Early this week in Las Vegas, the weather is expected to be sunny, with temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit But along the marble-tiled corridors bridging The Palazzo and The Venetian, at St. Mark’s Square by the Grand Canal (reconstructed beneath a painted evening sky in Sin City to mimic the real locale in Venice), the climate turns cloudy.
It’s the first day of Autodesk University (AU) 2011, the annual gathering of Autodesk software users. Attendees — ranging from architect designing highrises and automotive stylists skinning new Ford models to filmmakers populating virtual worlds with computer-generated alien species — have begun to arrive. It’s also the day product managers and company executives give members of the press snippets of the content they’ve lined up for the next few days.
“What’s the target [computing] platform you’re developing your software for the future?” an analyst asked Buzz Kross, senior VP of manufacturing at Autodesk.
“Cloud and mobile,” Kross replied.
In the press briefing room, the click-clacks of laptop keyboards were once the norm, providing rhythm to the news beat. Now, faint finger-taps on iPads filled the same room, punctuated by occasional pings from Tweet Deck users.
As Autodesk gambles on the inevitable computing climate change, it’s also venturing into uncharted waters: consumer-friendly design apps and optional services powered by cloud. Continue reading
It must have been Autodesk‘s plan all along to offer its own CFD (computational fluid dynamics) product. But before it could offer something under its own name, it had to go out and find one worthy of the purpose. In the acquisition of Blue Ridge Numerics in March, maker of CFdesign, Autodesk felt it had found the right technology. So, three months later, Autodesk launches its own product: Autodesk Simulation CFD.
The new offering “builds on computational fluid dynamics capabilities that Autodesk gained in the Blue Ridge Numerics acquisition in March 2011,” according to the announcement.
“Making informed, up-front decisions about air flow, fluid flow, or electronics cooling is critical to help design and manufacture safer, quality products or construct more energy efficient buildings,” said Buzz Kross, Autodesk’s senior VP of manufacturing.
So what did Autodesk bring to the table, beside rebranding Blue Ridge Numerics’ established product? The short answer is, Autodesk Inventor Fusion. The standalone direct-editing package, Autodesk points out, will let engineers “modify or simplify geometry quickly and easily from virtually any CAD system when running simulations.”
Unlike Autodesk’s flagship parametric modeler Autodesk Inventor, Inventor Fusion offers a lower learning curve and easier ways to create and edit 3D design via direct editing (by pushing, pulling, and rotating faces and features).
Luke Mehelcic, Autodesk’s CFD product manager, clarified, “Inventor Fusion is included in the box with Autodesk Simulation CFD. When you install, you will have access to both. This includes a connection tool that takes your Fusion models directly into Autodesk Simulation CFD to create design studies.”
The announcement emphasizes, among other things, what Autodesk describes as One-Click Simulation. Under this method, users may rely on the software to scan the CAD geometry and automatically identify and load certain input values they would otherwise be forced to specify on their own (for example, flow inlets and outlets). They may also rely on the software to identify and suppress nonessential features to speed up CFD solving.
Another feature, dubbed Design Study Automation, will let you set up multiple design scenarios and solve them simultaneously. The function will let you simulate fluid flows in your design under various thermal values, materials, and boundary conditions before leaving CAD.
Another feature, called Remote Solving will “[make] it easy to harness all available computational power on any user’s network,” the announcement states. The feature comes at no additional cost to users. However, because solver and interface are licensed separately, you may need to purchase additional licenses if you wish to run multiple solvers.
Mehelcic explained by depicting two different remote-solving usages: “For example, if I have a laptop that is not powerful enough or needs to be running other application, I can setup the simulation on my laptop and choose to run it on an open engineering computer while I accomplish other things. This would not have a cost associated with it.”
On the other hand, “[If] I have an engineering desktop computer that I want to run a simulation on and I have another simulation that I want to run simultaneously on another system, this would require two solver licenses,” which requires additional cost.
For sharing CFD results with those who may not have a compatible software program to view analysis outcome, Autodesk offers a free application, calledAutodesk Simulation CFD Viewer. The downloadable viewer can be used as a standalone program or a plug-in to Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, or a web browser.
Because many CAD packages, including Autodesk Inventor, now offers integrated stress analysis, many engineers have become proficient in such basic analysis tasks. However, CFD remains a higher-level analysis, often requiring expert intervention or supervision. Autodesk’s one-click simulation, free CFD result viewer, and other measures are calculated to make CFD more accessible to a broader audience.
Freeform, direct, and parametric modelings are like three talented engineers with different personalities. The first is a genius with wild imagination, unbound by pragmatic concerns. The second, an impulsive new kid, has the uncanny ability to come up with quick fixes for everything. The third is a veteran, who likes to think ahead and work methodically. As their boss, you know you can get a lot more done if you can get the three to move into the same corner and work together. Trouble is, they don’t get along. So, begrudgingly, you come up with a sensible compromise. You keep them in three different offices; you let their ideas flow through you; and you serve as their translator.
In certain industry segments — consumer goods and automotive, to name but two — unifying freeform surfaces and mechanical features is the only way to design. In designing mobile phones and hybrid vehicles, combining aesthetic beauty and mechanical elegance is not optional; it’s essential. In the absence of a consolidated 3D modeler, engineers have to make do with software juggling: Create complex surfaces and organic shapes in one package, add mechanical features in another, and, when needed, use another package to make direct edits.
In Autodesk Inventor Professional 2012, part of Autodesk Product Design Suite 2012, three modeling modes take a few steps closer toward one another. They’re not exactly moving into the same house; but they’re learning to work together much better.
In Inventor 2012, you can execute freeform (Alias-style) edits to a parametric part by choosing Fusion > Form Edit. This brings you right into Autodesk Inventor Fusion (a separate program window), where you can poke, pinch, pull, and push Spline edges to reshape your part’s geometry in ways not usually possible in mechanical CAD programs.
Fusion also offers a Symmetry command. Once you turn this command on, you’ll be prompted to choose a symmetry plane. Afterward, any edit you make is replicated on the opposite of the plane, in reverse. The feature will be useful for creating symmetrical design with complex surfaces that are not easy to duplicate (bicycle helmets and sunglasses, for instance).
While in Fusion, you may also make direct edits — rotate faces on previously extruded features, for example — with little or no regard for parametric history. The combination of freeform and direct editing tools in a single environment makes Fusion ideal for making adjustment to imported parts and adding complex surfaces.
Once you’ve completed your Fusion edits, you can choose Return to Inventor to move back to Inventor’s classic parametric mode (in essence, shutting down Fusion and importing your part back to Inventor). The freeform edits you made will now appear under your Inventor part’s feature tree, labeled Alias objects. From this point on, you may continue to add features to your design using parametric methods.
Shuttling CAD geometry back and forth between two different program windows — Inventor classic and Inventor Fusion — is not ideal, but the workflow is smooth and manageable. Also, Inventor has improved significantly in its ability to interpret direct edits executed in Fusion as parametric steps upon reentry.
Inventor serves as the core of Autodesk Product Design Suite, which also includes Autodesk Showcase, a program you can use to create ray-traced renderings and simple animations (fly-thoughs, walk-throughs, and orbits). Unlike Autodesk 3ds Max (also included in the suite), Showcase is much easier to master and pick up, so you can be productive with it in a short time. In addition to typical rendering tools, Showcase gives you a way to compare scenes in split screens, useful for reviewing different versions of the same design (say, the came vehicle in two different paints).
Product Design Suite, like other bundles in Autodesk’s 2012 portfolio, is the company’s ambitious push to sell comprehensive lists of titles, put together with different users in mind (Autodesk Building Design Suite for architects, Autodesk Product Design Suite for engineers and product designers, and so on). A review of Autodesk Product Design Suite is set to appear in print in the next issue of Desktop Engineering.
For more, watch the video report below.
Now in its third incarnation as a technology preview (a free download from Autodesk Labs), Autodesk Inventor Fusion represents the company’s initiative to deliver an easier, simpler mechanical CAD modeler. But what started out as an alternative to history-based parametric modeling programs may also become a migration shortcut for 2D CAD users to venture into 3D.
Kevin Schneider, a product manager for Autodesk’s Manufacturing Industry Group, noted, “Fusion tries to build a bridge where customers can reuse a lot of their existing 2D knowledge and experience, and learn new 3D experiences … lots of users, for various different reasons, have found moving to 3D a challenge. We hope Fusion provides an incremental stepping stone to them.”
Some of Fusion’s direct geometry manipulation functions have now been incorporated into Autodesk Inventor 2011, the latest version of Autodesk’s classic history-based parametric 3D modeler. Similarly, some may soon crop up somewhere in AutoCAD, the de facto drafting and drawing program for many 2D users.
“I think there are a lot of capabilities inside Inventor Fusion that are attractive to AutoCAD users, particularly as AutoCAD’s 3D tools become more sophisticated … As we refine functions in Fusion, we can choose to make some of those capabilities available and integrated them into the Autodesk Shape Manager (Autodesk’s solid modeling engine). And that benefits all of the Autodesk products that use that engine, AutoCAD being one of them …”
In this interview, Schneider discusses the softer side of Fusion, why the difference between “direct manipulation” and “direct editing” or “direct modeling” is more than semantics, what the future holds for Fusion, and more.
Several years ago, the concept of a mechanical CAD program that let you go back and forth between parametric and direct modeling environments seemed like a fantasy. In February, Autodesk announced its development team was on this quest. The Holy Grail of the coveted bidirecional workflow was to be Inventor Fusion. In Release 1, or Technology Preview 1, Fusion offered a way into direct modeling, without a way back to parametric modeling (for more, read “Autodesk Inventor Fusion, Ready for Inspection,” June 24, 2009). But the most recent release, Technology Preview 2, fixed that.
Enter Change Manager, a plug-in for Autodesk Inventor 2010. The latest download of Fusion 2 contains two installation packets: a new version of Fusion and a plug-in for Inventor. (The later requires updates made available to subscription customers, so if you’re not on maintenance contract, it might not work.)
I’ve seen a demonstration of Fusion 2 and Change Manager, seemingly showing how you might make a series of direct edits on a parametric part in Fusion and convert them into parametric edits upon import (that is, when you open the part again in regular Inventor), but I wanted to put this workflow to test on my own.
This week, I did just that. You can see the result in the video clips below:
Change Manager is, indeed, capable of translating direct edits into parametric features. But there are some limitations. Whereas it can easily recognize and convert direct edits that have correlating parametric counterparts (for example, dragging a face forward in direct editing is the same as adding extrusion distance in parametric editing), it has some trouble digesting direct edits involving rounded corners and blended edges.
Overtime, Fusion’s direct-to-parametric translation algorithm is bound to improve, but I think it also illustrates the inherent differences in the two modeling methods. There are some direct edits that just don’t have parametric equivalents. In a direct editing program, you might, for instance, rotate an extruded feature built with a complex profile into an odd angle, but it’s highly unlikely such an edit can be translated into a series of parametric steps. I’m not suggesting that it’s the shortcoming of parametric modelers, merely acknowledging that parametric programs aren’t designed to accommodate such edits.
Eventually, Autodesk plans to incorporate the functions found in Fusion into standard issue Inventor, so parametric editing, direct editing, and Change Manager may all reside in the same environment.