Bridging the dimension gap

Paul Fanning takes a look at a software package designed to help companies make the leap to 3D design.

For all the advances in design software, 2D software still occupies a significant place in manufacturing industry. Clearly, there are clear productivity and design benefits to be gained by the move over to 3D, but the transition is one that a significant number still have not made.

With this in mind, Autodesk (whose core product AutoCAD is of course 2D – albeit with increasing 3D functionality), has introduced its Autodesk Inventor LT suite to bridge the gap. "In today's global marketplace, 2D capability is not sufficient in itself for most manufacturing companies. 3D is no longer a luxury for manufacturers. It has become a necessity," says Jaime Herrero, Autodesk's EMEA retail industry manager.

Effectively a limited version of its Inventor product, Inventor LT provides the same 3D part modeling, import/export, documentation, and rendering capabilities available in the Autodesk Inventor 2008 product line. Since Inventor LT utilises similar technology and user interface as Inventor 2008, all the files created and 3D design skills learned in Inventor LT are fully transferable to Inventor.

Inventor LT allows users to import and export 3D part models in common file formats without relying on expensive file translation software and to share 3D design data with customers and suppliers. Seamless DWG interoperability lets you simply copy and paste your existing 2D design data into Inventor LT as an accurate starting point for new 3D designs.

Inventor LT also includes Autodesk Design Review and can publish 2D and 3D DWF files. Markups made to 2D DWF files can easily be "round-tripped" back to the original Inventor drawing, thus streamlining the design review process with extended design teams. However capabilities available in other products in the Inventor product family but not in Inventor LT include 3D assembly modelling, specialised design and simulation tools such as sheet metal and dynamic simulation. Equally, it does not include AutoCAD Mechanical or Autodesk Vault for data management.

Despite its inherent limitations, however, one the key benefits of this intermediate technology is its price point. Whereas a full suite of Inventor sells for around €5000, LT is available for €1700, according to the company. Says Herrero: "It represents a lower-risk opportunity for companies to experiment with 3-D."

Says Herrero: "Organisations need to start experiencing the power of 3D design today. Yet their current needs may not warrant a full digital prototyping workflow… this allows users to adopt 3D mechanical part design at a pace with which they are comfortable. Rather than working with full 3D assemblies, they can design using 3D models of parts, increase their productivity, reduce the risk of errors, and improve communication with customers and partners. In short, they will be able to compete more effectively as they move towards digital prototyping."

Paul Fanning

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