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5 Inventor Sketching Tips You Need to Know Right Now!

At this year’s Autodesk University I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present three Inventor classes. All three were well attended and had lively discussion. It was a blast! For the second year in a row I presented a class on sketching within Inventor. I presented a collection of tips and tricks that I have learned and gained from others over the years. Since sketching is such an integral part of parametric modeling, even the slightest in time savers can pay big dividends.

MD4857 – Sketching with Autodesk Inventor

Sketching is the basis of any model. In this class we will explore sketching within Inventor software, and we’ll give you the timesaving tips and tricks to make you more productive. This includes the timesaving tools introduced with the 2015 release of Inventor software, including Relax Mode and the new onscreen right-click tools. Come to this class to learn the skills you need to build a rock-solid foundation for your models.

Where did I gather all of this sketching information? Firstly, from my 14+ years of using Inventor, I have collected a lot of tips-and-tricks regarding sketching; some from using the software and many from other users. Unfortunately I have forgotten many of the sources of these tips and tricks but there are some great places to get information on Inventor, not just sketching

The old saying is “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, but with Inventor it’s really both. I’m always on the lookout for any time saving steps that will reduce the time to get things done within Inventor or will build stronger, better models. Here are some of my recent favorites:

This is the first of a two part series. The second part will be featured on Paul Munford’s CAD Setter Out site, so keep an eye out for that.

What does Inventor’s help says about sketching… The Inventor Sketch environment consists of a sketch plane (where the sketch is located) and sketch commands. You create edit, constrain, and dimension sketches only when the sketch environment is active. With the sketch command selected, you can specify a planar face, work plane, or sketch curve as the sketch plane

Creating and Working with Sketch Planes

TIP: You can create an offset Workplane while defining the sketch plane. You can generate an offset workplane with a sketch on it in one step by dragging off the desired face with the create sketch command active

Inventor - Offset Workplane While Defining Sketch

TIP: Sketches can be used to define Work Features. Sketch geometry, especially lines can provide an easier method for creating difficult to locate work features. For an example look at Ben Curtin’s example Inventor Holes at a Compound Angle on the Tata CAD Geek Speak blog

TIP: Slice Graphics. Autodesk Inventor Help Definition: “Sometimes geometry obscures your sketch plane, or other components in a part model hide it. When the sketch tool is active, use the context menu option Slice Graphics to slice away temporarily the portion of the model that obscures the plane.” When the model is in the way on your sketching Slice Graphics removes everything between you and the sketch plane. You can initiate Slice Graphics when the editing a sketch via the right-click menu or by using F7. If by chance the model is sliced in the wrong direction, turn off the slice graphics, rotate the model, and try slice graphics again.

Inventor - Slice GraphicsTIP: Project Cut Edges. Use Project Cut Edges to associatively projects edges of the model that intersect with the sketching plane. Think of it as the edges of a section view and your sketch is the section line.

TIP: Project Flat Pattern. Autodesk Inventor Help Definition: “Unfolds a disjointed face or faces into the sketch plane.” Project Flat Pattern is great for the situations where you don’t need the overhead and advanced options of the Sheet Metal Unfold / Refold features, just wanting to reference existing geometry edges

Inventor - Project Flat PatternSee the tips live in action!

Feature Image “Sketching with Reshma” by Juhan Sonin courtesy of Flickr

AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Tool Palettes, Design Center, and Autodesk Seek

In the last post in this series we explored methods of sharing blocks to other drawings (WBLOCK & Sharing Blocks to Other Drawings), so lets continue this theme with additional methods and also an Autodesk repository of pre-built content.

Toolbox taken by Florian Richter

Photo taken by Florian Richter

Tool Palettes

Tool Palettes can be thought of your own toolbox, which if you are like me has a collection of many things. My toolbox has a hammer, tape measure, crowbar, various screw drivers, wrenches, a flash light, and a completely random collection of nuts, bolts, screws, and washers. Which reminds me, when will the rest of the world get onto the robertson bit?

AutoCAD Tool Palettes are the same idea in that it can contain whatever content you want… blocks, images, xrefs, and any command. Tool Palettes are like having everything and the kitchen sink!

The Tool Palette is a standard AutoCAD palette in that it can be docked, anchored, resized, and auto-hid. You can have as many tabs (palettes) as you want, which provides the ability to categorize your content. Palette Groups collect tabs into groups so that you can quickly enable or hide various groups (combinations) of palettes.

AutoCAD's Tool Palette

To create a new palette right click anywhere on the palette bar that runs down the side of the palette, select New Palette.

To add an object to the palette (say a block or a line) select the object in the drawing area so that grips are activated on the object. Click and drag (not on a grip point) the object onto the palette dropping it in the desired location.

The most important thing to remember is that the drawing the block is dragged-and-dropped from becomes the source drawing for the block insertion from the tool palette. This means that if this drawing is moved, renamed, or deleted the block link in the palette will stop functioning. Its a good idea to either use a template drawing for blocks or a drawing just for blocks. What I typically do is set up a “Tool Palettes Blocks” drawing and add all my blocks to it… and then use this drawing to build my blocks. One location – no worries about it disappearing.

Once the block is added to the tool palette comes the fun part. Right-click on any tool in the Tool Palette and select properties. With blocks you can adjust the insertion scale, rotation, and whether it should be exploded. Additionally you can tie the block scale to Auxiliary options Dimscale or Plot scale, meaning the block can scale accordingly to the active plot scale or dimension scale. You can even set the layer the block is inserted on or have it prompt for rotation after insertion. Very cool features, even consider having the same block in the palette multiple times but with different properties.

Tool Palette - Tool Properties

To insert the block simply select it in the palette and pick the insertion point in the drawing area. Right-clicking a block provides the Redefine option to redefine the existing block definition with the one contained in the Tool Palette.

Design Center

The Design Center is a tool to access drawing content. This content includes layers, blocks, Layouts, Dimension Styles and other drawing content. The Design Center may also contain application specific content, for example Layer Groups in AutoCAD Mechanical. The content can be accessed from drawings that are not open, one of the most important features of the Design Center.

AutoCAD Design Center

Using the Design Center you can navigate Folders as if using Windows Explorer browsing to the desired directory  of drawings. Select the drawing and the type of content to browse. From the right-side panel find the content you wish to add to your active drawing and either drag-and-drop it or double-click to add to your drawing. The other tab, Open Drawings, allows for the browsing of any open drawing, to copy the content from it into the active drawing.

Like tool palettes if you attempt to insert a block in which the block name already exists it will use the definition of the drawing, NOT the Design Center. This means you may get a different result than you were expecting if the drawing block definition and design center block definition geometry differ. To force the the drawing definition to update to match the one selected in the Design Center right-click and select redefine or insert and redefine.

Another Tip… right-click on the Blocks section of the drawing and you can generate a tool palette containing all the blocks from the drawing.

Create a tool palette containing blocks from the Design Center

Autodesk Seek

Autodesk Seek

A link in the Design Center launches a browser to Autodesk Seek. An Autodesk managed webiste of BIM models and AutoCAD drawings (DWG). The drawings are vendor supplied meaning access to accurate 3D models and 2D blocks. A great resource for the Architectural community… and its free, just need to sign in with your Autodesk account.

See it live

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.

Join us at Autodesk University 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages Design & Motion proudly brings to you, its Autodesk University speakers Mike Thomas and Gavin Bath!

If you’re heading to Las Vegas for Autodesk’s annual user-conference, we invite you to join us for one (or all four!) of our Inventor classes. John will also be seen lurking around Vegas too, so make sure to track him down.

D&M Take Over Autodesk University

Here’s a quick overview of Mike’s classes

MD4857 – Sketching with Inventor

Sketching is the basis of any model. In this class we will explore sketching within Inventor software, and we’ll give you the timesaving tips and tricks to make you more productive. This includes the timesaving tools introduced with the 2015 release of Inventor software, including Relax Mode and the new onscreen right-click tools. Come to this class to learn the skills you need to build a rock-solid foundation for your models.

Tuesday, Dec 2, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

MD4862 – Advanced Assembly Control with Representations in Inventor

[Proudly co-presented with Chris Benner @CGBenner ]

This class will teach you how to use the 3 types of Representations in Inventor software assemblies. Representations can control the visibility, the suppression, the position, and several of the other characteristics of components within assemblies. Representations enable you to save specific views of your assembly to prepare for presentations and to create drawings. Proper use of Representations also significantly improves computer performance when dealing with large, complex assemblies.

Tuesday, Dec 2, 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM

MD4890 – The Suite Life of Product Design Suite

Product Design Suite has just arrived and you’ve cracked the packaging (or finished the download) and are about to install the software—but wait, what are all these options? Why so many? What is all this stuff? You just want Inventor software and AutoCAD software. Take a deep breath. Autodesk, Inc., has packaged not only software but also workflows to provide you with an excellent set of product design tools. AutoCAD Mechanical software for sketching and legacy maintenance, Inventor software for 3D modeling and design, Showcase software for realistic renderings, 3ds Max Design software for animations, and Alias Design software for complex surface design, just to name a few. In this class we’ll look at some of Product Design Suite’s workflows so you can get up off the ground and running in no time.

Wednesday, Dec 3, 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM

Here is Gavin’s class

PE5895 – Truly Integrated CAM: Inventor HSM is a Well-Oiled Machine

Learn to extend the power of Autodesk, Inc.’s, fully integrated CAM Solution for Inventor software by complementing it with Vault software. You will learn about the workflows used to create machine code for the CNC (computer numerical control) machining of your parts, and you will also learn the benefits of using an integrated CAM system. Data management is often a nightmare for companies that maintain design separately from files containing manufacturing information such as toolpaths. In this class you will see just how easily you can maintain both in a single file, using Inventor HSM software and Vault software.

Tuesday, Dec 2, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Autodesk University – What, When, Where, Why?

Autodesk University is December 2–4, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. It is the biggest Autodesk User Conference, attended by 1000′s of Autodesk Users every year. It might sound corny, but the biggest benefit of attending AU, hands down, is the people. The interactions, the discussions, the laughs… everyone is there for the same reason, have similar problems, and are always so willing to talk. We’ve met many people over the years, many who have become close friends.

Visit the Autodesk University website for more information

Autodesk Inventor: Copy Items Between Sheets Easily

It is easy to create another standard view in Inventor drawings, but what about when the view has been detailed or you have a customized Parts List? You can easily copy Views and Parts Lists from sheet to sheet, complete with all the annotations associated.

Copy / Paste

  • Select the items to copy: Select from the Graphics Window or from the Browser.
  • Pick the Sheet header in the browser
  • Paste through the context menu: After picking the header, right-click -> and select Paste.

Autodesk Inventor Copy Paste View

Drag / Drop Between Sheets

Alternately, you can drag to copy the items.

  • Select the items to be copied: The same procedure applies from above
  • Pick / drag the selected items towards the browser
  • Drop into the view tree: This is the odd part. You need to drop the items down into the tree organization. Just pull you cursor down below where the Views are organized; you should notice the darkened line marker alerting you to where the items will be copied. When satisfied, release the mouse button.

Autodesk Inventor Drag Views to copy them between sheets

Autodesk Inventor Pasted views

In the example above notice the Parts List and views that were copied. All annotations were copied over with the views. In this example I’ve edited the parts list and balloons according the the sheet purpose after the copy was complete.

@%#&! 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.

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