Two Methods of Sharing Autodesk Inventor Data with AutoCAD (Solutions from Synergis Tutorial)

31 Mar, 2008 By: Jim Swain

Use AEC Exchange and DWG TrueConnect to send information to AutoCAD users.

You have worked and worked to get your Autodesk Inventor design finished. Your customer, internal or external, likes what you've designed, but needs to take your work and use it in her world. And her world is based on AutoCAD.

Sharing 3D Information Previously to share 3D information, you had to export SAT files and then help your customer import that into a DWG file. You could use this method for individual parts or full assemblies. The SAT file was brought into an AutoCAD file with the Acisin command.

When the SAT file was created from an Autodesk Inventor assembly, the result was a solid of each part, and all the solids were in their proper locations. However, there was nothing to keep those solids in their proper location. The customer could very easily grab and pull a part out of position without even noticing.

A better method for sending a complete 3D model of your assembly to an AutoCAD customer is a different Inventor tool: AEC Exchange.

AEC Exchange is designed to allow Inventor equipment models to be shared with MEP and architectural packages. It includes commands for adding connection points, which allow tie-ins to cabling, conduit, ductwork, and piping. AEC Exchange sends the entire Inventor assembly as a single AutoCAD block in its own DWG file.

Here's how it works:

  1. Start AEC Exchange from the Applications pulldown menu in Inventor.


  2. On the AEC Exchange panel bar, use the bottom tool: Save As DWG Solids.


  3. Type a file name and choose either AutoCAD 2007 (default) or AutoCAD 2006 file format.

Tip: Before exporting your Inventor design, create and activate a Level of Detail (LOD) representation that suppresses any unnecessary parts. Only the parts that are unsuppressed in the active LOD representation get exported to AutoCAD.

The resulting file contains a single block. Inside the block are solid volumes of all the individual Inventor parts. The block is created on layer 0, so it can be inserted into another DWG file, with all the chameleon effects that regular blocks enjoy.

The block can be exploded, giving individual 3D solids for each of the Inventor parts in the design. However, this choice may not be the best because there are no assembly constraints or fixed parts, and any part can be moved within the design. A better choice would be to use AutoCAD's Dynamic Block Editor to assign critical parts to different layers or apply materials to the solids.

The solids won't have nearly as much built-in intelligence as the original Inventor models. None of the Inventor style information, such as colors and material, is brought into AutoCAD. No parameters or iProperties are transferred. There also is no subassembly hierarchy brought over from the Inventor model. It is just the solid volumes, in their proper position. For most customers that is exactly what they need.

Sharing 2D Information
To share 2D information you can take advantage of a great feature that was added in Autodesk Inventor 2008: the ability to share Inventor drawing views with AutoCAD files, as part of a suite of tools known as DWG TrueConnect.

In earlier releases you could save a copy of an Inventor IDW file as an AutoCAD file. One of the options was to save only the view lines to model space. No dimensions or other annotations were saved. This made sharing geometry with 2D machining packages much easier. However, this was a saved copy. Anytime a change was made to the Inventor files, a new copy had to be created.

In Inventor 2008 you can document parts and assemblies in DWG files. These files behave just like IDW files as far as Inventor is concerned. They both are Inventor drawing formats and have all the same view creation and annotation tools.

A big difference between the two file types is that an AutoCAD user can use Design Center to browse over to the Inventor DWG file and insert any drawing view into the current AutoCAD DWG file as a 2D block!

Inventor views in Design Center.

These blocks can also be refreshed via Design Center, just like any other block. So when the Inventor design is changed and the Inventor DWG file automatically updates upon being opened, the block can be refreshed. Just right-click on the original Inventor view in Design Center and pick Redefine only.

Inventor DWG files can also be opened directly by AutoCAD. The sheets in the Inventor drawing are layout tabs in AutoCAD. They can be viewed and plotted just like any AutoCAD layout.

If you'd like a more automatic link, an Inventor view can also be inserted as an external reference into an AutoCAD file. Just open the original Inventor DWG with AutoCAD, and insert the desired block (view) into model space. Finally, Xref the Inventor DWG into the AutoCAD DWG. Now the AutoCAD file will update whenever the Inventor file is updated and saved.

You can do this with your existing Inventor IDW files as well. To change an IDW into a fully functional DWG file use the new File / Save As command and choose the Inventor Drawing Files (*.DWG) file type. (The Save As command is also new for Inventor 2008.)

Inventor's Save As command.

Now you have two new tools at your disposal: AEC Exchange and DWG TrueConnect. Which one you use to share your data depends on whether your customer needs 2D or 3D information.

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