AU 2009: Manufacturing keynote round up

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For me, the one session that’s worth the trip to Autodesk University is the Manufacturing Solutions keynote session. This is where you get to see what Autodesk are working on, some of which, as history has proven, is due for the next release, some of it isn’t and is just concepts. But the chances are that what you see here will make it into a release some point in the next two years (the next major release cycle is due around march next year). So, here’s the crappy video. and then some notes.

Alias Sketch for AutoCAD

This was announced a few days ago and it sees the integration of SketchBook into AutoCAD. While the UI is adapted to its new home, the tools see to remain emminently usable. One of the key points about SketchBook and why it’s seen such success is that it has a very stripped back set of tools, unlike Photoshop, and some specialised tools for design-led users. Looks nice and should be available soon according to Shaan Hurley’s blog.

Alias Freeform within Inventor

This bring a pretty easy looking set of geometry modelling tools directly within Inventor. While the video isn’t too clear, the concept is that you have a single feature which gives you all of the dynamic modelling operations you need to quickly create complex forms, then use the more standard existing tools to add engineering detail. The toolset demo’ed looks extensive and pretty powerful for manipulating geometry – one thing to consider is how straight edges are turned into curves, how planar geometry is is turned into curved surfaces. This demo reminded me of the ISDX-based Style feature within Pro/Engineer and any advanced Pro/E user will tell you that its worth its weight in gold – hope this one makes it into Inventor.

Direct Editing in Inventor

This is the first time Autodesk has shown any of its direct editing tools integrated into Inventor. While things are shaking out with regards Fusion and Change management, if this is what the future of Inventor’s direct editing tools looks like. again, that can’t arrive quickly enough.

Product Analytics and Data management

This is an intriguing one. Autodesk are looking at how to make data management more user experience. Using graphical output as the basis for data management interactions, using heavy use of colour coding, data filtering, it all makes sense – allowing you to grab the information you want and get on with the job. Also tagged on the end of the video is a quick look at the boosted graphics richness. Autodesk has a rich set of tools for visualisation (with Showcase, 3dsmax etc etc) and if these types of capabilities to work in a much more graphically rich environment are implemented, it’ll be useful and make working life much more pleasant for the user and provide a great deal of context for design work. Of course, visualisation tools have always had the benefit that it makes communicating complex forms much easier when dealing with those outside of the design environment

3D Printing

Autodesk worked with Stratasys to create the world’s largest 3D print of a turbo-prop aerospace engine. All 188 components were produced in 4 weeks and assembled in 2.5 weeks for a total production time of 6.5 weeks. Using conventional fabrication processes, such as machining and casting, a manufacturer would expect to spend 9 months or more producing a model like this. Costs were roughly $25,000 compared to estimated $800,000 to $1 million that would be required using conventional processes. Having seen the thing up close, its an incredible feat of prototyping.


We’ve discussed this already, but here you’ll see the Publisher application and the iPhone integration. Publisher makes huge sense and I’m fascinated to see where this is going to head. At present it covers 3D publishing, but as we all know, paper documentation is still heavily prevalent and I’m intrigued by what Autodesk has up its sleeve in this demand. One thing that came up this week was an element of dismissal of the iPhone has an industrial tool – I can see that point of view, but let me illustrate this for you. I recently saw an electrician turned up at a house to do some work. The part he was fitting wasn’t supplied with the correct manual. He flipped out an iPhone, looked up the part on the manufacturer’s web-site and read the PDF manual. Was he a young nerdy type? Nope. just a 50+ professional tradesman that found a solution that works wonderfully well. That’s a sea change in how tech gets adopted by the masses.

Moldflow visualisation

I like this one. Moldflow simulates how plastic is injected into a mould tool. But the results it gives are complex. What this shows is how you can take visualisation tools and provide an environment that shows users exactly how a part will look should manufacturing defects (such as sink marks) are left to enter into the manufacturing chain.


Last thing is simulation tools for Frame analysis. Beam element modelling is something that’s perfectly suited for framework, but there’s often a disconnect between the framework design and the highly stripped back model you’d use for simulation. This solves that very nicely indeed.

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