Mixed motives

Autodesk’s latest CAD release, AIS 9, talks the language of the engineer as well as the professional modeller by providing a risk-free path from 2D to 3D.

Autodesk has removed the need to choose between 2D and 3D. With version 9 of its Autodesk Inventor Series, a suite of software aimed at the mid-range mechanical CAD market, the company provides 3D functionality via 2D.

AIS 9 is a watershed release. Autodesk owns the 2D CAD market, and with AIS 9 it has chosen to work with 2D rather than trying to migrate wholesale to 3D. No other mid-range CAD software developer can afford to adopt this strategy. Everyone else has a vested interest in the migration to 3D.

Whatever your needs, 3D or 2D, Autodesk has the tools for the job: Inventor for 2D/3D design and documentation; AutoCAD Mechanical for 2D drawing and detailing; and Vault for data management. As more 3D functionality creeps into AutoCAD Mechanical so MCAD users will begin to appreciate the benefits of 3D without risk.

AutoCAD Mechanical, the 2D drawing package, provides hidden line removal, isometric views and other 3D functions. There is also a link between Inventor and AutoCAD Mechanical. You can bring Inventor parts and assemblies into AutoCAD Mechanical for documentation or process sheets. If a part or assembly is changed, the change is managed via the Autodesk Vault (the AIS 9 PDM system) and the change is reflected in all instances in AutoCAD Mechanical.

There is a 2D calculation facility in AutoCAD Mechanical a bit like 2D FEA (finite element analysis). It can also work out bending moments and basic structural calculations, and has access to over 800,000 mechanical details.

The other benefit of AutoCAD Mechanical is that it introduces the AutoCAD user to 2D mechanical structure, which allows you to work with associative features, parts and assemblies instead of lines, arcs and circles.

This enables users to organise, store and reuse its structure-based designs more efficiently and effectively in collaborative environments. A dynamic link keeps components and sub-assembly drawings in sync with related assembly drawings.

There is a strong link between AutoCAD Mechanical and Inventor, the suite’s 3D design tool. You can bring 2D elements into Inventor, set the geometric constraints and produce 3D models very easily.The 2D elements need not come from AutoCAD, they can be from anywhere in DXF format. You can go back to the AutoCAD DWG files as many times as you need. There are tools to generate 3D elements from the common volume enclosed by 2D entities. You can apply parametrics automatically in the background, but this facility can be turned on or off.

This is functional modelling which talks the language of the engineer as well as the professional modeller. The modelling and interface are highly geared – you can put global rounds on to a model with a couple of mouse clicks rather than having to go round the model selecting geometry to add to the selection set. It has full clash detection with animation. Inventor 9 has lots of high-speed user interface tools – pick once you get a circle, pick twice you get the boss.

Autodesk’s segmented database architecture allows you to design very large, complex machines including tens of thousands of components, without the need for expensive hardware. The segmented database architecture will continue to increase in capacity to meet increasing part counts and it is faster than ever, with performance gains in all areas.

The creation and editing of large assembly drawings is greatly improved with an enhanced drawing manager. In addition, large assembly drawings will benefit from new load on demand functionality and z-plane clipping controls for drawing view optimisation.

The Autodesk Vault lets you optimise your company’s investment in design data by automating key processes. It makes it easy to find and reuse past designs, do ‘where used’ analysis, synchronise design-related efforts across multiple teams and eliminate paper processes.

Autodesk Streamline and the DWF format integrate your suppliers and customers into one extended design team. Secure collaboration is assured by 128-bit encryption. Streamline is hosted by Autodesk and supported by Microsoft. You pay for the Streamline service based on the number of users and the space occupied.

It is like collaborative PDM with permissions and so on, and is a managed and hosted service that replaces the traditional FTP site. It has an activity log and you can share anything that the Windows environment will accommodate. It also allows you to measure, disassemble and mark up on live data, and create presentations and animations.

The most beguiling aspect of AIS 9 is what you get for your money. For just £3,995 you have AutoCAD Mechanical, Inventor, Autodesk Vault and Streamline. This includes Inventor Professional with Ansys-based FEA, cable and wire harness, tubing and piping and import of PCB designs via IDF. Upgrades are available from AIS, Mechanical Desktop, AutoCAD Mechanical, AutoCAD and LT from as little as £995 – a steal in any language.

On the web