Autodesk Alias Design 2011 for Inventor: Curves Ahead!
Curves, curves, curves — from the mouse in your grip to the furniture you’re sitting on, pretty much everything is made up of those. Generally speaking, complex shapes and surfaces made of rolling, sweeping curves aren’t mechanical CAD programs’ forte. That’s the reason some designers routinely turn to a NURBS-driven program like Rhino to sculpt out the shape they want, then export it back into their favorite CAD programs.
Alias Design 2011 is Autodesk‘s headlong charge against the Rhino herd. Along with the software comes a plug-in, dubbed Alias Design for Inventor. Upon installing Alias Design, the Alias plug-in gets installed in your copy of Inventor (of course, you must already have Inventor installed in your machine to begin with).
This gives you access to Alias-style NURBS-editing tools, right from within Inventor. You can now select the edges on your model and deform them by pushing and pulling on control points. This method allows you to create the type of free-flowing shapes that don’t come easily in mechanical CAD programs.
The Alias tab also gives you the Symmetry command, which functions like a Mirror command that remains active throughout your modeling session. You invoke the command, specify the imaginary center plane, then you go to work. As you do, the deformations and edits you make on one side are automatically replicated on the opposite side. This makes it easy to create complex features with uniformity on both sides. If satisfied, you can move right back into Inventor modeling mode to continue working with traditional mechanical tools.
Autodesk Inventor 2011 remains a parametric modeler, but many operations — such as extrusions, rounds, and holes — can easily be adjusted by push-pull methods, as you might in direct modeling programs like SpaceClaim or CoCreate. (Inventor Fusion, currently available as a free technology preview from Autodesk Labs, may offer clues on how Inventor will look in the future.)
The visual display in Inventor 2011 is much more robust than in previous versions. Along with the usual wireframe mode, rendered mode, shaded mode, and other familiar modes, you can now apply the watercolor mode too. In addition, you can turn on environment maps and reflections. This lets you work in, for instance, the 360-degree environment of a used warehouse or a lab (to name but two preloaded settings).
This means interacting with your model in a fully rendered environment, with ground plane shadows and all. In fact, if you assign a highly reflective material to your design (such as polished steel), you can zoom in close to see the roof of the warehouse reflected on its faces.
But harnessing all these display settings also means putting a heavy burden on your CPU, so you should strike a balance between what you need to do and your preferred visual setup. If all you’re doing is adjusting the radius of a steering wheel, why bother with reflections? On the other hand, if you’re designing a chrome part that’s meant to sit on the hood of an all-terrain vehicle, maybe you do want to turn on reflections to see whether it’ll be a distraction to the driver or an aesthetic compliment to the overall design.
Alias Design gives you surfaces with G2 continuity, constructed to ensure smoothness and curvature consistency. The tools in the Inspect tab in Inventor allow you to check the quality of your geometry by applying zebra stripes and colored contour lines.
Several years ago, anticipating the incorporation of Autodesk media and entertainment division’s technologies into manufacturing products, the company’s senior VP of Manufacturing Solutions, Buzz Kross, cheekily remarked on the arrival of “the pony-tailed crowd.” With Alias Design for Inventor, you may actually get to design something with swirls and curves that mimic a pony tail.
Listed price for Alias Design 2011 is $4,590 with subscription or $3,995 without subscription. In addition to Alias Design, Autodesk also offers Alias Surface and Alias Automotive, two higher end versions.
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