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Marco Mirandola from coolOrange sits down for a chat with D&M at AU2014

On my recent trip to Vegas for Autodesk University 2014, I was lucky enough to collar Marco Mirandola, CEO of coolOrange, for a sit-down chat about the company and the products they produce. Marco very kindly gave up a couple of hours of his time, which isn’t easy for anyone at the hectic madhouse that is “AU”.

If you haven’t heard of coolOrange, they’re a development house that specialises in 3rd party tools for Autodesk products, primarily data management tools for Vault and Inventor. Aside from the software itself, they maintain a very active blog, and frequently post code samples and useful tips for Inventor and Vault customisation. A great example of a modern company that is not afraid to give away some IP for nothing, even though they also sell commercial products. Rather than give the game away in a summary though, I’ll leave it to Marco to tell you more about his company, with his answers to my questions below.


GB: I’m a little confused. Obviously you’re still CEO of coolOrange but do you have a role inside Autodesk?

MM: I used to work at Autodesk between 2005 and 2009 as a product manager for Data Management. I came into Autodesk as part of the compass acquisition.


GB: How did you start out in the world of coding?

MM: I started out as a freelancer working on machinery with PLCs combined with computers. I was developing software that would read AutoCAD geometry and convert to information that a PLC could understand to drive custom machinery for machining window extrusions.


GB: How was coolOrange formed?

MM: In 2009, Autodesk downsized development in a big way. All the co-founders of coolOrange were affected by this. Coincidentally, I got out just before this happened. I found myself looking for a job and so were some of my ex-coworkers. I realised we had a lot of knowledge and connections, so we wondered if we could turn it into a business. We asked one main question, which was: ‘What was not going to change over the next 7 years in Autodesk?’ We found a gap in support and consulting. Product support is great for product questions. If you have customisation questions, ADN is not as accessible for smaller entities or short term issue solving. On the other hand, we had years of experience working with resellers, we knew how they worked, and how Autodesk works, so we decided to fill that gap. Project related consulting rather than product related.

GB: Tell me about the coolOrange team, and your role as CEO.

MM: 14 people. 2 sites, 1 in Italy, 1 in Germany. 12 developers with different skill sets. Database experts, UI experts, architects. They have a lot of knowledge of the Inventor API, Autocad Mechanical API, Vault API etc. It’s a diverse team, but almost all developers. I’m a technical CEO, but still spend time developing. I also branch out and try new things in areas like finance and marketing, to test ideas that may enhance our business. Once I have the answer I need, I then pass that responsibility off to others.


GB: What’s your favourite language to work with?

MM: I started with C (and the Borland compiler), then moved onto C++. I touched on other languages like java, as well as php, html, and javascript as well. C# was definitely something that I fell in love with quite quickly, just because of the simplicity compared to C, but I don’t think there has ever been one language for everything. I think there is a language for each particular case, for instance Powershell is ugly for developers, but it’s lovely for non-developers and there is definitely a purpose for it, and it makes sense. The real cool thing right now I think, is all this REST API stuff that is currently going on, because it just makes it so simple to get access to so many technologies. As an example, the powerGate solution that we just created connects with SAP, which is a bit of a black box. SAP came out with a new technology about 3 years ago called Gateway, which is actually a REST server, so now you can talk to SAP via a RESTful API without needing to know anything about how the system behind it is working. Same as Facebook, Twitter, PLM360, I don’t know how they work in the background, but I don’t need to. I just send out a REST call, and I receive an XML or JSON string which I can read and interpret. So this notion of REST APIs definitely fits well with the philosophy of coolOrange.


GB: Why did you pick powershell as the base for a lot of your tools?

MM: We needed a scripting language. Number 1 was, how can we allow an application engineer (AE) to create his own job. Every AE somehow has some scripting experience, maybe lisp, maybe javascript. Secondly, we needed a scripting language which was easy enough to digest and widely available. We considered PERL and Ruby too, but settled on powershell because it’s ubiquitous, on every Microsoft system, meant for IT people not developers and it’s tightly integrate with Microsoft systems. Extensions for SQL, exchange, share point, active directory etc. Microsoft is almost a standard, and we try to avoid niche proprietary stuff.

GB: Data Standard was gently criticised by Doug Redmond as being a bit of an “API for an API.” How would you respond to that?

MM: Doug’s comments are perfectly correct from a technical point of view or developer point of view. Data standard is a framework on top of the vault API framework. Inside data standard you can access the vault API so it is kind of cyclic. The things that data standard reduces are the configuration and setup type tasks which require developer skills. Think of Data Standard as a kick starter for customisation.


GB: How do you see customisation of Autodesk products changing as we transition to a cloud world and RESTful APIs?

MM: It’s a tough question, because it depends how you look at it. If you look at it from a customer perspective, what I would be excited about would be that as an owner of the system, I’m finally in a position of being able to read and do something with my data. Up to this point, generally speaking, most data management systems have been of a proprietary nature, and to get access to MY data, I’d usually need to learn some sort of proprietary development language. It’s my data, I’m creating it every day, but to get it out to do other things with it, I usually would need to pay a developer to do it for me. With the cloud and REST APIs, everything suddenly gets so much simpler, more transparent and more standardised. This is even better if they’re using OData, which is a standard that came out of Microsoft which standardises things even more. So from a user perspective, I think these technologies will meaning gaining back ownership and control of my data. Migration is the other big thing. In the past, I may use a big proprietary system for 10 years, and then decide to move to another system. In some cases, moving the data from one to the other becomes too hard, and I’ve heard people say they’re going to have to start from scratch. Huh? That’s seems crazy, and not a very practical solution. So I think these technologies we’re talking about, will help a lot in that sense.


GB: What gets you excited about developing software?

MM: I have a software development background. I realised early on that I was more interested in the cool things people could do with my products, than how cool the code was. It’s the thing that drives coolOrange. So basically, as we founded the company, the idea was to put people who were not developers, in a position to be able to still do some customisation that would extend their software beyond the standard. .NET does not help. If you are a developer, .NET is great, but if you are not a developer, you have no chance, because it’s complex, and cumbersome. Visual Studio, getting into compiled assemblies and references and all of that, is difficult, and takes a lot of time to learn. All the tools we are developing, for example powerJobs, myView (which became Data Standard, through the acquisition by Autodesk,) powerGate (which we are currently working on for ERP integration,) are all being developed with the idea of addressing application engineers needs. These are highly-skilled technical people, but they’re not necessarily developers, but we want to bring them into a position where they can execute a project, with knowledge and resources, and get them excited that they can now do something that they didn’t think they could do with tools that are more-or-less “easy” to use. That is really what drives us.


GB: Do you build software with intention for it to be bought by Autodesk and incorporated, or is that just a bonus?

MM: We don’t start with the intention to get acquired by Autodesk, but we do have the intention to get enough visibility, that Autodesk might want to acquire our technologies. If we get to the point where Autodesk might acquire us, we know we are doing well. From the beginning, I have always wanted to have contact and exposure worldwide, and not build a “local” company.

And to finish off, a few questions for Marco from our very own Scott Moyse:

SM: What is your favourite Italian car?

MM: The Tesla, which is not Italian. People tell me that the BMWs are better, but I like the approach of Elon Musk. Nothing seems to be a barrier to that guy.


SM: Favourite Italian dish?

MM: Pizza. No, seriously, it’s pizza.


SM: Favourite Italian wine?

MM: Lagrein (from where I’m from South Tyrol)


Image credit: Oranges by Free Photos


Timothy McDonald and Glenn Larson of Ft. Walton Machining: Interview

Ft. Walton Machining’s Transition to CATIA, an Interview with Timothy McDonald and Glenn Larson

After the visit to the Ft. Walton Machining facility, Timothy McDonald, the company’s Program Manager and Secretary / Treasurer invited me back to his office for a chat. We were joined by Glenn Larson, the company’s CAD-guru and software technology manager, who heads the engineering department. The two discussed everything from CAD software to management. What follows is a collection of topics that were cleared for print.

At the time of this interview, Ft. Walton Machining is using Inventor and CATIA Design to perform all of its engineering model preparation for manufacturing. While they are in process of purchasing more seats of CATIA design, and adding CATIA’s manufacturing modules, they currently use MasterCAM for all of their CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) needs.

Timothy McDonald - Ft Walton Machining

McDonald started out his career sweeping floors in his father’s shop, and ultimately moved up to programming machines. He went off to South Alabama Univeristy and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2007. He returned to ultimately take on the position of company Secretary /Treasurer and their Program Manager.

I began the discussion by recalling the tight control the company had on materials. I remembered being able to pick up any remaining piece of metal, and the team could tell me exactly what parts it was ordered for, material properties, etc. The opposite was true as well.

DM: “I recall from my last visit that your team has a very tight handle on accountability with not only the components produced, but also the stock materials at every step of the process. How is that managed?”

TM: “We currently use SysPro for our ERP system. This includes all of our traceability, job status tracking, material requirements, and contracts. It’s been online here for about 3 years and is doing really well. Back in the day we used to be able to schedule our machines on a white board. Earlier products we used were easier, but we’ve tripled in size and we soon realized we’d outgrown the previous software. SysPro was the next step up. It is a bit more cumbersome and complex, as there are more locks to go through, but we are working through it pretty well. Like any software, you have to customize the out-of-the-box functionality to suit the application that your business uses.”

DM: “Are you still using Autodesk Inventor to prepare your model data before manufacturing?”

TM: “We are moving to CATIA. It’s much more intuitive than our previous product which was MasterCAM. One of the bigger problems you get into with multiple software systems in one house is multiple formats. For example, using MasterCAM for CAM [Computer Aided Manufacturing], Inventor for CAD {Computer Aided Design}, and PC DMIS for CMM [Coordinate Machine Measuring], you have multiple file translations occurring. CATIA has all those in one package; you lose all the interruptions and transition headaches.

DM: “Is that cost effective?”

TM: “It’s very cost effective. It is a significant initial cost, not only in terms of purchasing the software, but also the training and inefficiency during that crossover…Plus, everyone is going MBD [Model Based Definition]. No one wants to deal with 2D drawings anymore. When we receive a 2D drawing, it still has to be loaded into CAD and CAM in order to prepare the toolpaths. Considering complex 5-axis contoured toolpaths, it becomes almost impossible to translate those from 2D to 3D.We are the largest supplier of airframe parts for the F-35, and when you look at those models, there is not a straight surface on them. While MBD is helping us, it is going to cost us some initial heartache. You have to keep up with the customer, and they don’t have any problem packing up and going somewhere else if they can’t get what they need at a price they want, and when they want it.”

“We’ve gone to a drawing vault system from Dassault called SmartTeam. Not only is the model data catalogued, but also all the separate processes are driven through SmartTeam. It flows from department to department as tasks, and has created a lot of visibility for that upfront work [work orders and tasking] that we didn’t necessarily have in the past. For configuration control purposes, all of our drawings are locked down in that vault. Configuration control is huge in this business. We no longer have problems where old drawings might get down to the floor.”

DM: “What kind of volume is the company doing currently?”

TM: “We’re seeing somewhere along the lines of 2.5 to 3 million dollars in sales monthly. We’re probably looking to hit 24 million in sales this year. We started the new Materials Finishing Division recently, making us much more vertically integrated. We’ve just won our largest contract to date. Its $24 million with Goodrich on newly designed floor panels for CH-47 Chinook helicopters. We are a 24-7 operation with 211 employees today.

Ft Walton Machining - Glenn Larson

Glenn Larson has been involved in CAD and manufacturing for over a decade. After Lee Minor left a few the company a few years ago, Glenn  stepped up to take over the engineering department’s care. He has my passion for design and manufacturing software, and spends similar loads of time with the subject as I. (He MUST be an OK guy)

DM: “Happy to be leaving MasterCAM?”

GL: “I don’t do the programming, so I’m happy about it, but by the day, they [programmers] are becoming happier. Regularly I show them new ways that CATIA will accomplish their tasks. Now all of them are excited to use it, and 6 months ago no one wanted to talk about it. What’s really exciting is the speed we’re going to pick up.”

DM: “Are you dumping the entire Autodesk Inventor line?”

GL: “No, we’re going to keep a copy of Inventor here, and let me tell you why. Nobody in the industry has the drafting tools that AutoCAD has; it’s as simple as that. Are you familiar with full Model Based Definition. [I’m nodding]. If you’re going to have any kind of drafting power, you’re going to need to keep a seat of it [AutoCAD]. Any time you buy a seat of Inventor, you get AutoCAD. You can pull in old PDF drawings and scale them. We get a lot of old aircraft drawing PDF’s that lack sufficient detail, and we may need to gather information out of those drawings, and I like AutoCAD to do that.”

“We’ll keep 1 or 2 seats [of Inventor] around, and use the sheet metal unfolding capabilities as well. CATIA does it well, but there will be some transitional time. We currently have 5 seats of Inventor, and 1 seat at a time we’ll eliminate it down to 1 or 2 seats.”

DM: “Once you get that Sheet Metal module for CATIA, and you can operate completely in one platform you are unlikely to go outside.”

GL: “Not only that but it has more power.”

DM: “Have you found it to be better tuned to the type of aviation work that you do?”

GL: “Yes. The surfacing tools in Inventor are a bit lacking, but the surfacing tools in CATIA are marvelous. I’ve been using these for about 3 years now after we bought what is called our ‘masking’ module. I didn’t realize that when I bought the masking module that I was getting the surface module. You can take a surface out of anything and flatten it out; doesn’t matter how complicated it is. We bought it for our Metal Finishing Division, where they could take complex surfaces off and print them out on a cutting plotter.”

DM: “We used Inventor and Fusion once to do some complex sheet metal clips that were rolled and then stamped. It was quite a tedious task.”

GL: “It’s a push of a button for me [grinning], and that is where you get the power of a company that has been involved in building aircraft. Once I saw the power I started digging in more and more. The real kicker is the true model based definitions. Boeing is great with this. [He gestures to one component that I was not permitted to discuss] That component came in with true model based definition; all the annotations were on the model.

DM: “and tolerancing?”

GL: “All the tolerancing. They bring it to you with the material; they add the extra piece of material with the coupons modeled into it; they add the assembly parts into it. All the notes are included; standard notes and flag notes, it’s all in the model. It’s amazing, you don’t need any paper at all. All they give you is a model, and nothing else. There is nothing to interpret it by. If you don’t know how to do model based definition, you are not going to read it.

DM: “Are you seeing any particular MBD standards or certifications being demanded from your clients?”

GL: “Boeing is leading the way in this. I don’t know of a standard, but I know that’s coming. As for the model, it’s all revision controlled. When we receive the model we lock it into our revision center, and it can’t change.”

DM: “I know Boeing audits your processes. Do they audit that as well?”

TM: “There is a MBD approval process. They won’t give you MBD models if you are not approved.”

GL: “The approval process generally surrounds having the software to read the files [CATIA].”

DM: “Tell me about your revision and job control processes.”

GL: “There is SysPro and SmartTeam. SysPro is our MRB system, where we process the jobs through. SmartTeam is our configuration control system. It starts out in SmartTeam which is where all of our intellectual property is stored. It goes through a CRB Process [contract review], and then on to document control, and then to the engineering department. At that point, drawing based data simply goes through the peer review process, programming, and quality review. If they send me a model, it goes through an MBD review. I certify that the MBD is right using a stripping tool in CATIA. It’s actually an FAI (First Article Inspection Form) that it’ll make for me. Then we’ll step the model out [referring to exporting a STEP file]. This is where things get sticky with the MBD certification. You see Boeing expects you to be able to certify that once you step the file out, that it hasn’t changed; now how do you do that?”

DM: “You validate the final product.”

GL: “Yes, but it doesn’t get validated against the CATIA file, it gets validated against the STEP file that you made from the CATIA file. Every time we export that file, there are problems and losses associated. CATIA files are intelligent and feature based. You run that model through the CAM software, and pick a pattern of holes, it’s going to find that pattern of holes and machine it. Then when the QA department uses Metrologic software that’s developed by CATIA to measure the features, CATIA checks the features.”

“When you step it out and open that in MasterCAM, it’s twice converted; you’ve got a problem on your hands. Is that file good? I’d say it’s probably within thousandths, but when you start talking tenths, it’s not. Nothing coming from the aviation industry is straight, and the conversions are nasty. I get it the worst with Unigraphics STEP file formats. You get gaping holes in stuff.”

“There is one STEP file format that is certified by Boeing, that they say will be identical to the original CATIA file. That software is $10,000 USD [jaw drop]. Do I spend $10,000 on that or do I spend it on CATIA software?”

DM: “The CATIA performance boost must be wonderful”

GL: “Let me give you an example [Glenn gestures to the big weldment frame member on the desk]. In MasterCAM what I have to do is to slice this wall here and draw a rail, and slice this wall up here and draw a rail in order to get that ruled surface. It’s the only way I can tell that software to tilt that head [5-axis machining]. Even if it’s just pockets, I have say: run down this line, and draw that line in there, as contours. With CATIA, click the pocket, click the wall, machine it [he claps his hands together for effect].”

“One on the latest innovations in MasterCAM is OptiRough. With OptiRough, you click on the model and click on the stock and say: rough this out within 0.020 in. Programmers love it because they don’t have to draw all the toolpaths… but there’s a problem. They are doing it with Troquoidal tooling; they are peel-milling it and that is the only option. Now you will lose 25% of your efficiency on a part this big [gesturing to the big frame], I don’t want to waste a bunch of time spinning in circles, I want to bury that cutter and go; straight down. It’s problematic and I didn’t realize how problematic it was until I went to that CATIA class.”

I discussed a similar experience with another vendor’s High-Speed Machining technique that took a half hour to do a 10 minute profile. The tool paths spent more time cutting over pre-cut regions than they did cutting material.

GL: “That’s what I ran into with MasterCAM; a lot of needless passes; table jerking around all over the place. I can’t understand why the software is trying to behave this way. This new High-Speed technique is supposed to automate the methodologies needed to machine the parts, but it doesn’t. When you do that [use automated tool path calculations] in CATIA, you control that. You are going to use those High-Speed Machining techniques, but you are going to tell it how, and it gives you that control.”

I’m not trying to sell you on CATIA, it’s just that I have learned a whole lot recently that blows my mind. I didn’t know how handicapped we were.

DM: “Does the engineering aspect in CATIA feel good?”

GL: “Engineering is a bit more difficult. It’s harder to model in it. I’ve been modeling in Inventor for a long time; modeling parts for aircraft as well, and I can move fast in that. One thing I like about Inventor is the constraints menu. You pick the constraint, and then what you want to constrain. With CATIA, you pick on your elements and then on to constrain. I’m not as happy with that as I could have been. But then there is the power of their tree; it’s much better. There is so much stuff you can do in CATIA that can’t be done in Inventor, such as fillets on short walls. “

“One thing about CATIA: I found the manufacturing software much easier to use, and the modeling software much harder to use. I suppose this stems from what I was proficient at first.”

DM: “You are sitting on 5 seats of Inventor, and how many MasterCAM?”

GL: “9 copies of MasterCAM, 10 if you include the wire. I have 1 seat of design, and I’m adding 2 seats of machining this year. Those 2 seats will feed 4 of my programmers. Then next year we will move to 2 more seats… and that’s it. That doesn’t include the Lathe and Wire departments. We will no longer need 9 seats of MasterCAM here; we’ll keep 1 updated.”

Final Thoughts

I am passionate about Autodesk Inventor modeling, and all the improvements that are being added. That said, there is no doubt that Dassault CATIA is a full featured and complete manufacturing powerhouse. Autodesk is in the process of including numerous aspects of manufacturing and management into their software, but unfortunately the dust had not settled on the HSMWorks purchase at the time of this interview, nor had the company purchased Delcam. Would that have changed anything for Ft. Walton Machining? Probably not.

Ft. Walton Machining’s purchase of CATIA mostly for its surface flattening capabilities is a strong argument for more powerful feature technology in other vendor’s products. FWM purchased a vastly more expensive CAD product than they were already using, and after experiencing more of what it could do, they were willing to not only replace all their CAD/CAM software with Dassault, but also to keep it all in the family, and move their management platform to Dassault as well. That reseller is having a party [I can think of one that is probably not, the one that seriously dropped the ball here].

FWM continues to stay on the cutting edge of manufacturing and efficiency to keep a very impressive list of client’s happy. That includes spending a small fortune on software, and arguably at this point in time, they have made a wise investment.

Visiting them again in a few years should prove to be a real litmus test for companies that are looking to make similar changes to their manufacturing and engineering departments.

The Autodesk Insight on the Morgan Motor Company Contest

Marion LandryRecently we interviewed Sean Young of HP regarding his take on judging the ongoing Morgan Motor Contest, and what we needed to do in order to win the $5000 cash prize and the HP Z-Book workstation that are up for grabs. We understand that the rules and criteria of the contest are well established, however we wanted to get a feel for as many of the judges’ personal perspectives that each entry would be reviewed through. We got the opportunity to speak with Marion Landry, Technical Marketing Manager at Autodesk, and Chrysoulla Srabian, Marketing Manager, Cross Industry, who told us what was important to them, and what was going on in their camp.


D&M: “How has the contest been progressing?”

Chrysoulla SrabianCS: “We’ve seen almost 45,000 page views, and we’re watching the progress on Facebook (Autodesk’s 3ds Max & Showcase Facebook Pages), as well as on the Autodesk Area site.”

D&M: “What key factors are important to Autodesk when judging these entries?”

ML: “It’s mainly an advertisement for a Morgan Motor Company. We want to see creative ways of using the 3-wheeler. The model is completely customizable; stickers, materials, overlays, you can go wild and get really creative. For me, it is interesting to see how software can be used creatively to achieve this. But the competition is not just about each software but also about art direction and 2D design. Don’t forget, Pixlr ( Autodesk’s online image editor) is available for completing the ad layout. It’s a well-rounded 2D and 3D competition.

ML: “There are a lot of images available in Morgan Motor Company’s magazine ‘MOG’. Contestants can get a lot of inspiration from these. The ad doesn’t have to be just one rendering, it can have multiple slides with sporty and contrasting customization of the vehicle. If the contestant isn’t the best at rendering, they could use this approach to really bring out just how customizable the vehicle is.

D&M: “After speaking with Talenthouse, It was my impression that this was primarily an ad. However I started to get the feeling that it was more about the rendering. How do you feel about this?”

ML: “The ad will have a life of its own and will continue on beyond the extent of the contest. Rendering is a tool to be used to create the ad [as are the other processes required to make the ad]. Ask yourself: “Can Morgan Motor Company use this to promote their vehicle?”…Yes, then Bingo! It’s not just the rendering, but a photo-edited product, so tweak it! Some contestants might be first time trial users of the software trial, but have great strengths in advertising.

CS: “Big automotive companies use high complexity visualization and rendering platforms to produce their products. As with so many things, the Morgan Motor Company does not conform to the typical automotive design process. Morgan Motors is still family owned and it is a smaller company. As with all of their cars, the design workflow for the Morgan Motors 3-wheeler is more similar to your more typical product design process. The contest as a result is more approachable by people in many industries. Morgan Motor Company appreciates creativity and we are all looking forward to seeing the same type of excitement with creativity from a broad spectrum of people in the final ad.”

D&M: “Did you have anything else you wanted potential contestants to know about the contest?”

CS: “Autodesk works with some really cool brands; big names. Running the old 3ds Max Design Hero contest, I loved the ability to showcase the talent of artists that haven’t quite ‘made it’ yet. Many of these people have amazing skill and create beautiful work. In this new contest format, we can connect these artists with companies like the Morgan Motor Company. We really love this aspect, we applaud Talenthouse for their crowd-sourcing approach; taking a community of artists and connecting them to the world.”

Autodesk’s Area Site

clip_image001Autodesk’s Area site has always been one of the most informative product related sites I have found. Marion posted the Morgan Motor Contest ad page on the Area site, and has received a huge response in the comments there.

She spends a good amount of time answering questions including technical issues about using the software. The image to the right is an example that she posted helping someone applying a decal in Autodesk 3ds Max Design. She also provided close up images of the 3 wheeler to help contestants understand the Morgan 3 wheeler in more details if they plan to add small missing components Contestants should definitely check out these links to get some really great ideas and technical assistance using the software.

Link to the Area’s News and Announcements Post about the Contest

Marion’s Tips for Success

Marion has posted a design FAQ on the Talenthouse site in order to help contestants with their entries. She discusses design, rendering, and contest concerns. It is a really good piece that everyone should read, with image examples and a lot of good information. She also adds tips and tricks for Showcase and 3ds Max Design on her YouTube channel.

Additionally she pointed out a link there to a step by step video guide for the contest put together by Sean Young, which is another great resource*.


There is definitely more than one way to approach the contest. I was quite relieved to hear Autodesk’s perspective on the contest, and how it’s not only the rendering, but more importantly it’s an advertisement for Morgan Motor Company. From what I have learned it really does not matter how good you are with the software, or how creative you are with the customizations. If you can capture Morgan Motor Company’s passion for the car and their customers, and bring that to the world in an inspiring advertisement, you are definitely on Marion Landry’s radar. I’m betting if you nail that combination, you’ll be a hit with all the judges, including the most important one, Morgan Motor Company.

*Don’t forget to make use of Design & Motion’s quick start guide for rendering Morgan 3 wheeler’s in the wild, if you are a late starter in this competition then our tutorial is a perfect place to start.


FORE! CFD just went mainstream

A couple of weeks ago John & I got to Interview Autodesk Product Marketing Manager, SimulationLuke Mihelcic. Some of you will have read about Autodesk’s launch of Autodesk Flow Design. Some of you may have even seen it feature as part of the Super Bowl. I don’t know about you lot, but we were pretty impressed that Autodesk managed to feature so prominently as part of the jewel in the crown of America’s greatest past time (some might say). Luke did an incredible job of fielding alternating questions from New Zealand and Florida simultaneously, while we all had fun doing so. Anyway, let’s crack on with the goods shall we?

Note: This interview wasn’t recorded unfortunately, so Luke’s responses have been paraphrased throughout.

Autodesk Inventor Flow Design FORD Pickup

D&M: Why didn’t Autodesk Flow Design get a standard Autodesk Simulation name?

Luke: With Autodesk Flow design we are targeting the designer market, rather than the traditional simulation audience. Flow Design is very similar to Autodesk Simulation DFM (Design For Manufacturability) in the sense they are both purpose built with a narrow focus. It does one thing and does it very well. Not only do we have the standalone version, but both Inventor and Revit have Add-Ins. This introduces a familiar ease of use and level of feedback appropriate for an associate degree level individual and maybe an engineer. Additionally it’s very geometry tolerant, unlike full blown simulation tools. With this in mind it’s quite likely Flow Design will mostly be used for mechanical or architectural products. That’s why simulation isn’t in the name, it’s more about helping to guide the design & make sure the basic design specifications are being met at an early stage. I know one of the things we want to do is build purpose built tools for specific applications, so don’t be surprised if you see more purpose built tools.

D&M: Is there a cost benefit?

Luke: Cost benefit is tough to measure, but there definitely is one. For example, you currently do wind tunnel testing.  Every time you do a different configuration, you are charged for that configuration.  With Flow Design, however, you can reduce the number of physical wind tunnel tests by optimizing your design and possible configuration before you go to the testing facility.

In addition, you’re not doing any wind tunnel testing or conceptual design simulation. A problem with design later in the development process causes you to have to re-work it when it’s more expensive. Had you used Flow Design early in the process, however, you could have optimized the design and reduced the amount of design re-work.

D&M: Is Autodesk changing tack slightly with this? In the sense that this tool seems more appropriate for pre-design, whereas the full blown simulation tools are more appropriate for post design validation?

Luke: We’re not changing, but adding a new tactic instead. We’re trying to create a new audience since no one is creating these designer level tools.

D&M: How are you making it easier to understand the results?

Luke: Flow design basically just gives you lift & drag results. As long as you know what they are, you can look at what those mean & look at changing the design to alter those figures. One of the most powerful aspects to Flow Design is the CAD application integration. This translates to the ability to adjust the design and receive immediate feedback. Ideally designers don’t want to wait for a simulation to run, so that feedback needs to be fast and Flow Design doesn’t disappoint. As you play around with the design and see the result of those changes, it builds your understanding of the results, it teaches you to recognise better results. So in that respect, the visuals give you the lion’s share of the feedback for those who don’t understand that as much. For example, you might want to try to limit recirculation & streamline flow etc… It’s really about the visuals, just like DFM.

D&M: This brings up the next question nicely… Is the solver desktop based?

Luke: Autodesk Flow Design is not a cloud solving tool, it runs extremely fast locally. The development team have done a lot of creative things under the hood to achieve this. In most cases the product videos on our website & around the web are showing the tool running on a standard mobile workstation!

ANSYS Fluent & Autodesk Flow Design comparison

D&M: Have you done any benchmarking of this solver against wind tunnel results?

In terms of validation documents, you can access those materials here.  In addition, Luke wanted to pass along an even more detailed PDF with links to relevant information.

D&M: The validation document makes for interesting reading. It really is impressive how close Autodesk Flow Design is relative to highly respected & much more costly CFD software.

D&M: Is there any reason why this didn’t go straight onto the 360 platform?

Luke: Project Falcon was developed as an Autodesk LABS tool almost a full year before we had any cloud simulation tools. That said, we wanted to create tools that work where designers are using them now, and that is currently on the desktop. As designers and our target audience migrate to the cloud, however, we will re-evaluate how we want to deliver Flow Design.

D&M: What enhancements have been made since Project Falcon and prior to full release?

Luke: Most of the enhancements were within the User Interface. This started out as a very successful Labs project, but when people are being charged money they have difference expectations, so we added some polish to fulfil those. Performance has also been greatly improved, it’s pretty amazing seeing it running inside Autodesk Inventor. With regards to functionality, there aren’t any new tools, it’s still all about wind speed & direction.

D&M: Does it handle multi fluids? Such as water & air flow analysis for marine applications?

Luke: There have been a few requests for multi fluids. But it’s air only at the moment. The challenge with water, is most people want it to be free surface, which is a whole ‘nuther ball of wax, it really is full blown CFD. Plus it doesn’t really fit the target audience. The person wanting to do free surface simulation is probably a full blown engineer or analyst. So we probably won’t see that coming. In addition it’s purely external airflow, so it’s no good for pumps etc.

D&M: Which area do you see this specific focused approach to simulation being used next?

Luke: Designers already have crazy ‘early on’ tools already, such as the Force Effect group of applications. We really want to make sure we have the right tool, for the right person, at the right time in the design process. We have done a really good job hitting people with mid-range tools & then full on high end SIM tools with CFD & Mold Flow. We will probably start to see ‘point tools’ to address the gap between Pre-Design and Post-Design, along the lines of tools seen in Inventor Professional, DFM & Flow Design are recent examples. This is how I see the really high level general road map.

Autodesk Simulation DFM

D&M: How have users reacted to the Inventor Add-in vs the standalone application?

Luke: The functionality is identical between the two. The add-in allows real-time modification, whereas the standalone application extends Flow Design out to Non Inventor and Revit users. The feedback has been hugely positive, especially in relation to how geometry tolerant it is. You just don’t have to clean up geometry, there’s no mesh for the user to deal with, and you just run your simulation.

D&M: What kind of adoption have you seen?

Luke: Well that’s to be determined. We will see more clearly once the Labs project expires.

D&M: Which industries are most prevalent?

Luke: With Autodesk Revit having an Add-In, the AEC industry can study any adverse effects of their designs. Of course there’s a lot of opportunity within the automotive industry, such as people making components and after-market parts. A lot of start companies would likely find this useful. The Morgan Motor Company is a great example of a company that could benefit in the early stages of their designs.

Autodesk Revit Flow Design City high rise simulation

D&M: So what does it cost?

Luke: $35 USD per month, or $210 per annum. We’re only offering term licenses which can only be purchased on our e-store. At this stage it’s only available in English. Unfortunately there’s a technical issue preventing us from selling it in Brazil at this stage. Our team is working on resolving it ASAP.

D&M: What support is available for Flow Design?

Luke: Basic support is included which will primarily be executed via email and the Autodesk support forums.

D&M: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Luke, as always it was a pleasure!

Design and Motion have been given access to Flow Design, so we will setup it up and take it for a spin. Keep an eye out for a post in the next couple of weeks.

To cap off this interview, take a look at Flow Design in action at Super Bowl XLVIII in the videos below:

What does everyone think about this Designer tailored approach to simulation? Let us know in the comments below.

Special thanks to the Autodesk PR team for choreographing the supporting information for this interview.


Interview with MMC Contest Judge Sean Young of HP

Sean Young of HP (Worldwide Segment Manager, Product Development & AEC), I love contests. Not only are competitions fun, but they promote wonderful creativity and they have free goodies! The Morgan Motor Company competition is better than most competitions. Why?

  • They supply the model files and software for everyone
  • The prizes are really hot!

I got the opportunity to chat with Sean Young of HP (Worldwide Segment Manager, Product Development & AEC), who is one of the judges in the competition. I thought his insight might prove useful to everyone planning to give the competition a go.

HP and Autodesk

D&M: “Why did HP and Autodesk partner up for this competition; what was the motivation there?”

Sean: “HP and Autodesk go way back together. The competition had been planned for some time. We felt that Morgan Motor Company’s new 3-wheeler provided a great opportunity for the competition. Morgan Motor Company was excited about users designing their new ad. They are an interesting company; they love to help their clients customize their vehicles. Some owners even come into the factory. Everyone really gets into it.”


D&M: “What do you think is special or exciting about this competition?”

Sean: “That’s easy – it’s the prizes. You saw the contest page; a $5000 cash prize. Then we are providing an HP Zbook workstation nicely equipped and includes an NVIDIA graphics card. Also equally valuable is the exposure. Contest winners will get exposure for their work in Morgan Motor Company’s ads, in their magazine, on the web, and other places such as auto shows and so-on. It’s a great opportunity.”

D&M: “What criteria are the judges looking for?”

Sean: “Well it’s detailed on the contest page.” (I was digging for something a bit more personal.) “#1 is the originality of the design concept for the vehicle. What is amazing about this contest is that Morgan Motor Company is supplying the vehicle model for CAD. Users can focus on customizing materials, etc. and making a unique vehicle.”

Sean continued, “Then there is the overall quality of the rendering; overall quality of the ad concept; and the overall quality of the completed page.”

D&M: “What can contestants do to increase their chances?” (again, more digging for that gem suggestion)

Sean: “Knowledge is power. We have provided numerous helpful learning tools on the contest page; start there. Even experts can pick up a thing or two. There is also a link to chat with the experts; you can ask the contest team questions at the bottom of the page. We are very responsive to these.”

D&M: “Can participants enter more than one design?”

Sean: “No, one entry per participant.”

Morgan Motor Company ContestD&M: “What type of ad layout would be preferred?”

Sean: “It can be anything. It doesn’t even really have to be an ad per se. This competition isn’t really about making a great ad. If the people simply want to submit a great rendered customization, that’s fine. Something as simple as the rendering on the contest page is great. “

D&M: “Is there anything else that you’d like to tell folks that are considering those sweet prizes?”

Sean: “It’s super-easy to participate in the contest. We are providing everything you need. It’s still quite simple even if you don’t have much experience. Just open the supplied files, and customize the vehicle anyway you like. We even offer Showcase and 3DS Max files with the model ready to go. You can add decals, new material types; really create an original design. Autodesk even provides a free image editor to complete your ad page; it’s Pixlr. “

Sean’s “tips for success”

  • Think about the overall theme of the ad, something that connects the 3 Wheeler, background/environment, and any graphics/logos/text. Get creative with the theme, and focus on something that inspires you
  • Get creative with the ad background/environment as it is such a prominent element of the ad.
  • Spend time decorating the 3 Wheeler. It’s the focus of the ad, and it should look amazing, interesting, and original.
  • Reference other car advertisements to learn about camera angles and lighting.

How to Get Involved

This competition isn’t really about making a great ad. It’s more about having fun customizing the 3-wheeler in the most creative and original manner. References to all the software you need is provided on the Talenthouse webpage. (Pick the ad at the top of this article to go straight there). Once there, pick the green participate button to get started.


That will take you to the page with all the goods. They even offer Autodesk Showcase and 3DS Max ready files. You can open it up and immediately start customizing. To help you along Design & Motion have prepared an excellent quick start tutorial for rendering the Morgan 3 Wheeler with Autodesk 3ds Max Design. Be sure to check it out & GOOD LUCK!


iPropWiz V6 Released – It’s AWESOME

Last week C-Cubed Technologies launched the next release of the excellent Autodesk Inventor add-in iPropWiz V6, I’m not going to talk about it much within the body of this post since I’ve already written an article reviewing one of the last beta versions. To read the full article please click here. There have been a few subtle changes but nothing too significant. So instead here are a few snippets from the article:


iPropwiz V1

  • 2002 – iPropWiz V1
  • 2004 – iPropWiz V2
  • iPropWiz V3 (Never Released)
  • Late 2008 – iPropWiz 2009 (V4)
  • 2010 – iPropWiz V5
  • 2013 – iPropWiz V6

Scott: When & why did you start iPropWiz?

Sean: I first wrote iPropWiz in 2002 as a VBA macro.  I was tired of users using the wrong fields for properties (Descriptions vs. Title etc.).  It was fairly primitive compared to what we now have.

iPropwiz Role

iPropwiz V6


Scott: How would you define iPropWiz V6’s primary role?

Neil: Practices on how/when properties are filled in are so variable that we can’t tailor it to fit one solution. The ability to make it easy to check & reasonably easy to fill in, is probably the best we can do. Encouraging users to fill in property info at the part level, or in small assemblies is part & parcel of making it as painless as possible.

Sheet Metal & Model Extents

iPropWiz can now export a set of ordered extents (smallest to largest). This is supported for both Model & Sheet metal extents.


I’m extremely excited about this release of iPropWiz. It has solved a number of problems I’ve been wrestling with in my office for years. Not only will it solve some of those problems, the tools it provides will improve the productivity of our own in house productivity add-ins.

iPropWiz is one of those add-ins within the Autodesk Inventor community, of which people consistently wonder why Autodesk haven’t bought it and added it into the product so everyone can benefit. Although, it’s hardly expensive, so there’s really no excuse why every Inventor seat ever purchased, should just tack this onto their initial purchase cost.

During the review of this article with Neil & Sean, Neil revealed that more than 90% of user’s requests had been implemented in this release. This incredible achievement really shows in the product, the more you tinker with it the more you realize just how good this tool is. The ROI this wizardry affords is a no brainer. Go get it & enjoy a veritable productivity jump.

So what are you waiting for go purchase your copy now.


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