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New, New Autodesk PLM 360 with Data Management

Today Autodesk presented a group of media the changes they have been working of for the next generation of their PLM product, Autodesk PLM 360. We were greeted by the lovely Stacey Doyle, accompanied by the less attractive but both fine and knowledgeable gentlemen, Brian Roepke and Jared Sund. After a bit of nostalgia and looking at the requirements from which PLM 360 was born, Brian got stuck into showing us the new user interface.

User Interface

The new Autodesk PLM 360 Dashboard

When PLM 360 was launch in late February 2012, the web technology used within the user interface was circa 2008 & 2009. In web terms that’s quite old, although nothing like the 20-30 year old technology used by some of their competitors. As a result the Autodesk team believed they could do a lot better to redefine the User Experience. With these upcoming changes, the development team have leveraged the most modern HTML 5 & AngularJS web frameworks, to provide a rich speedy interface. The website now behaves much more like a desktop application with respect to response times from user interaction.

They haven’t just made the user interface more attractive and responsive though. You may have already come across the excellent Autodesk 360 viewer on other Autodesk websites or Cloud services now, but if you haven’t, it really is impressive. Well, naturally it’s being implemented within PLM 360 now. Select an Item with a CAD file associated with it and you get a full 3D model to play with, meaning you can interrogate it’s meta data, isolate components and even exploded assemblies gradually. For a fully immersive experience, you can view the model in full screen mode.

Autodesk PLM 360 3D Viewer

Just to get an idea of the fidelity of this viewer, the familiar looking assembly in the image above contains 4000 components and the viewer didn’t bat an eye lid while Brian was pushing it about. Even more impressive though is the quality of the image, the view is fully rendered out with ambient shadows and reflections.

Now that part was all very nice and everything, improving the tools UX across devices is always important. But the next part of the presentation was where things got serious.

Cloud enabled Product Data Management

Autodesk PLM 360 Desktop Integration

In September, during the Accelerate 2014 PLM event Brian announced and presented PLM 360′s new product data management capabilities. Oleg Shilovitsky blogged about it here, With the current incarnation of PLM 360, to associate a document to multiple Items, the file needs to be uploaded independently to each Item. However, now the PLM 360 team have written a simple extension for Windows Explorer, it presents itself as another drive in your computer, in much the same way Autodesk 360 does. While the implementation of this extension may appear similar to the Autodesk 360 Drive, it really isn’t. I hope it isn’t at least, because the A360 Drive is a truly horrible tool from a reliability standpoint.

As a result of implementing the integration this way, any application is essentially supported by PLM 360. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say PLM 360 offers integration with any application, this approach means you can very easily organize and upload your files to your PLM 360 tenant.

PLM 360 Multi-CAD Support

Companies like Greenpoint Technologies have Autodesk Vault & PLM 360 connected together. In addition they have fully adopted PLM to the point that everything design related is co-ordinated via PLM 360. This is a valid and preferred approach for many companies around the world. Curiously, Autodesk have found out over the last few years, that the transition to cloud technology is happening much faster than they thought it would. Smaller or newer companies with less IT overhead or companies with more flexible IT infrastructure, are naturally gravitating towards Cloud based strategies.

Memjet - PDM - Autodesk PLM 360

Autodesk haven’t moved Vault to the cloud, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do architecturally. Let’s face it, Vault is a mature PDM product and Autodesk aren’t stupid, just look at Fusion 360, they aren’t afraid to start with a clean sheet of paper and that’s exactly what they have done here. This has been built from the ground up, using the latest technology which has only emerged relatively recently and pioneered by Google, Netflix, Microsoft and eBay etc. eBay for example, transacts an insane 80 billion database calls a day. It’s highly unlikely any enterprise using CAD and PDM makes that many calls within their network in a week.

Autodesk PLM 360 CAD Integration

BUT, CAD data IS more complex, with large file sizes and intertwined relationships. To deal with this, Autodesk have developed Transfer Avoidance. Purposely built for managing desktop based engineering data in the cloud. Autodesk have innovated to the point where they’ve patented a lot of the techniques used within this protocol. There are lots of other technologies out there such as Riverbed etc.. However, Transfer Avoidance is optimized at the binary level. If it sees any common patterns of data, it will reuse the data already on the cloud. For each company, within each PLM 360 tenant, Autodesk maintains a library of these binary patterns. As you upload more and more information, the system actually gets faster. What’s unique about this technology is its ability to catalog this information on a massive scale.

PLM 360 Transfer Avoidance Benchmarks

Traditional PDM Features now Included in PLM 360

PLM Functionality

CAD Data Management

  • Revisions & Lifecycles
  • Versioning
  • Bills of Materials
  • Relationships
  • Change Management
  • Concurrent Design
  • Supplier Collaboration
  • Design Reuse
  • Search
  • Embedded Viewing
  • Reporting
  • Roles & Permissions
  • Business System Integration
  • Globally Access

 


 

Conclusion

I’m genuinely impressed by both of these additions. I haven’t been able to use PLM 360 for about 18 months now, I do miss it and although I’ve been dubious about PDM in the cloud in the past, and still am to a certain extent. This is really quite exciting. I’m curious to see how reliable this Transfer Avoidance technology really is, I’ve been told similar binary level transfer technology has failed spectacularly in the past, but the past is the past and I will approach this with an open mind given the opportunity. I really like the fact they have leveraged Windows Explorer to maintain simplicity and familiarity, which will inevitably increase adoption with staff members outside of the CAD department.

PLM 360 always felt a bit dated in certain areas, once you got into moving around the web pages. This naturally meant it wasn’t the best experience to use on mobile devices, so the adoption of HTML 5 and AngularJS is a welcome one. The responsive elements of the site were clearly demonstrated within the webinar and are most certainly a step in the right direction. The next big step though, isn’t rolling out these new updates. It’s making PLM 360 available to customers in all territories and not just the USA, UK and Germany.

@%#&! Autodesk Vault just overwrote my file

Recover Overwritten Vault CAD FilesIf you’ve used Autodesk Vault at any time, then its highly likely you have downloaded a file you already have checked out and overwrote a chunk of your work. Unfortunately that’s just one of several scenarios, which can result in you losing your work. The real trick to preventing this of course, is to check your work into Vault every couple of hours (similar to continually saving within your CAD application). Nevertheless, there could be a number of reasons why checking in your work continuously isn’t feasible. I often hear the comment “I wish Vault had a recycle bin”, I’ve even murmured those words myself and you know what it’s a reasonable request. Why can’t Vault create an old version of the files it’s overwriting? Although its likely possible, it could get mighty confusing.

Just over a year ago, one of my staff downloaded a skeletal / master model from Vault while trying to work around a problem he had, the problem was he already had it checked out, but worse he hadn’t checked in the file for a couple of days. He had created components, built a main assembly and even produced a drawing. Needless to say overwriting his skeletal model with what was essentially a template file, was highly undesirable. Don’t judge him though, he’s new to this Autodesk Inventor / Vault game, all while dealing with a temperamental VPN connection & a new replicated Vault, so he’s been doing a grand job. All of my staff and myself have all made this mistake once or twice.

Autodesk Vault Inventor Project File Old Versions Setting

In the past the Inventor Old Versions folder has been our first port of call, depending on how your Inventor Project File is setup, these folders can be a gold mine during these arse puckering moments. The project file setting I am referring to is shown in the image above, I like to set Old Versions To Keep On Save to equal 5 on all Vault project files. Of course, this tactic is of no use to AutoCAD users, but it does have some of it’s own backup treasures which may or may not be useful within any given situation.

This time however, I’m glad he made the mistake, because it prompted me to ponder if some of the new Windows Explorer features in Windows 7 on wards would help out here. The particular feature which inspired me to Google for a solution, was the undo tool. In Windows 7 or 8 if you delete a file in a folder, then press Ctrl + Z, it will undo the delete command and restore the file. In this case the file had been overwritten by an application and not as a result of the user interacting directly with the folder. So I took a punt and searched for:

“Recovering an overwritten file”

The first search return took me to this site. Method 3 of 4 was a particular surprise, I couldn’t believe it, I’d seen this tab in the Windows 7 Property menu before but I’d never realized it’s impact. The command worked perfectly, the 2 days of lost work was returned thanks to this hidden gem. You can even open or copy the previous version to a different location if you aren’t confident it’s the right way to go. Be warned though, this isn’t a fail safe, but this is always worth a check in this situation. The best part though? This is handy for all Windows users, not just Vault users.

Windows 7 Restore Previous Version Tab

Then I went and took a look at Windows 8 to make sure this behaviour still existed, it turns out it doesn’t and this article explains why. Thankfully Microsoft just improved it out right, the only catch is you have to enable it and point it to a non system drive. Take a look at this well written article explaining how to do that. Another bit of good news is Windows 10 has maintained the same system as Windows 8, so we are looking good into the future. If you are the owner of your Autodesk software, then you could re-purpose your Autodesk USB installation media, to leverage this native Windows benefit.

These tools for Windows 7 & 8 are cracking little gems, lurking in the background, rarely used but invaluable all the same just waiting for the opportunity to shine and save your butt. The best part is they can be used on any file stored on your hard drive and not just those your use for CAD. Check them out and if you need to, enable it. With respect to the title of this post, I haven’t really shown you how to prevent it happening in the first place, I will do this in an upcoming post covering dialog and prompt suppression within Vault and it’s application add-ins.

Will Autodesk Inventor Install on Windows 10?

Following on from my videos investigating the installation of AutoCAD and Revit on Windows 10. I finally got around to knocking together a quick video covering the installation of Autodesk’s Inventor and Vault Basic applications. The installation was carried out on a bare installation of Windows 10 Technical Preview, with all the available updates applied. I also made sure Inventor Service Pack 1 was downloaded then installed during the installation. So yup, it’s a super short post, but the video speaks for itself. Next up is SolidWorks 2015.

InterCAD SolidWorks 2015 Launch Event

SolidWorks_2015_Energy_chain

Today I had the opportunity to attend InterCAD‘s SolidWorks 2015 launch event. With part of my current role involved in supporting HSMWorks, I was eager to see what was new and if any of the those features could help CAM users. There are a few promising features, but until I get my hands on a build of SolidWorks to try them myself within some workflows it’s hard to know for sure. With this post I’ll highlight a few of the features which caught my eye or impressed me from a pure CAD standpoint.

The event was opened by Jason Gannon, Business Development Manager at Intercad NZ, he laid out the format for the afternoon ahead then introduced Chris Bowman, Channel Marketing Manager – APAC, Dassault Systemes. Chris talked predominantly about the community, the strength of New Zealand based companies using SolidWorks on the global stage and how prolific SolidWorks is within the educational establishments around the world. Of more relevance to the users in the room was the message regarding MySolidWorks, he provided a summary slide showing the features of the 3 tiers available, MySolidWorks, MySolidWorks Standard and MySolidWorks Professional.MySolidWorks Oct 2014On point I thought was particularly valuable was the Manufacturing Network Partners program, it sounds like a great idea, and you may need to forgive me here, since I’m still learning about the SolidWorks ecosystem. I can’t seem to find much mention of it on the SolidWorks site anymore, so if anyone knows where I can find more information about this for our readers, then please let us know in the comments. The last time I came across something like this which works was with the Thermwood eCabinet Systems community. eCabinet Systems, in my opinion, was way ahead of its time and is the best thing about Thermwood.

Moving on from the Sales & Marketing portion of the event, InterCAD’s main technical and training application engineer, Stuart (sorry I’m missing his family name), got stuck into the meat & potatoes. He did a great job of getting through a lot of content, while making it entertaining for the audience and reacting to questions from the crowd, as well as the odd technical hiccup. So which bits did I think were the best?

2D Sketch Improvements

SolidWorks2015_sketch-shared-endpoint-pop-up

Now when you draw a tangent arc between two lines, you don’t have to worry about trying to invoke tangency at both ends of the arc during creation AND you don’t have to select the arc & the line to get the tangent relation to appear in the pop up menu. Instead all you have to select is the coincident point between the two sketch elements. A subtle but vital addition in the CAD users quest for reducing mouse clicks. Having not had the opportunity to test this yet, I can only assume this will work with points between two elements, rather than 3 or more.

SolidWorks now also provides Mid point lines. This means you can start a line from its center point, which its ultimate length growing out from there. If you have ever used a center point rectangle tool, then you can imagine it working in much the same fashion.

SolidWorks 2015 rectangles

Rectangle enhancements – You can now include various types of construction center lines during rectangle creation.

Much more worthy of note than the previous enhancement is the new Segment tool. This becomes available on the CommandManager once you select a sketch object. From there you are able to chose to either splint the element into equidistant segments or place evenly space points along it’s length. This is very reminiscent of the Divide command found in AutoCAD. I know how handy that was then, so it will be for sure here as well.

Patterning

SolidWorks 2015 Pattern to Reference

In previous releases of SolidWorks, if you have defined a pattern to create a given number of instances, at a certain offset distance. Then you later reduced the overall dimension of the component, if any of the features dropped off the edge of the component, the pattern feature would fail. 2015 now allows you to select a reference face to pattern to instead, then all you need to do is either chose an offset distance or the number of instances. If think this will be particularly handy for configurable ‘stock’ parts with an integrated CAM solution.

Just briefly, here are a few additional pattern tools which are often missing from competing CAD products:

  • Switch between patterns of features to bodies.
  • Fill pattern quantity is validated and associative. Which means you can manually remove a few instances and re-validation updates the quantity value.
  • Variable table patterns – This tool set can produce quite complex feature pattern results. Although you can use on screen objects to configure and build the table, it looked a tad non-intuitive to use. Nevertheless, it looks like the kind of tool a select few would thrash the living snot out of. As an example, you can now create pattern styles for things like football (Soccer) boot soles.

SolidWorks2015 Pattern Tables

 Take note of how the handy little dependency arrows in the model browser. I look forward to seeing how extensive they are.

Assembly Mates

SolidWorks_2015_Profile_Center_mate1

Advanced mate has now been blessed with a Profile Center mate style. This slashes the number of clicks you need to join two component faces together at their center. The faces don’t have to be the same profile either and you can flip orientation etc.. This results in these types of mates being applied with a similar level of productivity as using Joints in Autodesk Inventor.

I think this is one of my favorite usability features ever! If you have ever worked within a team which collaborates on designs regularly, you will no doubt have been in the situation where, one of your esteemed colleagues have decided the quickest course of action was to delete a feature to enact a change. Instead of massage it’s foundations to maintain the faces for down stream model dependencies. The SolidWorks team have hooked their users up with the Globally Replace Failed Mate References tool. Which means you only have to repair or redefine the first mate, then propagate the selections to all the other mates with the same error. Choice!

Worthy of note:

  • Width mate condition improvements: Free move (but stops on interference), distance or percentage.
  • Move components – temporarily fix components to stop others from moving. Handy when grabbing and dragging components to test mate conditions are working correctly.
  • Interference check. Group by type and hide interference’s of specific sizes, such as seals and o-rings etc.
  • The new chain pattern means you can drag chains around corners now. Very swag!

Treehouse (odd name)

SolidWorks_2015_Treehouse

This post is starting to get a bit lengthy now, so I don’t want to dwell on this too much. However, I’m really intruiged by this tool and want to give it a decent kick about in time, so I will cover it in more detail in the future. But I love the idea of being able to visually layout your model structure up front. This could be epic if it has good API support as well. You can even define configuration requirements, which you can then reuse during configuration creation.

Existing assemblies are supported, so if you aren’t clear on a components file dependecies, and you need to know more, this could be your solution. Finally, as you can see in the slide shown below, you are able to define component properties and quantities on each individual element as well. How extensible those property dialogs are, I don’t know yet, hopefully they support custom properties.

SolidWorks_2015_Treehouse_Slide

Surfacing & 3D Sketches

SolidWorks_2015_ Compond_Flatten_surface2_white

In addition to compound flat patterns, 2015 users also get a deformation plot analysis tool.

I was stoked to see SolidWorks now natively supports flattening of compound surfaces. In the image above, a 3D spline has been drawn across the brown surface, then used to trim the surface itself. In previous releases, users needed to place spline control points on edges as it passed from one surface / face to the next. 2015 shuns that requirement, which instantly makes the creation of these types of splines far more fluid.

Worthy of note:

  • Asymmetric fillets.
  • Surface patch curvature display and bounding curve option.
  • Open sketch profiles now support boolean subtractions of a specified distance.
  • Work Planes can be created which are parallel to the camera lens.

CAM user goodies

Given my strong connection to HSMWorks, I’m keen to see how many new features can benefit CAM users. Again this will be something I cover in the future. But for now here is a list of some I anticipate will be put to good use.

SolidWorks 2015 Selection Sets

  • Selection filters & Sets are available in the context menu.
  • Select previous.
  • Save selection sets - These could be VERY handy with HSMWorks if they are accessible while in ‘CAM’ mode.
  • The Pop Up menu is now customizable, which means CAM users can select a face or edge and have HSM commands instantly at their cursor tip.
  • Dependency arrows in browser will help CAM users establish design intent within the model structure. Just in case any Change Orders fall on their desks….

The BEST PART of the day?

I was extremely honored and blown away to met a relatively young chap called Darren Lomman during this event. Darren founded the Dreamfit Foundation a number of years ago so he and his team could apply engineering and creativity in ways to truly make a massive difference in the lives of people with disabilities. The range of solutions, from super simple to in some cases rather complex, was breath taking. I hope to ge the opportunity to interview Darren in the future and share the story here on D&M, but in the meantime, please take the time to watch the following video and check out the Dreamfit Foundation website. They’re also HSMWorks users, so I’m looking forward to helping them out in the future with their CAM needs.

Autodesk Revit install on Windows 10

Last week I successfully installed AutoCAD onto Windows 10. I was going to install Inventor next, but I decided I should give Revit a crack instead. I used the Plant Design Suite Ultimate installer to get hold of Revit Structure. So while it’s not a standalone installation, and not the base edition of Revit, it should still be representative.

Everything fundamentally installed fine, but the missing templates error upon launching Revit is related to my error in deselecting the installation of the Revit Content. I’ve since installed that and mapped the template path correctly which dealt with the issue.

Revit Windows 10 template error

Will AutoCAD install on Windows 10?

Installing Autodesk’s AutoCAD CAD product on Windows 8 or 8.1 really wasn’t all that fun in some cases. We wanted to make sure ahead of time if there were any issues or not. As a follow on from my initial review of Windows 10 Tech Preview, I’m going to perform a trial install within my test environment. I decided to record the affair rather than write it all out.

The good news is, it looks like installing on Windows 10 is smoother than it was installing on Windows 8 or 8.1. There may have even been some improvements. Now I haven’t put AutoCAD to work in any arduous kind of ways, but from what I can tell from a quick poke about, all seems well. I cut all the really boring waiting time out, but all up, installing from my USB 3.0 external hard drive, vanilla AutoCAD took around 15 minutes to install.

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