CAD widens its offerings

Tom Shelley reports on Autodesk's latest software offerings and user experiences.

Autodesk has worked hard to integrate its acquired graphical and analytical capabilities with its mainstream products, as well as offering them together in 'suites' which Autodesk's senior vice president Buzz Kross insists are "really wrong to think of as bundles".

AutoCAD Mechanical and Electrical continue to be progressed, even if the company thinks users really should now migrate to their 3D products, and Inventor Fusion, which unites direct and parametric workflows within a single model, is being bundled in with most things, and is still available for free download from Autodesk Labs, at least until June 1st 2011.

Most remarkable, however, are some of the enhancements that the company is not trumpeting, such as the 'Advisers' in Moldflow 2012, which automatically update cost advice, manufacturability considerations and sustainability impact every time a change is made to a design. We had an opportunity to find out more about these at a Manufacturing Technology Day held at Lake Oswego in Oregon, which is the home of the company's Manufacturing Solutions Group.

Clicking on one of the three Adviser icons on the bottom right of the Moldflow screen at once calls up latest updated information, including a quick simulation of the mould tool being filled, if that is what is wanted. In addition, the software can accurately calculate the orientation of short and long, chopped glass fibres, although continuous fibre reinforcement is not covered at the present time.

And, it is possible to determine the temperature variation in an injection mould during an injection cycle, and furthermore, the number of cycles required from production to startup until the mould reaches a stable temperature. The sustainability tool, called 'Eco Materials Adviser', also comes built into Inventor 2012. The tool comes from Cambridge, England-based Granta Material Intelligence.

Sustainability product manager Sarah Krasley told us that the data is constantly updated, offering figures on such matters are carbon footprint and water usage for different options. What it cannot address, of course, is the way that different companies and institutions have different definitions of what 'sustainability' really is.

Nor can it address complexities such as the fact that high water usage to produce natural rubber, for example, may not have a very adverse impact on Malaysia, which has a very high rainfall, but is a serious issue in countries such as North West India and Pakistan, where there are shortages. However, high carbon footprint indicates high energy requirements, and with the rising cost of energy, can be taken as a likely indicator of increasing cost, so is something to pay attention to, if for future cost reasons alone.

Vault, has at the same time been quietly advanced into being a proper data management tool. Allen Gager, a mechanical engineer with KHS USA, which makes packaging machines, said, when we asked what difference using Vault had made, that, "I imagine it was a terribly painful process before". He estimated that because, "We now do a much better job of finding where our data is and re-using it" that it was likely that they had achieved an, "Estimated 60% improvement in efficiency."

The company is based in Sarasota, Florida, and makes machines with thousands of parts each, that Gager described as, "Real cool, complicated stuff." They have 15 seats of Inventor, 2 of Inventor Professional, and 20 seats of Vault. Previously, they had around 75,000 files, "Out in the network", which are now in Vault, plus another 75,000 files expected to be brought in from other sections of the business by Autumn 2011.

The company expects to implement Autodesk Publisher by Summer 2011, and to make use of the fact that Vault Professional is to be given an SAP interface, which will allow it to communicate with their corporate SAP system. Autodesk personnel added that Vault is to be extended to encompass Showcase data by Autumn 2011, and Sketchbook and 3ds Max data by Winter 2011. Vault already has a link to Microsoft Outlook, allowing mapping of components to specified suppliers.

One of the reasons that Autodesk continues with AutoCAD Mechanical is that many users employ it for intelligent model documentation and detailing. For this reason, it has been made able to import models from Pro/Engineer, Catia, SolidWorks, NX and Rhino. Users of plain AutoCAD cannot directly import Inventor files but they can do so via Fusion, or via specific interface modules that third parties have developed to do this.

Now that tablet computers have at last taken off, Autodesk staff say that the number one request is for Android operating system support, adding that they are working on it now. One of the strengths of AutoCAD has always been its comprehensive libraries of standards, and the software includes updates for ISO, DIN, and JIS (Japan). What was Algor's FEA software has now been fully integrated and Autodesk badged but Blue Ridge Numerics' cfdesign fluid flow and heat transfer software, although acquired by Autodesk, remains separate.

Alias products, although well integrated into the Autodesk portfolio, and in the form of Alias design are offered alongside Inventor Professional in the Product Design Suite Premium, are also to continue to be offered with their traditional interfaces, for fear of upsetting their traditional users, we were told. Autodesk SketchBook Designer 2012 is included with the purchase of Autodesk Alias Design 2012 and Autodesk Alias Automotive 2012.

One of its particular features is its ability to interpret rough forms done by hand. For example, a roughly drawn loop can be interpreted as an ellipse or circle, if the designer chooses, or left as it is. Ryan Savenkoff of Weatherhaven, which makes large portable shelters for the military and for use in Antarctica, on the other hand, revealed that it visualises its structures, originally designed using Inventor, in 3ds Max.

The Product Design Suite Standard offers this combination. Prototypes often cost around $100,000 and Savenkoff said that using Inventor ensured that the shelters, which have either steel or aluminium frames usually went together as intended. The products are often required on short notice, and using CAD helps keep lead times down to 8 to 12 weeks. Sevenkoff revealed that much of the company's present R&D is aimed at reducing energy consumption either for heating or cooling.

Diesel fuel delivered to remote locations can cost as much as $300 per litre. Finite element modelling of the fabric walling is not yet possible but Tim Bourdois of ACS – Aluminium Curtainwall Systems, said they depended on finite element analysis of structures and the aluminium and stainless steel components that go into them. Mechanical tests of parts typically cost $5000 to $7000 he said, and take a week or two before results come back. Hence, they want to have to do as few of these as possible.

Architects also constantly try to push the frontiers of what is possible and he told us about a building with a glass front, that had to lean out by 15°, and which started to sag. He said that Expensive modifications were quickly required." Talking of modifications, by using AutoCAD Electrical, Frick Industrial Refrigeration, part of Johnson Controls, has reduced retrofit design times from three weeks to three days.

AuotCAD Electrical 2012 now includes Web and mobile access to drawings and new sets of library symbols to comply with both IEEE 315/315A and IEC 60617.

Design Pointers
• 'Advisers' in Moldflow 2012 automatically update cost advice, manufacturability considerations and sustainability impact every time a change is made to a design
• Vault Professional is to be given an SAP interface and Vault is to encompass Showcase, Sketchbook and 3ds Max files
• SketchBook Designer 2012 can interpret rough forms done by hand. For example, a roughly drawn loop can be interpreted as an ellipse or circle, if the designer chooses, or left as it is
• Cost in large-volume quantities is in terms of tens of pounds

Author
Tom Shelley

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