April 07, 2008
AutoCAD 2009 Software Family Released
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Autodesk today announced that it is shipping AutoCAD 2009 software for conceptual design, drafting and detailing. The AutoCAD 2009 portfolio includes updates to AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT, as well as the discipline-specific applications AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD Electrical, AutoCAD Mechanical, and AutoCAD MEP software applications.

AutoCAD 2009 features significant user interface enhancements along with new productivity tools to help AutoCAD customers of all levels work more efficiently toward competitive design ideas and compelling presentations:

• Improved User Interface & Usability – The new AutoCAD 2009 software task-based user interface is designed to make new and experienced users more productive and has been optimized to reduce the number of steps it takes to reach commands. Furthermore, it is customizable and extensible, can be migrated forward using the standard migration tools and offers a “classic workspace” that provides access to the traditional toolbar and menu interface. In addition, the new AutoCAD 2009 user interface provides a common toolset for operations such as file open and close, rotate, pan, and zoom, into the next several releases of Autodesk products, streamlining the transition
between products and reducing learning time.

• Faster Drafting – AutoCAD 2009 can boost productivity by helping automate tedious tasks. The action recorder provides a simple to use macro recorder, and the interactive layer manager instantly makes changes appear in the drawing.

• Autodesk Impression – AutoCAD 2009 subscription customers will receive Autodesk Impression illustration software for the creation of presentation-ready graphics with a hand-drawn look.

AutoCAD LT 2009, one of the world’s largest selling 2D drafting and detailing products, also features the new user interface to increase productivity for experienced and new users. Pricing starts at $1,295 (USD).

Autodesk is also shipping the latest version of the AutoCAD software portfolio, that includes mechanical design-oriented discipline-specific applications built on AutoCAD technology.

• AutoCAD Electrical 2009 is purpose-built to design electrical controls systems quickly and accurately with automated tasks, comprehensive symbol libraries, and an electrical-specific workflow designed to increase the productivity of controls engineers. Priced at $5,295 (USD), international pricing may vary.

• AutoCAD Mechanical 2009 is designed to accelerate the mechanical design process with standards-based symbol libraries, engineering calculators and a mechanical-specific workflow created to significantly improve productivity for AutoCAD users in manufacturing. Priced at $4,495 (USD,) international pricing may vary.

• AutoCAD MEP 2009, the AutoCAD software for mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) businesses, features intuitive system drawing and design tools and built-in design calculators for more efficient and accurate designs. Priced at $4,995 (USD), international pricing may vary

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

AutoCAD and 2D just keep marching on . . . but let’s keep this to the mechanical design side of the equation.

AutoCAD Mechanical is a version of AutoCAD software specifically developed for 2D manufacturing design applications. In other words, it contains all the functionality of AutoCAD plus a comprehensive set of features developed specifically for the mechanical design process. AutoCAD Mechanical automates many common tasks, such as generating mechanical components (springs, shafts, cams, and belts and chains), dimensioning, and creating bills of materials. It supports international drafting standards and provides a library of more than 700,000 standard parts.

So what’s the big deal about designing in 2D with AutoCAD Mechanical? Afterall, it’s 2008 and by now practically everybody who designs mechanical things for a living has made the switch to 3D because 2D is dead, right? I would say not, for a couple of reasons. First, many users of 2D CAD products are comfortable staying with 2D, and 2D suits their needs just fine. Second, some types of mechanical design, such as machines, (arguably) just don’t necessarily need a 3D tool, so why switch? With the release of AutoCAD Mechanical 2009, Autodesk continues to pump life into its specialized 2D mechanical design and drafting package.

Again, AutoCAD Mechanical is a specialized 2D application that sits on top of and is tightly integrated with AutoCAD. Look at the interface and you can tell immediately that they’re obviously related, but also different, because Mechanical has toolbars and palettes intended specifically for mechanical design, such as standard parts libraries, mechanical line objects, and simple FEA (finite-element analysis) calculations for 2D objects. For a 2D mechanical design package that retails for just a few hundred dollars more than plain AutoCAD, I feel it’s definitely worth the extra money for an application that has been optimized for 2D mechanical design and drafting. You can also
get AutoCAD Mechanical 2009 as part of the Autodesk Inventor Series 2009 that also includes a copy of it as part of the package.

By the way, if data migration is an issue, you can install and run the previous version of AutoCAD Mechanical side by side with this version.

Although Autodesk seems to be downplaying it this time around, I think one of the single most significant features in AutoCAD Mechanical actually began with the 2004 release, something the company called mechanical structure. It’s used for organizing geometry into components for easy reuse. It displays such components in a tree-like format in a graphical browser similar to those found in Inventor and other 3D modeling products. If you’re a long-time AutoCAD 2D user, initially, you may find the concept of mechanical structure somewhat complicated, but once you get the hang of it, I think you will see it as a powerful aspect of AutoCAD Mechanical. Mechanical structure lets you
organize mechanical design and drawing data in a way that blocks, groups, and layers never could (but these can still be used in conjunction with mechanical structure).

Before using mechanical structure, you have to select the design mode, top-down or bottom-up, that best suits the way you work. Although either method gives you the same end result, the way you reach the result are exactly opposite. A top-down approach begins with a top-level component, usually a part or assembly, and ends with the elemental geometry as displayed in the browser. A bottom-up approach begins with elemental geometry and end with the top-level component. Most users will probably prefer the top-down approach, because they can select and work with an entire component rather than its elemental geometry.

You can also set filters to hide views and features in the browser, but all geometry can be selected and edited at any time. You can reorder components and organize them into different subassemblies and views, and the BOM (bill of materials) database ensures that each separate view isn't counted in the BOM. If you copy a structured element, the copy is created from the stored definition, and each component view instance can have independent view locations. The browser also keeps track of multiple instances of components, so a change to one is automatically reflected in all instances in an assembly.

Overall, mechanical structure is the major feature that sets AutoCAD Mechanical apart from regular AutoCAD for mechanical design. Although you’re in a 2D design environment with AutoCAD Mechanical, the mechanical browser and the way components, views, etc. are arranged are also subtle introductions to the way its 3D sibling, Inventor, works and may help ease the transition to 3D. How long before you’ll face this transition? As it has for the past several years, Autodesk says it is still committed to AutoCAD Mechanical development and support for the foreseeable future, and will ship it concurrently with future releases of AutoCAD, and as part of the Autodesk Inventor Series.

If you’ve been using either AutoCAD or AutoCAD Mechanical for your mechanical design work, and are happy with the inherent advantages and limitations of working in 2D, AutoCAD Mechanical 2009 is worth serious consideration as an upgrade or replacement.

So, is 2D for mechanical design dead? From the looks of things, I would say, “Not exactly.”

The Week’s Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

SolidWorks has acquired U.K.-based Priware Ltd., developer of CircuitWorks, which bridges the gap between electronic CAD and mechanical CAD software. The acquisition provides a platform for integrating electronic and mechanical designs. According to BCC Research, the electronics industry will reach $3 trillion by 2012. CircuitWorks enables engineers to accelerate and simplify electronic product design by integrating ECAD files into their 3D models and 2D drawings. CircuitWorks allows engineers to ensure electronic components such as printed circuit boards will fit and work correctly in their products - all within the SolidWorks software design window. SolidWorks and CircuitWorks together let engineers design PCBs to fit inside ever more stylized product frames. For example, a mechanical engineer can use CircuitWorks to include a PCB design in the SolidWorks solid model of a new electronic device to help ensure the PCB is not too close to any metal contacts. SolidWorks Routing allows the engineer to create the wire harness to connect to the PCB. The engineer would also be able to gauge how the PCB will stay in place using COSMOSWorks design validation software, and check heat flow using COSMOSFloWorks thermal dynamics analysis

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.

Review Article
  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Richard Williams'
    As usual a fine review by a fine reviewer. Your reviews are such that even someone like me can understand them clearly. Thanks Pal.

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