Technology is definitely disrupting several industries including manufacturing and construction where processes are rapidly evolving. In this interview, Simon Bromfield, Country Manager of Autodesk Africa, a leading 3D design, engineering and entertainment software provider talks to Jumoke Lawanson about the prospects of economic advancement with the use of digital technologies in Nigeria’s manufacturing, construction and entertainment industries. Excerpts.
Technology is seen as a disruptor in many industries, why have you placed particular emphasis on the construction and manufacturing industries in Nigeria?
The construction industry in Nigeria involves minimal technology, and there are a lot of ways that technology can help, especially by cutting out repetitive tasks. Things that people do over and over again everyday can be automated and we can use software to drive those tasks. The concept is that we can bring the power of the cloud to enable us to do work faster, better, and at a lot less cost. Buildings are expensive to create, and if we can reduce the cost of the building prices by even five percent and reduce the amount of time it takes to build, that is a huge saving to the building owners. If we start a building project and it takes two years to build, it means that I’m burning cash for two years. If I can make it six months faster, I can certainly start getting returns on my investment much quicker, so these are the things that excite building owners and people doing construction projects and erecting intelligent buildings with our technology. Nigeria has huge potential, the human capital and the drive to use these technologies.
What technology solution has Autodesk built, specifically tailored to the needs of the construction industry?
Our Building Information Modelling (BIM) product allows you to make a 3D representation of a building with all of the data in it. The BIM is doing so well globally because people are breaking down these walls of working in silos between companies and have started sharing content because the more you share, the more we can get back and the better we can build. I work throughout Africa, and I love the ability for people, especially in Nigeria, to evolve and use our technology. People are changing in their dynamics and they are building things every day. We have met customers using our product to build the most incredible projects. The complexity of buildings that have been made using BIM here in Nigeria are world class and have been designed and built better than some projects that I have seen in first world countries.
Asides buildings, you have also talked about using some Autodesk technology in manufacturing. What types of products can be manufactured using this technology?
We actually met with the Automotive Association of Nigeria, where they are looking at building cars here in Nigeria. They are looking at how to design cars in Africa for Africa, especially for Nigeria. The software that we use, which is a product called ALIAS, allows you to design a model for vehicles here, and there is a lot of interest in doing that in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa; where we want to build our own cars, because we can create jobs, improve the economy, and there is a lot of upside for the government doing that. Our software products are used to design everything that you’re manufacturing. Most of the components for mobile phones being assembled in Nigeria are designed on Autodesk products. What we are looking at doing here, is to help empower customers to use our software to start doing local manufacturing. The same products that we use to design the Tesla car, those are the products that are included in that manufacturing collection.
Are there any other technology solutions designed for the construction engineering, manufacturing and entertainment industry in Nigeria?
We actually have three collections that we sell. The Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) collection takes all the products that are being used in those sectors and puts it into one product offering. We have a similar one for manufacturing and we have a third one for media and entertainment. Autodesk has won about 19 or 20 Oscars for our 3D animation tools. So, if you watch the latest super hero animation movies like Avengers; those films are designed and developed using Autodesk software. In the past, we used to sell a point product to customers, but what we find is that our customers are becoming multi-disciplinary; customers want to do more with less and they want to expand their horizon so that they can add value all the time. So what we have done is that we have taken the products that people use the most, and have included them into a collection. So, the AEC collection has every product that you’ll need for construction process, so it will give you auto care insights, analytics, NEP tools for electrical, plumbing, fire exchange and the likes. Everything is included in one package, and on the pricing, we have made it one price flat subscriptions that they pay per year and they get everything they need for that price. Therefore, you don’t have to spend more money to gain access to the different products.
Speaking about 3D printing, what is the adoption rate of this advanced technology in Nigeria’s manufacturing industry?
3D printing is an evolving business at the moment. It is something that a lot of people still use only for printing toys; so you will see little figurines, kids toys, key holders and other little things that they print using 3D. People do not yet understand the business imperative that can be unlocked using 3D printing. I’ll give an example of a company in South Africa that makes brakes for motor vehicles; they now print their components in 3D, so what that means is that the brakes that they manufacture in South Africa can be used anywhere in the world without having to ship all the components over to other countries. They can just send the design of the components to the country for customers to 3D print it on site. 3D printing is exploding in both universities and commercial use because the cost of the filaments – which is the material that you use, has been reduced radically. So every day, there are new innovations, and all of this is because of a very interesting product called FUSION, which allows you to 3D print almost automatically from the software.
Have you considered the possibility of Nigeria’s lack of power infrastructure inhibiting the growth of such technologies?
I see two opportunities in the infrastructure deficit. Because we provide software that empowers our customers to build infrastructure, there is a very interesting opportunity for companies to look at how to redesign and build infrastructure that works. Autodesk has software that can help you design your power workflow systems, so people can model it up, design it, and help governments to empower themselves and the biggest opportunity is in the infrastructure space. Roads are very important, rail is very important and we have the technologies that help customers to build that better and faster.
You spoke about collaboration and integration for business and economic growth, do you see collaboration and integration of different sectors working here, considering that Nigerian building contractors and engineers like to work solo on projects?
We always look at collaboration in terms of big projects, but the truth is that the projects that you get the biggest value out of collaboration are on the small projects, because you don’t have a lot of money. With smaller projects, there is a tight budget and also a very tight deadline to build it. So, the more cost that you can reduce, the quicker and more effectively you can build it. Collaboration is crucial to the future of making things. If we are able to empower people to collaborate better even in their own businesses, it will help them to save money on their building projects.
Tell us a bit more about the solution that Autodesk has created for the entertainment industry and is planning to introduce into Nigeria’s Nollywood?
One of Autodesk products is a media and entertainment collection, and we produce 3D modelling and modelling technology. Nollywood being the second or third largest movie industry in the world is something that we are very interested in. We have a product called MAYA that is used in all of the big movies such as Avengers and other 3D animation films. The explosions and all the action contents are all done on Autodesk products and we would be very interested in helping Nollywood in Nigeria to adapt that and start using it to produce better, more advanced quality movies. We have found that there are a lot of job opportunities in 3D animation globally and I think there is an opportunity for Nigeria to enter into that market and start training and educating students on MAYA and then selling those skills into the job market.