December 08, 2008
Autodesk Acquires Rules-Based Design Automation Technology
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Autodesk has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the iLogic software and related technology from Canada-based Logimetrix, Inc. iLogic is Logimetrix's desktop rules-based design automation technology. Terms were not disclosed.

The agreement demonstrates Autodesk's commitment to providing a comprehensive Digital Prototyping solution to manufacturers of all sizes, giving them the ability to design, visualize and simulate their designs earlier in the process. The addition of the iLogic technology will strengthen the Autodesk solution for Digital Prototyping by bringing user friendly tools for rules-based design and automation to mainstream manufacturers.

iLogic technology makes it easy for designers and engineers to capture design intent and automate common design tasks by creating "smart parts" that can embed higher levels of design intelligence directly into an Autodesk Inventor digital prototype, all without the need for programming knowledge.

"The acquisition of iLogic technology will extend rules-based design and automation capabilities to the desktop, opening doors to new and enhanced workflows for users that are unrivaled in the manufacturing industry," said Robert "Buzz" Kross, senior vice president of Autodesk Manufacturing Solutions. "Individual engineers and workgroups will have the ability to more easily capture design intent directly into digital prototypes and create digital prototypes through automation without requiring any programming."

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

The Autodesk acquisition march goes on despite the general condition of the economy and the concern voiced by its CEO, Carl Bass, during the last call discussing financial results. The acquisition also adds further to the Autodesk product mix that now numbers over 150 or so separate product offerings. At last week’s Autodesk University in Las Vegas, Bass was asked if the company had plans to consolidate or bundle the products into something more palatable for development, marketing, and support. He responded, “Probably,” but the tone was more like, “Certainly.”

Anyway, enough about speculation, let’s discuss rules-based design, iLogic, and how it fits in with Inventor.

Although there are currently a lot of opinions about it (for and against), most of today’s mechanical CAD software employs parametrics, a universally-used method for linking dimensions and variables to geometry, so that when the numerical values associated with geometry change, the geometry also changes. A parameter is a variable to which other variables are related, and these other variables can be obtained by means of parametric equations. With parametrics, design modifications and creating a family of parts can be performed quickly compared with the redrawing required by CAD packages that don’t provide parametrics.

Parametric modifications can be performed several ways, including with a spreadsheet, script, or by manually changing the dimensional values associated with a digital model. Parameters can define the size and shape of geometric features and control the relative positions of components within assemblies. For example, you can specify the size of a cover plate as: Height = Width/4 with equations that define the relationships between the parameters.

You can also define parameters that relate dimensions to functional requirements. For example, you can define the cross-sectional area of a part to have certain proportions and withstand a certain load, such as:

Area = Load/Material Strength*Factor of Safety

You can link a spreadsheet to a part or assembly and drive the parameter values from cells in the spreadsheet. Parameters can also be exported to a bill of materials (BOM) and a parts list.

Autodesk Inventor has a Parameters tool for viewing and editing parameters in the Parameters table, creating user-defined parameters, and linking to a spreadsheet containing parameter values. Model parameters are created automatically when you define a sketch dimension, create a feature, or add an assembly constraint.

You can create user parameters, which are more general than model parameters and can be used to convey functional requirements. User parameters can be also be driven by a spreadsheet. You can employ user parameters in equations. If you use the same parameters in many parts, such as force or material, you can define the parameters in templates used to create new part files. Custom parameters are created through the application programming interface (API). However, Inventor does not have the capability to handle Boolean, string, or multi-value parameters.

As useful as parametric modeling can be, it also has limitations. Unless you are using a spreadsheet or table to drive a family of parts, a parametric model only represents a single design iteration. iLogic from Logimetrix Inc., on the other hand, goes beyond parametric modeling. Instead of using just parametric variables to capture the design intent sufficient to define a single model, iLogic uses what it calls logimetric rules to capture the design intent sufficient to define a super-model capable of representing all possible valid configurations of a design. iLogic is not by itself generative, meaning that it does not describe geometry. Rather, it defines the rules that drive
geometry and the relationships that define parts and assemblies. iLogic is an Autodesk Inventor add-in that drives all the attributes and parameters that describe 3D models that already exist.

While iLogic goes beyond the traditional capabilities of parametric design, it is not an engineer-to-order (ETO) or knowledge-based engineering (KBE) tool. Historically, ETO packages have been used to create products whose customer specifications require unique engineering design or significant customization, and usually result in a unique set of components, bills of material, and production routings. KBE tools add at least a level of complexity (and expense) by not only creating a CAD model, but also attempting to capture and account for the knowledge that goes into designing the model. One of KBE’s strengths is its ability to reuse knowledge, but almost certainly requires expert
outside consulting assistance to make it work. While iLogic’s rules-based design add-in is different than either ETO or KBE, it does provide some unique capabilities.

Logimetric design with iLogic provides a new rules-based design approach for capturing design intent and creating reconfigurable, reusable parts and assemblies. Working with Inventor feature properties and conditional statements, iLogic introduces conditional logic into a parametric model. Since iLogic uses Visual Basic.NET (VB.NET) as a language together with a set of specialized functions for driving the parametric models directly, it requires minimal, entry-level programming skills for realizing what it can do.

An iLogic rule is an object that is added to a design, and the rule object is embedded, not a separate part, of a design definition. Rules are what allow you to define the total number of possible configurations based on the total number of possible input combinations as set forth in the rules. Whereas parametrics address the “what” of a design, iLogic rules address the “why” of a design, and provide more potential and possibilities for a given base design.

Rules created with iLogic are more meaningful for expressing logic and the resulting design variations, and also let you take advantage if Inventor’s iParts and iAssemblies. By themselves, iParts and iAssemblies have a fixed list of possible configurations, whereas iLogic rules can define configuration possibilities based on the total number of input combinations possible. iLogic rules are also flexible, because they can contain formulas, equations, strings, and multi-values parameters, that can be turned on and off, as required. iLogic rules not only define the inputs that drive a design, but can also define and drive outputs and formats, such as an Excel spreadsheet or an HTML
report, that are launched with a rule.

iLogic embeds rules (as objects) directly into the Inventor part and assembly models that define and drive the models parameters and attributes. iLogic rules provide a means of driving the parameters and attributes of a model directly.

iLogic enables the creation and inclusion of custom parameters; string, Boolean (true/false), and multi-value (a list of valid sizes or equations) into a design. It provides an enhanced parameters list editor interface for accommodating rules and custom parameters. The iLogic Parameters editor also provides an advanced filtering function to assist in parameter input definition, management, and editing.

The VB.NET programming language is native to the iLogic rule object and is what allows a scalable approach to rules-driven design. Beginners with no programming experience can quickly learn the basic functions of iLogic that will provide them with the fundamentals of rules-driven design. Designers and engineers with some programming experience should quickly find that the only limitations for possible applications of iLogic are their imagination.

Some examples include:
  • Read and write to text files, Word documents and other windows-based applications.
  • Generate and launch html files as a means of publishing design specification reports.
  • Launch external applications and open reference documents , such as Word, Excel, HTML, etc.
  • Rules can be used to include audio feedback as design decisions are made using sound files or Windows voice control
  • Automatically send e-mail notifications when critical design parameters change
Admittedly, the examples above do require an intermediate level programming ability, but these are relatively easy skills to learn. However,
iLogic comes with sample code for many of these applications.

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-- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.

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