Autodesk Inventor 2010 (First Look Review)

13 May, 2009 By: Bill Fane

New Shrinkwrap feature and improved plastics and sheet-metal design tools are tied up in a nice ribbon.

It’s no secret at all that I am not a big fan of ribbon menus, even on a good day. The ribbon menu in Microsoft Office 2007 is terrible, the AutoCAD 2010 ribbon is not as good as the one in AutoCAD 2009, but the ribbon in Inventor 2010 is -- great! What can I say, today is not a good day; it's a really good day.

Inventor 2010
3D Mechanical CAD


Overall Grade: A+

Powerful and versatile, offering easy installation, authorization, and interoperability with Autodesk products and other brands of CAD software.

Cons: Power and versatility tend to bring complexity.

Price: $7,995 retail

The Inventor 2010 ribbon defaults to showing those commands, and only those commands, that are appropriate to your current task. It usually is organized in a logical left-to-right sequence according to a typical workflow. When you are creating a new part or feature, for example, the draw commands are on the left, followed by the constraints, the modify functions, and so on.

I find many ribbon implementations to be inefficient in that they often require more mouse clicks than the traditional menus that they replace. On the other hand, the Inventor 2010 ribbon is usually more efficient and involves fewer mouse clicks. When you are working on a sketch, for example, all geometric and dimensional constraint options are always visible. You don't need to invoke a drop list to change to a different constraint option.

Inventor 2010's new ribbon menu is context-sensitive and follows a logical left-to-right flow.

Here's another nice touch: If you want to switch to a different open file, you don't need to go to the usual Windows menu item drop-down list to select it, because each open file has its own tab at the bottom edge of the graphics screen.

Support for the older menu bar/icon palette interface is still available via the Tools / Application Options dialog box.  The default ribbon interface no longer includes a menu bar because now all commands are located on the ribbon. You can choose to change the ribbon display format from the default of icons plus text through a variety of styles ending up with tab labels only. You can dock the ribbon at either side of the screen or you can float it like a super toolbar. And you can customize it.

It's a Small World
PC-based parametric modelers initially were seen as basic, entry-level programs. Yes, they could do amazing things, but their Achilles' heel was support for assemblies that had a large number of parts. Theoretically, they could handle them, but in reality, file loading could soon slow to a geologic pace.

Faster computers have helped, but their gains in speed have often been offset by bloated software and operating systems.

Inventor 2010 continues to address the problem. It introduces a new Shrinkwrap functionality, which lets you take a complex, multicomponent assembly or subassembly and shrink-wrap it down to a much smaller single-part file that will open much faster and use less memory. A shrink-wrapped part contains the mass properties of the sum of the parts in the original subassembly and retains any assembly constraints that were applied to the original parts. Substitution allows shrink-wrapped parts to be swapped in and out of higher-level assemblies as needed.

Normally, associativity is still retained to the original assemblies so that any changes will update the shrink-wrap file and any higher-level assemblies that use it. It's also possible to break the links, so you can send a file to a client or customer without the original part files. A customer doesn't really need all the nuts-and-bolts details of your product. All they want is the envelope size, shape, and mass properties.

Lemme In!
Inventor 2010 adds interoperability functionality including support for JT file import (on top of the JT file export provided previously) as well as Dassault Systems CATIA and Autodesk Alias products. It also contains new AEC exchange functionality that lets you export Inventor files in a new ADSK file format that can be used in Autodesk architectural applications such as Revit and AutoCAD MEP, so recipients can insert your mechanical models into their building models. This is an ideal application for the new shrink-wrap functionality.

Paper or Plastic?
Inventor 2010 adds some very interesting plastics design capabilities. You can open an Alias surface file and turn it into a solid with a desired wall thickness, then add features such as ribs and ventilation grilles quickly and easily. Simply select a screw size, type, and location, and Inventor 2010 will create a suitable mounting-screw boss. Needless to say, this ability greatly speeds detailed design work.

While I'm on the subject, if you work with plastic parts at all, you will want to look at the new Inventor 2010 Tooling product. Start with a part model and it will find a suitable parting line; define the runoff surface; select a standard mold base; sink the cavities; add sprues, runners, and gates; and perform mold flow analysis. Everything remains fully associative. If an industrial designer changes the shape in Alias, everything updates, right down to the mold design. You don't need to pass paper drawings or sketches back and forth because you can work directly in plastic.

Top-Down Weather
If you design static assemblies and subassemblies -- for example, those with parts that don't move relative to each other -- a typical strategy would be to use top-down modeling. In earlier releases of Inventor , you needed to use a technique known as skeletal modeling. Inventor 2010 introduces a layout mode and support for multibody parts. In this workflow, sketches can be used to define the shape and location of multiple components, which can then be extruded, revolved, and so forth into multiple physical bodies within a single part file. They can then be saved to individual part files, producing a fully constrained, associative assembly that doesn't need assembly constraints. Weldments are a perfect application for this functionality.

Lofty Goal
Inventor 2010 includes a number of enhancements to its sheet-metal capabilities. In particular, designers of objects such as ductwork, feed chutes, and hoppers will like the new sheet-metal lofting capabilities. Simply create two profiles and add a sheet-metal loft between them. Inventor 2010 will unfold the design and create the flat layout. Lack of this feature in previous editions was frustrating for many. In fact, several months ago, users in various discussion groups were asking if Inventor offered this capability, and the answer was a resounding, "No." I had a beta copy of Inventor 2010 at the time and knew it was coming, but I couldn't say anything yet.

The flat pattern on the left will fold up to form the asymmetrical, square-to-elliptical, angled lofted transition piece shown in the views on the right.

Other new sheet-metal capabilities include bend sequence annotations, ripping, rolled contour flanges, and custom unfold equations to allow for specific bending circumstances.

Really Big Save
As usual, Inventor 2010 includes a great many minor enhancements and additions. Mind you, what one person considers minor might be very significant to another. Here are three quick examples from among several hundred improvements.

  • First, if you are using Inventor Professional or Inventor Simulation variants, you now can perform stress analyses on assemblies as well as single parts. This capability is an example of Autodesk's continuing emphasis on digital prototyping.
  • It's now possible to open a related 2D drawing file from within a 3D part file. This can be a real convenience.
  • 2D drawing views now can include anatomically correct, aligned section views.
  • Now for the big one: Inventor 2010 -- finally -- includes an Autosave function!

Software by any Other Name
Autodesk has always referred to this software as Autodesk Inventor -- not AutoCAD Inventor. I believe the company was trying to establish Inventor as a new, unique product rather than another variation on AutoCAD.

Inventor 2010 – including its startup screen, Help facility, and nearly all other instances inside the product – continues the practice of referring to Autodesk Inventor. But there’s one exception: The box says AutoCAD. Is this a hint of the company’s renewed avowal to make all products fully interoperable, perhaps with a new universal file format. Hmmm. Earlier I mentioned a new ADSK file format for exporting to Revit and AutoCAD MEP files to Inventor. ... Interesting. … Highly Recommended