The POV Dispatch is our Autodesk internal newsletter, published monthly, where we discuss the big ideas that are important to us and our customers. It is published by our Corporate Strategy & Engagement team of which Autodesk Labs is a part. Bill O'Connor is a Corporate Strategist. As part of his POV Dispatch duties, Bill often interviews other employees to get their take on our company. In this case, he interviewed none other than Autodesk CEO, Carl Bass. With their permission, I thought I would share it with you.
Pier 9: The San Francisco Workshop Where Autodesk Explores What's Next
by Bill O'Connor, Corporate Strategist
The ways in which people design and make things are changing rapidly and dramatically — and to make sure Autodesk stays ahead of this accelerating curve, we've created a new space in San Francisco called Pier 9 to help us explore new technologies and techniques that are going to be key to our success in the future. Pier 9 is a state-of-the-art facility and fabrication workshop on San Francisco's Pier 9 that features 3D printing facilities, a range of CNC machines, metal and wood shops, and office and conference space. It also houses the company's bio/nano research team, and a group focused on making software for our 150 million consumer customers.
POV Dispatch Editor, Bill O'Connor, recently sat down with Autodesk CEO Carl Bass at Pier 9 to talk about what's happening at Pier 9 and why it's important to the company.
Bill: Let's start with the basics: what's going on at Pier 9, and why is it important to the Autodesk's success?
Carl: Pier 9 was created for a number of reasons, but one of the most interesting is related to the role Autodesk has traditionally played in the design process. When you think about what Autodesk has done, traditionally, you could say that, in terms of helping our customers, we've always kind of "stopped at the design." We could give you the tools to design something, but when it came to building that thing, actually making it real, we didn't think much about how to help you with that.
Bill: So we didn't see it as our role to build tools for fabricating these things; but now we do...
Carl: Yes, today we're focused on making it as easy as possible for people to go all the way from having an idea about something they want to create, all the way to making that idea a reality out in the world. We need to help people go all the way through to the fabrication phase of the design process. And that's where Pier 9 comes in, because it was designed as a place where we could explore, and create, better ways to connect that 3D model in the computer with the machines that can make it real in the physical world.
Bill: So Pier 9 is actually an important part of the company's R&D efforts?
Carl: It is, because we're using the space to explore some really exciting ways to use these digital fabrication tools and also addressing some of the difficulties associated with that process. We're using the space to test and refine our CAM products, and to better connect our products to machines like 3D printers, water jets, and CNC machines. People are doing new things with material science, studying geometric forms, and figuring out new ways to model things. We're basically trying to simplify and streamline the end-to-end workflow — and to do that, you need a place to explore. So in some ways it's just a workshop, it's a space, and what happens in that space will change over time, as our interests move from one thing to another.
Bill: What are some of the other benefits of Pier 9?
Carl: Well, Pier 9 wasn't intended to only benefit the people who actually work here — I think another big part of its value comes from the chance it gives to any Autodesk employee to stop by and see the latest projects, experiments, and breakthroughs taking place at this space.
Bill: That's a good thing for people to know, that there's an open invitation for people to come here.
Carl: Yes, we're really are trying to make the space accessible to as many employees as possible. I think we'll end up making better software for our customers when more people working at Autodesk understand how this stuff gets used.
Bill: What else is happening at Pier 9?
Carl: We also have the Instructables team here at Pier 9, and they have space and resources to try out all kinds of things, including a professional kitchen where they can concoct and test new recipes. And the Consumer team is here, including people working on the 123D products.
Bill: Plus, of course, we have the bionano team here, doing all kinds of wild stuff.
Carl: Yes, and I'm already seeing some great stuff coming out of that team, including the Cyborg platform and things like that. And we also have an artists in residence program, where people apply, and come for a limited time to work on a project that we think it interesting. We give these artists an interesting, stimulating place to explore new ideas, and the time and the resources to do it.
Bill: Pier 9 is such a cool place, but I'm also wondering about how unique it is: do you think many of our competitors have spaces like this?
Carl: I doubt it.
Carl: Sure. I think a lot of people, our competitors and people in the CAD world in general, would look at us and think what we do, things like Pier 9, is kooky.
Carl: I think if you asked the other guys, they'd say these guys are either crazy Americans or they're just crazy. They'd say they're all over the map, they're doing something in bio, they're doing something in nano, they're involved with makers, they're doing consumer, stuff, I don't even know what they do.
Bill: That's such a different reputation than the one we had in the Carol Bartz days, when we were a "fast follower." But kooky — that's kind of a badge of honor, isn't it?
Carl: From my perspective, yes, I think it's fine; but I don't think what we're doing is considered enviable by them.
Bill: And Pier 9 could be seen as part of that.
Carl: Oh, absolutely. Many would look at Pier 9 and think, "you guys are nuts."
Bill: I think what they're missing is that doing those kind of "kooky" things is giving us clear competitive separation from our competitors. I was talking to Jeff [Kowalski, Autodesk's CTO] the other day, and he said that he was talking to executives from one of our major manufacturing customers, a company that also uses a lot of our competitors' products. Jeff said that they told him that all of this "kooky" stuff was actually the reason they were so interested to work with us.
Carl: Right, and doing something like Pier 9 makes even more sense when you compare it to other similar spaces, in terms of the quality of the equipment and the facilities. I mean, today I was giving a tour to an architect who's going to be doing some work with us. This is someone who has been to MIT and Stanford, and been to places all over Europe, and he said he'd never seen anything like this.
Bill: Any final thoughts?
Carl: I think the important thing for POV readers to know is that Pier 9 is here for them to use, because I really think that the better they understand our software and how it interacts with different types of hardware, the better our products will be.
Bill: Thanks, Carl.
Carl: Thanks, Bill.
Thanks Bill. Thank Carl.
Fabrication is alive in the lab.