A Beginner’s Guide to Autodesk in the AEC and Manufacturing Industries
To help organizations and individuals who are unfamiliar with Autodesk understand its purpose, offerings, and the various software titles and applications that are used within the two primary industry verticals where TPM specializes. The ebook will be an overview of the industries, the applications, the toolsets, the training, the projects, and the advantages to working with a specialized partner like TPM.
Table of Contents
- A brief history of Autodesk
- What industries use Autodesk?
- How is Autodesk used in the AEC and manufacturing industries?
- What is an Autodesk certification and who needs it?
- What is an Autodesk Specialized Partner and why work with one?
- How is BIM used in the AEC industry?
- A quick look at amazing BIM/Autodesk projects
- Choosing the right Autodesk tools for your business: a checklist
- How TPM can help you find the right product and support your growth
- Additional resources
As a business owner, there are a lot of big decisions you’ll make. Some of those decisions, like choosing the software and applications that drive your business, are long-lasting and have a huge impact. It’s no secret that, especially in industries that require 3D design, the right tools and the right team will help scale your business in a way that fosters success. For that reason, you want to do your research, select the right partners, purchase the right tools, and know how to use them well.
Autodesk can be an amazing part of so many businesses in the architecture, engineering, and construction sphere. Not only is it a reliable and powerful tool, but with the right support and the right guidance, it can improve your workflow and productivity, saving time and money as well. Working with the right tools matters. Working with the right tools and a partner who understands how best to wield them matters more.
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What is Autodesk?
Autodesk is the preeminent creator and publisher of AutoCAD and other design software used in construction, engineering, architecture, manufacturing and other industries. While AutoCad, designed in part by company founder John Walker, is the software Autodesk is best known for, their software portfolio has grown extensively over the years — serving the same industries with integrations that enhance AutoCAD’s capabilities and extend its functionality into new arenas and industries.
A Brief History of Autodesk
Autodesk first appeared on the market in 1982 with the first release of its flagship product AutoCAD. Then, in 1986, the re-release of an updated AutoCAD included a proprietary version of the LISP programming language that enabled third party developers the opportunity to create add-ons. This one change significantly enhanced AutoCAD’s functionality and increased the ways designers and engineers could use the software. As a result, Autodesk reached $100 million in sales by 1990.
The late 1990s is when we see some other fundamental changes in the software, other than the end of support and a shift away from Unix and Mac to Windows based application support for AutoCAD. In fact, the 1990s and the purchase of Softdesk is what hailed the era of industry specific software collections that are the hallmark of Autodesk’s library today.
The software collections and industry-specific libraries then enabled a variety of applications designed to support specific uses with Autodesk’s three primary industry verticals: architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC); manufacturing; and media.
What Industries Use Autodesk?
The complete answer is that any industry can use Autodesk if there is a need to create 2D or 3D designs. Businesses can create anything from interior spaces and buildings to product design and animations. Autodesk offers the tools to create a digital version of a designer or engineer’s vision. It even has uses in medical science and education.
However, Autodesk is primarily used within three verticals:
As noted above, the collection specific libraries further enables each vertical by assisting with design, communication, collaboration, and workflow.
The wide variety of products and usage means businesses want to be sure they’re choosing the right partner to work with for Autodesk product purchase, training, and additional support. Each vertical has its own Autodesk collection of tools, but beyond that, additional software and applications may be beneficial to improving and optimizing your Autodesk and design experience.
How is Autodesk Used in the AEC Industry?
The AEC industry, by its nature, requires a lot of communication and coordination. Any software utilized in joining all three roles needs to ensure alignment on industry specific standards, codes, and requirements. For that reason, they need software, or a software suite, that enables communication across all stages of a project, from design through construction, and provides a digital representation of all aspects of a building’s composition. This is where both AutoCAD and BIM tools come in handy, both of which the Autodesk AEC collection provides.
First, AutoCAD allows the detailed drawing, down to fractional amounts, of structures. This is far more exacting and, therefore, far more accurate than hand renderings. This is particularly important within the AEC space as mismeasurements or miscalculations can be devastating when it comes to engineering. It also means, when working with existing structures, that detailed information can be incorporated into design and construction plans.
Further, Autodesk enables teams to save all work in the cloud, providing access to anyone, anywhere, at any time. That means regardless of where your team members are, they can share data, drawings, and ideas.
Autodesk functionality also provides the ability to create templates or blocks from team drawings, saving time recreating previous structures or designs that met specifications and worked well in real-world applications. From there, designers and engineers can duplicate or modify them to meet new needs. This means everything from window systems to foundations and layouts can be saved and reused in similar projects. Has the feel you want but doesn’t quite meet the project needs? Anything can be adapted. In other words, designers don’t need to redraw entire sections, or, as was the case with manual drawings, the whole thing. AutoCAD allows easy editing.
In addition to AutoCAD, the AEC Collection includes, among other applications, BIM Collaborate. BIM, or building information modeling, allows each member of the team (architects, surveyors, engineers) to input their role-specific data, which is then passed on to contractors or subcontractors. The real added bonus here is that everyone has access to all of the building data and information, but when a change is made, it’s simple to see how one change can and will impact other aspects of the structure or construction. When it comes time to make sure structural needs are met across a project, the AEC collection is there to facilitate.
What is AutoCAD?
AutoCAD is the flagship application published by Autodesk and is the industry leader in 2D and 3D modeling software. CAD, which stands for computer-aided design, enables quicker and more accurate designs and drawings and facilitates their manipulation, thus saving designers and engineers time on frequent features or designs used within an industry or business.
An Overview of 3D Modeling and Its Uses
3D modeling enables users to manipulate points or coordinates in a digital space which can then represent three-dimensional objects. The digital points can create lines, planes, edges, vertices, and other complex shapes like polygons. Some 3D modeling applications, like AutoCAD, allow users to scan and import 3D models, which can then be scaled and manipulated to suit a designer’s need.
3D modeling is used in a variety of fields, including the development of CGI film features and product/parts development in several manufacturing fields. However, its broadest use is probably within the AEC industry where architects, engineers, and designers rely heavily upon it for design, drafting, and all facets of engineering from electrical to plumbing within the construction industry.
AutoCAD in AEC
While AutoCAD is their best-known product, it was designed predominantly for technical drawings within the engineering space. However, many of their other products were created to support 3D modeling. 3D modeling enables sculpting, which can be used for complex plans for buildings, products, or video games.
For example, within the AEC space, Navisworks allows users to combine 3D drawings, which is useful for manipulation and examination to explore how designs work in conjunction with one another. Similarly, Civil 3D enables users and designers to grade land masses around their proposed building locations, increasing projects’ success. While each product offers its own functionality, they work best when paired together.
Essentially, most of Autodesk’s additional software has been built to work within the same spaces and increase design functionality or capabilities by pairing or integrating those programs with AutoCAD. Many of them do not offer 2D or 3D abilities themselves but rather enhance what AutoCAD can do, improving accuracy in the case of building design. The drafting and design problems within the AEC industry have been significantly eased by advancements in AutoCAD’s capabilities, but also by the advanced toolsets.
AutoCAD's AEC Toolsets
One of the advantages of working with an industry leading software application, especially one that’s been around as long as Autodesk and AutoCAD have been, is the inclusion of robust toolsets and features that one may not find with other applications.
Over the years, the Autodesk team has been able to identify the tools and functionalities most needed by different users in different fields and develop specialized toolsets to streamline frequent tasks. In fact, an Autodesk study found an average productivity gain of up to 63% across all the toolsets.
The Architecture Toolset
The Architecture toolset features a vast library of pre-designed objects typically used in architectural design including, but not limited to: windows, doors, walls, roofs and more. The toolset automates common tasks such as creating outlines for rooms, building sections, and ceiling grids. The goal of the Architecture toolset is to simplify and speed up frequent tasks to allow designers more time for more complex tasks that invoke their true skillset. As a result, users may see a 61% increase in productivity.
The Mechanical Toolset
The Mechanical toolset features over 30 options for creating complex, but frequently used shapes within AutoCAD. The toolset recognizes identical parts, even when hidden as well as common elements within layers to speed up object placement. The Mechanical toolset speeds up both calculations and tasks providing more time for solving complex problems and project challenges. As a result, research suggests users might see a 55% productivity increase.
The Electrical Toolset
The Electrical toolset boasts the largest productivity gain at 95%, which may be related to the menu that includes over 2,000 schematic symbols. Further, it automatically connects associated wiring and components, as they’re created, via a numbering and parent/child system without the need to handle that manually. Additionally, it features one-step commands for common schematic drawings. In short, the toolset has simplified tedious tasks and optimized your electrical engineer’s time.
The MEP Toolset
The MEP toolset (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) boasts a collection of parts, configurations, and plans in all three areas, including HVAC. Including all three interior building components in one set allows users to build out for requirements quickly. For plumbing, the piping layouts are easily set up using templates, and the plumbing lines can be quickly routed and connected to the library of plumbing components. When the bones of the house are in place, the MEP toolset can increase MEP design productivity by up to 85%.
The Map 3D Toolset
The Map 3D toolset provides a huge add-on benefit for designers and construction teams working with geographical data impacting their overall structure design. With three mapping workspaces, including planning and analysis, maintenance, and 2D drafting, users can download map data to reflect up-to-date geographical data.
Further, a separate tab enables users to compare drawing details and map details to prevent potential issues. When it comes to applying map data to parcel and structure development, ensuring that you’ve got the most up-to-date information and a streamlined method to compare the drawing and map details saves valuable time. In fact, the Map 3D toolset has been shown to improve productivity by up to 60%.
The Plant 3D Toolset
The Plant 3D toolset delivers exceptional advantages for designers and construction teams working in the manufacturing space where piping and instrumentation design (P & ID) are crucial to purpose. Manufacturing spaces are incredibly complex due to the various and intricate systems that must be engineered to work together. This toolset permits users to create and modify P & ID layouts based on specifications, all while managing precise engineering data. Users have experienced up to a 74% productivity gain, demonstrating that even tricky tasks can be simplified when using the correct tools.
The Autodesk Software Overview
Autodesk boasts over 90+ applications that enable drafting, designing, and more in three primary industry verticals: architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC); manufacturing; and media. In addition to allowing users to design and draft, the software can also facilitate modification, editing, collaboration, project management and administration, or structural integrity testing.
As with any software solution, there are a wide variety of products on the market, and the goal shouldn’t be to just choose the most popular CAD software. You also want to select the best CAD software for your business. That said, Autodesk does offer an amazing product with incredible functionality and versatility, especially with collections designed for specific industries.
For example, the Product Design and Manufacturing Collection is an ideal package for product designers and manufacturers, and the Media and Entertainment Collection includes all kinds of tools to help content creators.
Let’s dive into the most notable collection for engineers, architects, and construction firms.
The Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Collection
Autodesk created the AEC collection to package both CAD and BIM applications for use among designers, engineers, and contractors. It provides a shared, cloud-based environment that facilitates collaboration through all stages of a project. Each piece of software also often includes additional add-ons like toolsets and APIs. The AEC Collection includes:
Pretty much the gold standard for 2D and 3D design. AutoCAD allows users to draft, annotate, and design various “materials,” including solids, surfaces, and mesh objects. Task automation enables drawing comparisons, counting, adding blocks, scheduling, and more.
Revit is building information modeling (BIM) software that complements AutoCAD by not only automating repetitive tasks but also allowing designers to easily update floor plans, elevations, and other necessary changes as designs and models evolve.
Civil 3D complements Revit in that it enables site grading design and can automate it and provide alternative solutions based upon project needs and potential constraints or obstacles. That data is then sent back to Revit, where AEC professionals can apply it to a larger project.
Civil 3D provides grading solutions for solid foundations. In contrast, Infraworks allows construction, engineering, and architecture professionals to assess, analyze, and visualize how their designs interact with the natural environment and other surrounding structures. The ability to quickly gauge what impact existing environments might have on design needs can prevent project slowdowns and improve decision making and designs.
Essentially, the “light” version of AutoCAD. While it still provides mobile and web application access, AutoCAD LT is limited to 2D designs and strips down some of the more robust AutoCAD features. However, it may be better for a budget-conscious design firm or company.
BIM 360/BIM Collaborate
One of the advantages of working with a partner who knows both the Autodesk Suite and your industry is that they can advise you on additional Autodesk applications to optimize your design and workflow experience. BIM 360 is now BIM Collaborate and is a part of the AEC Collection. BIM Collaborate provides a cloud storage structure that improves workflow, enhances communication, and facilitates collaboration throughout your entire project.
Autodesk Training and Support
Perhaps one of Autodesk’s greatest strengths beyond the breadth and depth of its applications is the level of support users receive from Autodesk resources, specialized partners, and a highly engaged community of experts and users alike. From Autodesk University to online resources and education from specialized partners, there’s no shortage of resources available to those just entering the field or those looking to solve design or project specific challenges.
What is an Autodesk Certification and Who Needs It?
As with their varied line of software tools, Autodesk also offers certifications across its software collections. Certification, via an online exam, validates your Autodesk skills within specific industry verticals. It says to clients, potential employers, and those in the Autodesk community that you have formal training and demonstrable knowledge of the software/application and its use within your particular field.
Autodesk offers three levels of certification. Each level requires increasing hours spent working with the software to establish baseline experience on which the certification builds. Those seeking Autodesk certification as an associate, professional, or expert will need to have logged hours ranging from 150-1200 hours of experience. In other words, there’s a level of certification for all users ranging from students and those new to the field to those seeking to continue or advance their design careers.
Who Should Get Certified?
As with all types of certifications and continuing education programs, an Autodesk certification is an investment of time, effort, and money. However, for many, it’s also an investment in your field and your career.
Employers recognize and value validated skills, such as those demonstrated by an Autodesk certification, regardless of the level. It suggests a willingness to learn an industry and an application, as well as a desire to grow professionally. Additionally, Autodesk certifications assure employers they’re getting a qualified candidate. And, if you’re already working in the field, it may be just what you need to make career advancements.
What is an Autodesk Specialized Partner and Why Work With One?
While one role of Autodesk Specialized Partners is that they are certified as an Autodesk reseller, they’re also Autodesk Certified Experts themselves. In short, when you make the choice to work with a specialized partner, you’re getting expertise. There are few things as frustrating as asking a retailer or seller for assistance with a product and having them refer you elsewhere or even say, “Hold on while I find someone who can help you.” With an Autodesk Specialized Partner, you’re talking to the folks who can help you.
Autodesk Specialized Partners aren’t just product experts. They have vast experience in your industry. As a result of this expertise, not only can they help you determine the right Autodesk products to meet your needs, but they can also offer advice and support on how to best leverage the products and their functionality to improve your workflows, reduce errors, and maximize profits.
Additionally, working with a specialized partner is a win-win for everyone involved. Autodesk is a multinational software company with offices around the world. They build outstanding products and want their expertise to stand behind their offerings. They want to help their customers succeed, but they’re still a big company.
While they do an outstanding job of providing support and resources, certifying specialized partners means they know they’ve got qualified teams across the world representing their company and their product. For you, it means getting regional support, from a team who knows you and knows your business. That makes it personal. Partners are invested in helping you and in helping your business succeed.
What Can I Do With Autodesk?
In some cases, it might be better to ask what you can imagine than to limit the possibilities. With the addition of toolset and applications from the AEC collection like BIM, designers and architects are really only limited by physics, and in some cases (The Museum of the Future in Dubai) it seems that with the right inspiration and tools, even that can be “defied.”
What is BIM?
In addition to AutoCAD, the AEC Collection includes, among other applications, BIM Collaborate. BIM, or building information modeling, describes a process by which designers, architects, and engineers can digitally build and manipulate structures. Through the use of software, such as Autodesk, BIM technology enables architecture, construction, and engineering (AEC) teams to create, share, and modify digital models of their projects, in the cloud, where they can collaborate on decisions impacting the structure itself.
More specifically, BIM revolutionizes the design space by taking 2D hand-drawn images and enabling users to use 3D designs that also include information about geographical information, building materials (and sustainability), and other assets (structures). Teams can then modify designs as they move through all phases of the project, and more data is entered regarding structural needs. This information then extends into the life of the building should modifications need to be made or issues addressed in everything from structure to engineering.
How is BIM Used in the AEC Industry?
The AEC industry has several uses for BIM. The tools within the software allow designers and engineers to review feasibility and constructability as well as identify potential issues with clash detection. In addition to those vital construction analysis tools, BIM also provides valuable knowledge and data sharing that improves safety, efficiency, accuracy, and communication among all parties on the project.
A Quick Look at Amazing BIM/Autodesk Projects
As mentioned above, BIM allows designers, architects, and engineers to create, and, in some cases, recreate designs previously unimaginable. From building restoration to seemingly defying physics, sometimes seeing what Autodesk and BIM can do is enough to inspire and amaze. Not only does it facilitate eye-catching architectural elements, but it also helps with environmentally friendly design.
1. Christ Church Cathedral — New Zealand and Notre Dame — France
Cathedral construction, the likes of which we see on buildings such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and Notre Dame in Paris, have long stood as testaments to what humans can build with time, dedication, and craftsmanship. However, in the modern age, the tools are just a bit different.
After the Christ Church Cathedral was nearly ruined in an earthquake, much like Notre Dame was nearly lost to fire, engineers, architects, and designers are looking at how modern digital tools can help them restore both cathedrals to their previous glory.
In fact, Autodesk and its BIM tools will enable them to:
- Identify structural weaknesses before work begins.
- Determine which areas require reinforcement, rebuilding, or reinstatement.
- Plan for structural stabilization to secure the structure.
- Design and construct new buildings to add the cathedral’s grounds.
2. Shanghai Tower — China
At 102 stories, New York’s Empire State Building was the first “skyscraper” to exceed 100 floors and in 1930, it was quite the marvel. It’s still a marvel in many ways as it rose 4.5 stories a week to be completed in a year and 45 days. In contrast, the Shanghai Tower, at 128 stories, took nearly seven years to complete.
However, the Empire State Building had just one local firm rather than the seven global teams working on the Shanghai Tower. While each building had logistical challenges to overcome, BIM technology and Autodesk ensured that those working on the Shanghai Tower were able to:
- Coordinate seven worldwide teams and 50 local team members.
- Create a complex structure that features “nine cylindrical buildings stacked on top of one another, all enclosed by a circular inner curtain wall and a triangular facade enveloping the entire structure.”
- Reduce construction material use by 32%.
- Create a LEED-certified, energy-efficient skyscraper with its own wind farm and geothermal system as well as rainwater recovery and gray water recycling.
- Revit allowed a full glare analysis assessing the tower’s impact on the city.
When it comes to making fine jewelry and watches, Bulgari knows history, precision, and style. It’s why their factory needed to be a reflection of those qualities as well. When we consider that the factory was also slated to be built on the same land where, in 1817, Goldsmith Francesco Caramora’s skills established him and the town as the epicenter of gold design work, it was essential that the project adhered to standards that would maintain the cultural site.
Other important design factors that presented unique challenges to the project included the need for intense security to protect the product and trade secrets. Given the requirements of this particular project, Autodesk and BIM were able to help the team:
- Create aluminum panels preventing outsiders from seeing in, but maintaining views from the interior.
- Provide secure workspaces while facilitating outdoor access for employees required to be onsite all day.
- Create a visually stunning space that was also a working manufacturing floor with highly technical specifications.
- Build the largest jewelry factory (14,000 sq. ft.) in Europe while ensuring it was sustainable and LEED certified.
4. Museum of the Future — United Arab Emirates
When you’re looking to construct a building that will act not as a formal collection of objects as museums typically do, but to design a space that reflects the creation and innovation occurring within its walls, you need the right tools to bring specific and detailed visions to fruition. That’s precisely what happened with the teams working on the Museum of the Future in the United Arab Emirates.
While design specifications, both interior and exterior, needed to accommodate varied utilizations and cultural values, the building itself was expected to be a showcase and invitation for innovation in UAE’s largest city. Further, the demands required that the building also represent the region’s respect for art, design, engineering, and the riches of the landscape. It’s why the design is so intricate and complicated and why it could not have been completed without Autodesk’s tools, which enabled the following:
- 4D design was required to prove buildability given the unique structure.
- Clash analysis was essential in determining feasibility for design elements.
- Intense collaboration was facilitated between designers, architects, and engineers.
- Functional design elements (freestanding stairways) contributed to the overall aesthetic.
- This building pushes the limits of design, beauty, and functionality that also reflects its purpose.
5. Silver Oak Winery — California (U.S.)
I’d like to raise a glass for this design! In a region (Napa) that celebrates all the things (ok, mostly one thing) the Earth gives us, one of the primary goals of this new construction was to rebuild with sustainability at the forefront. In 2006, the winery was decimated by fire. When faced with difficult decisions, the family-owned business decided to rebuild and re-envision how the winery worked with the landscape, the environment, and their overall goals for being a leader in the viticultural community.
The Duncan family was able to express their values to the designers, engineers, and architects who, with the use of the Autodesk suite of software, was able to do the following:
- Utilize solar power, LED lighting, and a water-filtration system to put them on track for LEED Platinum certification (only the 2nd winery to do so).
- Help Silver Oak become the first winery ever to earn seven petals in the Living Building Challenge.
- Incorporate reused redwood in the exterior.
- Align needed plumbing and catwalks with building aesthetics.
- Harness solar thermal energy to provide heat to the central hot water heater.
- Through Revit, identify potential conflicts and challenges that would negatively impact the bottom line.
By now, it’s easy to see how overwhelming the process of choosing the best Autodesk product and tools could be for new and experienced users alike. With so much potential overlap between collections and so many possible application configurations, it’s a lot. If you want to get the most out of the software, include all of the toolsets and applications that will support and optimize your work projects, and get it all for the best price. But what’s the best way to do that?
You can spend hours doing the research, surveying others in your field, or simply rely on trial and error. All of those options are pretty costly in terms of both time and money. That’s why working with an Autodesk Specialized Partner is the best route to go. Not only do you gain the advantage of someone who knows the Autodesk landscape remarkably well, but they’ll go on to provide additional support and training in the products you select.
However, not all partners are alike. When choosing the Autodesk Specialized Partner that’s right for you, you’ll likely also want to consider if that partner is in your industry vertical because they can provide additional expertise and advice.
Additionally, you want to choose a partner who’s got experience in helping other businesses leverage Autodesk products to successfully grow and scale their businesses. That kind of support comes from a team who listens to your needs and then packages their experience with the Autodesk Collection that best meets those requirements. In short, you’re not just buying software, you’re buying into a relationship.
How TPM Can Help You Find the Right Product and Support Your Growth
Autodesk and its specialized partners, like TPM, are keenly aware of the complexity of the product offerings, and while the collections bundle software that is often paired together, that’s likely not enough for you and your business to get the most of the products you want and need. That’s why you want to work with an Autodesk Specialized Partner. Specialized partners, especially those who work within your industry, understand your business goals and can:
- Offer product advice
- Provide ongoing support and training
- Consult on best practices, business goals, and solutions
- Assist with designs and simulations
- Help you get the most out of your investment
As an Autodesk Specialized Partner, as a business within the AEC world, and as a company that has built itself from the ground up, TPM is in a unique position to assist your company in achieving its goals. From physical construction and digital design to overall growth, TPM is prepared to offer strategic expert advice to see it all come to fruition.
If you’re ready to make the move to Autodesk and maximize your investment, get in touch with the TPM team today and let us help you reach your goals.
If you’re looking for more information about Autodesk, its tools, and the AEC industry, be sure to read our blog on the Top 10 Autodesk Educational Resources or explore more resources here:
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