Inventor 6, the latest release of Autodesk’s mid-range solid modelling system, has the now compulsory list of over 200 major productivity and drawing enhancements.
It also has industry-specific solutions such as routing tools and weldments as well as new shape description tools – driven by the Autodesk ShapeManager kernel – that allows you to mix solids and surfaces to create stylised, complex and sculpted parts.
The complex shape description module is not a full-blown surface modeller, but it has significant surface creation and manipulation functionality. User opinion is divided: some say it’s great for designing consumer products up to a point and there are those who contend that it is great for doing more complex shapes in engineering environments. What is clear is that the surface descriptions can be parametrically controlled and there’s an ease-of-use that you don’t usually find with more traditional surface modellers.
The best bit is that this functionality is tightly integrated with the other modelling modes, making it the first hybrid modeller in the mid-range market. Similar functions in surfaces and solids use the same interface dialogues and you could happily flip from surfaces to solids as the fancy takes you.
This is no challenger to ICEMSurf or Alias, but it is a very competent surface modeller nonetheless. You can also loft and sweep along rails using multiple rails and multiple sections. You can even substitute sections having similar shape but not necessarily the same topology. The rails can also be defined in 3D so the resulting model can twist and turn. A major benefit with these operations is that you still have access to solid functionality so that the system will pick up things like ‘self intersections’.Other detailed improvements include things like thickening where you can take a face and offset it by a thickness. Where this thickening causes topological changes Inventor takes care of any healing or swallowing of surfaces required.
Another major departure for Inventor at R6 is the ability to generate weldments (ie. welds in English). What this does is allow you to specify how various components are welded together. These weldments are included automatically on the drawings and in the Bill of Materials. Weldments are actually solid models, so you can perform all the usual solid model manipulations on the welds. Most significantly you can perform weight and centre of gravity analysis on the welds in isolation. This is valuable in marine applications where there is a lot of welding – failure to recognise the contribution of the welds to the weight of a component can have an adverse effect on its behaviour in the water.
Drawing views have been enhanced: you can now do broken and break-out views. You can also add a rendered perspective view to the drawing from a bitmap generated from the model. This improves visualisation and understanding. In addition, you can align a bitmap with horizontal or vertical faces so that it makes the component appear more realistic. You can also include backgrounds and shadows providing a very effective DIY rendering module. It’s not exactly VIZ but it looks pretty good.
A new format for standard nuts and bolts includes iParts with all threads rendered as solid models. This means you get better quality fixtures and they have intelligent snapping to holes.
From a user point of view you can customise your own mechanical toolbar – you can generate icon bitmaps from parts and put them in the toolbar. This allows you to drag and drop standard parts straight from the toolbar.
Inventor is by far the best thing that’s happened in the Autodesk world in a long time. And it’s developing very nicely thank you. Inventor 6 is a watershed release in that it marks the point where wavering Mechanical Desktop users really need to take the plunge. It has been crystal clear for some time that Inventor is the way of the future for Autodesk.
At Inventor 5 Autodesk referred to MDT in the past tense. With Inventor 6 there is a level of customisation and usability that frustrated MDT users have been crying out for. For new users there is an ease-of-use that’s hard to find elsewhere and a new hybrid modelling capability unique to the mid-range market.