In recent years, Autodesk—the self-described “leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software”—has steadily expanded the reach and scope of its apps. In the past few months, I’ve gotten to tell some very cool stories surrounding those moves, including the company’s Series B investment in Factory_OS (modular housing solutions), its work in moviemaking with stop-motion animation masters LAIKA, and its support for the SnapEDA search engine tool for electronic device design.
To further broaden its reach across the technical design world, Autodesk has made key recent acquisitions as well, including Innovyze (water infrastructure design, modeling and simulation software) and CAMplete (CNC machining apps). Today the company announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Upchain, a provider of cloud-based product lifecycle management (PLM) and product data management (PDM) software. It’s a move Autodesk says will pull all manufacturing-related apps, both their own and those from other providers in the industry, together into a seamless total product design solution.
Founded in 1982, Autodesk has over 11,500 employees worldwide. The growth strategy the company has been pursuing seems to be paying off. Fiscal 2021 revenue increased 16 % over the previous year to $3.79 billion, driven by strengths in enterprise and cloud-based sales as well as resilience in the company’s SaaS model.
Autodesk’s President and CEO, Andrew Anagnost, is particularly bullish about today’s announcement. “Upchain’s cloud-based PLM and PDM will unite the ecosystem of every type of app—ours and others’,” he said. “It will help break down the barriers between different disciplines. If you look at [Autodesk’s 3D design program,] Fusion, it’s a multi-disciplinary design environment, supporting CAD, CAM, CAE, and generative design and simulation that all work together seamlessly. Upchain allows us to extend that process end-to-end, where the user doesn’t even have to think about it and the data management piece becomes invisible.”
That notion, and PLM software itself, are nothing new. The core purpose of PLM is to provide a central clearinghouse for all things related to a given product, and to connect all the different business groups (engineering, production, quality, marketing, etc.) who have a hand in product development and management. There are many vendors of the software, and their products have become mainstay tools for companies large and small, particularly those with regular and rapid new product development cycles.
However, there are often significant challenges with PLM implementations, such that many launches fail to live up to their promises. Some common particular difficulties include integrating existing apps with the new system, bogging down of computer systems, and challenges with version control for documents and files. Autodesk’s vision for uniting with Upchain is aimed at eliminating those problems by allowing distant users of any app to work together in real time.
“Cloud to cloud is better than internal integrations,” Anagnost explained. “If you build internal connections, somebody has to maintain those. They’re brittle, and they eventually break. Cloud makes all the difference there—it’s the secret sauce. It allows robust federations. It’s a lot easier to have Upchain talk to your ERP. And again, if you look at Fusion, it already decomposes files into individual bits. Upchain inserts those into your data stream. There will come a time where there are no files at all—you’ll share info, not files. You share just data, and the data becomes more fluid—it shows up where it’s needed.”
Upchain’s PLM/PDM capabilities serve a variety of technical functions.
Upchain already has customers in aerospace, automotive, machining and apparel, which means it already parallels Autodesk in the types of industries the two companies support. As Autodesk ties together its existing apps with Upchain PLM and PDM, the combined services will naturally fit with the existing customer base while also supporting other CAD systems commonly used in the manufacturing industry.
For Anagnost, the acquisition addresses key challenges customers are facing. “Upchain makes it easier to share information and to work with distant teams. It makes communicating and collaborating more effective, reliable and predictable. Everyone is concerned about supply chain stability. There’s pressure to harden the business against disruptions. At the same time, everyone’s also focused on lowering IT costs. Organizations have been ripping out in-house IT solutions and going to the cloud. Our collaboration with Upchain will help drive down the cost and complexity of that work.”