Top draw

It has its detractors but with the world’s biggest user base of designers, the
future looks bright and busy for Autodesk Inventor. Charles Clarke reports.

Both Autodesk and Inventor have been criticised in recent months. Some say the software is lagging behind the main players in the Inventor market space. Some criticise Autodesk for offering it at rock bottom prices to existing AutoCAD users. Others knock the move from an open geometry kernel (ACIS) to a proprietary one (ShapeManager), citing Autodesk’s lack of kernel development expertise. And there are many examples on competitive websites of things Inventor can’t do.

So, as Inventor goes into Release 8.0, we review the strategy for the product.

The company pays little more than lip service to the modern notion of PLM, choosing instead to attack the market from a design-centric platform. And rightly so, as Autodesk has one of the best production drafting systems (AutoCAD) and the world’s biggest user base of designers. Autodesk’s creation and collaboration offerings get the job done for small and medium-sized manufacturers as they are generally easier to deploy than some enterprise-centric solutions.

In terms of the detail, Autodesk is concentrating on quality, capacity and performance to ensure Inventor adoption. The focus is on a production drawing environment for a number of reasons: most of the competition have weaker drafting systems; Autodesk’s 2D base is so large; and customers still want AutoCAD-style production drawings from solid models. The firm is also focussing on ways to help users do more, faster. Response to services like ‘tips and tricks’ training and website tutorials has been positive.

In June, Autodesk introduced Inventor Professional which added some task-specific tools for the mechanical and electrical design of industrial machinery.

The first release (at Inventor Release 7) included 3D Tube and Pipe Design and Printed Circuit Board import capabilities. New with Inventor Professional Release 8 is Cable and Wiring Harness design and a link to the AutoCAD/Electrical wiring schematic solution. Future releases of Professional will include FEA and Dynamics.

Inventor Professional, like all Autodesk products, also supports DWF publishing files for use with native viewers as well as the free Volo View Express application. DWF is like Autodesk’s own PDF format for designers, providing support for multiple 2D sheets, password support, print-ready format, and a single publishing format for all Autodesk design tools as well as Microsoft Office tools.

In Release 8, Autodesk has added many user-driven modelling, assembly and drafting improvements. Some are of the order of 20:1 over Release 7.

There are still areas needing attention but Inventor trailed SolidWorks and Solid Edge by four years. While Autodesk has been in catch-up mode, it hasn’t been concentrating on the ‘nice to have’ bits, as have more mature vendors.

However, the software’s production capabilities are not in doubt. With customers designing things like the Mastenbroek 1414 trenching machine – a device of more than 10,000 parts, all modelled as solids in Inventor – its future looks busy and bright.

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