Smarter software: Autodesk’s new combined manufacturing software portfolio

5 mins read

Autodesk unveiled its manufacturing software portfolio at Chicago’s IMTS exhibition in September. Andrew Allcock examines this in more detail and reveals what the company’s Mark Forth has to say in explaining its significance further

The portfolio brings together products historically offered from Autodesk, Delcam, Netfabb, Pan Computing and Magestic Systems. Packages available include HSMWorks, Inventor HSM, Fusion 360, FeatureCAM, PowerMill, PartMaker (now included in FeatureCAM), PowerShape, PowerInspect, TruNest and Netfabb, offering a complete set of “hybrid manufacturing solutions”.

This IMTS announcement was preceded by the combined launch of 2017 versions for several CAM packages, taking in previous Delcam offerings: FeatureCAM, for automating CNC programming; PartMaker, for precision part manufacturing with Swiss-type lathes; PowerMill, for designing moulds, dies and other components; PowerShape,
for the design of 3D complex parts; and PowerInspect hardware-independent inspection software. The 2017 version of Netfabb – software to support additive manufacturing – appeared after IMTS.

US-headquartered Autodesk bought UK CAM software specialist Delcam some two years back (now also renamed Autodesk), having acquired other CAM firms/brands both before and since. But the Autodesk portfolio of CAM software packages has not been easily visible as a collection; now it is.The collection can now be accessed from one web page: And within this, there has been a rationalisation of pricing and structure across much of the company’s CAM software.

Autodesk manufacturing software, all now at:


All products, save for Fusion Connect (‘Internet of Things’ [IoT], cloud-based solution to manage remote products), TruNest (nesting and fabrication) and Moldflow (injection mould tool design), are available to new and current customers in three levels of product: Standard, Premium and Ultimate. For Fusion Connect, the levels are Starter, Advanced and Enterprise, while for TruNest they are TruNest Contour, TruNest Multi-Tool and TruNest Composites. Odd-man-out Moldflow has five options.

For all of these software packages, there is a product level comparison capability, videos, plus online purchasing and connection to user forums and/or support and learning, for instance.

Within the manufacturing software area web page, outside of the above, which Autodesk terms ‘products’, are ‘solutions’. These include EDM electrode design and manufacturing software Autodesk Electrode (previously Delcam Electrode) and Autodesk Robots for robot programming (previously Delcam PowerMill Robot). Delcam’s previous manufacturing consultancy operation, Delcam Professional Services, is now called ‘Advanced Consulting’, while Autodesk’s factory design software is accessed within ‘solutions’ as ‘Factory Design Utilities’.

These ‘solutions’ clearly do not fit into the ‘products’ mould of categorisation and presentation. So the manufacturing software area, while now much consolidated, still contains a broad swathe of applications that cannot be shoe-horned into a single identical container. But single-page access and harmonisation of purchase offer across many is clearly a major step.

To learn more, at IMTS Machinery spoke to Mark Forth, industry strategy and business development manager, based at Autodesk’s Birmingham location (previously Delcam). What are the links between software, the common threads, the direction of travel and the broader message, we asked.

Responds Forth: “We are at a stage at the moment where those products are very similar to what they were previously – best-of-breed, point solution products aimed at discrete manufacturing process. Are they fully integrated, sending one bit of information onto another? No. But what we are doing is, by getting everything fit for purpose at this level now, when a customer comes onto the website, he no longer sees only the ability to machine a part subtractively, but is prompted to consider additive manufacturing, composites and IoT capability; is he accessing information from machining centres for machine tool monitoring, for example. Plus, there are factory design utilities and robotics. So you have all these elements coming together under the umbrella of manufacturing.

“We are trying to open things up. Customers are no longer fixed in only one way of producing their parts. We need to look at and harness all of these new disruptive technologies and want our customers to know that they can turn to Autodesk to be able to access some of those.”

As an example of the connected nature of the manufacturing products, Forth examples an automotive part (pictured), a lightweighted cylinder head for a racing engine that has been engineered in a way that would not have been possible via only subtractive processes; material is only placed where it is needed while still maintaining performance characteristics. He explains: “It has been additively manufactured, but that is only part of the process; it has to be machined, too. But there is a stage prior to additive manufacturing (AM) to be considered. Just as in the subtractive world, if I have a large monolithic structure fixed to my machine bed and I start machining pockets out all in one area, as soon as I take the fixture away, it will move. And the residual stresses that build up in the subtractive world are also present in AM, and feed into the high failure rates seen with AM.


“We have technology, formerly Pan Computing software, in Netfabb that simulates the AM build process and which is able to predict what will happen, highlighting where I might need support structures to hold the part so it doesn’t try and rip itself off the [AM machine] bed. We want to be able to give right-first-time printing. But after that, having built that part, we then need to remove it from the bed of the AM machine. For simple structures, we might bandsaw support structures off; for something a bit more complicated, maybe I’ll use wire EDM – but how does the cutting profile get generated? It gets generated by an expert in wire EDM, but he knows nothing about that part; doesn’t know how to datum it, none of the metadata is being carried through. We want to connect those dots. So we can actually provide you today with the tools, but we are going to provide you [tomorrow] with the metadata to take you through the whole process.

“Once I’ve take the part off the [AM machine] bed, I need to post-process it, put it into an oven, then machine it in an annealed state. To do that we need to use PowerInspect to move the digital model to the physical environment, because the AM-built part will be different to the CAD design; we need more data. It’s like the casting process; you have a near-net shape part from which you have to pick up some geometry. Then I need to machine some bits away.”

But AM is different to castings; there may be supporting structures to machine away and this must be considered during AM process creation. In titanium, attempting to machine thin supports results in them wrapping themselves around the cutter.

Explains Forth: “We know that you need at least half the thickness of the tool so that you can machine it cleanly. Today that knowledge is in somebody’s head; we are going to fix that and provide the whole workflow.” The company has already started, having integrated what was Delcam PartBuilder, which understands manufacturing needs, within Netfabb.

And Autodesk Electrode also demonstrates such a metadata linkage. Says Forth: “We identify at the design stage certain points that we want to use in both the manufacturing and metrology processes. We are using metadata at the design phase to influence and streamline what happens in the manufacturing processes. So I don’t have to have someone that picks up a dumb part and has to redo the whole process again – which is very laborious, needing highly skilled staff – such that I don’t get the efficiency gains I’m looking for. We need to make the software smarter.”

So that big launch of products at IMTS is just the first step on a journey to a smarter manufacturing offer from the company.

This article was first published in the November 2016 issue of Machinery magazine.