Autodesk goes upmarket

Tom Shelley reports on how Autodesk's latest offerings make its products comparable with top-end CAD software.

Autodesk now sees itself as being able to compete directly with the likes of PTC, Siemens PLM and Dassault's CATIA, thanks to a combination of in-house developments to Inventor and the integration of some acquired products.

Coming from one of the acquisitions, Alias Design for Inventor 2011 gives users freeform shape and parametric modeling within the Inventor environment.

The whole Inventor interface is different, in that there is now no need to find buttons on a ribbon bar and menus and power bar, but commands are initiated by right mouse clicking near features of interest, and choosing between offered options. Users who miss the traditional menu structure can still call it up if they want to but it is likely that few will want to do so once they get used to the new approach.

Also new is Autodesk Sketchbook for Apple's iPad. Autodesk has been trying to persuade people for at least a decade that the way forward for 'fag packet' sketching is to do this on a mobile phone or PDA, but the idea never really took off when screens were too small for engineers to insert important details. But an iPad has quite a reasonable size screen and, with a download price of only £90 for the full Pro version, sketches can be done in the field, captured and sent where they are needed.

As well as working with right mouse clicks without toolbars, it is also possible to design without a feature tree and push- and pull-on geometry using what Autodesk calls its 'Fusion Technology', working in a similar manner to Siemens PLM's 'Synchronous Technology' and SolidWork's 'Direct editing', although each vendor insists its technology is different from that offered by their competitors. New in Inventor 2011 is the ability to open Catia V4, as well as V5, files and implement 'iCopy', which is a copy and paste facility 'with steroids' that resizes the copied object each time it is pasted so that it is re-sized to fit within a design by referencing key points. Another useful facility, 'iLogic' enables so-called 'if-then-else' statements to be used to configure multiple variants of a design. Parker has apparently used this function to design a control valve with 2,500 possible versions.

Colin Couper, development manager, marine division – integrated technology for Babcock International, offered a demonstration of Inventor's ability to handle point clouds of process plant captured using a Leica HDS 6000 scanner. He showed how applying the technique to a large pipe layer tensioner on the side of a ship revealed that there was a 28.42mm discrepancy between the design files and physical hardware that was to be modified. He also declared himself impressed by the speed with which NavisWorks, also acquired by Autodesk, can open very large AutoCAD shipbuilding design files to allow them to be viewed and navigated.

Engineering analysis and simulation in Inventor 2011 is enhanced by the integration of Algor for FEA, CFD and other types of analysis, and with Moldflow for plastic moulding simulation. Of perhaps even more importance in helping to speed products to market is the inception of Autodesk Publisher, which means that preparation of manuals can start before design work is complete. This is because drawings in Publisher can be associated with models in AutoCAD and Inventor and updated automatically when design changes are made.

Cloud computing versions of Autodesk products are currently in trial and it is said that the customers most interested in browser based cloud computing design are those that perform large amounts of FEA and CFD analysis.

Tom Shelley

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