When Egyptian architects created designs for the pyramids 5,000 years ago, they probably sketched their initial ideas on papyrus before handing them off to draftsmen, who refined the ideas into building plans before handing them to engineers and builders.
That process—a series of hand-offs from one team of specialists to another—remained the standard operating procedure in building and manufacturing for the next five millennia. Despite advances in technology, it wasn’t until fairly recently that the multiple steps necessary to move an idea from the design stage through the physical creation of a finished product were unified into a relatively seamless end-to-end process.
The development of computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) in the 1950s and computer-aided design (CAD) in the 1960s was a huge leap in progress that greatly reduced the time and energy required to turn someone’s idea into a usable physical object.
But CAM and CAD did not eliminate the need for a series of handoffs as the idea was refined, developed, and eventually built or manufactured. Those handoffs, which remained embedded in the basic process, produced friction and inefficiency.
“You lose data every time you go from one stage to another,” says Scott Reese, vice president of cloud products and operations at Autodesk, which creates software and services for architects, engineers, builders, manufacturers, and digital artists, among others. “There is a ...