Autodesk Inventor 11: A Quick Overview

12 Apr, 2006 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Latest release includes enhanced Construction Environment, new Sculpt tool and user-defined limits on critical parameters

It’s spring, and over the past few years that has become an increasingly popular time to release new CAD software. Although SolidWorks 2007 is a couple of months off yet, Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0 and Autodesk Inventor 11 recently launched. This week, we’ll take a brief look at the highlights of Inventor 11.

Inventor 11 is the result of the fruits of Autodesk developers’ labor and the fruits reaped from the company’s acquisitions. It gives you an idea of the increased capabilities and options you can expect to see in the future, as far as the acquired technologies go.

All Important Data

If you deal with imported data, and just about everybody does at some point, you’ll appreciate the significant enhancements made to Inventor 11’s Construction Environment. In this version, Inventor comes into its own and simplifies analysis and repair of imported data with workflows using surface and wire geometry. When you import IGES or STEP data, a separate Construction Environment browser displays in the model browser. Surface repair tools let you repair defective imported surfaces by using adjacent surface edges. With the new Promote Wires command, you can import wire data and transfer it to part or assembly environments, and it can also be used as lightweight reference data. The data import and Construction Environment are some of the most significant improvements to Inventor 11. These much-needed improvements show that Autodesk is responding to user requests.

New Tools and Features

Like most of its competitors, Autodesk understands the increasing importance of the ability to create cast and molded parts with aesthetics, ergonomics and manufacturing constraints. Inventor 11’s shape modeling offers this ability with better controlled swept and lofted features, as well as edge continuity and tangency. Shape modeling makes Inventor 11 better suited for advanced shape description. The new Sculpt tool is an easy way to create solids by combining surfaces and faces. Unlike Inventor’s Stitch tool, which has been around a while, the Sculpt tool doesn’t require that surfaces be trimmed to common edges -- this really speeds things up.

AutoLimits are sensors or visual cues for monitoring critical design parameters, such as length, angle and diameter. You can create sensors at the sketch, feature and document levels to visually indicate parameters and set user-predefined allowable limits. Once created, AutoLimits sensors track selected parameters and report any changes that drive a parameter outside the predefined limits through a series of color-coded icons. This is an interesting tool, and it worked well under the conditions and geometry I experimented with.

The Frame Generator is a tool and method that simplifies the design of structural machine frames and simple architectural frames. Frame Generator lets you select, place, trim and specify end conditions, such as miter and notch, of structural frame members. To locate structural members, you can use 3D wireframes, edges and vertices of existing models. Frame Generator is integrated with Inventor’s BOM, as it should be. Down the road, I’d like to see Frame Generator more tightly integrated with Inventor’s Weldment environment.

Design Philosophy, or Functional Design

One significant and relatively new development inside Inventor is not a command or toolset, but rather a design method or philosophy -- something that Autodesk terms Functional Design. This is an evolving usability issue for Inventor that offers a different approach to 3D design. Although it still has a lot of room to mature, Functional Design is a knowledge content toolset that represents a movement from mere geometric descriptions to knowledge capture. Functional Design isn’t just a set of functions for creating 3D representations, it supports design by function. There is a lot more to Functional Design than we can cover here, so we’ll come back to it in the future.

Inventor 11 has grown up and is ready to meet the competition head-on. Although not perfect, it has come a long way in the past couple of releases.

Stay Tuned

In future installments of MCAD Tech News, we’ll cover the highlights of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0, SolidWorks 2007 and AutoCAD 2007, including its several new interface improvements and 3D enhancements. Later this year in the print edition of Cadalyst, I’ll present in-depth reviews of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0, Autodesk Inventor 11 Professional and SolidWorks Office Professional. So, stay tuned!

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