The new browser-based access is powered by the Autodesk Inventor Engineer-to-Order Server, which includes the ETO (Intent) Rules Engine and the Inventor Server (for model and drawing generation), as well as web services and server farm management software. Graphic display is via the Autodesk DWF format, for browsers with the Autodesk’s DWF Viewer browser add-on, and via raster graphics otherwise.
The Inventor ETO Server is licensed on a per-server basis, supporting 10 concurrent users. The included server farm management software supports load balancing and scaling. Because the server framework is session-based (i.e., not stateless), system requirements are about the same as for Autodesk Inventor. With big and complex models, you’re going to need to have pretty stout servers.
Autodesk is not currently offering Inventor ETO Server with software-as-a-service (SaaS) licensing, though, from a technical perspective, there doesn’t seem to be anything to prevent this. The software can be run in a virtual machine (VM), and hosted on a cloud service. The applications at http://etosamples.autodesk.com, for example, are running on Amazon EC2 instances.
Applications to be deployed on the Inventor ETO Server are created with the Inventor ETO Series product, using a Visual Studio-based development environment, supporting the Intent language and .NET languages like VB.NET and C#.
While the Intent language has evolved and been modernized for .NET compatibility, and based on feedback from users, its heritage traces back to the mid-1980s, to ICAD, one of the pioneering products in Knowledge Based Engineering (KBE.)
The Intent Rules Engine used by the Inventor ETO Server is powerful enough to implement nearly any sort of engineer-to-order application you could envision. It can be used to capture geometric and configuration knowledge, as well as business rules. Because the Intent Rules Engine provides the capability to create dependencies between designs (objects), it effectively allows the creation of workflows.
Out of the box, Inventor ETO Server has no ready-made integrations with enterprise systems, such as ERP, SCM, CRM, PDM, or even, for that matter, Autodesk’s new PLM 360 product series. This is not to say such integrations are not possible or practical. Autodesk has done integrations, for example, with ERP and CRM systems, either by direct access to the ERP/CRM database (support for Oracle, SQLServer, Access and IBM DB2 is included), by reading a database extract file from the ERP/CRM system, or by reading an XML based export file from the ERP/CRM system.
Autodesk has a number of large implementations of Inventor ETO, and has apparently had some solid successes with the product. Swedish hydraulic press manufacturer, AP&T, for example, notes that Inventor Engineer-to-Order has helped it reduce cost estimate errors on key components from 10% to 1%. Hytrol Conveyor currently uses 800 seats of Inventor ETO (and is likely a good candidate for the new web-deployed version.)
Interestingly, all of the companies referenced in Autodesk’s customer showcase worked with Autodesk Consulting to develop their Inventor ETO applications. This is not a big surprise. The Intent rules engine and language are definitely powerful, but they’re not for dilettantes (or average Inventor users with no programming skills, for that matter.) You can get a sense of this for yourself, by looking at the source code for Autodesk’s Inventor ETO samples.
Web deployment greatly changes the reach, and the economics, of Inventor ETO. Rather than deploying their Inventor ETO apps on notebook computers carried by salespeople, companies can deploy those same apps on the web, and make them available to their customers, worldwide, 24 hours a day. On a per-licensed-user basis, Inventor ETO is more expensive to deploy over the web than on notebook computers—but, when you account for actual utilization of the software by concurrent users, it’s likely far less expensive.
The actual licensing cost of Inventor ETO is probably only a minor part of the total cost of an implementation, when the cost to develop and deploy applications is factored in. The decision of whether to acquire Inventor ETO probably requires some careful analysis. If you are already an Inventor shop, you have a significant sales volume in configure-to-order or engineer-to-order products, and you have a commitment for enough budget, resources, and time to do the implementation right, you’re probably on the right track.