Autodesk 2009 Product Lineup, Part 2

11 Mar, 2008 By: Robert Green

Updates to the Revit product line and Inventor focus attention on new 3D design tools.

In the last installment of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I discussed new AutoCAD product news that was unveiled at Autodesk's February press event. Since almost all CAD managers have some degree of interaction with AutoCAD-based products, I figured covering those products first made the most sense for the greatest number of CAD managers.

In this installment I'll share information I gained about the other products Autodesk offers and share my insight on the changes implemented and where Autodesk is trying to position these products. Here goes.

It's the Model that Matters
Throughout the presentations and Q&A sessions I attended, I heard a repeating theme: Model your designs, don't draw them. This advice always was followed by the mantra: Using digital prototypes lets you experience your design before you build it. While most CAD managers have some degree of experience with 3D design tools, it is evident from my past CAD manager surveys that less than half of the CAD users in the English-speaking world actually use 3D design tools to any extent.

It became evident to me that Autodesk is aware that 3D hasn't been totally adopted and that an evangelistic approach to spreading the good word of 3D design would be the order of the day. I endeavored to sort the products out from the marketing and see what emerged.

Revit Architectural and Revit MEP
I've actually seen more movement to Building Information Modeling (BIM) in the last six months than in all my time in the CAD industry. Autodesk's BIM program, Revit, has been capturing a large share of this newly created market, so I wanted to look at the new tools.

Revit has received an overall interface revamping with the new ViewCube and SteeringWheels zoom/pan tools. I admit that it took me a while to get used to the omnipresent ViewCube, but it is growing on me.

ViewCube and SteeringWheels change how you move through 3D space and allow rapid recall of positions.

The new Mirror Project tools allow a design scheme to be easily mirrored.
The Mirror Project tool allows simple mirroring of modeled space across a reference line, so Revit users can get the same fast results that AutoCAD users have using Mirror.

But perhaps the most important change to the Revit product area was the continued development of Revit MEP to allow modeling of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems in the Revit building shell. This capability helps designers evaluate interferences and model the crucial building space above the ceiling tiles that most of us don't worry about. And new functions in Revit MEP allow for export of HVAC information in gbXML to facilitate analysis outside Revit MEP for computations to support LEED certification or energy audits. As Revit MEP has grown and evolved, it has become more of a design tool application center, which assists engineers with the calculations they need for these critical building systems while giving the spatial modeling benefits that Revit offers.

Click for larger image After HVAC components are placed, users can export their property data for analysis in outboard software tools. (Click image for larger version)
It also appears that Revit MEP understands that the mortal world still builds things with construction documents. A lot of functionality was added for annotative features, like dimensions and detail lines in the BIM model to facilitate better printed documentation. Of course, since this is a modeling tool, the annotations are tied to the model, which saves you the drudgery of updating a pile of drawings. While Revit isn't as flexible as AutoCAD for drafting, the modeling benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. I'm fairly sure that construction document enhancements will be forthcoming in future versions to make things even better.

Click for larger image Revit MEP now has MEP detail lines that enhance construction documentation. Detail lines appear as solid lines for MEP graphical representation when you add detail to construction documents. (Click image for larger version)
Revit Architectural also gives a nod to construction document management with new revision schedules that allow written annotation on the printed documentation to include more data.

Revit Conclusions
Like the new AutoCAD 2009 products, the interface and feature changes in the new Revit versions will keep users on their toes. CAD managers will certainly receive some questions. All in all, I see the major benefit of the new Revit technology as the ability to tie together the various design tools that architects and engineers need to design buildings. That's where the CAD manager will be busy.

Enhancements give added flexibility and control to the display of revision schedules.
CAD managers should dig into the export/import functionalities and explore the new annotative functions so that better printed documentation for job sites can be produced and better documentation of design processes can be achieved. Spend your time thinking about how you'll control and manage these new tools in your particular environment, and you'll tend to find the new features almost automatically.

Inventor is AutoCAD's high-end mechanical modeling and analysis tool, and it continues to become more so. The changes to Inventor are more evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, as Inventor becomes more able to handle the pesky tasks that machinery and product design engineers have to deal with.

The new release of Inventor implements a demand loaded type of assembly manipulation that allows it to handle more and more complex assemblies. And within those assemblies the parts can comprise more and more complex surfaces and geometry that would have choked Inventor just a few releases ago. And as the parts start fitting together, you can now interlink the parts with flexible and hard piping/tubing that reacts to the fittings as components in the assembly move.

Click for larger image Bending tubes is now an integrated and reactive part of the assembly model. (Click image for larger version)

Hose routing, like rigid tubes, is now a function of the assembly.

Click for larger image No more going to text/handbooks for design calculations. (Click image for larger version)
The types of improvements that I like to focus on are those that actually make it easier to design while in the software. For example, the integrated Engineer's Handbook allows me to leave my Shigley's Design book and Machinery's Handbook at home now.

The last several releases of Inventor Professional have paid more attention to the integration of electrical components into mechanical design — key for industrial machinery. Inventor's new release takes it a bit further by allowing importation of electrical harness data. All in all, Inventor is attacking the electrical part of electro-mechanical design more aggressively, which is great news for those of us who design this type of machinery.

Finally, the graphical representation of what you design continues to become more realistic and more persuasive for use in design reviews and customer demonstrations. Even those of us who learned machinery design on a drafting board have to admit that the visualization tools in Inventor (and most 3D design tools in use now) really do allow us to visualize our designs much more easily than in the past.

Inventor Conclusions
I think most existing Inventor users will be able to use Inventor 2009 without much acclimation. If they want to use the new features, they'll need to be educated on those. However, they should be able to do the tasks they're already used to with very few adjustments. I'm really not that concerned about the user reaction to the new Inventor release as a result.

Click for larger image Dealing with wiring harnesses is a lot easier. (Click image for larger version)
CAD managers could stay very busy evaluating the new features and should plan on doing some extended research time. In fact, I'd highly recommend some upgrade training from your reseller just to get a jumpstart on the new features — preferably prior to the moment that your users start implementing them before you can control them!

What Wasn't Said
During its press event Autodesk spent a lot of time talking about the technology benefits of using fully 3D methods (fewer fit errors, easier evaluations of colors and design schemes, analysis of mechanical components) yet very little time talking about the pain points (new file formats, beefier hardware requirements, new software to learn) that come along with the change.

I've found that changing software platforms wreaks havoc with your design staff and makes normally compressed project timelines seem risky because learning new software is never built into schedules. When you factor in good old human resistance to change along with management desires to get things moving immediately, the CAD manager can be squeezed into an untenable situation.

Wrapping Up
In the next CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll discuss some 3D implementation issues and give you some hints for making the transition smoother. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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