Autodesk Inventor Professional 201311 Jul, 2012 By: Bill Fane
First Look Review: 3D modeling software aligns more closely with AutoCAD, offers an enhanced user interface, and now comes with cloud-based services.
The most significant new items in Autodesk Inventor Professional 2013 are also new in AutoCAD 2013, which is part of Autodesk's master plan to have all its programs look, feel, and operate as similarly as possible. In this review, I'll begin and end with the two updates that will probably attract the most attention, and fill the space in between with some of the less splashy but still noteworthy changes.
It's hard to miss the first new feature, because the new Welcome screen is all you see when you launch Inventor Professional 2013.
Do you feel welcome? The new Welcome screen in Inventor Professional 2013 mimics that of AutoCAD 2013.
The Welcome screen is divided into three sections: Work, Learn, and Extend.
Work. This section gives quick access to buttons that create new files, open existing files, and let you customize the default template files. This latter button brings up a small dialog box with two sets of radio buttons that let you set measurement units and drawing standards for new files. This can now be done at any time — not just while you are installing the software.
Learn. This center section contains links to a series of interactive tutorials, including Getting Started and What's New. There is extensive user support and training in a variety of formats and from a variety of sources, including local user groups, Autodesk University, and possibly your dealer. Autodesk maintains a discussion forum that is actively monitored by Autodesk employees, and the new searchable online Wiki Help functionality means that help is constantly being updated with user input. There are also several independent chat forums.
Extend. The final panel lets you connect to Autodesk Exchange, where you can find a number of add-on apps. To quote the Welcome screen, these apps are "powerful, fun, and help you get your job done faster!" Many are third-party products; some are free.
This panel also lets you access Autodesk 360, which is Autodesk's brand name for a number of cloud-based services. (More on this later.)
You can turn off the Welcome screen so it doesn't display at start-up (simply uncheck the box in the lower left corner), and you can access it at any time (from the Get Started tab of the ribbon).
The next thing you see after you pass the Welcome screen is also new: the Create New File dialog box is completely redesigned. Template files are now organized by type, and if you single-click on one, the dialog box shows a generic preview of the type of file it produces.
The Create New File dialog box has been completely revamped, and template files are now organized by type.
Pick an Item, Any Item
Inventor Professional 2013 includes literally dozens of new features. I don't have space to cover them all here, so I'll focus on those that caught my eye.
- In-command marking menus are reorganized so that OK, Done, Cancel, and Apply are always in the same relative positions in every menu.
- Overflow menus that descend from the marking menus are now available in two versions. The default versions look much like those in previous releases, but you can switch to shorter versions that only display the most commonly used commands.
- Error messages are smarter. For example, if you try to launch the Extrude tool when no sketch is active, Inventor complains about your inappropriate choice and instead launches the Sketch tool.
- Certain application options are now located in the ribbon, so you don't have to uninstall and reinstall Inventor to change them.
- This is one of my favorites: You can dynamically trim a sketch. Instead of selecting each segment to be trimmed, just hold down the left mouse button and drag the cursor. Anything you cross is trimmed on the fly.
Trim a little out of the center, please.
- You can now define a 2D sketch curve by using a mathematical formula. Do you need a sketch for a parabola, a hypercycloid, or an involute? No problem.
- The sketch icons in the browser now come in two flavors, and a new icon appears when a sketch is fully constrained.
- All versions of Inventor now (finally, some would say) support the direct creation of basic solid primitives. You can create a box, cylinder, sphere, or torus without having to create a 2D sketch.
- You can now offset radial and planar faces of imported solids without opening Inventor Fusion.
- Have you ever tried to perform an edit on a part — for example, you try to move a face that has an adjacent fillet — only to have Inventor tell you that the edit isn't possible? Instead of waiting until the end of the process to complain, the software now displays an error glyph while the command is still active, so you can take corrective action before committing to the edit.
- You can open the matching 2D drawing file for a component part from within the assembly browser, as long as the 2D file is in the same folder and has the same base name as the part.
- You can now insert five types of raster images, such as your company logo, into title blocks.
- Materials and appearances can be edited in-canvas, so you can see the effects live as you work, and you can change the mapping type. Materials and appearances now use the standard Autodesk libraries, so they remain consistent between different applications.
- Here's one for your IT department: Users who want to work in a different language no longer need to install separate copies of Inventor. All they need to do is download and install one or more language packs against a single basic installation. Users can now simply launch Inventor Professional 2013 (or AutoCAD 2013, for that matter) from the desired entry in the Windows Start menu.
New Cloud Services for Inventor Users
That hits some of the high points of the new features in Autodesk Inventor Professional 2013. Now, as promised (or threatened) earlier, I'll finish off with the second major new feature.
Autodesk has opened up a whole sky full of cloud services in conjunction with the 2013 product line. Some services support existing products; others are totally new apps. Some are free to all users; others require you to be a subscription member. Some of the services relevant to Inventor include:
Storage. You can save several gigabytes of data to an Autodesk cloud server, where security and backups are taken care of for you. You can also access these files from any place in the world that has Internet access.
Collaboration. You can allow others to access the files that you saved or copied to the cloud server.
Analysis. Autodesk Inventor Pro 2013, as part of Autodesk Design and Creation Suites (Premium and Ultimate), lets subscription members use the cloud servers to perform compute-intensive operations such as Inventor Optimization (stress analysis). Operations that can take hours or even days on a console machine can be performed in minutes on the cloud.
All in all, Autodesk continues to find ways to significantly improve the functionality of Inventor and related products. Highly Recommended.