March 26, 2018

Steelcase Improves Its Own Processes and Provides a Better Customer Experience with Autodesk Forge

Let's say you've been an Autodesk customer for a long time. You've got decades of your intellectual property captured in AutoCAD drawings or Revit Building Information Models. If you'd like to leverage that data to showcase your work to your customers, then Autodesk Forge is for you.

Forge is our application program interface (API) platform and supporting materials (sample code, manuals) as well as a community of developers who use those APIs. Although Forge is intended for our customers and 3rd party developers to be able to use our web services, we also use Forge for our development of the cloud-based services that we offer. In Microsoft terminology, "we eat our own dog food." Our Forge partners can leverage Forge in the same ways that we do.

Founded in 1912 as the Metal Office Furniture Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase is over 105 years old. Their innovation legacy began in 1914 when they received their 1st patent for the manufacturing process developed to make a strong, durable, low-cost fireproof wastebasket — a major innovation at that time. So it's no surprise that Steelcase is an Autodesk Forge partner, at the forefront of using their designs in customized workflows as part of their design and make processes. [Steelcase]

When Steelcase customers need to order replacement parts, they could thumb through pages of a book, use model numbers (text), and hope they pick the right part for the piece of furniture that they actually own, but thanks to Forge, they can go beyond the paper, view realistic-looking 3D models, and order the correct part for the correct product.

Steelcase is the largest office furniture manufacturer in the world. Part of their success is being an innovator using visualization which includes virtual and augmented reality, mixed reality, all kinds of different tools, web-based and other. Steelcase makes effective use of disruptive technologies to augment how Steelcase conducts itself. This includes operations, logistics, and how new technologies can help Steelcase customers. As part of its processes, Steelcase creates all kinds of content using Autodesk products (e.g., Fusion 360, BIM 360, 3ds Max, VRed) as well as others, and that includes Forge.

Forge is defined by 7 groups of APIs:

Steelcase is making use of 4 of them:

ForgeDetailedAPIsSteelcase

  • Authentication

    Authentication for Forge is based on the industry standard OAuth, specifically OAuth2, that provides for token-based authentication and authorization. Steelcase uses this to secure its data.

  • Data Management API

    The Data Management API gives Steelcase a unified and consistent way to access their data across their projects such as those down with Fusion 360.

    "We take our engineering information, bring that into Fusion, provide assembly animation, and then through Forge deliver that out through the Viewer. What that's allowed us to do is remove up to seven different languages describing a product and how it goes together. It's allowed us to speed those processes to market. It used to take three people in North America alone, just to manage that product portfolio. Now, we've taken that down by a person, repurposed that person, and we've provided better content that's also now used for the training of our assembly team. So, like a triple win as far as what we can do with the tool."
    —Stephen Goetzinger, Steelcase Senior Applications Consulting Engineer

    Also, the Data Management's Object Storage Service allows Steelcase's application to download and upload raw files (such as PDF, XLS, DWG, or RVT).

  • Model Derivative API

    The Model Derivative API lets Steelcase represent and share its designs in different formats, as well as to extract valuable metadata into various object hierarchies. 60 different file input formats are supported. With this API, Steelcase can translate a design into different formats, such as STL and OBJ, but the key one is that their developers can have it translate designs into SVF for extracting data and for rendering files in the Viewer. The Viewer provides an effective experience for Steelcase customers.

    "Our goal is for our customers to be able to visually identify through Forge what the product is and then what the service parts are on that product so that, as a customer you can quickly identify, 'Oh, I can order a new arm for that chair because I've broken it.' That type of experience is invaluable. Today it's literally paper books that customers thumb through or PDFs online that may or may not have line-drawing pictures. Using only line-drawing pictures to identify a product can be a little bit daunting. Finding that information quickly is something that we really want to help our customers with as much as we can. 3D model-based visualization is a tremendous time savings and money savings to us and to our customers."
    —Steven Goetzinger, Steelcase Senior Applications Consulting Engineer

  • Viewer

    The Viewer is a WebGL-based, JavaScript library for use in 3D and 2D model rendering. The Viewer communicates natively with the Model Derivative API to fetch model data, complying with its authorization and security requirements. The Viewer requires a WebGL-canvas compatible browser:

    • Chrome 50+
    • Firefox 45+
    • Opera 37+
    • Safari 9+
    • Microsoft Edge 20+
    • Internet Explorer 11

    Using the Viewer is a hassle-free way for developers to share company data with customers without having to deal with all of the peculiarities of these various browsers.

    "Trying to find code-developers that work within a geometry environment, or visualization environment, these guys don't exist in a business environment. They work in other industries so we would have had to go hunt them down and then coerce them to come work for us. Working for a furniture company is not exactly always the most glamorous job, so Forge makes technology readily available for non-graphics programmers. We have some developers on our staff that, it's interesting to watch them go to Autodesk University, because they met with the Forge staff, know what's coming, and they're incredibly excited. They're texting me constantly saying, 'You can't believe what I just saw, and we have to implement it.'"
    —Steven Goetzinger, Steelcase Senior Applications Consulting Engineer

Autodesk has always been an automation company, and today more than ever that means helping people make more things, better things, with less; more and better in terms of increasing efficiency, performance, quality, and innovation; less in terms of time, resources, and negative impacts (e.g., social, environmental). Autodesk Forge is an integral part of our automation plans. The work that Steelcase is doing with Forge is a great example of what's possible.

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