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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

iParts / iAssemblies be gone! Well almost…

I hate iParts and iAssemblies. There, I said it. I’ve never really liked them, and I don’t think I ever will. The difficulties they cause with Vault are my primary issue, and I’ve usually just “found another way” to avoid dealing with them. I do however, love iLogic, and it’s introduction to Inventor provided a breath of fresh air for configurable components and assemblies. A relatively under-utilized, and frequently misunderstood feature in Inventor is the “Place iLogic Component” command. At this point you may be thinking “I don’t want to use iLogic, that’s all about code and stuff.” Well actually, this command doesn’t necessarily require any code to be written at all. You can think of it as “Place” and “Save Copy As” rolled into one command. It allows you to insert a unique component in an assembly and configure it’s options as you go. If you’re familiar with placing custom components from Content Center, it works in a similar way, but doesn’t require authoring in the same way, and is much more flexible. The really handy thing is, if you use it on an assembly, it will create copies of all the children as well, and fix up the references for you.

To demonstrate, I will first provide an example, with no coding required, that just allows you to place a part with size options. For a second example, I’ll use a component with a little bit of code, to really extend it’s usefulness.

So first thing first, where is it? Just click the little drop-down under the “Place Command” and you’ll see it.

Place iLogic Component

 Place iLogic Component Command

The steps that you go through to use it are as follows:

  1. Click the “Place iLogic Component” button.
  2. Select the file that you want to use. It needs to have been configured to allow options to be set on placement. This can be as simple as a user parameter that can be edited.
  3. If you have already added assembly parameters that you want to use, you can set the iLogic component properties to match, using the drop-downs. If not, you can type in a number, or just place the component and then configure it later.
  4. Place the component in the graphics window. If you click multiple times, multiple instances of the same configuration will be placed.
  5. Restart the command to place other unique instances.

I have created a quick play-by-play of these steps using Autodesk Screencast:

Place iLogic Component Workflow

You’ll notice that I first created 3 parameters in the assembly, so that I could quickly assign the lengths to the components as I placed them. This is not compulsory, but can augment some skeletal modelling workflows really nicely.

Now for something slightly more interesting. You may remember my post on “Normalizing iLogic Assemblies.” In it, I touched on “Place iLogic Component” but didn’t really explain it well. The main point of that post was to explain the need for normalising component names. Here I want to focus more on the process of placement, and the flexibility that this command gives, as well as pointing out the “Preview” window.

Consider a plate that can be various widths and lengths, but the number of holes used to fix it, depend on the size. So if it’s less than 65mm long, it only has 4 corner holes, but if it’s over 65mm in length, then it gets additional holes in the center of the long edge. You could build this with an iPart table and conditional suppression, so let’s make it change colour too. This is just a silly example, but it’s here to demonstrate a point. So, we just put the following code into the plate part to watch the named parameters and update it to suit:

Now when we place using “Place iLogic Component,” the rules will run and configure the part based on the parameters we set in the placement process. As a bonus, the “Preview” window allows us to see what the component will look like, with the parameters we have assigned, before we even place it. Just remember to hit the ‘enter’ key after entering each parameter value.

Here it is in action:

I hope this may launch a heated debate in the comments below about the pros/cons of iParts/iAssemblies. The reason I say this, is that I have seen some really effective use of them, and I suspect that there may be some use cases where they are actually a better solution than iLogic, but I haven’t found these cases yet, and I want to!

Feature image credit: dmelchordiaz via photopin cc

@%#&! 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.

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. http://youtu.be/tBbamPpJJcI

AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Blocks

The AutoCAD Deep Dive series is back! With its popularity and how much fun I had with our series on AutoCAD Layers, I’m back with another multi-part series on key AutoCAD functionality, this time BLOCKS.

Blocks Mixed setImage Credit: A. Drauglis – Flickr

Since its October and Halloween is close, I quote everyone’s favorite Halloween doll, Chucky…

“Let me put it this way. If this were a movie, it would take three or four sequels to do it justice.”

and that’s exactly what it is going to take with Blocks, a series of posts, as there is so much built in and I don’t want to overwhelm anyone in any particular post.

What are blocks?

A block is a way of collecting and grouping objects into a single entity. As a single entity it becomes easier to select, to manipulate (move, copy, rotate, etc), and easier to share across multiple drawings. Using blocks leads to consistency and standardization as you and your company use the same symbol in all drawings.

When you create a block, the block definition is added to the drawing database. Each time you insert the block an instance of the block definition is added to the drawing. As each instance is referencing the definition it means a lighter-footprint in the drawing, making AutoCAD work less. If you change the definition, all instances update automatically

Series Table of Contents

  1. Creating Blocks
  2. WBLOCK & Reusing Blocks
  3. Reusing Blocks Part 2 (Toolpalettes, Design Center)
  4. Blocks & Attributes
  5. Modifying Blocks
  6. Annotative Blocks
  7. Extracting Block / Attribute Information
  8. Dynamic Blocks Part 1: Parameters & Actions
  9. Dynamic Blocks Part 2: Parameters & Constraints
  10. Dynamic Blocks Part 3: Visibility & Lists
  11. Converting Xrefs to Blocks
  12. Obtaining Blocks

It’ll be important to check back often so you don’t miss a post, also your comments are greatly appreciated as you can use them to ask questions or to point out areas I should expand on or that I missed.

Autodesk Vault Copy Design 2.0 (aka Vault 2015 R2)

Most people have a real love-hate relationship with Copy Design… its big, clunky, and very slow…. but its still better to use than manually copying and renaming files. With this Autodesk set out to build a bigger, stronger, and much faster Copy Design and voila we have it now in Vault 2015 R2! [If you want to read about all things new in R2 stroll over to our post Autodesk Vault 2015 R2 Summary]

Vault 2015 R2 Copy Design Initial Dialog with Assy LoadedWhen you install Vault 2015 R2 the new Copy Design is installed as a standalone application. This means that you do not launch Copy Design from the Vault Client but from the Programs group, just like Vault and the Job Processor. The copying process has been completely restructured which should lead to much greater performance. With the previous version files were copied local to your system (into the temp) for the magic to happen (copying and renaming) and then checked back in as the new files. Although this happened invisibly to the user it was still time consuming, especially the file transfer back-and-forth between your system and the server. The copying now occurs completely on the server leading to greatly reduced copying times (yeah!)

Here’s the list of enhancements courtesy of the Autodesk Help:

  • Copy at the Component Level
  • Copy Multiple Data Sets
  • Support for non-CAD File Types
  • Faster Performance
  • More Detailed Feedback
  • Create Custom Copy Design Rules
  • Numbering Schemes
  • Customize the Copy Design Interface
  • New Drawing View

Part 1 – Getting the files loaded

After launching the standalone application (and logging in) the first step is to add the files you wish to copy. Using the big plus sign you can search for and add multiple datasets, the “multiple” being one of the new features. A mini-version of the Project Explorer will appear in which you can customize the columns (properties) by either dragging-and-dropping or right-click Choose Columns to add and remove various properties. From this window you want to navigate through the folder structure until you locate the file(s) you want to copy.

Vault 2015 R2 Copy Design Initial Dialog with Assy LoadedSay What? No Searching? Yep, you’ll have to wait for Copy Design 3.0+ for searching. For now you’ll have to do your searching in the Vault Client, but without any means to copy the search results over it becomes awkward quickly.

The main UI can also be tweaked by dragging-and-dropping columns to rearrange and using the right-click menu options to add and remove columns (properties). These changes will stick so that you see the same thing each time you use Copy Design. Right-click options on the files allow for quick expand-all | collapse-all so that you can get a better view of the files and their structure. The Expand option includes 2-levels, 3-levels, and 4-levels on top of the All option. The Add Children option in the ribbon is used to quickly add attachments and Library Files.

To remove the drawings from the View disable the (new) Drawing Views option from the Application Menu.

Part 2 – Making it Happen

Before making your copy selections a few options to be aware of contained within the Application Menu…

  1. Automatically Copy Parents means that the moment you select a component to copy its parents are automatically set to be copied as well
  2. Select References is disabled when you only want to copy the instance of the component, not all references of it in the assembly.[This is new, it used to be all or nothing]

Right-click on the components you want to set the action on and right-click. The available action will vary on the component level and the file type. The options include:

  • Copy: Toggles the component to copy creating a new file in the same location as the original
  • Copy To: Similar to Copy but you will be prompted to select the destination folder for the new copy
  • Copy Branch: Sets the action to Copy for the selected item as well as all of its children
  • Replace: Browse for and select a replacement file
  • Reuse: Is the default action and can be used to remove an action like Copy
  • Reuse Branch: Sets the action to Reuse for the selected item as well as all of its children
  • Exclude: removes the instance from the new copied assembly

The Has Destination column will populate with a folder icon once Copy Design knows where the new copy is going. Hovering your cursor over this icon displays a tooltip with the Path.

The new Actions Panel can be used to quickly filter out the files with the assigned action. For example selecting the “Exclude” tab displays just the files that have been toggled to exclude from the copy operation. The action of the files can be toggled via right-click in these views as well. So far I have found this to be a great check into what I’m actually copying. Also remember that nothing is committed until you click the Create Copy button to accept your changes and initiate the copy process.

Say What? I’ve experienced too many situations where the file hierarchy collapses when you change the action. For example change the action to reuse on a child component and the entire tree collapses and I don’t know why.

The Where Used panel provides a Source and Destination option so that you can quickly see where the files are coming from (Source) and where the copies are going (Destination). Because you can copy individual instances (now) a particular component might have multiple destinations.

Use the Folders Panel to review the source and destination folders of the copied data, a different view of the Where Used Panel but another mechanism to review that the copied files are going to end up in the correct location. As a bonus you can apply operations based on the folder location. You can also drag-and-drop files between folders or from the main view to add to the copy.

Part 3 – Setting the Copied Names

Here’s a big change from the old Copy Design, you do not use the main window you adjust the name of the copied file. The Numbering Panel lists all the files selected to copy, with both the original name and the new name. This Panel will show tabs for each numbering scheme used within Copy Design and organize the files based on the scheme applied. With files with no scheme applied you can manually adjust the destination file name, apply a prefix (before the base name) or postfix (after the base name). You can apply changes to the three (pre, post, and base) on a selection of files.

Autodesk Vault 2015 R2 Set Prefix ValueThe options presented on the specific numbering scheme tab is completely dependent on the numbering scheme

Autodesk Vault 2015 R2 Copy Design Set Nummber Scheme

 

Part 4 – What Else can I do?

There’s one more area of Copy Design 2.0 which honestly I think could kick ass, well at least when it comes to copying files… Rule Sets… but I need a bit more time of exploration, testing, and putting into action before I can really comment. Rule Sets are rules you define to make things happen automatically as you copy files. This could be to assign a file category, set properties, clear properties, remove iLogic, and things of this nature. Only one Rule Set can be applied during the copy operation but each Rule Set can contain multiple rules..

There are default rules included “out-of-the-box” which are provided to give similar functionality as the old Copy Design. This includes rules to use the part number as a new file name, removing iLogic rules, and resetting the category of the file so that the new file category assignment rules are applied.

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