All change at the top

All change at the top

Autodesk’s acquisition of Delcam in February 2014 was big news in the CAD/CAM fraternity. Now, just over a year later, there’s a new man at the helm steering the Delcam ship. Dave Tudor met up with Pete Baxter, the company’s new vice president.

As a world leader in the development of 3D design (Autodesk is the company behind AutoCAD software), engineering and entertainment software, US-based Autodesk’s £172.5 million acquisition of Delcam made sound business sense. Autodesk is essentially a design software developer with a vast portfolio of products (around 250 at the last count) including Inventor; Fusion 360 – one of the company’s first forays into cloud-based design software; Mouldflow injection moulding design and simulation software; and PLM 360 – cloud-based product lifecycle management software.

On the entertainment side, budding film buffs will no doubt be interested to learn that every Oscar winner in the Special Effects category over the past 15 years and every nomination in the category over the past 10 years has Autodesk software to thank for its CGI wizardry – and that includes blockbusters such as Avatar and Planet of the Apes. In the computer gaming sphere it’s a similar story: Autodesk software is used extensively by developers to create immersive gaming environments.

In terms of numbers, Autodesk’s user base is almost unimaginably huge – it has around 12 million professional clients – but the total user base is up to a mind numbing 165 million worldwide when the consumer market is included. Although this includes large numbers of start-ups and hobbyists, there’s no denying that making its technology so widely available is a smart move by Autodesk.

But what Autodesk lacked – and desired – was a route into the manufacturing space and that’s why the acquisition of Delcam was such an attractive proposition. Autodesk’s senior vice president for design, lifecycle and simulation products Buzz Kross at the time of the acquisition revealed that the company had made the decision to develop the manufacturing side of its business two years earlier and had already began discussions with Delcam.

With more than 30 offices worldwide, 700 employees and an undisputed reputation in the marketplace, Birmingham-based developer of CAM solutions Delcam certainly ticked all the right boxes. Its product range, comprising PowerMILL, FeatureCAM and PartMaker in the machining arena, PowerSHAPE for tooling design and reverse engineering and ArtCAM CNC software for artistic applications may not be as large as its new parent company’s but it’s every bit as important in the markets it serves.

Developing strategies

Pete Baxter officially took over the Delcam reins on 1st February 2015 as a direct replacement for former CEO Clive Martell. He may be the new boy as far as Delcam is concerned but he has a long pedigree in software that stretches back to 1996. A trained architect, he started with Autodesk in 2004, quickly progressing into a number of senior sales roles with the company including the position of vice president of sales for Northern Europe across Autodesk’s extensive product range.

More recently, Mr Baxter has been responsible for developing the company’s Global Strategic Accounts Programme. Although Autodesk’s business model traditionally operates through an established, mature network of around 3,500 resellers, the past five years or so has seen it working more closely with key accounts on a direct basis. Encompassing the organisation’s top 500 customers worldwide, Mr Baxter was instrumental in setting up and developing this initiative.

“The programme has enabled us to move to a very strategic level globally,” he reveals. “Rather than just being known as a volume software supplier, now with initiatives like BIM (Building Information Modelling) in AEC (Architectural, Engineering and Construction) markets and digital prototyping in the manufacturing space, we now have a comprehensive solution that spans everything from conceptual design and simulation through to production and assembly.

“We believe a major element of the future of making things is to bring design and manufacturing much closer together,” he adds. “One of the main reasons we acquired Delcam was because of its inherent expertise and knowledge in developing software that takes a 3D model and, from it, establishes the best way to actually manufacture the component. There’s a natural and logical synergy between Autodesk products and Delcam software – the design effectively becomes part of the manufacturing process – and we see that level of integration as key as we move forward.”

A case in point is in the automotive sector where Autodesk already has a strong foothold in surface design and visualisation of new body styles. With the clay model process used extensively throughout the industry, Mr Baxter believes there are significant opportunities for Delcam products through the ability to take a surface model, machine a clay prototype and, if any changes are made to that prototype, duplicate them back into CAD. “There are natural areas of cooperation in markets where Autodesk already has a strong presence,” he says.

Business as usual

For the foreseeable future Delcam will operate as it has for the past year as a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of Autodesk and in terms of Delcam’s customer base it’ll be business as usual. “What tends to happen with acquisitions we’ve made in the past is that technology teams come on board and over time a natural integration and evolutionary process takes place,” Mr Baxter reveals. “There’s a wealth of expertise at Delcam and their development engineers are already interfacing with their Autodesk counterparts. It’s a development and research project as much as it is a commercial venture.”

Delcam’s marketing manager Peter Dickin believes that it’s important that Delcam retains a degree of independence: “We’ve been in business since 1977 and in that time have built up a loyal customer base,” he explains. “Whilst there is an overlap between a number of our clients and Autodesk’s, some of our customers choose to use competing design software like Catia, SolidWorks and Siemens NX.

“The clear message from Delcam is that despite being owned by Autodesk, we’ll still continue to support those customers. Nothing will change in that regard. There are also no plans in the immediate future to sell Delcam products thorough Autodesk’s reseller channels and both companies will retain their own branding. In the longer term, things may well evolve as the partnership develops.”

Mr Baxter agrees: “Over the years Autodesk has excelled at developing software suites as all-encompassing solutions to our customers’ design and manufacturing challenges. Looking to the future, Delcam products will be integrated into that model and potentially distributed through selected Autodesk channels – but that’s for another day.”

Up in the cloud

Autodesk announced recently that it would be ceasing offering perpetual licences on some of its software products at the end of this year in favour of a monthly subscription, cloud-based model. This seems to be the way of the world with software giants like Adobe and Microsoft leading the way.

According to Mr Baxter, the revised model has been well received by customers: “It works particularly well with businesses that have peaks and troughs in terms of their workloads,” he observes. “A monthly subscription means they only pay for services when they’re needed. For us it has big positives too because it makes advanced technology more readily accessible to businesses – large and small – across a multitude of sectors and for the customer it means no large upfront software purchases because expenditure can be written off against the overall costs of a project. Cloud-based software also really comes into its own when companies are working on projects where design and manufacturing data needs to be shared constantly.”

Although there are no immediate plans to adopt the monthly subscription model with Delcam’s range of software products it’s a case of never say never. “Some Delcam products are actually already available on a rental basis,” Mr Dickin advises. “One of the most common reasons our customers tend to buy perpetual licences is the fact that often they’re bundled in with a machine tool purchase. It can make financing the whole project easier to manage if the software is priced within a single purchase rather than as a subscription.”

Not beyond the realms of possibility then that at least some of the collaborative projects undertaken between the two companies could well be cloud-based? “Absolutely,” Mr Baxter affirms. “It’s always been our intention to support the way our customers want to work, but just think for a minute about the engineers of tomorrow that are currently progressing through schools and universities – they’re growing up in a world where communicating and sharing IP and information in real time via the Cloud is second nature. To stay one step ahead, solution providers like ourselves need to develop a completely different mindset to the more traditional ways of working. Technologically, we have to be thinking three to five years ahead – not only to satisfy our customers but also to be able to attract the best new talent into the company.”

Merging of minds

Although relatively new to the role, Mr Baxter is passionately enthusiastic about the future. “The great thing about bringing two companies like Autodesk and Delcam together is that both organisations will benefit through learning from each other,” he concludes. “As far as my role is concerned, I’m sure that some of the tried and trusted strategies that have been successful with Autodesk will also benefit Delcam but it’s definitely a two-way partnership. It is early days but already we’re starting to collaborate on joint projects and initiatives.”




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