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AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Creating Blocks

Before you can run you must learn to walk. Before you can master blocks you must be able to create them. Carving Chinese Block

Image “Carving a Chinese Printing Block” by Jonathan Kos-Read - Flickr

To create a block you start with creating the geometry. There isn’t really much of a limitation in that you can create any type of objects you want, except remember that the key is consistency. Blocks within AutoCAD serve many purposes but mostly to provide a convenient method to reuse content while maintaining consistency from drawing to drawing. Try to remember consistency as you build your blocks so that you get a familiar look and feel to everything you create. What about the layers the objects are on? Good question, and conveniently enough I’ve covered this before in our Deep Dive Series on Blocks, which you can read here. The key to working with blocks and layers is understanding the importance of Layer 0. If the geometry contained within the block resides on layer 0 this geometry will take on the properties of the layer the block is placed on. Therefore if the block is on a red layer with a hidden line type all objects within the block on layer 0 will appear red with a hidden line type.

Creating Blocks

To create a new block definition you use the Make Block feature. Make Block can be initiated by typing B (and pressing Enter) with the keyboard or by selecting Create Block from the Insert Tab > Block Definition Panel. Make New Block

  1. Specify the Name of the Block. The block name must be unique within the drawing. The drop-down lists all block definitions that exist in the current drawing. Use this to double-check your block name is unique or select an existing block name to overwrite (redefine) an existing block.
  2. Set the Base Point. The base point becomes the insertion point, as in the point on the block your cursor will be at when you insert the block into your drawing. The base point can be defined by keying in the coordinates, using the pick button to select a point in the drawing, or by enabling the Specifying on Screen option. Specifying on Screen means that you will pick the point after you click OK.
  3. Select the Objects. No point in having a block if it doesn’t contain any geometry. Click the pick button to select the objects in the drawing window or enable Specifying on Screen to select the objects after you click OK.
  4. Decide what to do with the original objects. The objects you select to create the block can become a block (Convert to block), can be deleted (Delete) or do not need to become a block themselves. and remain as is (Retain)
  5. Should the block be Annotative? An annotative block is one that will adjust in size as the drawings annotation scale is adjusted
  6. Should the block scale uniformly? When enabled the block must scale in the Y-direction the same amount as being scaled in the X
  7. Should we allow the block to be exploded? when enabled you will NOT be able to explode the block instance in the drawing.
  8. Select the Block Unit Type. Blocks can scale according to the drawing unit. For example if the block was set to inches and the drawing to millimeters when inserted it would be 25.4 times larger than originally defined Why? There are 25.4 mm in an inch.
  9. Add a Hyperlink (optional). A hyperlink is a link to something, whether it be a web page, an email, another document, or to a view in the drawing.
  10. Be Descriptive (optional). Not everyone will understand what your block is for from the name alone, by adding a description you make it easier for others to know what the block is for before they insert it.
  11. Open it in the Block Editor (optional). If you intention is to make a Dynamic Block (discussed later in this series) then you’ll want to open the new block in the Block Editor to add dynamic features.

When satisfied with the inputs click OK to build your block.

Inserting Blocks

So you’ve created your block…  now what? Insert your block into your drawing to test it out. The insert block feature can be accessed from the Insert tab of the ribbon or by typing I with the keyboard. AutoCAD Block Insert Dialog

  1. Select the Block you want to Insert
  2. Optionally Browse for a drawing and insert the entire drawing in as a block
  3. Set the insert point either by keying in the coordinates or enabling Specify on-screen to pick the point after clicking OK
  4. Specify the Scale either by keying in the scale factors or by enabling Specify on-screen to set the scale after clicking OK. With the example above the Y & Z fields are disabled as this block was created with the Uniformly Scale option enabled. With this option disabled the X, Y, and Z scale factors can all be set independently.
  5. Specify the Rotation either by entering the rotation angle or by enabling Specify on-screen to pick the rotation after clicking OK
  6. Block Unit reference lists the Unit of the block and the factor that will be applied with the block is inserted. The factor is based on the Block Unit compared to the units of the drawing
  7. Optionally Explode the block during insertion. By exploding a block the objects are returned to original form, ungroup, and not contained within a block

Block Manipulation

After the block is inserted you can make adjustments to it very similarly to other 2D objects. Blocks can be moved, copied, scaled, rotated, mirrored, and adjusted with grips. Blocks can be exploded to remove the block and leave the blocks geometry. Copying a block can be faster and more efficient than inserting another instance.

Autodesk Inventor API: General Document Notes

It has been some time since I was regularly programming. My background was C++ and I was moving to C# when, well, I started writing; it appears as though there is only enough time to either research engineering software, or research software API.

Recently I decided I wanted some drawing automation; something to take care of the repetitive tasks beyond a good template. Being quite detail oriented, I like a complete drawing. This requires a lot of copying parent exploded views, parts lists, and so forth. While creating an iLogic drawing iProperties checker, I thought iLogic could help me with the drawing creation as well.

What follows is a collection of key notes that I made during my iLogic Assembly document function research; these are the same functions we used to develop the automated drawing creation tool.

Autodesk Inventor API Chart

We will look briefly at the general Document class in this article, and then take a bit of time stepping into the Assembly Document container hierarchy in a follow up.


It is very important to understand the Inventor assembly document structure and hierarchy. Each component in an assembly is a Document. Each Document is simply a reference to a file that is, or will be upon saving, stored on a file server or local drive.

Documents however can be interpreted in numerous ways. In our case, Documents represent Parts, Assemblies, Spreadsheets, Drawings, etc. Inventor has Class Objects that have intelligence built in to deal with how an Assembly Document, for example, will behave.

Just Give Me Everything

First, we can get all file references by calling for ‘AllReferencedDocuments’. This function is basically a document dump.

Base Object Class: Document

Type: Function Call

Object Function:  AllReferencedDocuments

Returns: Document object

This function does a jam-up job of returning all FILE instances within any Document object. Only one instance per file is returned, regardless of how many times a part is used in an assembly.

This function is not reserved to Assembly files and will work on any Document class based object. This makes it a great, universal front end build for code that needs to work in a broad range of Inventor documents.

Caution should be used to provide significant bounds checking as to what type of Document is being returned, as AllReferencedDocuments will return anything at all; Spreadsheets, Part files, you name it.

Example: (working with only the part files in a document)

‘ Get the active assembly document.
Dim oAsmDoc As AssemblyDocument
oAsmDoc = ThisApplication.ActiveDocument
‘ Iterate through all of the documents referenced by the assembly.
Dim oDoc As Document
For Each oDoc In oAsmDoc.AllReferencedDocuments

‘ Verify that the document is a part.
If oDoc.DocumentType = kPartDocumentObject Then
Dim oPartDoc As PartDocument
oPartDoc = oDoc

‘Do something with the part document here

End If

This is great when you want everything, but I need to see some structure, and having some refinement would be nice. We’ll return with those details and the Assembly Document container hierarchy in the follow-up article.


Mod The Machine article “Accessing Assembly Components” from 2009

The Autodesk Inventor 2014 API chart

Mod the Machine Article “Understanding File References” from 2008

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.

Is Autodesk Fusion 360 Ultimate Ready For The Big Time?

A couple of weeks ago I got to spend an hour with Kevin Schneider, Director Fusion 360 at Autodesk, about the September release of his cloud based CAD tool, as well as covering a few forward looking areas for the service. I was excited to get this opportunity, since I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to get stuck into Fusion 360 especially with some of the recent changes. This way Kevin could show me in real time where the product is and the kind of things it’s now capable of.

iphone_ipad_mbp_fusion360Kevin started by explaining where Fusion 360 is coming from as a product, why it was created. As any good product should, Fusion 360 was born from the need to address the changing landscape within the manufacturing industry globally. Increasingly, crowd sourcing is gaining popularity, but not just with well known implementations like the GrabCAD competitions or the interesting way in which Local Motors has built itself around using a community of designers and engineers to work on vehicle projects. Businesses and at this stage mostly corporations are taking the crowd sourcing ethos and applying it internally, they are using their biggest asset, their staff, to help guide and improve their products and services on a scale previously considered a logistical nightmare. We have social media to thank for the change in mindset there. Tools born from that movement and increasingly simplified user experiences mean that data can be collected and compiled in a coordinated way.

Which brings us to the next shift, the products and tools we use everyday are becoming increasingly connected, which means more and more electronics are being used. With electronics comes software, and yet more ways to not only produce, but consume the data. This data can then be used to improve the products UX in realtime, and / or filter back to the OEM so they can improve the next iteration of the software or the physical product itself. If you haven’t clicked yet, this is what the ‘Internet of Things’ is all about. Along with an increasing number of computer aided manufacturing techniques available, their decreasing cost and ease of use, manufacturing is at the beginning of a golden age of new ideas and change.

The next issue within the industry were the available tool sets attempting to solve these issues. When companies try to implement these independent and fragmented solutions, it ultimately leads to a disconnect within the tools themselves and consequently the processes revolving around them.

During extensive market research, Autodesk learnt two big things from industry:

  1. Teams were resonating a need to collaborate, and reiterated that there is no difference collaborating between cube walls & oceans. The value of collaboration is always the same. Clearly it was a pervasive problem to solve; Share with Anyone / Work anywhere!
  2. The connection between mechanical and industrial design had historically been lacking. Combining the two increases iteration and data sharing. Increasing fluidity and access to data across departments in the organization. Increase productivity and decrease cost.

Recent history

macbookpro_model_for_masFusion 360 launched as a paid service at the end of June last year. That makes the product only 15 months old… 15 months old!! I don’t know about you, but it feels like a product which is much older. Sure it was in beta and tech preview for 7 months prior to that, but that isn’t a long time either. So if you want to include that time, it’s still less than 2 years old. I was too young at the time, but I bet SOLIDWORKS and Inventor weren’t this feature rich and capable after 2 years?

It’s the platform the product is built on which has allowed this explosive development, along with the refreshingly open approach from the team, truly listening to users and a willingness to admit and correct mistakes. These ingredients have lead to 10 major releases in the last 12 months! Autodesk must be leading the industry with this rapid response and Ideastation driven development rate. The September release contained over 50 Customer Driven improvements alone.

Collaboration scale

Kevin went on to demonstrate some real world examples of just how wide Fusion’s collaboration net can be cast. Currently the largest project he is involved in, has 270 members, although it’s Open Source no details can be shared at this stage. I didn’t get to see it either, but I do wonder if it has something to do with Autodesk’s SPARK 3D printer or maybe a foundational project with Local Motors? I’m just speculating. He was able to show me an open source UAV project targeted for Africa. They are trying to make surveillance of wildlife reserves more expansive, their main target as this stage is Rhino surveillance, that project has 70 stakeholders, all part of the project. I asked him if he could show me some models, which he was immediately able to do via the new side bar, it was seamless. Prior to this update he would have had to switch tabs and dig about in different pages to find what he needed to show me. The new side bar has clearly reset the balance between the CAD tool and collaboration. However, if you do still need the old style view, you can opt to view the data or model in your browser. This launches the new Autodesk 360 site, My Hub, this means you can now be more productive with dual monitors. When you use Autodesk Vault with Inventor or AutoCAD, you will often have the CAD application on one screen, then your data management solution on the other. With this update, it’s expected you would have My Hub displayed in your browser on one screen and Fusion 360 on the other. Ideal!

Who’s using it?


Modbot Robotic Arm assembly AnimationCredit: Modbot inc

Modbot was formed by two Aussie blokes, Adam and Daniel, with the aim to challenge the light industrial medical robots industry. Each robot is made out of 3 basic components you can buy in different sizes. As a result they can focus production on a larger quantity or fewer components and produce ‘very’ cheap robotic solutions. All of this had been designed in Fusion 360! The simplicity is pure art.


Lumitoro fusion 360 screen shotCredit: Lumitoro

This company has received lots of press in Sweden for their products and the way they are creating high end jewellery. Their products are all laser sintered and then plated with semi precious materials. It’s stunning work and a great example of how old school tactile approaches can be combined with modern CAD / CAM work flows, in this case enabled with Autodesk tools. I bet these guys are hoping the SPARK platform will become integrated in Fusion 360.


Macotuba design Tuberculosis testerCredit: Macotuba

This innovative team have used Fusion 360 to design a low cost Tuberculosis tester. Using the Android operating system, to run an app it leverages the ‘Cloud’ to perform calculations on the data supplied from this hand held device. The hope is the low costs and distribution simplicity will go a long way towards increasing the diagnosis rates for on of the great silent killers. These guys are looking for funding, they seem like ideal Microsoft foundation candidates!

Effortless Visualization

The next element Kevin demonstrated took me by surprise. Within the modelling environment, you are able to create saved views, this capture both view positions and visual changes, such as colour and texture options. Inventor has a similar feature called View Representations, so I didn’t see this as a big deal. But. Then he switched over to My Hub, and told me to imagine I’d been sent a share link to this model. On the model page, you have access to one thumbnail per saved view. Again, not all that impressive, but when he clicked on these thumbnails, a larger viewing window appears next to them containing a medium resolution rendering! That surprised me, they were very good quality and definitely good enough to convey design intent or to make decisions regarding style changes. These renderings happen on the fly and are included as part of your monthly or annual subscription. So what if you want high resolution renders? or you want your client to pick which view they want rendered at high res? Well they can, right within that large preview window. Users can even change or select settings to control the resulting render! Now that is a great example of how the power of the cloud can be leveraged. However, these high resolution renders do consume cloud credits, which is to be expected.

September Updates

  • Adds control over hard & soft edge control in a single T-Splines form.
  • Improved surfacing tools – Control curves and splines, perfect G2 control, improved spline control and lofting take offs.
  • Zebra surface analysis tool improvements – the view style is now adjustable, which means you could use it during modelling if you wanted to.
  • The Javascript API has been released!!
    • You can build dialogs, and there are some samples to get you started.
    • They’ve included a development environment to use out of the box.
    • A Python API should be available by the end of October with a C++ version appearing by the December / January time frame.
  • Create public link is now available, these launch the Autodesk 360 viewer within a browser window.
    • The viewer provides the ability to download the file in any of the available formats!!! A HUGE WIN for collaboration across multiple platforms and disciplines.
    • Embedding is currently available within the Fusion 360 Gallery, once it’s ready it will be available from the A360 viewer as well.
  • Here’s the potential game changer for the future of the CAD reseller channels around the world. Fusion 360 is now available on the Apple Mac App Store!
    • Fusion 360 is now exposed to tens of thousands of people from all walks of life.
    • In line with Apple’s commitment to the enterprise.
    • Here is a nice Mac App Store FAQ prepared by the F360 team.

Fusion 360 on the Mac App StoreWhy will three API languages be supported?

  • They will all have the same level of support.
  • All built on the same API layer.
  • Javascript has built in security limits with respect to local file access, since it is a web based language after all.
  • Python is kind of the opposite, it works well locally, but it can be harder to get it to talk to the web based server stack.
  • C++ is probably the most powerful of the three, but with that comes complexity.

If you want to know more, in a fun way, check out this video:

Inventor vs. Fusion 360

This one has been itching away at me for some time. I’d touched on it briefly with Kevin in the past, but we ran out of time to chat properly about it. So I took the opportunity to raise the issue again. I know I’m not the only one to wonder this, so I wanted to share it with the readers of Design & Motion. So here it is. Kevin suggested the best place to see the differences between the end users and therefore markets for the two products, is within their respective Ideastations.

“You only have to compare the types of requests and conversations taking place to see the differences between use cases.”

Kevin says

“The only ones who are confused are students, because they have to pick which free product to use”.

He went on to break the two products into two distinctive categories:

  1.  For BIG engineering – Inventor is clearly the best.
  2. Fusion 360 is better suited to ‘Startups’ – Especially since consumer products is a highly competitive industry.

Kevin continued by saying:

“Customer don’t see the confusion between the two. When they approach the product it’s clear to them which one is best. Autodesk’s competitors often have more than 1 modeller, sometimes 2-5 so it’s pretty normal”

Is it working?

How is Fusion 360 coming along with respect to the requirements laid out at the beginning of this article?

Autodesk is trying to lead the field as the manufacturing and design landscape changes, their Open Source approach with the SPARK 3D printing platform and their various Autodesk 360 services I think it’s tough to argue they aren’t already leading them. What’s really telling though, is from the outside Autodesk 360 presents itself as a series of services, which it is… but it’s real future is as a platform. Fusion 360 is the first Autodesk product which makes this abundantly clear, especially with today’s announcement of the release of Fusion 360 Ultimate, it’s utilizing virtually all of them now. With that, Fusion 360 IS the real deal, it’s quickly becoming a full solution. As Autodesk continues to release API’s for their 360 Platform, and CAD software sales are being moved to online only, developers and resellers will be able to spin off their own services to diversify their businesses into the future.

Thank you Kevin for your time, patience and openness in answering my questions.

Autodesk Inventor : How to Change Welding Material

I was kicking about the Autodesk Discussion Groups and found this question:

Default Weldment Material [How to change it?]

Your drawing Parts lists show the material for all welded assemblies (weldments) as Welded Aluminum-6061. Using the assembly iProperties in the weldment gets you nowhere, as the material is deactivated. This frustrated me for some time too, and the solution is sadly quite logical: It’s a weld bead, so go to the Welding Bead section!

From the Ribbon, navigate to the Weld tab. Under the Process panel, pick Welds to go to the area that you would add your welds.

In the Assembly Browser, pick Welds -> Beads. From the context menu, pick iProperties.

Inventor 2015 Weldment Bead Material

The Physical tab will now allow you to change the Material. This makes perfect sense since your assembly does not have a material, but you are adding material in the welding process. (You can actually make the change one level up from the Welds collection header.)

After the change, the material will update in your Inventor Assembly Parts Lists.

Item Lifecycles with Autodesk Vault 2015 R2

change your perspectiveAutodesk Vault started with an acquisition and initially was just a work-in-progress engineering management tool, much as it is today with Vault Basic. Soon after came Productstream (which became Vault Manufacturing, and then Vault Professional) which introduced the Item Master with Revisions, Categories, Lifecycle Management, and ECO’s providing a system of actually managing the data. Autodesk felt that there was no middle ground, it was either you were using Vault Basic or you were “all-in” using Productstream, so they introduced what became Vault Workgroup. With Vault Workgroup you do not need to use items and the item master, you can perform revision management and track file lifecycles. More than just implementing file lifecycling, it has a completely different engine than items, making it much more flexible allowing you to define your own states, the permissions to access these states, custom categories, and even events to occur during state changes!

Here’s an article Brian Schanen wrote circa the release of Vault Workgroup 2010. He identifies the key areas of that product which focus on Release Management at the file level, which includes Lifecycles and Security, Revision Management, User Defined Properties, and Categories.

With the recent release of Vault Professional R2 the Item LIfecycle engine has a received a complete overhaul, granting it all the flexibility and abilities of the file lifecyle management toolset. With this you can configure categories with your own lifecycle states, controlling who has the permission to transition the item into the next state. In addition each Category has its own revisioning schemes and item numbering options. You can now even define actions to occur during state changes. If you want to read about all things new in R2 stroll over to our post Autodesk Vault 2015 R2 Summary.

The Basics

I started writing this article with the intention of covering everything you need to implement the new Item lifecycle functionality, but quickly realized that this will require a couple posts, not just one. What is below is a high-level overview of what’s required with a touch of what’s new. For anyone who has implemented file lifecycles and the revision management tools there is nothing new here.

I delivered two classes last year at Autodesk University, which covered file lifecycles, but now applies extremely well to items. The classes are PL1714: Choosing the Right Lifestyle with Vault Lifecycles and PL1341: Whose Version Should We Believe?—Revising the Story with Vault

Item Lifecycle configuration has been removed from the Items tab of the Vault Settings dialog. Instead that is now controlled in the same places you configure file, folder, and custom objects. The first step is to configure the Revision Schemes, which remain untouched and behave the same as pre-R2. However as you can use Lifecycles to automatically bump the revision it is important to have this set to your desired scheme. In the example shown below I’ve created a “0-Based” scheme which is almost identical to the out-of-the-box Numeric except that it starts at 0 opposed to 1

Vault 2015 R2 0-Based Rev Scheme

You now need to create a Lifecycle or a Category, but the order doesn’t really matter as they are reliant on each other and while editing one you can jump into the other to make changes. Here I’ve created a new “Repair” Lifecycle Definition which I intend to use with customer repair proposals. We will receive the equipment into a staging area (Received), then figure out what needs to be fixed (Analysis), the proposal document will be generated and reviewed by the manager (In Review). It will be submitted to the customer (Customer Submitted) and then end up in one of three states depending on the customers decision (On Hold, Declined, and Accepted).

Vault 2015 R2 Lifecycle Definition

I’ve assigned this Lifecycle Definition to all existing Item Categories meaning that I will be able to apply it to any item, regardless of the assigned category. However I could be very specific, say only making it available on Document category items, or a mix of different ones. As a bonus you can now change the category of multiple items at one time (finally)

Now the fun part… if you want to limit who can make specific state changes, for example making it so only the manager can change the item from In Review to Customer Submitted. You will need to edit either the Transition and/or the Security.

  • Security limits what an individual person (or group) can do while the item is in the state. For example granting everyone read-only access but the manager read, edit, and delete. This can extend to setting file access priviledges to the items associated with the item.
  • Transitions sets who can make the state changes, meaning that I can make it so only the manager can switch it from In Review to Customer Submitted, but then have security so that no one can make changes to the item (or associated files).

Vault 2015 R2 Transition Security

Its on the Transition that you can also set Criteria which must be met before the state change can happen. As well as Actions that occur during the State Change (Transition).

Building the Transitions and Security is not fun with more complex Lifecycle schemes. I highly recommend white boarding the process flow so that 1) everyone is on the same page & 2) you can keep it straight while you are configuring. I really, really, really wish (hint, hint Autodesk) that it worked like the workflow editor in PLM 360… that is one kickass editor. PLM 360 provides a very graphical and easily modifable system for configuring states and transitions and permissions. As a compromise, we have updated a Microsoft Visio Vault Lifecycle flow chart template for you to use to plan and define your Lifecycles. We can’t take all the credit, Autodesk created it originally.

Categories control what you are allowed to do with an item. They set the available revision schemeslifecycle definitions, and User Defined Properties (UDP) available for the item.

Vault 2015 R2 Item Category

What to look out for

Before installing R2 it is extremely important to actually examine the readme and understand that a number of item features are disabled in R2. This includes…

  • Compare Bill of Materials
  • Item Import & Item Export
  • Item Package Service API’s
  • Purge Item, Purge, & Purge All
  • Item Restore & Item Rollback Lifecycle State Change
  • Item Effectivity
  • Restricting Item Lifecycle State Change to Change Orders

Here is a link to the Vault R2 readme document, make sure you have read through everything so there are no surprises with installation and deployment.

A couple bugs have also been reported with R2. Chris Benner discovered quite early with R2, that the new functionality to write the item properties back to files as the item changes is broken. It’s been logged with Autodesk and will hopefully be fixed soon, so thanks for giving it a kicking for us all Chris! (Editor: Mike is being polite… It’s highly unfortunate that a new feature is broken upon release! Why wasn’t it tested properly?)

Seeing it in Action

Feature Image “change” courtesy of suez92 (Flickr) 


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