Autodesk University, the large conference initiative promoted by American software giant Autodesk, ended on November 24, 2020, with additive manufacturing featuring in forty-five of the event’s sessions. Though AM’s place in Autodesk’s lineup is laudable, industry players should be wary of the corporatization of knowledge disseminated by Autodesk’s initiative
More to the point, the industry might take this example to reflect upon AM’s growth in the public sphere. The imaginative exercise of marketing this relatively new tech cannot be confused with universities’ sober study, lest those studies lose authority among the public and potential investors.
If Autodesk’s initiative demonstrates the corporatization of knowledge, then the potential for bias in its dissemination remains a live issue. Those interested in the conference after the fact might remember that the company’s use of the word ‘university’ is legally restricted in several jurisdictions, such as the Canadian province of Ontario and the United Kingdom. The purpose of these restrictions is palpable in Autodesk’s initiative: knowledge dissemination under the heading of a ‘university’ should not be a for-profit or self-promotional activity. The term connotes nothing less than unbiased knowledge dissemination, which implies purity of motive that is missing in Autodesk’s initiative.
At the same time, the online event does have a significant impact on disseminating knowledge of new technologies, including AM: it brought over 109,000 professionals from more than 130 countries together to discuss new technology and applications for existing tech. Autodesk reports that these attendees watched over 42,000 hours of webinar content, some free and some purchased on-demand. The conference’s sessions remain accessible to professionals.
Autodesk used this event to feature its additive manufacturing capacity. The list of workshops offered to the AM space is predominantly hosted by Autodesk employees. Academics and other industry players contributed the balance of workshops and lessons. Whether moved by pure profit, or to the benefit of technological knowledge and advancements, Autodesk has always paid great attention to the academic world, making its advanced Fusion360 software tools available for free to students.
The independent contributors from industry and academic seem to have some relationship with Autodesk. While the technological marvels that they discuss are of great interest, their inclusion in Autodesk’s lineup again demonstrates why the term “university” is controlled in some countries.
Take Professor Josh Nelson, who hails from Ivy Tech Community College. His presentation entitled “How Fusion 360 Helped ITCC Quickly Transition to Virtual Delivery” amounts to a review of Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software. Elizabeth Bishop, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Warwick, worked in the same vein when she delivered an instructional demo entitled: “Fusion 360 and 3D Printing—Tips and Tricks for a Successful Workflow.” Professor Zhang Dong, the chair of South China University of Technology’s robotics lab, delivered another talk with some colleagues that featured Fusion 360: “Generative Design Helps Students Improve Their Career Prospects.”
ON the other hand, industry players like Xometry‘s Greg Paulsen, delivered more neutral talks. Paulsen gave a talk entitled “Comparing Five Industrial 3D-Printing Methods: MJF, SLS, FDM, SLA, and DLS.”
Professors Patrick Suermann and Zofia K. Rybkowski of Texas A&M University, Dr. Negar Kalantar, head of Technology and Manufacturing at CREO, and Dr. Nathan King, the Senior Industry Engagement Manager for the Autodesk Technology Centers, presented on “Reimagining Construction: 3D Printing of Large-Scale Structures“. Industry was again implicated in this discussion with academics.
To be clear, there is nothing particularly wrong with academics supporting industry or vice-versa. This is a natural phenomenon that has increased as universities become hubs for research innovation in the AM space. The problem is that Autodesk uses a title that typically connotes unbiased learning and knowledge dissemination. This use is itself indicative of the corporatization of knowledge, hence restrictions on the use of the word ‘university’ in certain jurisdictions, and hence why we might beware of the term’s use here.