Autodesk Previews Inventor Fusion

DN Staff

February 10, 2009

4 Min Read
Autodesk Previews Inventor Fusion

Direct modeling or history-free CAD has grabbed its share ofheadlines in the 3-D design world this past year, and Autodesk recently made its splash with apreview of its new Fusiontechnology slated for a future version of Inventor.

Inventor Fusion - which Autodesk officials were clear toposition as a technology preview, not a product introduction - claims to meld thepower and control of parametric, history-based modeling with the flexibilityand ease of use traditionally offered by direct modelers in a single product,according to Autodesk officials. The company has opted to unite the twomodeling techniques in one packaged application based on the belief that bothapproaches have relevance for different types of design functions, officialsthere say.

"Parametric and direct modeling both remain relevant," saysAndrew Anagnost, vice president of CAD/CAE for Autodesk's manufacturingsolutions, who drew comparisons between the need for these two approaches andthe co-existence of Autodesk's AutoCAD 2-D software and its Inventor 3-Doffering. "The reason is each one is good at different things."

Parametric or history-based modeling, traditionally thefocus of Inventor and most modern 3-D MCAD programs, uses parent/childrelationships, parameters and features to build intelligence into a model. This kind of tool is typically well suitedfor working on complex, highly engineered products and families of products. Incomparison, history-free modelers, sometimes referred to as explicit modelingtools, create and tweak models through direct interaction with the geometry,adding parameters and features only when needed. This approach, considered tobe much more flexible, is considered highly effective for companies creatingnew products from scratch, along with those that require a relatively quick andeasy way to come up with conceptual designs on an on-going basis.

While both categories of 3-D CAD tools have been around fordecades, direct modeling has grabbed much of the spotlight lately thanks inpart to the entrance of players like SpaceClaim,a newcomer whose value proposition is based solely on the perceived benefits ofdirect modeling. Long-time CAD stalwarts have also planted a stake in directmodeling ground. Some, like SolidWorks,have added direct modeling features to their parametric-based tools, whileothers have gone further, like PTC,which acquired CoCreate last year and is offering its direct modelingpackage as a complement to its existing Pro/ENGINEER product.

The Autodesk Fusion strategy perhaps most closely mirrors SiemensPLM Software, which announced Synchronous Technology, used in bothSolidEdge and NX. Like Fusion, Synchronous Technology claims to marry the bestof both direct and history-based CAD tools. It provides direct control of amodel and immediate feedback, an approach Siemens officials say delivers a newway of interacting with parametric, history-based models without being constrainedby the way a model was constructed.

Given that Fusion is a technology preview, analysts say it'spremature to discern the differences between it and Synchronous Technology.However, they say interest in direct modeling tools in general is on the rise,driven mostly by the need of an extended design team to accommodatemulti-source CAD. "Everyone has to be able to compete in a world where theirpartners are using lots of different technologies," says Monica Schnitger,president of Schnitger Corp., amarket analyst firm specializing in engineering. "Most companies can't affordto have a seat of NX, Pro/E, Solidworks or Inventor sitting around in theirdesign shops. Direct modelers are pretty good with dealing with multi-sourceCAD. Removing the concept of the history tree creates a common groundplatform."

Autodesk officials say the Fusion technology will enableengineers to switch between parametric and direct workflows as it make sensefor a particular task and the software will track the changes in a singledigital model. "The system will take responsibility for how to bring these twomodels together," says Kevin Schneider, Autodesk product manager in themanufacturing solutions division. The alternative approach - having two tool setsthat don't share information well - has been one of the principal limitations ofprevious generations of direct modeling tools, he says.

Useability is another big focus of the Fusion technology.Autodesk is aiming to replace many of the abstract software concepts that usershave had to learn to be productive in CAD with context-sensitivepoint-of-access tools that present only what is needed at the cursor. Insteadof having to hunt around in toolbars, an engineer could hover over an objectand the options that make sense for that particular option will pop up. "Thedetails present themselves as appropriate, which significantly lowers theburden and number of tools users need to learn and opens this up to non-CADjockeys," Schneider says.

Autodesk officials declined to say exactly when or inwhat Inventor release the Fusion technology will surface. The company will,however, offer a free download of Inventor Fusion Technology Preview on Autodesk Labs later this year.

Inventor Fusion technology delivers bidirectional parametric and direct workflows within the same product.

Autodesk Previews Inventor Fusion A

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