March 21, 2005
Autodesk Updates Product Portfolio
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Let's instead take a first look at a couple of the products of interest to mechanical designers - AutoCAD 2006 and Inventor 10.

Now in its 20th iteration, AutoCAD 2006 once again proves that there is still life in 2D. Although there are some enhancements and improvements to the UI, the majority of the major change seem to be in drawings.

Drawings created in AutoCAD are often composed of standard components (or blocks) that represent such things as fasteners or tubing. In AutoCAD, these standard components are often represented by blocks that help save time and standardize drawings by eliminating th need to redraw standard components. Blocks can number in the thousands at some companies and can be difficult to scale, place, or re-create. AutoCAD 2006 now has dynamic blocks that let you add dynamic behavior to existing block libraries, reducing the time spent manipulating blocks inside of a drawing.

Introduced in AutoCAD 2005, the enhanced Sheet Set Manager helps you organize the multitude of drawings generated during most projects by collating them into logical sets and subsets that you can define. Sheets can be added or removed from sheet sets relatively easily using the Sheet Set Manager tool palette or a context-sensitive menu.

Finally, AutoCAD 2006 has some new commands for inserting and manipulating annotation in your drawings. You now have a lot more flexibility and options when creating, formatting and aligning text and tables. Tables also now support mathematical expressions based on cell values.

Those are just a couple of the highlights of AutoCAD 2006. Now on to 3D and Inventor 10.

Although there are a number of enhancements and new features, the most prominent are those found in sketching, part modeling, the construction environment, quality check of imported data, and the Content Center parts library.

Sketch improvements in the 2D environment include dimensions driven by equations are denoted by "fx:" in the graphics window, dimension visibility can be toggled off and on, and you can create lines and splines using precise coordinates.

3D sketching builds on many of the techniques used in 2D sketches. For example, you can add constraints to sketch geometry, including a tangent constraint for splines, create 3D sketches using precise coordinates, switch dimensions to driven dimensions, dimension to geometry outside a 3D sketch(as long as one piece of geometry resides in a 3D sketch), and show a 3D sketch in a drawing view.

Several areas (modeling, drawings, etc.) of Autodesk Inventor now "recognize" 3D sketch geometry. For example, derived parts and assemblies can include 3D sketches - select a sketch in the browser of the derived component to include it in the derived body. Also, a drawing view can include 3D sketch geometry.

In the part environment, the Feature Generator provides a new way to edit extruded, revolved, and swept features so you can drag and drop predefined and custom features from the Content Center (parts library). You can modify a feature sketch with 3D Grips and see a preview of the effects of the modifications. The Feature Generator publishes authoring information directly to the Content Center rather than store it with the feature. The Author tool specifies parameters to be included with the published feature in addition to options required for the feature type, such as an axis for a revolved feature. You also can drag features and parts from the content library to a document.

New tools in the construction environment let you manage, modify, inspect and repair imported data, including IGES and STEP. An interactive Quality Check tool analyzes surfaces and reports conditions that may prevent surface data from being less than totally useful in Inventor. You can analyze for geometry errors, topology errors, stitching errors, or ambiguous errors. If it gets hung up, you can stop the inspection process and restart it later. Results of a previous analysis are retained so that analyzed data is not re-inspected. You can clear all analysis results and start again. If error conditions are detected, they are listed and a repair method is suggested, and a link is provided
to additional information about the error condition.

The new Content Center provides content management, customization, and publishing capabilities. In addition to evolving the standard parts library, the Content Center provides a graphical utility for accessing and publishing content (parts and iParts), edit content, and search for content, and the ability to customize your view of the content, including access to commonly used components called "favorites."

When version 1 of Inventor was released, admittedly, it was a little late out of the gate compared with the competition, but has gained ground, especially in the past few releases. This very preliminary look at Inventor, however, indicates that it's a good one. More to follow …

Jeffrey Rowe is the editor and publisher of MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached here or 408.850.9230.

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