Management

CAD Central

1 Nov, 2005 By: Cadalyst Staff Cadalyst


Autodesk Acquires Alias to Bolster Industrial Design, DCC Lineup

Autodesk signed a definitive agreement to acquire privately held 3D graphics technology developer Alias for $182 million in cash, adding to Autodesk's offerings in the consumer product design and media and entertainment markets. Autodesk anticipates that the transaction will close in four to six months.

"Alias' technology spans several of our most important markets and augments the synergy between our design and media businesses," said Carl Bass, COO of Autodesk. "Our design customers are demanding more powerful visualization, animation and publishing capabilities. Our media and entertainment customers are increasingly using the data created by our design applications for broadcast, film and games projects."

 Its acquisition of Alias and its StudioTools software products gives Autodesk a foothold in the consumer goods market. The Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush handle design was created by Lunar Designs and Oral-B Laboratories using Alias StudioTools.
Its acquisition of Alias and its StudioTools software products gives Autodesk a foothold in the consumer goods market. The Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush handle design was created by Lunar Designs and Oral-B Laboratories using Alias StudioTools.

Founded as Alias Research in 1983, Alias is headquartered in Toronto, Canada, and has about 600 employees. Alias revenues were $83 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2005.

Alias products include sketching, animation, visual effects, design, modeling, rendering and reviewing tools such as Maya, the company's Academy Award-winning 3D application, and Alias StudioTools.

With the acquisition, Autodesk adds a front-end design extension to its "concept-to-manufacture" PLM (product lifecycle management) solution.

Design professionals will be able to conceptualize and present ideas with StudioTools' 3D visualization and simulation technology, and engineers can supplement Inventor to model solids and product functionality. Alias technology can be used for virtual prototyping, which is growing in popularity because of its promise to cut time to market and product-development costs.

Autodesk's manufacturing legs will be extended into the automotive and consumer goods market segments currently served by Alias. Alias StudioTools is used by virtually all major automotive companies for conceptual design. Consumer product customers include Timex, Kodak, Mattel and Sharp.

Autodesk says that it will continue to develop the Alias product lines in conjunction with complementary Autodesk products and technologies. Alias products will transition to the Autodesk brand over time, and Autodesk will continue investing in key Alias product brands.

≈"Alias' customers will benefit from nearly $300 million in R&D spending while having access to new and complementary products and technologies," says Doug Walker, president and CEO of Alias.

Some products in the Alias line have overlapping functionality with products already developed by Autodesk, such as Maya and Autodesk's 3ds max. Whether these products will eventually be combined is not known.

Autodesk says its initial focus will be on improving interoperability between the two products and making processes as smooth and integrated as possible for customers. How the products evolve in the long term will depend on the recommendations of an integration team, based on the needs of customers in the entertainment and design fields.

3ds max is developed for Windows only, while Maya supports Windows, Linux and Macintosh operating systems. Alias customers in the animation and gaming arenas include Industrial Light & Magic, Pixar, DreamWorks, Nintendo and SEGA.

In April 2004, Silicon Graphics sold Alias to Accel-KKR, a private equity firm that focuses on technology, for $57.5 million.

Autodesk says it did not make an effort to acquire Alias at that time because it was in the midst of a corporate restructuring. For further information about Autodesk's acquisition of Alias, go to www.autodesk.com/autodeskandalias.

Adobe, UGS Team Up on 3D Support

Adding 3D content to PDF files will become much easier thanks to a new partnership between UGS and Adobe. As part of the agreement, Adobe joins UGS' JT Open program and gains access to the JT software development kit. For its part, UGS will add PDF export capability to its product line.

Adobe will use the JT development kit to enable future versions of its Acrobat product to import JT files and translate them into the U3D format used by PDF files to display 3D objects.

UGS estimates that more than four million software seats worldwide support the JT format, so this partnership will greatly expand options for publishing 3D models in PDF format. Even though the U3D format is backed by hardware heavyweights Intel and HP, Bentley MicroStation is still the only major CAD developer to support U3D export directly.

"Today's announcement will contribute to the enhancement of collaboration and communication that takes place among our global locations and outside suppliers throughout our product lifecycle process," said Alfred Katzenbach, director of information technology and IT-processes at DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes Car Group. "JT is our industry's most widely adopted lightweight 3D format for representing digital product models, and Adobe PDF is the de facto standard document format throughout the world."

PLM Survey Offers Tips for Successful Product Innovation

To determine how operational PLM improvments affect company growth and profitability, Aberdeen Group published the "Product Innovation Agenda Benchmark" (www.aberdeen.com).

Aberdeen finds that companies that invest in improving product innovation post an average of a 19% increase in product revenue, 15% decrease in product costs and 16% reduction in product development costs. Through interviews with 150 companies, Aberdeen found that the top challenge facing manufacturers today is cost pressure, followed closely by shrinking product lifecycles and tougher competition. Aberdeen also evaluated operational improvements that could increase product revenue and found that product quality was more important than quantity. Responding companies ranked responding to customer needs as most important, followed by increasing the value of new products and bringing products to market faster.

Aberdeen also rated the product development performance of responding companies by looking at the percentage of products that met targets for revenue, cost, launch date, quality and development costs. According to the report, the top contributors to excellence in product innovation are executive leadership, centralized control and coordination, and standardized product development processes. Aberdeen recommends the following for companies that want to improve product innovation:

  • 1. Evaluate product innovation goals in business terms, not just operational metrics.
  • 2. Implement operational improvements that yield tangible business results.
  • 3. Look for initiatives that not only produce value but also form a foundation for future improvements.
  • 4. Make a senior executive responsible for innovation success.
  • 5. Look to involve your whole team, including external suppliers.
  • 6. Implement PLM technology to reach revenue growth and cost reduction targets.
  • 7. Don't try to change everything at once.

INSTANT MANUFACTURING COST PROJECTIONS

Venture-funded company aPriori Corp. aims to help manufacturers determine the cost of goods early in the design process, when it's cheaper and easier to address them. President and CEO Frank Azzolino notes that most companies don't know what it costs to build a product until they start building it.

Development of aPriori's cost management product began at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in conjunction with a Fortune 100 manufacturer. It currently integrates with Pro/ENGINEER to display a cost dashboard that engineers can access while working, in effect making cost another design parameter. It also interacts with other corporate systems such as PLM, MRP and ERP. The product is able to synthesize existing data to project information about products that haven't been built before. Azzolino says that aPriori cost estimates fall within 2% of the actual production costs for parts and within 16% for components.

Integrates with Pro/ENGINEER, aPriori displays a cost dashboard showing how much a part will cost to be manufactured.
Integrates with Pro/ENGINEER, aPriori displays a cost dashboard showing how much a part will cost to be manufactured.

A 1% reduction in cost of goods can increase income by 16%, he adds. Cost for aPriori is around $3,000 per user per year in implementations ranging from 50 to 100 users.

STRATEGIES UNDERWAY

Respondents to Aberdeen's survey are already doing the following to increase product revenue:

  • 1. Implement standardized best practices for new product development and introduction (68%)
  • 2. Incorporate the voice of the customer (62%)
  • 3. Increase engineering efficiency (55%)
  • 4. Leverage intellectual property (52%)
  • 5. Improve collaboration (38%)
  • 6. Improve change processes (32%)
  • 7. Implement digital design, prototyping and simulation (32%)


About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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Lynn Allen

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