Amar Hanspal, senior vice-president of the IPG Products Group at the San Francisco-based Autodesk, is also a member of the CEO executive staff of the software product firm whose flagship product, AutoCad, is widely used in the architecture and construction industries. On his visit to India on 26 April, Hanspal spoke to Mint about technology trends in design, 3D printing, and Autodesk’s growing focus on consumers and products for personal use. Edited excerpts:
How do consumer trends impact businesses?
You look at something like 3D printing (3D printers fabricate complex objects by depositing materials, layer by layer), and the new set of hardware. There are people who are really trying it at a personal scale. As time goes by, that is going to get more and more powerful and you will be able to apply it to business too. There are three things—there is 3D printing of plastic parts, you don’t need to go to a factory for plastic parts. Also, you have electronic kits available at very low prices, so you can embed electronics in your products. And then there are large manufacturing facilities that subcontract their machines to you. If you want to do production runs of your things, you can.
One of the most famous cases of ‘weekend hobbyists’ is the person (Patrick Buckley) who made a DODOcase for the iPad out of bamboo. President Obama uses one. He went to a place called TechShop, didn’t use 3D printing for that, but other low-end machines like laser-cutting and it became an overnight success. He spent $5000-6,000 creating a prototype and he has made $6 million selling the product.
Apply that thinking to businesses, and it means the cost has come dramatically down, for them to make prototypes. Now you can personalize your product through mass customization. Also take the example of prosthetic limbs for people who’ve lost a leg. There’s a company that scans a person’s leg using 3D printing, and creates the other leg out of that first scan.
How is Autodesk approaching the B2C (business-to-consumer) market?
We have always been a B2B (business-to-business) story but about three years ago, we also started building products for consumers. We created this product called 123D, which really sits between the ‘idea’ and ‘printing’ and is very easy to use design tool for people. It can take pictures of an object, and end up with a 3D model out of it. In a very extreme way of thinking, it’s a reversal of the industrial revolution—it’s personal manufacturing. You no longer need to have lots of capital to own factories—the factory can be a garage and with the Internet, you can even sell online, you don’t need stores.
How do you view the trend of communications becoming more visual?
I see two things happening here. First, given that computing power has increased, creating good visual renderings is becoming much easier than ever before. And there are more hardware devices that are creating visual renderings. The younger generation is very familiar with the gaming environment, so for them it’s almost expected that the way they would describe something, or communicate something, would be very visual. I think that trend is only going to explode. The word people use is ‘augmented’ reality or synthetic reality that is created.
For example, historically in the construction industry, when you would discover an issue, you had drawings which you would mark up and put notes and send it back. Five years ago, people started switching to photographs. Now, that communication is becoming more 3D-like with digital models. We have an iPad app called Homestyler. So if you want to tell your architect that you want to change the finish in your kitchen, you can draw the change, and the app automatically generates a 3D rendered view that looks real. That is what people will start using to communicate, whether it’s real-world 3D capture, or generated 3D using software like ours. There’s another product we’ve created called SketchBook, for individuals who have an idea or those who want to create a digital art gallery. Our contribution to this has been to create a ‘software stack’ for people to design or creatively express themselves, with the kind of software we’re good at developing.