary. At the time, Buzz Kross, Autodesk senior vice president, design, lifecycle and simulation, said: "That means the Delcam distributors and sales team will still sell Delcam products, they won't sell Autodesk, and vice versa. So for the customer, it still feels like the same relationship. But there are areas where the two can cooperate to solve a bigger range of problems and that will grow as years move on."
And, indeed, apart from the change in the top position, there have been no discernible changes visible to Machinery, so what has and will be happening in the future?
Explains Baxter: "The reason to acquire Delcam was to strengthen our portfolio as we move beyond design into manufacturing. Whilst we have a very strong portfolio of products that run from conceptual design to detail design, plus simulation and analysis, the acquisition of Delcam gave us the strength in the portfolio to move into the advanced manufacturing space.
"Because Delcam is a very strong brand in its own right – and in this particular space is much stronger than Autodesk – I think we are very sensitive of that, so the intention was always to take a very soft, slow approach to the integration. That meant for the first 12 months that we have been in a 'getting to know you' process and really establishing where the strengths of each organisation are, with the intention to build on those strengths and not to break anything.
"On the commercial side, there have been investigations into reseller relationships and the synergy between Autocad and Delcam resellers, but, more importantly, at the product level it has been more of a technology sharing exercise. So [that means] working on development, development teams and a technology roadmap to drive an appropriate level of cooperation and integration, so that we end up with something that is of benefit to all our customers."
The company is still working through this and is not ready to reveal any elements of this developing technology roadmap yet, beyond the fact that general sharing of ideas, code and algorithms is already a feature within both organisations. Within this, though, with such a broad portfolio of available products on which to draw, sharing may not come from the most obvious areas. For example, urban planning software has taken its core engine from the computer games area, it is highlighted.
But, adds Baxter: "What we are starting to do is work on specific customer types, where we see a fit for both technologies." By way of further illumination, he refers to Autodesk CEO Carl Bass's comments about the future of manufacturing, which takes in cloud-based services that deliver the whole gamut of design through production software, enabling closer collaboration between companies.
"We talk a lot about the future of making things. How we support the 'maker community'; and that's at a very different end of the making community to where Delcam is strong. But, essentially, there is a process change there that we are trying to create, which is to merge the processes of design, simulation and analysis with tooling and manufacture."
The maker community is often taken to mean the hobbyist or start-up 3D printer, which is an element in Autodesk's thinking (the company recently introduced its own 3D printer, Spark), but Baxter extends this, saying it's about providing subcontractors with the software tools to get involved in design, or in collaborating with firms further afield, and vice versa for design companies: "Democratisation of manufacturing, but without diluting what Delcam offers at the high end."
And he adds: "We have already identified certain strategic customers where we see a significant benefit to offering the extended portfolio [of products]. In automotive, for example, where there are some natural synergies between what Delcam and Autodesk do, there will be some evidence of that coming out soon, over the next couple of months. Basically, it's about how we get greater synergies between design and manufacturing.
"It's around introducing a seamless workflow and process that gives people access to the appropriate technology and workflows to do their job more effectively. What we have seen in all the other industries that we serve is that there has been massive process change in the recent past, where roles have become more tightly integrated.
"Construction is an example. It was a very linear process with very little collaboration. Building information modelling changed all that, allowing better coordination and integration. We have achieved a certain amount of that in the manufacturing space, with digital prototyping. Where we haven't extended that process yet – hence a key reason for the acquisition of Delcam – is from design, simulation and analysis through to manufacturing, so to include that [manufacturing] as an integral part of the process."
Baxter adds that this is probably easiest to achieve at the hobbyist end with 3D printing, but adds: "The relevance of the approach to high-end Delcam customers is really to see how we can more seamlessly integrate design and manufacturing, so that the manufacturing process is informing the decisions you make about design, early in the process."
CLOUD-BASED SOLUTION BENEFITS
And in the distributed manufacturing world of customers and suppliers, he offers that this will be achieved by collaboration via cloud-based solutions. Autodesk already offers such through its Fusion 360 product, which includes a CAM package (discussions on collaboration with Delcam here are ongoing). Asserts the vice president: "Our experience in a whole range of other markets is that the more you produce a collaborative workflow, the more you drive informed decision making, which ultimately can change the way things are designed and made." And he adds that Autodesk's experience so far has been that where such an environment is made available 'the market grows into it'.
So, no major change to the current Delcam portfolio or the relationships that it has with customers, but instead an effort to build on those in an evolutionary manner, Baxter says. "A win-win for both companies, if we approach this in an intelligent, structured and considered way," he concludes.