I know of very few people who jump up in joy at the mention of data management. That’s perfectly understandable. Digging into rows and columns of alphanumeric data to find the right part numbers, revisions, or file statuses to get a snapshot of your project is not exactly a creative endeavor. It’s a necessary evil of the era of parallel product development.
But what if you can use your 3D CAD models as the interface to search, query, retrieve, and visualize supplier info, file statuses, cost, compliance, and outstanding change orders? That would give data management a whole new face, quite literally.
The trend, sometimes described as visual data management, can be seen in how you might use your Autodesk Inventor models to access information stored inside Autodesk Vault, or how you might interact with Teamcenter data right from your NX assembly models.
For more, read my article in April issue, titled “Visualizing the Forest of Data Beyond the Trees,” and watch the video clip below:
Thursday, April 8: At midday, as my journalist cohorts and I were herded into a room for a presentation of Autodesk Vault 2011, I overheard Brian Roepke, senior product manager for the Vault product line, talking to a colleague.
“I’ll show ‘em that data management can be sexy,” he vowed.
“The only way to do that is to get Angelina Jolie as the presenter,” I warned him.
“Oh, yeah? I’ll make you eat your words. You just watch,” he checked me.
Roughly 60 mins later, I emerged from the conference room with the realization that data-management now has a new face. It isn’t exactly the face of a Hollywood actress, but it’s the face of a model — your 3D CAD model. Gone is the usual, uninspiring Excel-like interface so common among data management systems. With Autodesk Vault 2011, Workgroup Edition, your Inventor 3D model is your data management interface.
Suppose you need to get a snapshot of your project, to scan the parts that are released to production, those that are behind deadline, and those that are in revision. You won’t need to squint at a series of columns and cells populated with check marks and dates to get the information. Instead, you can launch your 3D assembly and get the status reports, right from within Autodesk Inventor. Your model will become a color-coded assembly, with all the revisions, released parts, and delayed parts highlighted in different shades. You’ll still get pie charts, but they now work as legends that tell you what each color represents.
Dassault, makers of SolidWorks and a competitor to Autodesk in mid-range CAD, also advocates the use of a 3D assembly to inspect and view product lifecycle management (PLM) repositories. It calls its solution 3DLive Product Information. Late last year, Siemens PLM Software took a similar approach to data management with NX with HD3D, described as “a simple and intuitive way to collect, collate, and present information” (see “NX7 with HD3D: Where CAD Geometry and Lifecycle Mingle,” November 2009). However, Roepke pointed out Autodesk Vault’s visual data-management environment had been in development for roughly 18 months, so it wasn’t a reaction to Siemens’ HD3D.
The visual environment is driven by meta data you maintain using Inventor and Vault (part numbers, suppliers, check-in, check-out, and so on). The new approach may yield insights into your project that weren’t easy to obtain before. For instance, by displaying parts that are delayed or overdue by geographical distribution, you may be able to detect certain bottlenecks and hiccups in your supply chain or subcontractors who are under-performing.
According to Roepke, Autodesk Vault Workgroup (despite its name) may be used as an enterprise-class PDM platform. Basic Autodesk Vault comes free of charge with purchase of most major Autodesk products (such as Autodesk Inventor), but upgrade to more robust editions requires fee.
For the past two days, I’ve been in Portland, Oregon, for a press event hosted by Autodesk’s manufacturing division. To sum up everything I learned in my meetings (7 interviews, spanning 7 hours) in a few hundred words seems like a futile endeavor. Yet, I’ll attempt to do just that.
Autodesk’s 2010 manufacturing portfolio shares a feature that gives Portland its nickname, Bridgetown. The development of 2010 seems to have been fueled by efforts to bridge flagship products with previous acquisitions (AutoCAD and Inventor with Moldflow, PlassoTech, ALGOR, and Navisworks), manufacturing with industrial design (Inventor and Alias), manufacturing with architecture (Inventor and Revit), and manufacturing with rapid prototyping.
Some pieces of Moldflow, a product Autodesk snatched up in May 2008, are now readily available in Autodesk Inventor Professional 2010. The latest release gives you plastic part design and tooling features , which automate many of the steps involved in injection molding. You’ll be able to quickly create core and cavity, patch surfaces, define runners and gates, carve out cooling channels, and simulate flow path. These functions better prepare you to upgrade to Moldflow Adviser and Moldflow Insight, two higher end products targeted at designers and analysts, respectively. These let you simulate molds with multiple materials and verify warpage, among other things.
When Autodesk acquired Moldflow, it also became the proprietor of the material database. The company makes good use of the intellectual data by incorporating energy cost and resin value of the chosen material into the selection dialog box, prompting you to consider the consequence of your design and manufacturing process.
Hilde Sevens, a senior product manager of Autodesk, said, “We intend to keep Moldflow CAD-agnostic,” so if you heppen to use a package from one of Autodesk’s competitors, you won’t be barred from using Moldflow.
Inventor Professional 2010 also marks the introduction of part and assembly simulation, a benefit of Autodesk’s PlassoTech acquisition. This toolset lets you check interferences, simulate assembly components in motion, turn your parts into mesh models, and apply finite element analysis (FEA) solvers.
The AEC exchange feature in Inventor 2010 lets you save your mechanical design as a DWG solid, a useful function for those who want to pass along mechanical structures designed in Inventor to architects using Revit.
Previously, Autodesk gave away Autodesk Vault, its basic data-management platform, for free when you purchase AutoCAD or Inventor. For those who want much more sophisticated functions, it offered ProductStream. This left a gap, a segment of businesses that have outgrown Vault but not yet ready for Productstream. To fix this, Autodesk reorganized the Vault lineup as follows: Vault (free, ships with select Autodesk products); Vault Workgroup ($995); Vault Collaboration ($1,495, for multi-site deployment); and Autodesk Vault Manufacturing ($1,995, Productstream renamed).
The Autodesk Alias product line has also gone through a refinement. Now, the repertoire includes Alias Design (for industrial design and consumer goods); Alias Surface (dynamic 3D surfacing, especially for creating Class A surfaces); and Alias Automotive. Alias 2010 is the first release available on Mac (for OS X 10.5 or higher), opening up the software to a new market segment. Currently, Mac version doesn’t offer direct support for rapid prototyping like Windows version does. (A recent survey indicates Autodesk in inspecting people’s interest in AutoCAD for Mac. Join the conversation here.)
I left Bridgetown this afternoon, just after lunch time. I’m now back home in San Francisco, getting ready to inspect the links between Inventor Professional 2010 and other Autodesk offerings. I’ll be filing a video report on my findings soon, so stay tuned.