Autodesk Previews 2009 MCAD Lineup

4 Mar, 2008 By: Jeffrey Rowe

At World Press Days, company shows how newest software features will support its concept of digital prototyping.

Just before Valentine's Day, Autodesk hosted its annual World Press Days event in San Francisco. Drawing media from around the world, the event showcased many software products and the designs created with them for the architecture, mapping, entertainment, and manufacturing disciplines.

The first morning of the event, and before any specific product information was discussed, Autodesk's president and CEO, Carl Bass, discussed the state of the company, offering several interesting facts and figures, including:

  • Autodesk has an installed product base exceeding 9 million users.

  • Autodesk products are used by 98% of Fortune 500 companies and 100% of the Fortune 100.

  • With a 25-year history, Autodesk now markets more than 40 products, many of which have common technical underpinnings (think interoperability).

  • The company has no debt and expects net revenue to exceed $2 billion this fiscal year.

  • The company has 1,700 channel partners, 2,700 development partners, and 4,500 instructors worldwide.

Those are impressive figures, but what really got my attention was news about the future of MCAD products designed for what Autodesk terms digital prototyping. That process connects industrial design and engineering by integrating mechanical and electrical design with a single, managed digital model that allows engineers to evaluate appearance, performance, and many other factors, all without the need for physical prototypes. The 2009 MCAD product line is scheduled to roll out on March 25 in the United States, Autodesk reports. Availability elsewhere will vary.

Inventor 2009 Preview
Autodesk calls its 3D mechanical design solution, Inventor, the foundation of digital prototyping. So let's begin with a look at some of the key new features likely to be included in the 2009 release.

Performance. Inventor 2009 will ship with 32- and 64-bit implementations and will automatically install the correct version depending on which version of Windows XP or Vista it detects on the host PC. You'll have the option to display the physical memory in use, a feature that will appeal more to 64-bit users because those systems let you adjust allowable memory. Batch jobs can be completed in less time using the Inventor Task Scheduler, which can run as many as 16 processes simultaneously.

Assembly design. Inventor 2009 will include new "assembly substitute" functionality. A substitute part can be used to represent an assembly when you don't need the full assembly representation, but do need to see how components and subassemblies interact. Assembly substitutes provide the advantages of lighter assembly files, but still preserve accurate mass properties, assembly constraints, and bill of materials data.

A new GripSnap Move and Rotate tool will let you explore different assembly configurations during the design definition stage.

Dynamic simulation. You'll be able to create animations in Inventor Studio to automatically transfer simulation parameters to Inventor for realistically rendering the output of dynamic simulations. Output graphing enhancements in Inventor will let you examine forces and moments in different reference frames, create additional traces without rerunning a simulation, and determine the point of impact of contact events.

Sheet metal. You will be able to set up and share sheet metal styles for different materials and sheet gauges. With flat pattern drawings, you can create flat pattern views of different iPart members independent of the saved state of the sheet metal iPart.

Publishing. A new DWFx output file format will be added for creating files that others can view without the need for a viewer or browser plug-in.

On the surface, a number of these enhancements fill in gaps and expand existing functionality without piling on a ton of new and often unnecessary features used by relatively few designers. This is a welcome trend that a growing number of MCAD software developers are following.

Amy Bunszel, product line director for Autodesk Inventor, spoke with me later about digital prototyping. Although digital prototyping is not a new concept, she said, until recently it wasn't practical or viable for most customers due to its cost and its relatively limited capabilities. Today's Inventor, however, provides a different value proposition, beyond just a path from 2D to 3D, Bunszel said. Digital prototyping allows users to do a number of things with the 3D model that were not possible before, such as simulation, analysis, and repurposing the 3D design data. Digital prototyping, she stressed, was a core consideration for the 2009 development cycle of all products coming out of Autodesk's Manufacturing Solutions Division (MSD), resulting in what she called a cohesive effort and a comprehensive product offering.

AutoCAD Mechanical 2009 Preview
OK, I've said it before and I'll say it again: 2D is not dead yet, especially for some types of design, such as machine layout. The development effort that Autodesk continues to put into AutoCAD Mechanical supports my claim.

Autodesk is largely marketing AutoCAD Mechanical 2009 in a complementary role — as a drafting tool for detailing and documenting digital prototypes created in Inventor, but the 2D solution is also well suited for certain types of mechanical design on its own.

Because AutoCAD Mechanical is optimized for 2D mechanical design, Autodesk sees an opportunity to transition at least some regular AutoCAD users over to ACAD/M. A case in point is mechanical layer management, which will let you modify settings for AutoCAD layers to AutoCAD Mechanical layers and mechanical layer definitions. This functionality merges AutoCAD Mechanical properties with a style that's already familiar to AutoCAD users. With access to more than 700,000 standard parts and features, a new Standard Part Favorites List can reduce the time required to insert standard parts and features into a design.

MCAD, and More MCAD
There were, of course, other MCAD-related products in the spotlight at World Press Days, including AutoCAD Electrical, AliasStudio, Design Review, Showcase, and NavisWorks JetStream. I'll discuss those in more detail in future editions, because they really round out Autodesk's mechanical offerings and shouldn't be overlooked.

Autodesk has a lot of different products for use in a wide range of industries, but the company did a nice job at World Press Days demonstrating how they can and do work together. All those in attendance were able to see how the various parts of the Autodesk product puzzle fit together in the context of digital prototyping.

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