One of the news that caught my attention yesterday was Autodesk announcement to acquire CADSoft Eagle PCB design tool from Farnel. This is an interesting move. Although it touches a very bottom side of PCB / EDA market, I know Eagle PBC is quite popular among hobbyist and small makers.
I navigated to Autodesk Fusion360 blog – Bridging the ECAD/MCAD gap with Fusion 360 and CadSoft EAGLE to learn more. The article speaks about ECAD-MCAD conversion and how it will simplify work on users.
Users of CadSoft’s EAGLE Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design software will now be able to directly publish their designs from EAGLE into Fusion 360. Whether you need a simplified representation of the circuit board to design around, or you want to develop a more sophisticated representation of the electronic design to integrate into the mechanical design, this direct connection will allow for new levels of collaboration.
It will be interesting too see how Autodesk will sell Eagle PCB tool. Autodesk has recently been granting easy access to Fusion 360 and related tools to to hobbyists at no charge. There is freeware license for Eagle and Autodesk might decide to remove even more restriction from free tool such as board size and limitations on the complexity of schematics design.
It made me think about engineering toolchains. You need to use multiple tools to design products. Historically, these tools were developed by multiple companies. The connection between these tools is weak. So, the experience of using multiple tools to come from point A of initial design to point B of product ready to be manufactured and sold.
In my view, Autodesk is changing the design experience with Fusion360 by integrating more features and functions into it with the goal to put all tools from early design to fabrication under the same platform.
Autodesk is not alone in such desire to re-think experience. Altium is a software outfit developing EDA and PCB design tools. I found the following slide in one of Altium’s investor presentations. The vision of multi-disciplinary engineering is very similar to what I can see Autodesk is following.
Altium also made a step towards improving design experience by introducing a product together with Dassault Solidworks earlier this year. More details are here.
I grabbed an interesting slide from the same investor’s slide deck from slide deck from Altium. You can see how Altium presents industry landscape slide with EDA vendors. Eagle PCB design is pictured at a very bottom of industry landscape diagram.
Cloud is changing existing paradigms. The existing paradigm is a toolchain of file-based tools. You start from mechanical design (MCAD), then step into electronic design (EDA/PCB), following by simulation and analysis (CAE) and finally coming to manufacturing (CAM). This chain seems to be broken by many file import/export operations and it looks like Autodesk is trying to change it by creating connected experience between Eagle PCB and Fusion360.
What is my conclusion? There is a demand to consolidate user experience and bring more electronic and PCB design products into an engineering tool chain. The demand is driven by complex product and an increased amount of electronic components in every manufacturing product these days. At the heart of every intelligent product these days is electronics with the complexity of PCB design and manufacturing. Autodesk touched a very bottom of EDA / PCB tools pyramid. I will not be surprised to learn that other MCAD vendors are exploring similar opportunities. Just my thoughts…
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Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.