Each year as Autodesk rolls out its annual software, it invites the media to tech days. The theme this year was “3D is not enough,” a phrase meant to emphasize that today’s design software has to go beyond 3D design to handle pre-design, analysis, simulation and documentation—everything that Autodesk formerly called “digital prototyping.” Indeed, Autodesk had so much software to talk about that its flagship Inventor software was relegated to a rather small slice of time, with the day dominated by presentations on analysis, sketching and even AutoCAD. Several times Autodesk speakers made the controversial point that you don’t need to purchase software from anyone else.
For mechanical designers, a workflow is now possible with all-Autodesk software:
1. Begin the design as concepts drawn with Alias Sketch. More than just an expensive paint program, it treats raster shapes like intelligent 2D vectors in that it can adjust their properties and shapes at any time. Versions of the software are now available on iPhone and iPad (named SketchBook), and as a $500 plug-in for AutoCAD, as well as stand-alone. I asked about the experimental 3D version we were shown last year, but Autodesk had nothing more to say about it.
2. Bring the Alias sketch into AutoCAD as an image underlay, and then construct a 3D model from it with AutoCAD 2011’s new NURBS splines and associative surfaces.
3. Import AutoCAD’s 3D DWG file into Inventor, where the 3D model is developed further, such as adding ribs and part lines, making it suitable for plastic injection molding. If the model has electrical connections, these can be designed by AutoCAD Electrical and then imported into Inventor as wiring harnesses. Autodesk calls the combination of mechanical and electrical design “mechatronics.”
4. Test the model’s strength with ANSYS finite element analysis, and check the model’s compatibility with mold making equipment through MoldFlow.
5. Display the final product with Showcase. Coupled with MoldFlow, Showcase can now display the surface shrinkage marks caused by imperfectly designed molds.
6. Create assembly and maintenance documents with the company’s new Publisher software. The technical documents can be output as movies or as static PDF and Word documents.
Making Incompatible Data Compatible
One of the problems Autodesk faces is that much of its core software is incompatible. Revit, AutoCAD, AutoCAD add-ons, Inventor and Alias store their data in different formats, making data reuse difficult. The company is the midst of a multi-year process of getting these programs talk with one another.