Autodesk Imagine Tour pushes manufacturing into the third dimension



Autodesk’s Imagine Tour hit the sparkling new Vancouver Convention Centre today with a series of seminars aimed at the manufacturing and design sector. At a seminar entitled “Autodesk 2010 Solutions for Manufacturing”, Autodesk Manufacturing Technical Specialist Andy Rahden explained how 3d imaging and simulation is taking manufacturing from nuts and bolts to bits and bytes.

Best known for 3DS Max and AutoCad, Autodesk has moved in recent years into the manufacturing space with applications such as Autodesk Inventor, which allows for quicker design and collaboration between different segments of the manufacturing process.
With an installed base of 2.8 million mechanical users, Autodesk is clearly one of the leaders in computer-assisted manufacturing.

One of the key problems to address is how to keep communication open between multiple sets of people that have to be involved at the many different steps of the manufacturing process. The key is digital prototyping, which allows all parties involved to examine the exact same model or prototype while still maintaining the same “message” throughout the process, since everyone is working with the exact same prototype.

“We want to take an idea from concept to completion with one digital model,” Rahden said. If you just give a 2d drawing or even a simple 3d model, you aren’t giving the next team in line any real intelligence, he said.

The new version Autocad Inventor LT, scheduled for 2010, lets users do 2D drawing, 3D modeling, and with different separate modules can be customized for manufacturing plastics or sheet metal designs. One of the most important new features, Rahden said, is AutoCAD integration.

Instead of replacing Autocad’s 2D environment, tighter integration with 3D components when applicable is the key, Rahden said.

Documentation is another key feature, and Inventor is able to produce a bill of materials and exploded illustrations based on the digital prototype, he said. Inventor also checks the design for manufacturability, in order to avoid costly changes later on.

Simulation and analysis is another very important component, Rahden said. It’s now possible to simulate 3D contact faces and forces, make stress calculations, and optimize the product at a digital stage.

Another new feature is the ability to exchange building systems data. Mechanical designers are often creating components that work within a building system, but up untl now there’s been very little integration to better visualize the tools or systems working within an actual environment. But Inventor will now me able to export a digital model into a file that can be used in Autocad or other architectural tools. Metadata included with the file allows building design software to work directly with the model and see how it impacts and interacts with the overall environment.

“This will give companies the ability to collaborate as they’ve never been able to before,” Rahden said.

Alias, which was previously known for 3D modeling in special effects for film and television, has expanded to incorporate design, surfaces, and automotive design. These products are now much more affordable, Rahden said, and allow for such features as sketching over existing models, as well as pushing and stretching the models in real time, which radically speeds up the design process.

And at the other end of the curve, “napkin sketches” go digital with Sketchbook Pro, which allows for rapid conceptualizing but still gives access to menus with standard tools.