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CAD/CAE/CFD/CAO/HPC новости 21 Октября 2004 года
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Обзор возможностей Inventor Series 9

FOR THOSE that aren’t familiar with the manoeuvres that Autodesk has been making over the past year or so, a preliminary update is probably in order to bring everyone up to speed. Inventor Series is now the base package in the Manufacturing Solutions Division and in addition to Inventor, the Series also includes AutoCAD Mechanical, Autodesk Vault and Mechanical Desktop. So let’s take a look at what’s on offer.

AutoCAD Mechanical

The first product within Inventor Series is AutoCAD Mechanical and this provides the foundation of 2D draughting capabilities. In comparison to base vanilla AutoCAD, the Mechanical flavour delivers a wealth of functionality which makes it much more tailored to the mechanical design and detailing process than the generic tools within AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT.

For example, rather than the simple file explorer tools within vanilla AutoCAD, Mechanical brings in a number of different tools which allow you to organise your work in a much more structured manner and interact with that data more efficiently. Users can now build structure into their drawings as you would commonly within a 3D modelling system. This means that updates and links can be maintained in a much more controlled manner. The interface to these structuring tools is typically through the file explorer windows that’s found within AutoCAD Mechanical. This is split into three common sections; Files, Library and Content. ‘Files’ allows you to explore the local file system, ‘Library’ your library of commonly used components and existing data, and ‘Content’ any symbol or part libraries you have created.

In terms of organising design components, there are now tools which allow you to firstly create individual parts or sub-assemblies within drawings (which can also include multiple views, front, side etc), then externalize them to create linked and managed external files – which can then be reused where needed in other projects. While this sort of thing could be done using standard AutoCAD, blocks and X-refs, Mechanical includes a formalised set of tools, so you don’t have to knife and fork everything.

Mechanical Browser

The interface for much of the functionality described above is through the Mechanical Browser. This provides you with the core tools to create your components and groups then externalise or localise them if required.You can also re-order the 2D drawing structure, and sort parts, views and folders. It also allows you to import part reference data and if you’re working with particularly complex assemblies and the part creation tools, then clicking a part within the browser selects and highlights the part in the view-port (it’ll also work with multiple selections)

Also on the management side of things, this Inventor Series release sees the integration of AutoCAD Mechanical with the Autodesk Vault data management that’s been built into Inventor for a little while. Essentially, while there are tools to manage your design data and the relationships that are present locally (i.e. your machine), Vault allows you to do the same on a design group (or company wide) basis.

Alongside the standard part draughting tools, AutoCAD Mechanical also bring a massive amount of functionality that was previously found in the add-ons developed by Genius. For those that haven’t come across these tools, they provide all manner of engineering-specific functionality, ranging from standard parts libraries and intelligent part and component design wizards, through standard engineering calculations and into the realms of two-dimensional finite element analysis. These tools have seen a few updates for this release, particular when creating screw connections between different parts. In previous releases, standard screw connections could be created only in the front view with all the related geometry (such as washers etc). In 2005, screw connections can be created and shown automatically in the front, top and bottom views and quickly documented in associated views.

Of course, the benefit of using this 3D concept within a two dimensional context is that the system has knowledge of which entities belong to which components. Taking this further, the associative 2D hide option makes the creation of design views based on these geometry sets much less hassle. The 2D hide operation calculates which geometry should be shown in a specific view and which should be hidden.

INVENTOR ASSOCIATIVITY: For those looking to use AutoCAD Mechanical as a draughting tool alongside Inventor as a workhorse 3D modelling system, then this release is going to see that workflow improved dramatically. There have been a number of core tools added to AutoCAD Mechanical which allow the user to import both Inventor parts and assemblies and use them to firstly create drawing view geometry, then to retrieve dimensions and tolerances from the model for the purpose of detailing. Each drawing view is then dynamically linked to the source Inventor file and should any

changes be made, then the user is notified (either on screen if they’re working concurrently, or when next loading the DWG file). This leads us on rather nicely to the other major component of Inventor Series, and that is, of course, Autodesk Inventor itself.

Inventor 9

The interface for Inventor hasn’t changed a great deal since the last release. The UI is clearly laid out and the interaction methods it contains are a good example of how software should work – it lets you get on with the process of designing rather than operating software. That said, the new additions to functionality do have to fit in somewhere, but the good news is that all the updates and enhancements have been integrated into the interface in a familiar manner, making update learning or training a much less painful experience than may be the case with some other applications. As you might expect, there has been a fair amount of work on the part modelling functionality, with which we’re going to start this in-depth review.

In the first instance, these updates provide greater flexibility or usability in operations such as ‘loft’ which now includes a full graphical preview of the geometry to be created, as well as the ability to apply tangency conditions to the driving rails. Patterning and mirroring has also seen a lot of work, specifically in the types of geometry that can be used within a pattern feature. In addition to the existing tools which allow you to create series of Inventor-native geometry, you can now also include work features (planes, axes and points) and base solids (such as imported geometry). In terms of brand new tools, a new tool has been added to allow you to create a planar boundary patch. The boundary on which it’s based could be the usual range of existing model edges (of either surface or solid geometry) or a simple sketch.

There have also been a few enhancements made to the manner in which Inventor deals with shape propagation when dealing with contours, which for those unfamiliar with the term are pretty much none-closed boundaries. Essentially, this allows you to define geometry sets (such as extrudes or revolves) in the same way that you would when creating ribs. In real terms, this means that you don’t need to fully define a profile for extrudes or revolves – the system takes the partial geometry and creates the full feature by extending or trimming the logical extents of that profile to existing walls or other features. This means that you can create an intelligent feature which automatically extends to the position required without having to fully define it – which will be very useful when making extreme modifications to existing features.

Following on from intelligent features, the hole creation tools have seen a lot of work to provide greater support for real design and process-related issues. In the first instance, the methods available to position holes have been extended to include a linear position which references two edges, using concentricity and by point. The real intelligence comes when defining the particulars of each hole, as they are now based on standard fasteners – you tell the system which fastener are going to be attached to hole, rather than defining the thread form individually. To support this further with assembly modelling, the system also now allows you to define clearance holes, in particular parts which are controlled by both the fastener type and the fit requirements. Finally, the detailing of holes will be much easier as Inventor now automatically creates hole notes that will update following modification.

Assembly modelling

The updates to the assembly modelling tools have been split into two categories. Those which assist in the creation and modification of assemblies and those which help out when you’re working with existing data or work in progress based on large scale assemblies.

In terms of the assembly creation tools, the assembly features have been extended to now include revolves and sweeps (for material removal), as well as fillets and rounds. Hole termination options have also been extended which provide greater control over holes created within the context of an assembly. All of this means that you have a much greater number of tools (and the inherent flexibility they afford) when including factors such as weld preps, post weld operations, and casting machining within your 3D product definitions.

While these tools allow you to create the required forms within the context of an assembly, such assembly models are also used to simulate mechanisms or undertake proofs of concept during the development process. To provide greater support for this, Inventor 9 will see the introduction of Flexible Assemblies. In previous releases, Inventor allowed you to reuse sub-assemblies within the same toplevel assembly, but each had to be in the same position – which as I’m sure you’re aware, doesn’t happen very often in the real world. This also meant that if you wanted to truly simulate the movement of a mechanism, then you had to use a separate copy of each sub-assembly. Firstly, this isn’t good modelling practice and more importantly, it wreaks havoc with your Bill of Materials. The new Flexible Assemblies functionality not only allows you to use multiple instances of a sub-assembly within a top level product model but also enables each instance of that sub-assembly to operate within its functional boundaries at an individual level. In other words, each instance can be in a different position and the BOM will still be accurate. Sub-assemblies, once defined as such, (through a right click in the part browser) can then be manipulated dynamically or driven using specific constraints where needed – which leads me on, rather nicely to Positional Representations.

While the Flexible Assembly tools are ideal for the test and simulation stage, there is always a requirement to formalise those different positions of an assembly, either within the 3D model, or during the draughting and detailing phase.To assist with this, Positional Representations allow you to create multiple static instances of a sub-assembly, each of which can be used to show a different positional state of that assembly.This allows you to store away specific ‘positions’ of your product – which can have benefits either during the design and communication process or of course, can also be extracted and used with the draughting environment to create associative drawing views based on the various positions you define.

One of the key benefits that using a 3D modelling package - particularly one which allows you to create assemblies - is that copying and mirroring components within an assembly can be done without too much hassle. In the past few releases, Autodesk has introduced a number of key tools which allow you to create both copies and mirrors intelligently. Here, I’m referring to the automated creation of handed and non-handed components within mirrored sub-assemblies in a single feature. Updates to this area for R9 see the addition of support for mirroring and copying of assembly features and patterns, iMates, work features and constraints.

In terms of assembly interaction updates, these can be found in two key areas. Firstly, the component selection tools introduced to Inventor last year have now been extended to include the ability to select components from within a large assembly, by camera view (those that are in view can be selected), whether they’re internal or external, or by position relative to plane.

The final update for assembly modelling that I’m going to cover are the enhancements to Design Views. These are now stored within the assembly files (they were previously stored externally) and can be reused when creating a Presentation or animation. Rather thoughtfully, Autodesk has also added a permission function to Design Views as well. This means that while you may have a sensitive view of an assembly or sub-assembly (perhaps from a particular supplier), you can now grant access to Design Views to only those parties that need it and still use native data.


While there have been quite a number of updates, changes and additions to the drawing tools within core Inventor, the biggest change for the whole userbase is found in the Styles definition dialog. This sees the consolidation of a wide range of options and system variables which control all manner of items and their appearance within Inventor, with specific attention having been paid to drawing formatting. Essentially, Autodesk has stripped out all of the items that relate to the formatting of drawings and placed them with a dialog, through which all formatting details can be dealt with. This gives you several advantages over the old non-centralised method. Firstly, it is much easier to maintain corporate standards as a single Styles database can be stored on a network and referenced by every user. It also means that in the light of any changes, all drawings can be updated to concur with the new standards.

Another big addition, but perhaps no great shakes for long time AutoCAD users, is the addition of layers within Inventor drawings. This gives you pretty much all the same functionality you would expect from AutoCAD, which means controlling the formatting of objects by colours, line-types or visibility with Inventor draughts. It also means that layers can be mapped between AutoCAD and Inventor.

While the addition of the styles dialog and layers capabilities are big changes, there are also a number of smaller updates that will make life easier for many. Firstly, you can now freely rotate text and use AutoCAD style justification settings (fit, top-right, middle). The text placed on dimension is now automatically centred and you have the ability to edit the extension line origin. On the parts list front, you now have the ability to override material and quantity, although I’m sure that many find this a little worrying. I thought the idea of 3D modelling was that you didn’t need to fudge variable such as these – surely it would be much better to provide the tools to do the job properly and in the context of the design (I just do hope that this option can be switched off).

There’s also been a considerable amount of work done on the creation and automatic population of title blocks, which allow you to fully define the placement and formatting of text. This means that rework and tidying up is reduced to a minimum. On the work saving front, there have also been some enhancements to balloon placement. Balloons can be automatically laid out according to a specified pattern, and split to show different values (such as a numerical reference and perhaps a part count). As ever, drawing view creation has also seen some work, with Section views gaining more control enabling the creation of slice section views to user specified depth and the ability to control exactly which parts are sectioned and which aren’t (such as fasteners). This can be done either on a prescriptive basis (defining the sectionable factor as the part is developed) or on a per view basis.

Finally, the Weldment design tools introduced over the past few releases have now been supported in the draughting environment with the ability to automatically create drawing views of component weld preparations. This will be ideal from both a design documentation point of view and for communication with fabricators.

In conclusion

This month we’ve covered the core creation tools within Inventor Series, AutoCAD Mechanical 2005 and Inventor 9. What we haven’t really looked at is the Autodesk Vault workgroup data management tool, so you’ve got next month to look forward to that, as well as the updates in Inventor Professional.

As a product offering in its own right, Inventor Series offers a lot of ‘bang for your buck’ and includes AutoCAD Mechanical, Inventor, Autodesk Vault and Mechanical Desktop if you’re still using it (and according to a recent poll, a fair number of our readers are still using MDT actively). Considering that AutoCAD Mechanical alone currently stands at Ј3,600 and Inventor Series is Ј3,995, the packaging will be appealing to many. Autodesk does claim that if you’re using AutoCAD for mechanical design then you should be working with the Mechanical variant rather than vanilla AutoCAD and I’m inclined to agree.

From a purely commercial and capital related point of view Autodesk is giving potential adopters excellent value with the bundling of AutoCAD Mechanical and Inventor Series at such an attractive price in comparison to standalone AutoCAD Mechanical - after all, if you’re offered two design systems, essentially, for the price of one, then you’re going to take the good value option.

However, from the perspective of technology adoption, by offering both systems at the same time within the same license and bundle,Autodesk may be providing a stumbling block on the road to the adoption of a 3D-based product development process, where real benefits (in terms of improvement to product quality and reductions in time-tomarket and cost) can truly be achieved. As individual products, both Inventor and AutoCAD Mechanical are good examples of their type and will perform the functions for which they are intended, but more often than not, moving to 3D is about a great deal more than just purchasing software, whether it’s simple resistance to change, a perception of redundancy of existing skills or reluctance to learn amongst your staff.

For those looking to implement a 3D-based product development process, these are the often unconsidered factors that need to be addressed if any organisation is to take those first steps. Autodesk says that Inventor Series offers a low risk option (in comparison to moving to other 3D solutions) as Inventor Series offers both the 3D tools in the form of Inventor and a more familiar method of learning about the core principle of 3D modelling technology in a familiar environment with AutoCAD Mechanical (with the product structuring tools as an example). Really, your choice is whether to move immediately to 3D or not. Perhaps it might be best to make a clean break where projects permit and move entirely to 3D using Inventor, or perhaps a better fit is to transition to AutoCAD Mechanical and gain an incremental benefit by doing so, then move to 3D when required – and only you can decide.