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Autodesk Forge Devcon 2016 – San Francisco

So what is this Forge thing anyway?

I was lucky enough to attend the Autodesk Forge Devcon this week in San Francisco. If you haven’t heard of Forge, it is a platform of cloud based RESTful APIs and microservices, that allow 3rd party developers to harness a growing range of Autodesk technologies, to integrate into web apps. Many companies such as Cl3ver, hsbcad, and openBoM are already using some of these services to build or enhance very slick and sophisticated websites for doing powerful things with 3D content.

Autodesk Hipsters – This ain’t your Dad’s ADN…

I’ve been to a couple of Autodesk University events, and some other smaller ones. As those of you who have attended these will know, you get a feel, and an image of what Autodesk are about, from the experience. Forge Devcon was very different. Autodesk have become really cool, and I don’t mean cool in a CAD geek way, I mean cool in the sense that they are up with the latest web development frameworks, and they put on cool parties, and they’re at javascript meetups, and cool in.. you know… a software geek way. That might seem like an odd statement, but the Forge platform is cloud technology, and to attract 3rd party web developers to use the Forge APIs, Autodesk have had to shake the perception that they only do boring old desktop stuff.

Whatever they did must have worked, because to attract 1500 developers to a conference in San Francisco, the same week as Apple’s Developer Conference, is no mean feat. The energy and buzz that filled the halls, and conversations I overheard, suggested that these developers were sitting up and taking notice, that there is a powerhouse of technology available to them, that is completely changing the scope of what is possible in a web environment.

I woke up early on the first morning, had breakfast, and wandered down Van Ness to Fort Mason, which I knew nothing about. I probably didn’t take the most efficient route, but I ended up walking along the waterfront and up and over a hill, where I got a clear view down onto the buildings that make up an old military base. It was a beautiful morning, and there below a fantastic view of the Golden Gate sat the Festival Pavilion, with a large “Autodesk Forge” banner hanging proudly over the entrance. What a cool venue! I continued down the steps and entered the huge building on the water and got the registration details sorted out. There were a number of theatres set up for classes, surrounding a central area of booths representing various industry players. At the end of the building was a keynote stage with a monstrous 50ft LED screen behind it.

Forge Devcon - Fort Mason Pavilion

The Booths

There were some very exciting technologies on display, both from Autodesk, and outsiders that provide complimentary services or hardware for things like IoT (Internet of Things), VR/AR (Virtual and Augmented Reality), and 3D Printing and CNC machining. One particular highlight for me, was my first chance to finally try out the Microsoft HoloLens, courtesy of the guys from hsbcad. It was impressive to see their example building model sitting on the table, and being able to interact with it using voice commands. The space tracking seems to be very good, and the model held it’s position perfectly as I moved around, which was a dramatic difference from previous AR techologies that I had tried. Scott Moyse and I were lucky enough to participate in Autodesk Cloud Accelerator 2 with Bill and Kris from hsbcad last year, and they have really come a long way since then with their very clever hsbshare system which provides a dropbox connected online viewing tool for building model collaboration. Another cool booth was run by Taylor Stein from Autodesk, where you could design a badge using a custom Fusion 360 plugin, and then route it out on a tiny desktop CNC router.

Forge Devcon HoloLens

The Classes and Keynotes

There was a nice mix of classes run by Autodesk employees, but also by 3rd party companies that had used the Forge platform already. It was great to have both perspectives. The sessions that I went to had a good balance of high level application, but with enough code examples thrown in to get the gist of the low level functionality of the APIs. There were a number of keynotes, including a very interesting insight into Protolabs, who produce very fast turnaround production parts using CNC machining, injection moulding and other manufacturing technologies.  The exciting revelation there, was that the heart of what makes them successful and able to achieve such a rapid turnaround, is a very sophisticated software platform that automagically analyses the 3D models sent to them by their clients, but also works with a huge network of CNC machines and injection presses. If you use Fusion 360, you might have noticed the button that allows you to get a quote from Protolabs to produce your part. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any humans involved directly in the process from when you push the button, to receiving the quote.

The Platform

While I have been messing around with the Autodesk cloud APIs for a while, when they relaunched them under the Forge umbrella, I have to admit, I didn’t really get it. It seemed like they had just given a name to a bunch of useful, but disconnected services. The branding and marketing implied a single connected ecosystem, but the reality was very different. Fast-forward a few weeks however, and the message suddenly made sense. Just a week or two ago, a number of new APIs were released, and some existing ones renamed. These additions allowed data to become the center of the platform, and a whole range of new potential possibilities appeared. Most of us who use design software, currently live in a product-centric world, where the data we deal with needs to be in the appropriate format for the tool we use, to be most useful. Forge is working to change that, where the geometry and associated meta-data become what is most important, and the APIs allow you to manipulate and share that data through whatever tools are needed for the particular task at hand. It’s an exciting new paradigm, and I’m excited to watch it evolve. With this, the ability to work with what they term “high frequency” data will be realised, opening up a new range of potential workflows, including some interesting possibilities in the world of IoT.

To build this platform, and the awesome code samples, they have embraced current and popular web technologies like WebGL, three.js, and node.js, and provided a fantastic developer portal and documentation to boot.

The categories of APIs available currently are as follows:

  • Authentication (OAuth)
  • Data Management – Connection to A360 data
  • Design Automation – Effectively AutoCAD in the cloud, for massive scale processing of DWG data
  • Model Derivative – File translation, thumbnail generation, geometry and data extraction services
  • Viewer – Previously known as the “Large Model Viewer,” this allows you to embed a clever viewer in a webpage for working with just about any CAD format file.
  • 3D Print (BETA)
  • BIM360 (BETA)
  • Reality Capture (BETA) – For processing image files to create 3D scenes / models


Held on the Wednesday evening after Devcon Day 1 wrapped up, this initiative was unlike anything I’ve seen before. If you’ve ever been to an electronic music festival, you’ll be familiar with the computer generated visuals that are often played on big screens by ‘Veejays’ (visual DJs.) This event had that sort of feel to it, but the amazing thing about it, was that the visuals were being generated by the artists live, in a web browser, and piped to a massive 50ft LED screen. In combination with the music being pumped from the fairly large speaker stacks, the experience was very captivating and impressive, in a super geeky way. I particularly liked the work of Edan Kwon. The particle systems he builds are incredibly detailed, and breathtaking. The 3DWebFest is a really interesting initiative, and another example of the way that Autodesk are really making a name for themselves among the web developer community. I can’t wait to see how this festival evolves and grows.

Forge Devcon in closing

All in all, the conference was a great experience, and I came away with a much clearer picture of the future of Autodesk’s cloud offerings. Forge really seems to be gelling as a platform very nicely, and the rate at which it is growing seems to be accelerating. As Autodesk’s first developer conference in the web space, I thought it was outstandingly well put together, and hope to be able to report from the second one next year, as I’m sure it will be even better.

If you’d like to explore the offering, and have a go with any of the APIs, you can dive in here. They are available completely free for the next 90 days, well 87 or so now…

Autodesk Announces Industry Collections

Industry Collections

In an effort to reduce the product portfolio and make the customer’s decision easier Autodesk announced the introduction of the Industry Collection. These new Collections are replacing the Design & Creation Suites

“As we continue our transition to a fully subscription-based business, we remain committed to providing you greater value, more flexibility, and a simpler way to access the Autodesk software you need.”

“On August 1, 2016, we will introduce Autodesk industry collections and end the sale of Autodesk Design & Creation Suites” – Jeff Wright, Vice President, Customer Engagement ,Autodesk, Inc.

Design Suite sales end July 31st of this year. All existing premium and ultimate suite subscribers can be upgraded to the appropriate Collection for “free“, for the remainder of their subscription term. Except for AutoCAD premium / ultimate subscribers who will need to pay an upgrade fee to move to the collection. Here are two answers from the Industry Collection FAQ

Will I be able to switch my subscription to an industry collection subscription? Yes, Autodesk will provide a convenient way for you to switch your existing subscription(s) to an industry collection.

Will I be able to switch to industry collections during my subscription? Yes, in October 2016, you will be able to switch during your current subscription term

However, be warned that at the time of your renewal expect to pay more… more value = higher subscription costs.

Three Industry Collections will be available: Architecture, Engineering, & Construction, Product Design, and Media & Entertainment. What are the main advantages of the new Collections vs the old Design Suites (according to Autodesk)?

  • Greater Value – more software
  • Continuous Improvement – collections designed to continuously evolve
  • Greater Flexibility & Choice – available as single or multi-user in different term lengths
  • More Cloud Services
  • Simplified Packaging – one product to choose from

For a listing of what’s included in each Industry Collection visit the Autodesk website.

Is it better?

Let’s compare one of the Ultimate Design Suites to its Industry Collection replacement.

Product Design Suite Ultimate includes Inventor Professional, AutoCAD, AutoCAD Electrical, and AutoCAD Mechanical, AutoCAD Raster Design, 3ds Max, Alias Design, Navisworks Manage, Vault Basic, and Showcase. For cloud-based services, it includes Fusion 360, ReCap 360, A360, and Rendering in A360

The Product Design Industry Collection removes Alias DesignAutoCAD Raster Design and Showcase, but includes AutoCAD Architecture and the Factory Design Utilities. The included cloud services are Rendering in A360, AutoCAD 360 Pro, Fusion 360, and Recap 360 Pro.

The suggested retail price on the Autodesk website is US$2,460 / year for the Industry Collection vs US$3,730 for the Product Design Suite Ultimate. From an initial cost, the Industry Collection is the better deal in dollars. However, some may find the new collection a step down in functionality as AutoCAD Architecture and the Factory Design Utilities don’t necessarily replace Alias Design.

As a primarily Product Design Suite user I will admit to a bit of envy when I look at the Architectural Industry Collection. For an extra $200 / year it includes Revit,  AutoCAD P&ID, Plant 3D, and the Structural Analysis cloud tools for Revit (amongst much more included software). But if I was a structural detailer or required both Inventor and Revit I might be a bit choked with the removal of Inventor from the bundle as migrating to the collection, unfortunately, means needing to add on a subscription for Inventor.

Final Verdict

I for one am in favour of the reduction of options and was not a fan of having multiple suites to choose from. I do however wish there was a bit more flexibility to swap out software or add-on software at a reduced cost, but it just isn’t in the cards.

Whether you love or hate the changes is really going to depend on your industry and the software you rely on day-to-day. For example, if you are in AEC and don’t require Inventor I think you will love the new bundling of software as it provides great value for the dollar. If you are an Entertainment Creation Suite user you will probably feel indifferent to the changes as nothing has really changed. But if you rely on software that is no longer included in the bundle (like Alias Design) then you’ll probably be sticking with the existing Design Suite for as long as you can..



Feature Image Young woman trying to check and repair her broken car BY VIKTOR HANACEK

Autodesk Forge – Powering the Future of Making Things

At Autodesk University Amar Hanspal, the Senior VP of Products, announced Autodesk Forge. Forge, the Cloud “Connected” Ecosystem, is not just a new ADN (Autodesk Developer Network), but the new development environment for all cloud developers to meet, learn, get help, and possibly get funding.

Forge Logo_Color

The basis of Autodesk Forge is three-fold:

Platform | Program | Fund

  • The Platform is a cloud-based platform including open application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs).
  • The Program is the community, an upcoming conference (June), training, resources, and support
  • Some companies just need inspiration, some need mentorship, and some need capital (funding), so Autodesk has pledged up to $100 million over the next couple years to help kickstart initiatives


Autodesk Forge Platform - Cloud

BriteHub was one of the six inaugural partners and presented briefly.


Here’s part of the press release

Autodesk Unveils Cloud-based Forge Initiative to Transform How Products are Designed, Made and Used
Three-pronged Effort to Include Services, Training and a $100 Million Investment Fund

LAS VEGAS, Autodesk University, Dec. 1, 2015 — Autodesk, Inc. (Nasdaq: ADSK) today announced Forge, an initiative to accelerate a cloud connected ecosystem in support of the future of making things. The initiative consists of three major components – a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, a robust developer program, and a $100 million investment fund – all geared toward advancing the next wave of innovative technologies that will transform how products are designed, made and used.

The way we design, make and use products is rapidly changing. New technologies are disrupting every aspect of the product lifecycle,” said Amar Hanspal, senior vice president, Products at Autodesk. “Autodesk is launching Forge to help developers build new businesses in the changing manufacturing landscape. We are inviting innovators to take advantage of Autodesk’s cloud platform to build services that turn today’s disconnected technologies into highly connected, personalized experiences.”

Working with the Inventor Sheet Metal Recipe – Styles

When you bake a cake, make a pie, or cook a souffle you follow a recipe and the recipe dictates the final result. Inventor’s sheet metal environment is not much different as it is the sheet metal styles that act as the recipe dictating the resultant flat pattern.

Sheet Metal Style Defaults

Let’s start with the Sheet Metal Style Defaults. Using this dialog, you set the defaults used when placing sheet metal features.

Inventor Sheet Metal Default Styles Dialog

Unchecking Use Thickness from Rule allows you to specify the thickness, ignoring the thickness set in the rule. The Material drop-down provides another method of setting the active material. This is no different than the material list accessed from the iPropertiers dialog or from the Material Browser dialog.

What you specify in this dialog are used only as the defaults. You can override these settings with each feature you place. Here for example as three tabs of the Flange feature, all used to override the setting specified as the defaults.

Inventor Sheet Metal Feature Override Defaults

Sheet Metal Styles – Rules

Both the Sheet Metal Rules and Unfold Rules are styles, managed via the Styles and Standard Editor. This means that a global library can be defined for all parts to use, but it is flexible for local edits to occur.

In this example, I select the Default rule and click New to use it as the starting template for my new rule. I set the Material, Thickness, Gap, and Unfold Rule (more on Unfold Rules later). The values set here also adjust the sheet metal parameters which are auto-generated when you active the Sheet Metal Environment.

Use the Flat Pattern Bend Angle drop-down to change how the Bend Angle is measure… outside-in (A) or inside-out (B). When dealing with punches the flat pattern can show the punch in its 3D form, in a 2D representation (sketch), or as a simple Center Mark.

Inventor Sheet Metal Rules Style Dialog

The Bend tab is all about the bend, as in the Relief Shape, Bend Radius, and Bend Transition. If using a straight or round relief the options for relief size become available. The Minimum Remnant is a neat feature in that this sets how much dangling material is acceptable when the bend is not applied to the entire edge. If the amount of material left is less than the Minimum Remnant it is automatically removed

The Bend Transition manages how the bend blends into the intersecting faces. There are five options available, all that appear in the flat pattern. The folded model will appear with no transition type, except in the case of Trim, where it is shown in the folded model.

Inventor Sheet Metal Rules Style Dialog Bend

With the Corner tab, you set the desired relief shape for both 2 bend and 3 bend intersections

Inventor Sheet Metal Rules Style Dialog Corner

Here’s the difference between Full Round and Intersection

Inventor Sheet Metal 3 Bend Corner

Sheet Metal Styles – Unfold Rules

When bending metal the material deforms, both elongating on the outside and going into compression on the inside of the bend. The Unfold Rule defines how your sheet metal model unfolds, as in what is the amount of correction to account for the deformation of the material. Autodesk Inventor provides three options within the Sheet Metal Styles to define the correction.

Linear approximation (aka KFactor)

As discussed earlier, when metal is bent the inside face is compressed and the outer face is elongated (stretched). The line between the compression and elongation is referred to as the neutral axis. The ratio of the neutral axis location and the thickness of the material is the kFactor.

Inventor Sheet Metal Unfold Rule kFactor

Bend Tables

When you want to manage the correction value as it changes with different bend radii, angle, and material thickness you will want to use the Bend Table option. With Bend Tables, you plot the correction value against the Angle and Radii. As it can get intense consider using the Export option to export the data to a spreadsheet, making it easier to populate the information.

Inventor Sheet Metal Unfold Rule Bend Table
Custom Equations

I’ll be honest that I have absolutely zero experience with custom equations, mostly because the situation to use them has never presented itself. To quote the help “Custom equations that provide uniform deformation within specified angular bounding conditions

Inventor Sheet Metal Unfold Rule Custom Equation

Inventor Sheet Metal Styles in Action!

And That’s a Wrap

So this is the final piece to our deep-dive into Inventor Sheet Metal. If you are just joining us on this voyage make sure to start with the first article in the series Holy Sheet Metal Batman!


Feature Image “Orange Filling” by Phil! Gold

Inventor Sheet Metal Drawings

Although we live in a 3D world, for many the 2D drawing still rules the roost. Inventor provides a set of tools specific to creating Inventor Sheet Metal drawings

Inventor Sheet Metal Drawings

When creating drawing views of sheet metal models you can select the Folded Model or the Flat Pattern. When creating views of Flat Patterns take note of the options to include the Bend Extents and Punch Centers.

Inventor SM Drawing Views

This means your sheet can contain views of both the model and its flat pattern

Inventor SM Base Views

Take a look at Don’t Misjudge the Flat Pattern for more information on Flat Pattern management. How you configure the flat pattern may impact how it appears in the drawing.

The colour and line weight of the bend lines and optional bend extents is managed within the styles

Inventor SM Bend Layer Properties


The Flat Pattern can be dimensioned with any of the dimensioning tools, including baseline, continuous, and ordinate.


Inventor SM Drawing Dimensioning

Ordinate comes in two options: Ordinate and Ordinate Set. 

With the Ordinate option, you first locate the origin marker marking the 0,0 point for all the dimensions to reference in that view. Next you select the geometry to dimension then pick the dimension location. Initially, all ordinate dimensions created will be aligned but they are actually individual meaning they can be moved and adjusted independently of the rest.

With the Ordinate Set option, the first object selected becomes the origin location, but this can be adjusted later. The biggest difference with this feature over the Ordinate option is that the dimensions are grouped together and are adjusted as a group.

Adding Annotations

Use Bend Notes to label bends including the bend’s radius, direction, and other information. It works by picking (or window selecting) the bend lines to label and it locates the note without leader. After placement (if required) drag the label to a new location and the leader is automatically added.

Inventor SM Drawing Bend Notes

The appearance and the contents are managed by the active style

INventor SM Bend Note Styles

Using the General Table feature, you can add a Bend Table to the drawing both listing and labeling each bend in the Flat Pattern. After starting the General table tool pick the Flat Pattern view. Use the Table dialog to configure the desired columns (bend properties).

Inventor SM Drawing Views

When you click OK and place the table Inventor additionally numerically labels each bend. As with the Bend Note you can drag the label to a new location and the leader is automatically added.

Inventor SM Flat Pattern Bend Table




Feature image “Music sheet” by Mari Ma

Converting Models to Sheet Metal with Inventor

You’ve started a new model, worked hard, and it’s looking good…. but then it happens, you realize it should have been made in the sheet metal environment! Or a different scenario, you’ve imported a model but its come in as a solid blob and you need to flatten it out.

This is my continuation of a series taking a deep dive into Inventor’s Sheet Metal environment. There isn’t really an order that they have to be read, but you can start with the first one here Holy Sheet Metal Batman!

Autodesk Inventor allows for converting models to sheet metal. Which means, regardless where the model geometry originates, you can convert it to sheet metal, add sheet metal features, and generate the flat pattern.

Let’s start with the rules of sheet metal

  • Rule #1 You must have a consistent thickness
  • Rule #2 Your sheet metal thickness parameter MUST match the thickness of the model
  • Rule #3 You cannot have one continuous face, there must be some type of gap
  • Rule #4 Although Inventor now supports sharp corners there still needs to be a round (fillet) on the outside edge

Say we start with something like this. I know what you are thinking…. “that’s simple, we don’t model anything like that“… but we’re going to use this shelled box to showcase the features required for the conversion.

Inventor SM Conversion Start

Converting Models to Sheet Metal with Autodesk Inventor

First step, activate the Sheet Metal Environment. This actually does more than just activate a set of tools, it automatically creates a set of parameters, the ones required for the sheet metal “magic” to happen

Inventor SM Parameters

I know as a shelled box we’ve got a model with a consistent thickness, I just need to tell Inventor what to use. Within the Sheet Metal Defaults dialog, I can either edit the rule to define the thickness or as in this example I override the rule thickness and specify the value to use

Inventor SM Defaults

Now lets add a Corner Seam using the Rip option. The Rip option is purposely built to work with part models converted to sheet metal. It creates the required break in the faces so that model can be flattened. One small problem, and I quote the help here “You can rip a corner seam to open an edge between faces. The resulting open corner typically leaves material that must be removed.

If we skip ahead and look at the final result (Corner Rip + 2 Bends) I can see a small remnant that must be removed. It’s not really a problem, just a bit of extra work.

Inventor SM Conversion Extra Material

Is there a way to do this without needing a sketch and extrusion after? How about when I create the Corner Rip I specify the overlap option instead, even though my final result is to not overlap in the corner

Inventor SM Corner Seem Rip2

Next I add Bends in the corners. I could do this with fillets, but the Bend feature takes care of rounding both the inside and outside edges, as well as setting the radius to the BendRadius parameter. In my example, I need to apply two Bends.

Inventor SM Bend

The resultant corner is not ideal but is exactly what I asked Inventor to create.

Inventor SM Conversion Unwanted Corner

To produce the desired condition I apply another Corner Seam, but this time using the Seam option

Inventor SM Conversion Corner Seam

I now can produce the flat pattern

Inventor SM Conversion Flattpattern


Data Conversion

Here is a model originally modeled with Solidworks that I opened (and converted) into Inventor. As it was modeled using the Solidworks Sheet Metal tools the conversion process is very straight forward. It’s not just with Solidworks files though, you’ll probably find any sheet metal modeled solid transfers into the Inventor sheet metal environment seamlessly.


Inventor SM SWx Conversion

After initiating the Sheet Metal environment, Inventor prompts to select the Base Face. Upon selecting the base face, it extracts the thickness of the selection as the thickness parameter

Inventor SM SWx Conversion Pick Base Face

And with this model that is all that is required. I can now create the flat pattern

Inventor SM SWx Conversion Flat Pattern

I can guarantee that it will not always be this simple, although Inventor 2016 seems much better at translating data.

I have seen many Solidworks models that for whatever reason just don’t flatten, even though it follows all of the Sheet Metal rules. The trick I have found is to copy the imported solid into the construction environment, delete the original model, and then copy the construction solid back out. Whatever Inventor does during this process I do not completely know, but who am I to question something that works?

Further Resources

Having further issues attempting to get a flat pattern from your Sheet Metal model (converted or native to Inventor)? Paul Munford has posted a great article with Seven tips to guarantee that Your Autodesk Inventor Sheet Metal models will flat pattern without errors. Check it out here… Autodesk Inventor Sheet Metal, Flat pattern success – Every time!





Feature image sheet metal and nature by Robert Bejil









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