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AutoCAD Layers Deep Dive Series: Layer States

We know that layers are an important component of working with AutoCAD. We use layers to control colour, linetype, and lineweight of our objects. They control the visibility of objects and they control what is plotted and what isn’t plotted. We organize our drawings via layers.

In this continuing series on AutoCAD Layers I’m taking a deep dive into not just using layers, but using all the tools at our disposal, to be as efficient as possible. I used to always say during my days of teaching AutoCAD that there is a fine line between efficiency and laziness, that we should strive to be lazy, do things as efficient as possible, so that it doesn’t take as long, we don’t have to work as hard, and we have more time for more important things like coffee!

In Part 1 of the series we looked at Layer Filters, in this next part lets take a deep dive look at Layer States

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change ” ― Heraclitus

The one constant thing about layers is that they are constantly in a state of change… layer on, layer off, layer thaw, layer lock, layer color change, layer freeze, layer off, layer on, repeat, and repeat again. Its also very common to perform the same set of state changes on a group of layers. For example, turning off Plumbing, Electrical, and HVAC layers when working on the Walls of a building, and then locking the walls, turning on the Electrical to make changes to the electrical related objects. When you find yourself repeating this process of performing repetitive layer state changes to a group of layers you need to look at using Layer States.

AutoCAD Layer States Dialog

AutoCAD’s Help describes Layer States as a method to “Save, restore, and manage sets of layer settings” The process for capturing a Layer State is very straight forward…. Step#1 set the states of your layers of how you want them captured, Step#2 take the Layer State snapshot.

Creating AutoCAD Layer States

Take for example this architectural drawing. I want to be able to quickly restore all layers to be visible, thawed, and with the correct colors as per my standard. Using the layer dialog I insure everything is set as I want.

AutoCAD Layer States "Everything On"

Next, using the Ribbon, I save the active status of the layers as state “EVERYTHING ON”.

Everything ON layer states in the AutoCAD ribbon

Making further layer changes I freeze layers, turn layers off, and change a couple layer colors. I then capture the current state as Layer State “WORKING THE WALLS”

Layer States "Working with the Walls"

layer states in the AutoCAD ribbon

That’s the process! I now can quickly flip back-and-forth between the two states, quickly restoring the desired layer states.

 Modifying Existing Layer States

OK, now a dilemma. You’ve created a state but realize after that one of the layers is the wrong color and another is frozen and should be thawed. Never fear, the Layer States dialog is here to save the day!

AutoCAD Layer States Dialog

Using the Edit option you can tweak all aspects of the layers… on/off, frozen / thawed, color, linetype, locked / unlocked… you can even remove layers so that they are not controlled by the layer state.

Editing an AutoCAD Layer State

The Options

Take note of the options within the Layer States Manager. You can enable the inclusion of XREF Layers. You also set how you want new layers introduced into the drawing to behave with Layer States. The default option is to have these new layers turned off automatically in the State. To include the layer with the state, so that the Layer State can manage it you need to edit the state and add the layer to the state.

Layer States can be exported so that they can be used in other drawings. Select the Layer State in the Layer States Manager and click the Export button to export the .las file. The import button in this dialog is used to import the .las files.

See it in Action

In Conclusion

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you have groups of layers that you constantly perform the same set of state changes to why would you expect it to get easier each time? Using Layer States you can capture these frequently completed state changes into an easy to restore option.

For a bit of suspense I’ve leaving out the topic of the next AutoCAD Layer Deep Dive…. will it be Layers and Paper Space Layouts? will it be Layers and scripts? will it be layers and the CAD Standards tools? The only way to find out is to tune back into the post… same bat-time, same bat-channel! As always leave us comments, we love to hear the good, the bad, and your questions and suggestions.



Autodesk Inventor 3D Sketch Bends Ease Tube Transitions

I prefer to work in the 2D environment when possible. It’s easier to control factors, but there are times when the 3D sketch environment saves a lot of time, and times where a 3D sketch is simply the only option.

3D Tube Bend Render in Autodesk Inventor

One such instance is routing tubing from a non-orthogonal axis fitting to a mount on an orthogonal axis. I could have used multiple 2D sketches to develop multiple work features in order to handle the transition, but what a waste of time. Plus with those extra steps, the design history gets quite complicated and begging for update failures.

3D Bend

Using a 3D sketch to layout linear geometry and 3D Bend to control the bend transitions is quite easy.  In my example, I have both mounting axes, as well as 2D geometry which delineates start and end segment tube definitions. All I need is the stuff in between.

Autodesk Inventor 3D Sketch Geometry with Work axes

  • Create a 3D sketch, and ‘Include’ all the 2D geometry that is needed as a reference.
  • Draw Line geometry representing the linear segments that are needed in the transitions.
  • Constrain the lines as needed to the references.
  • Add Dimensional constraints as needed.
  • Create 3D Bend at each vertex.


Autodesk Inventor 3D Sketch Bend Geometry

Some Tips

In order for 3D Bend to work, all related linear geometry must be in the same 3D sketch. It will not work on geometry in more than one 3D sketch.

When you use the ‘Include Geometry’ tool, any geometries included can be used in a Sweep operation. In the video below, I demonstrate how included geometry can be used as part of the path in a Sweep. Note that if you want that included geometry to be ignored, just like in 2D sketches, you have to change their type to construction.

A path driven sweep will fail if your included geometry (non-construction) overlaps your sketched geometry. Essentially doubling back on itself. This will cause the Sweep to fail. Since the problem is covered up by well built line-work, it is often very difficult to discover this.

How Does It Update?

Brilliantly! I started with the tube ending all the way up to the flange, but realized that I needed room for a tube hinge  I simply adjusted the 2D sketch references for the gap needed and the updates behaved perfectly.

Autodesk Inventor 3D Sketch Tube Surface Transition

Video Demo on our YouTube Channel


SolidWorks 2014 VS. Inventor 2015 Filleting Showdown

SolidWorks 2014 vs Inventor 2015 Fillet dialogI’ve recently been getting stuck into learning some Autodesk CAM products, the most accessible of which are the HSM products. The dominant product of the three available is naturally the one they were all born from, HSMWorks for SolidWorks. There are far more people using that at the moment, than are using Inventor HSM and CAM 360. As a result, since I’m supporting the products in Australia and New Zealand for CADPRO Systems, I really needed to learn a bit about SolidWorks. So it’s been an intense three weeks learning a new CAD platform to a stage where I could hack up models where needed and effectively toolpath with HSMWorks. I’ve really enjoyed it and although I’ve always respected SolidWorks, as I do other mechanical CAD packages, it was nice to finally see what it’s all about on the other side of the trenches. Unsurprisingly it’s a handy set of noughts and ones, which come together to form a pretty handy tool… much like Inventor is.Curvy Part

These two products have a lot of history, each product has its areas of strengths and weaknesses. One product will suit one business better than the other, then it will be the reverse for the next company. So I don’t want to turn this into a ‘mine is bigger than yours’ contest, but as a long standing Inventor user whom respects SolidWorks achievements and well known surfacing capability, this sure did make me smirk.


Autodesk Inventor Distributed Parameters in Sheet Metal

F-15A_KOQU_Nozzles_18June2005_KenMiddleton_100_7446Image Credit: Ken Middleton – Flickr

Did you ever need to manage Autodesk Inventor Sheet Metal Thickness parameters from another file? A good example of using this is in Top-Down Modeling.

Sheet Thickness Function Categories

I have found it to be very good practice to establish function categories in managed parameters, such as ‘SheetThickHeat1’, ‘SheetThickLoad2’, etc. These form the basis for managing the thicknesses of common sheet metal components based on the environmental factors they will experience, or the funtions they will serve.

Let’s take a turbine engine bay concept including internal liner shields, and external casing panels separated by an insulator. Both groups are going to experience thermal stress, but the inner liner is critical, the insulated outer casing is not.

I would assign the following example:

Non-critical thermal loading – ‘SheetThickHeat1’  = SS14Ga

Critical thermal loading – ‘SheetThickHeat2’ = SS11Ga (actually, I might not use stainless, but you get the point)

Brackets that take a heavy bending load would be assigned a different function parameter than sheet metal parts that don’t.

These parameters are developed in the master skeleton file, and derived into every related part file. I assign these parameters as if I were applying a function category to the part.  If the client decides that they wish to increase the heat in a critical thermal load area, I can change the SheetThickHeat2 parameter and update the liner panels and every other part that shares that parameter. This process takes a bit of creativity and proper application, but I have found it useful in numerous circumstances.

I load all the gauge thicknesses for my steel sheets in the master skeleton parameters as well. In U.S. military aviation we rarely dealt with sheet steel by gauge, but I run into it a lot on the private side of things. Plus, remembering the conversion in mm from one vendor to another is difficult. Having the parameters named such as SS18Ga makes things easier for me.

Tying the Sheet Metal Thickness to a Derived Parameter

In the distant past you could not do this. There was no avenue and all you could do was enter an override integer.

Autodesk Inventor Parameter Editor Locked Sheet Metal

Sheet Metal parameters in a Read-Only state.

However you can currently achieve this in two ways.

Manually Enter the Parameter in the Style Editor

Autodesk Inventor Style Editor Sheet Metal Thickness

You may have noticed that Inventor will permit you to pick a parameter from a recent use list, but there is no ‘List Parameters’ option here. No problem.

Simply manually type the parameter in, and Inventor will allow it.

Manually Override the ‘Use Thickness from Rule’ Option

This is a better option.

If you uncheck this option in the Sheet Metal Defaults, the option to use another parameter is enabled, and the ‘List Parameters’ option appears on the right of the Thickness field.

Autodesk Inventor Sheet Metal Defaults Unlock Thickness

Additionally, this unlocks the parameter field in the Parameter Editor, where you can manually type the derived parameter name, or simply use the ‘List Parameters’ option as well.

Autodesk Inventor Parameters Editor List Option


Client Flexibility

This workflow allows very simple changes to a broad use of sheet metal in an assembly design. Some of my clients like to change their minds, and I enjoy providing a little flexibility.

Autodesk Inventor Small Sheet Metal Parts DesignThe only warning I offer in this workflow is this: when developing tight features such as in the image below, it is a good idea to leave some wiggle room in the design for thickness increase and manufacturability concerns. If you don’t, you may run out of bending room as the thicknesses increase, and the parts will fail to build.

Section Hatch Update Now Available For Inventor 2015

Section Hatch Update - Before & After

Have you added a new material to your library? Did you forget to map your new material to a hatch pattern in your drawing standards? Do you have drawings which are reused from one project to the next but you often change the materials? It’s likely you will have noticed the section hatches won’t update even though you have added the material to hatch map in the drawing standards style. In September 2013 we released the first edition of the D&M Section Hatch Update Add-In for Inventor 2014.D&M Hatch Update AppStore Logo Last week Autodesk approved it for use with Inventor 2015, it is also free, so there really is no excuse for not checking it out. Take a look at the video below to see what it’s all about.


Small Business Design Management at Autodesk

The Cloud IronyDid you know that the very same Cloud that was demonized by so many design firms resistant to any change, is the same platform that is making possible the cost effective, flexible management systems that the same SMB firms desperately need? Irony.

* Software as a Service (Saas)

* Platform as a service (PaaS)

* Integration as a Service (IaaS)

The cloud solves many issues including infrastructure and platform at a substantially reduced price. All you really need to do is access the software and make it work for you.

What Software?

There are a few companies that are working hard to fill the void.

These include Autodesk PLM 360, Microsoft Office 365 and Sharepoint, Arena PLM, Aras PLM, Ally PLM, Kenesto, Siemens Solid Edge SP, CADAC Organice, Autodesk 360, GrabCAD, and more.

Almost all of these have one factor in common. They were built for companies in the SMB space to fit a wide array of workflows and needs. All have very interesting strong points, but none fit the small, but broad range of needs. Today I want to review what Autodesk has been doing.

The Fusion Platform

I’d like to mention Autodesk’s Fusion /Sim/CAM 360. The entire data framework was built on PLM 360 platform, enabling a single, true source for all software to interact with. Managed data would no longer require aggregation from multiple design sources. They truly have a really good overall plan to integrate all these collaborative data management needs in a lightweight framework. The raw data is not accessible enough, nor are there instrumental workflow features yet, but I love the concept and wanted to give them an honorable mention here.


Jitterbit (not affiliated with Autodesk) has a wonderful service that connects you’re a-la-carte datasets in a fluid manner, but at a substantial premium. Each paid connection increases the price and brings us right back to data management costing way too much for small companies. I mentioned them here because they have a great partnership with Autodesk for connecting Vault and PLM 360.

Autodesk PLM 360

Autodesk went after the overall need to manage data, developing a reasonably customizable framework and really did provide a good value and easy-to-adapt data management tool. The problem was that while they included some great design workflows and controls, there are some basic refinements that need to be fulfilled, and Autodesk completely left out the design data part. There is just no realistic method to store and catalogue CAD data on their cloud.

This is understandable as Autodesk already offers CAD PDM, Autodesk Vault, to their customers. Remember SMB data management is now a-la-carte. Jitterbit will gladly connect these two, but at an annual cost, and without any collaborative features. Viewing this from the perspective of a company who has purchased Vault Professional, it does seem weird that Autodesk expects customers used to transferring complex data between their CAD applications for free, to pay a significant annual fee to transfer metadata between their PDM and PLM products.

Autodesk 360 is getting an Overhaul

This product many of you know has been developed as a collaborative storage space. CAD

data is easily accessed by Autodesk CAD software, and people can be invited into the space to collaborate and discuss the design. There are numerous problems from a productive design platform perspective, including the fact that the files are not well discoverable, nor is there any method to catalogue data, and no real management. It’s simply storage and collaboration, and it’s not really comfortable to work in.

I sat in on a meeting with Sheila Wakida, Autodesk’s Sr. product manager for the cloud, who discussed the changes that are taking place in the Autodesk 360 platform. She discussed the timeline for the year and what the company was doing with Autodesk 360.

 The New Plans in Autodesk 360

Better model viewing capabilities, CAD agnostic assembly and dependency detection, and integration with software and services to include things like Dropbox and Autodesk PLM 360.

That’s right. Shortly after Autodesk 360 becomes a premium service this summer, they will integrate PLM 360 in order to merge their capabilities (at this stage the service will only be available in the U.S., U.K., and Germany). That changes the scope of things substantially. Where companies would shun each product because it lacked the other’s capabilities, tying them together opens up a new realm of possibilities for some.

Add in very deep search algorithms, new dashboards for situation awareness and many more features, and Autodesk suddenly becomes much better suited to provide a useful data management solution that is accessible to small design firms.

… and the Battle Begins

Autodesk is not the only game in town. Vendors are diligently pulling together their ideas and solutions in an attempt to answer the question, “Who is providing USEFUL design management tools that meet the flexible needs of today’s small design companies?”. Come see what we found.

Image Credit: Mike King – Flickr & Autodesk