Autodesk 360 and Nexus – PLM 1.0: not perfect – but a great start

3 Dec 2011: Errata. I was incorrect in stating that Buzzsaw was a local PDM vault for AEC/BIM. Several people have written me about this, one being Stephen Bodnar of Autodesk. Bodnar stated that “Vault is the on-premise DM solution for both industries, whereas Buzzsaw is cloud-based and is also built on Autodesk’s Cloud, and is intended for design file collaboration between partners/suppliers and other users and does, in fact, have bi-directional push/synchronization with Vault)”

1 Dec 2011: I am on my way back from Las Vegas, where AU 2011 was held. The highlight of the event, at least for me, was the announcement of what I am calling Autodesk PLM 1.0. The announcement was not a well-kept secret, but the content of the announcement was closely held.

Monday’s media day preceded the conference. The actual PLM announcement came late Tuesday morning. Carl Bass retracted his oft quoted remark about PLM not being something customers worried about; instead, it was revised to mean “until the technology was right.” I couldn’t agree more with his reasoning. Most of Autodesk’s competitors PLM systems offer expensive, difficult to use, and almost impossible to install PLM systems, that rarely have met expectations. Even then, it is often at the cost of massive consulting assistance, rarely meeting anticipated timeframes, AND generally involves the implementation of substantially revised business processes.

Different than my analyst peers I have always been skeptical of such large and costly projects. Not being on the implementation side, I could afford to be skeptical. Many such projects, aside from basic PDM, seldom actually get implemented. Most stall. Autodesk estimates that most deliver only PDM. To test this thesis, I tweeted my followers and asked what they had accomplished. With just a few responses, this is hardly scientific. Several stated that did not yet have even PDM fully implemented!

So what was actually announced? The system is being called Autodesk 360. It is based on having locally installed PDM. For mechanical and for AEC this is Vault. Buzzsaw, a cloud based application provides design file collaboration for AEC teams. The third, and new software piece is called Nexus. The dictionary describes the word nexus as a “connector.,” and is a good description of what the software aims to do. In the following discussion I concentrate solely on mechanical PLM. For information on Buzzsaw and how it uses Nexus readers will have to go elsewhere. Try here.

Nexus is cloud based, and comes with 140 or apps. Each app looks like a series of specialized templates, along with customizable (by the user) workflow logic. Delivery is expected by the end of March 2012. No pricing was announced, however, the implications were that it would be modest. It will be sold on a per user subscription basis. All Nexus data and apps will be run in the cloud, using an ordinary browser. The mass of data will remain locally hosted using Vault. Having and maintaining Vault locally solves the issue of loading very large cloud based data while still maintaing some degree of interactivity.

How will it interface with Vault and other PDM systems? Very well with Vault. No connectors were announced to integrate with other PDM systems. Autodesk hinted that this is a good opportunity for third party developers and VARs. Connections with Nexus could be implemented via as yet unannounced APIs.

Today, the connection between Vault and Nexus is one way. CAD data cannot be sent from Nexus to Vault. Nor is it synchronized among Vaults, as is done among Apple’s iCloud apps. However, Vault data is automatically synced up to Nexus. Expect bi-directional sync in the future.

Is it easy to install and operate?

Keep in mind that my total exposure to Autodesk 360 Nexus comes from a 30 minute, main stage presentation, followed by a 60 minute working session where about 20 people per workstation watched a very capable Autodesk developer demo and responded to questions, often by showing us how Nexus would solve the proposed question.

Nexus appears to be an out of the box system. Nexus comes with predefined templates and workflows. Yet they can easily be added to and/or modified. Fields within templates (apps) can be defined on the fly and their characteristics (such as numeric, values, dates, etc.) as well. A Visio like graphic interface defines workflows. Many are offered in the starter system. A typical administration system allows assigning users to tasks and roles. Somehow, data fields can be interconnected, allowing visibility to see what drives or is driven by what.

So. There you have it. I imagine Autodesk will soon, if not already, have many seminars and pre-recorded AVI’s showing the software. Try here: http://usa.autodesk.com/360-lifecycle-management-software/

My conclusions

I think the product is outstanding. Being cloud based resolves many operating issues. Some users might question the security aspects of hosting much of the data remotely, and would do well to satisfy themselves that either this is not an issue, or otherwise. I think, that perhaps except for very special circumstances, the cloud-based security might even be vastly superior to what they could do locally. I think this is a non-issue.

Cost wise, I think this will prove to be much less expensive, long term, than most of today’s solutions. Again, this is a non-issue. Just take a look at the slide Stephen Bodnar of Autodesk, VP of Data Management, presented below that compares some costs for a 200 user deployment.

For collaboration, data can be uploaded, either in summary format, or detailed CAD files. Nexus has controls over what user sees what data.

Included are project management capabilities that allow rolling up from completed sub-tasks automatically. Defining projects involves defining sub-projects with easily configurable tasks and reporting procedures. If you have already implemented workflow as part of Vault, then is should be redone using Nexus. It allows more flexibility and better visibility.

If you want visibility by projects, by project managers and contributors, with flexibility to change workflows and processes to meet how you do business, it’s all there. My only question is how soon can I get it?

Ray with his skeptical face during AU2011 —-

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Here are a few slides from the presentation to give you an idea of what Autodesk presented. Sorry for the quality – I used my phone.

The overall concept of Autodesk 360.

Stephen Bodnar discussing their view of PLM:

Why is it called 360? Showing how the Vault and Buzzsaw make up local PDM systems:

Brenda Discher discussing why users don’t like competitive PDM systems.

What Autodesk is doing about it with Nexus.

TechniCom test-Part 8 shows how Inventor and SolidWorks compare for Mechatronics

Mechatronics

This blog series and the tests reported herein is designed to show some of the key differences between Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011 for digital prototyping workflows. This final part of our 8 part blog series examines Mechatronics – the ability to perform cable and harness design in an existing design from an imported electrical wiring diagram.

We test the ability of the mechanical CAD system (MCAD) to leverage data from an electrical CAD system (ECAD). The ECAD system specifies the appropriate connectors, wires, and their connection points while the MCAD system specifies the physical location of those wires and connectors within a product.

Electrical schematic to be imported into mechanical assembly on the right

Autodesk supplied an Inventor video of their solution, a net list in Excel format, a STEP file of the enclosure assembly, and a schematic drawing (.dwg) of the connections.

What’s Important in Mechatronics Design

  • Leverage the data stored in schematic drawing files to design wire harnesses in the mechanical system. Such data can be stored exported from an electrical design file using various techniques. At its most basic, the electrical design software sends a net list to the mechanical package containing connector information for each wire, wire types, and a list of pin-to-pin connections.
  • Generate correct wire lengths
  • Generate output to enable manufacturing of the wire harness
  • Not tested were two-way associativity between the electrical and mechanical software, nor were any tests designed to simulate electromechanical interconnections such as activating switches or sensors based on mechanical actions.

Autodesk supplied us with an Inventor video of their solution, a net list in Excel format, a STEP file of the enclosure assembly, and a schematic drawing (.dwg) of the connections.

What we found out

The two software packages (Inventor and SolidWorks) are comparable. Inventor has a tight connection to AutoCAD Electrical with the xml file transfer. SolidWorks has similar tight coupling with some third party software such as Zuken’s E3. Both systems use added cost electrical software to generate the net-list. SolidWorks was not able to read the AutoCAD Electrical generated xml list, and instead used an Excel file with similar data that needed manual cleanup in Excel.

It appears that there are a few more interactions with SolidWorks, but this may be due to the operator-preferred method. Both systems effectively produced the required output. There appears to be no real operational advantage to either package when used with tightly integrated electrical schematics software. Since AutoCAD Electrical is one of the most widely used electrical schematic packages, the advantage goes to Inventor.

Observations

For this test, on the AutoCAD side, AutoCAD Electrical exports an XML file to Inventor. Inventor reads this file and generates the 3D wiring and, under user control, assigns wires to cables. It can then generates wire lengths, a flat wire harness diagram and a pin board for manufacturing.

Inventor opens the 3D model and then the xml file of the net-list from AutoCAD Electrical. This designates the pin-to-pin connections where the wires are to be placed. Different than SolidWorks, the Inventor user placed the harnesses in anticipation of the wiring to be imported. The wire import could also have been done first, as seen in the SolidWorks video. The names of the connectors and the number of pins on each connector are stored in coordinated libraries in both the electrical and mechanical systems.

Importing the wires in Inventor

Importing the wires in SolidWorks

After the import, the imported wires appear as direct point-to-point connections between the pins without using any harnesses. 19 wires were imported and identified as un-routed. Then Inventor asks for an auto-route of all un-routed wires. It then places all 19 wires into the predesigned harness, we guess by using closest entry and exit points. Then Inventor builds (and reports) a pin board payout of the harness showing the 3D derived wire lengths. The video below shows an Inventor user performing the test. 

SolidWorks takes a slightly different, albeit very similar approach. After importing the net-list, the operator builds a 3D representation of the harness and then places the wires into the harness, with the software computing the wire lengths. This took more manual interaction than the Inventor solution, but yielded the same end result. The video below shows a SolidWorks user performing the test. 

This is the final blog in this series. Users can review a summary of these tests, published as Part 1 of this series by clicking here. We have also published a pdf file of the complete report here. The pdf file does not contain any videos. To see them you have to revisit this blog series at raykurland.com.

About the author

Raymond Kurland is president of TechniCom Group LLC and its principal consultant and editor. His firm, founded in 1989, specializes in analyzing MCAD and PLM systems and has been involved in reviewing and comparing such software since 1987. Ray frequently consults with both vendors and users. Ray has degrees in Engineering from Rutgers University and from NYU. His career included stints with Bell Telephone Laboratories, IBM, and Dassault Systemes. Ray can be reached at rayk@technicom.com.

For more information about TechniCom Group and other software reviews please visit http://www.cad‑portal.com and Ray’s blog at www.raykurland.com. You can also follow Ray on twitter using the id technicom.

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TechniCom tests Part 6 show why Inventor’s digital prototyping outshines SolidWorks in Interoperability

Interoperability and Direct Modeling

Continuing on with part 6 of our 8 part blog series dedicated to showing the differences between Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011 for digital prototyping workflows, we examine the ability to import MCAD models from CATIA and to perform direct edits on the imported geometry. Finally we take a drawing off the final model.

As in the other blogs in this series, this blog includes videos of both systems being used to perform the test.

To examine interoperability, we tested the capabilities of the software by importing a CATIA part, modifying the imported part, and creating and validating the accuracy of a DWG drawing of the part for communication with vendors.

View of the bell housing used in this exercise

Autodesk provided a video of Inventor accomplishing this test, a DWG drawing of the bell housing, the bell housing in CATIA format and the bell housing in IGES format.

Key differences you will see in this test

Autodesk Inventor is able to import and export most common CAD formats as well as neutral formats. Working with imported data uses the direct modeling tools found in Inventor Fusion Technology Preview to make changes. Creating a fully associative drawing in DWG format requires no additional effort since Inventor uses native DWG as the file type for drawings created from the 3D model.

SolidWorks can also import and export from a variety of CAD formats but has no support for CATIA files, which must be translated into a neutral file format introducing opportunity for errors. It also has tools for modifying geometry with several functions like feature recognition and move face. Lastly, DWG drawings are not associative to the 3D model and may require a significant amount of time and effort to clean up translation errors prior to sending them to customers and vendors. In this test, the SolidWorks DWG associativity did not work, however, SolidWorks supported this capability in past releases. It did not work on TechniCom’s version of SW2011; it may work in other installations.

What’s Important in Interoperability

  • Directly reading the other systems data directly – in this case CATIA – rather than performing a multi-step and error prone process of intermediate data conversion.
  • Easily share design data with customers, vendors, suppliers, and other departments using different CAD systems.
  • Reading and writing native DWG files for production, and publishing designs in formats that customers can use in their own applications.

Observations

Importing CATIA Part

The desired result of this test was to import a CATIA V5 model into the software.

Autodesk Inventor read the CATIA data directly and was able to open the model with no issue.

SolidWorks was unable to read the model and requires a third party add-on at additional cost to import CATIA V5 models. To perform the later tests, an IGES format file was made available and was imported successfully. This is a major issue for automotive and aerospace suppliers and OEMs since there are many companies involved, many of which require data in native CATIA format! Oddly enough SolidWorks is owned by the same company as CATIA and yet cannot read the data directly.

Modifying Imported Geometry

This test examined the ability of each software system to make small modifications to the “dumb” solid created from the imported file.

Modifying the geometry in Inventor Fusion

Inventor made the necessary modifications using the free Inventor Fusion Technology Preview labs application. The changes were made successfully and then Change Manager was used to update the dumb solid in Inventor.

SolidWorks had no problem with the direct modification of the imported part. Feature recognition capabilities were used to modify the plates and the holes as required.

Modifying the geometry in SolidWorks

In this case it was easier than Inventor, which required back and forth interaction with Inventor Fusion.

Creating DWG Drawing

This test involved creating a drawing in DWG format, opening the DWG in a 2D viewer, and making a change to the 3D model and updating the DWG.

Measuring the resultant DWG created by Inventor

Measuring the resultant DWG created by SolidWorks

Note the incorrectly scaled dimension in the SolidWorks created drawing.

Inventor created the drawing in DWG format so no translation was required. The file was opened in AutoCAD and presented exactly as it was in Inventor. After making the change to the 3D model, the DWG version of the drawing updated automatically.

SolidWorks could create DWG files for export to vendors. It lacked the ability to be fully associative with the SolidWorks 3D model. Adding dimensions or taking measurements in the scaled view in the resulting DWG drawing were not scaled correctly with the view. In this case SolidWorks added a dimension that showed as 64mm instead of the correct 32mm.

See how the Inventor engineer performed the test: 

See how our SolidWorks engineer performed the test: 

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The next blog in this series will examine design automation and creating drawings from the resulting design. Stay tuned or sign up to be notified of my blog updates.

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TechniCom tests (Part 3) show why Inventor’s digital prototyping outshines SolidWorks in Plastic Injection Mold Design

Plastic Injection Mold Design

Continuing on with part 3 of our blog series dedicated to showing the differences between Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011 for digital prototyping workflows, we examine the ability to design and validate molds, starting with a pre-designed part.

We show below, using videos from both systems,three major design aspects of mold design:  the ability to use a 3D model of a plastic part to create the core and cavity of the mold, designing and engineering the multiple components and systems of the mold, and validating the design to ensure it can manufacture high-quality plastic parts.

Simple mold design used in this workflow test

Autodesk provided us with a model of the handle to be molded, detailed specifications for the mold, and three videos of Inventor performing the desired tests showing the workflow for splitting core and cavity, engineering of the mold, and a simulation and validation of the mold.

The key differences you will see demonstrated below

Autodesk Inventor provides standard libraries of mold bases and components along with automated tools for splitting the core and cavity and for designing the runners, gates, and cooling and ejection systems. The inclusion of Autodesk Moldflow simulation software directly in the design workflow allows designs to be validated and improved upon until they will optimally manufacture products of the highest quality.

SolidWorks includes dedicated functionality for splitting the core and cavity, but that is where the mold design capabilities end. With no automated design tools and no libraries of components, the design of injection molds is entirely manual and inefficient. Without any built-in plastics simulation capabilities, mold designers must purchase third party software, such as Autodesk Moldflow, often at significant cost, to validate and optimize their designs to ensure quality.

What’s Important in Plastic Injection Mold Design

  • Balance of speed in designing the mold while ensuring high quality.
  • Accurate design of mold components including runners for injecting the plastic materials, cooling of the mold, and ejecting the finished part.
  • Iteration of the mold design with simulation to arrive at an optimal design.

Observations

Splitting the Core and Cavity

The desired result was to generate parting surfaces and complete the core and cavity operations.

Inventor parting surface generation

SolidWorks parting surface generation

Inventor used a mixture of automated and manual patching and runoff surface creation tools. Surfaces for simple holes and profiles were created automatically which increases productivity. Complex patching and runoffs were created using Inventor’s surfacing tools.

SolidWorks also assisted the user in splitting the core and cavity with automated and manual tools for defining the parting line and creating patching and runoff surfaces.

The two systems are comparable in capability. SolidWorks required a few more menu picks and interactions, but both came up with an acceptable mold core and cavity. SolidWorks generated an odd triangular shape in the area to be removed, but it was temporary and did not affect the final part.

See the video of Autodesk’s engineer using Autodesk Inventor to perform the core and cavity workflow using Inventor: 

See how our engineer used SolidWorks to perform the core and cavity operation:

Engineering the Mold

The tasks completed included: designing the runners, adding a submarine gate, inserting a properly sized mold base, inserting a sprue bushing, designing cooling channels, attaching pipe fittings for cooling channels, and adding ejector pins as specified.

Inventor completed this task using a built-in workflow for designing injection molds that includes libraries of mold bases and standard components as well as automated design tools for runners, gates, cooling channels, slides, lifters, and ejectors.

 

Automated ejector placement in Inventor

Manual ejector placement in SolidWorks

SolidWorks had no built-in functionality for designing injection molds. All standard components needed to be searched for and brought in from external content centers or supplier websites, a time-consuming process. All modeling was done manually as there are no automated design tools for the various systems of the mold. This made mold design in SolidWorks a tedious and labor-intensive process with low user productivity. SolidWorks was able to build the geometry required for the moldbase design, but it was a laborious process.

See the video of the Autodesk engineer performing the mold design:

See TechniCom’s engineer performing the mold design using SolidWorks:

Validating the Mold Design

To validate the mold design for manufacturability we needed to first determine the optimal molding conditions for the entire system as designed. Next, we performed a filling analysis to determine if the mold, as designed, could completely fill the cavity at acceptable quality. Then, we assessed the location of air traps and weld lines. Lastly, we performed a shrinkage analysis so exact figures could be input for core and cavity sizing rather than manually inputting generic percentages.

Inventor includes Autodesk Moldflow simulation built-in to the mold design workflow, which was used to simulate the filling phase of multi-cavity molds and their respective runner systems to validate manufacturability. A shrinkage analysis was also used to ensure cavities were sized based on the specific design, rather than relying on generic shrinkage factors from the material supplier.

Inventor validates the mold design.

SolidWorks has no built-in simulation capabilities and therefore had no ability to validate the mold design for optimum molding conditions or for a filling analysis that would help the user avoid manufacturing problems that can potentially result in huge expenses in both time and cost. SolidWorks was unable to perform any portion of this validation using its software or no-charge software, of which there was none available that we were able to find.

Users could use Autodesk Moldflow stand-alone software that would have the capabilities required, at extra cost. Our analysis did not include examining extra cost third party products. We only compared Inventor Professional to SolidWorks Premium. Therefore we do not have a video of SolidWorks performing the mold validation.

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The next blog in this series (Part 4) will examine designing and analyzing a clevis pin in a hydraulic clamping assembly. Stay tuned or sign up to be notified of my blog updates.

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TechniCom tests (Part 2) show why Inventor’s digital prototyping outshines SolidWorks in Plastic Part Design

Part 2 of this 8 part series reveals the results of the Plastic Part Design workflow

Plastic Part Design tests the ability to import surface data from Alias, stitch the skins into a solid body, design the shell the part with a specified wall thickness, part using surfacing and plastic features, import new surfaces and update the model, and perform an injection molding simulation on the part.

Autodesk provided us with data files specifying the solid model, IGES and WIRE data files of the surfaces, and three movies depicting the workflow for surface import, engineering design, and simulation and validation.

A view of the final parts

What’s Important in Plastic Part Design

  • Rapid design, ready for manufacturing
  • Working with surfaces from industrial design software
  • Ability to directly create mold ready parts, typically for injection molding
  • •Evaluating the moldability of the part

Observations

Surface Import

Inventor was able to import the Alias wire file natively without issue. SolidWorks was unable to import the Alias wire file. Users must first translate Alias data to an IGES file, which is susceptible to translation errors, albeit not in this case.

Here is how Autodesk used Inventor to perform the surface import workflow:

Here is how TechniCom’s engineer used SolidWorks to perform the surface import workflow:

Building the Model

Creating a solid model from imported surfaces and being able to shell the resulting solid are typically the most error-prone steps in the process. Inventor was able to stitch and shell the part with zero errors. The shell was created in one step by defining the variable in the shell dialog box. SolidWorks was also able to stitch and shell the part with zero errors. Shell creation involved several steps to create and define the variable.

Specifications of the bosses

Plastic parts are typically designed using a set of standard features such as ribs, bosses, grilles, snap-fits, and lips to name just a few. The MCAD software should assist the user in efficiently modeling these features. Inventor used its plastic features toolset to add the two different types of bosses, a lip feature, and ribs. SolidWorks used plastic features for a majority of the features, although the recessed bosses required for this test first needed to be built manually and then added from the library of custom user features.

Here is how Inventor was used to build the model:

Here is how SolidWorks was used to build the model:

Simulate and Validate the Part Design

Plastic parts must be checked for potential quality defects prior to committing to the cost of designing and building the mold.

In the simulation to evaluate the manufactured quality of the product as-designed, Inventor simulated the injection molding process and uncovered high amounts of shear stress due to the part being too thin. If left uncorrected, this issue would lead to material degradation and molding defects or field failure. Inventor’s built-in mold analysis software also provided more extensive capabilities in terms of material selection and multiple gate analysis.

SolidWorks feedback about potential quality issues

Inventor feedback about potential quality issues

There are no built-in simulation capabilities within SolidWorks for evaluating the manufactured quality of the product as designed. However, we were able to use a third partner add-in module called SimpoeXpress. This has limited function, but allows for some material selection and a single gate. SolidWorks was able to simulate the molding process but the only result the user received was the filling pattern, which provided limited value. It was unable to identify any quality defects and the user was misled into thinking the design was acceptable. More comprehensive simulation packages are available at a cost of more than $5000.

After modifying the 3D CAD model, we reran the simulation to validate the design change. After making the recommended change to the part, Inventor automatically updated the model in the simulation environment; all that was required was to re-run the analysis. SolidWorks automatically updated the geometry but the analysis had to be setup from scratch, including processing parameters, gate location, and material selection.

Inventor’s workflow:

SolidWorks’ workflow:

Summary

Importing the IGES files and creating the plastic part was comparable for both products. While SolidWorks was able to import IGES curves from industrial design software, Inventor was able to directly read Alias (a leading industrial design software package) surface data, an advantage. Both products had excellent capabilities for building specialized plastic features such as the mounting boss and the lip and groove on the connecting halves of the model.

Inventor’s built-in analysis software powered by Moldflow provides impressive analysis capabilities, and is well integrated into part design. To perform these same tests with SolidWorks, on the other hand, required a no-charge third party product that was able to perform only a limited analysis of the part. The limited function mold analysis software that was free does not provide the engineer enough insight to be confident that parts can be manufactured at all or at acceptable quality. More complex mold analysis software with advanced analysis capabilities (which was not used) is available to SolidWorks users at considerable extra cost.

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TechniCom detailed tests (Part 1) show why Inventor’s digital prototyping outshines SolidWorks

Executive Summary (Part 1 of an 8 part series)

Last Summer (August 2010) TechniCom Group published a report comparing Autodesk Inventor and Dassault Systemes SolidWorks using our Delphi Expert Analysis methodology[1]. The results of this report were somewhat controversial; Autodesk Inventor scored better in all fifteen categories than did SolidWorks, including core modeling. The scoring for the Delphi Expert report was the result of a very detailed survey of eight expert users of the two systems, four experts for each system. The experts had comparable familiarity with their systems and comparable backgrounds.

Readers of that report evidenced hunger for more detailed information, one that might be less sensitive to opinions and be more factual. As a result, TechniCom worked with Autodesk to develop a series of tests between the two systems that might expose the differences between the two systems and perhaps highlight advantages Inventor might have as compared to SolidWorks.

We are publishing the results of this series of tests in an eight part blog beginning with this summary of the results. Every two days or so we will add the details of each test, concluding the whole series within the next three to four weeks. Videos and images of both systems performing the tests will be included. At the end of this blog series we will publish a pdf version of the complete report on http://www.cad-portal.com.

A little background up front:

  • Autodesk commissioned (paid for) the tests.
  • Autodesk specified the tests which it challenged TechniCom, using SolidWorks Premium 2011, to match the results.
  • The seven tests are in the seven categories where TechniCom’s Delphi Expert report showed Autodesk Inventor rated the highest.
  • Extra cost third party software was not to be considered. When we were able, we used no-charge third party add-ins for SolidWorks — none were needed for Inventor.

Deciding what to test

First we had to decide what to test and the scope of the testing.

Followers of the mechanical CAD market are no doubt aware of the term Product Lifecycle Management, often designated as PLM. Autodesk’s mechanical philosophy is to eschew developing PLM software in favor of digital prototyping.

The term “Digital Prototyping” has led to some confusion in the industry. One clear definition comes from IDC in a paper entitled “Digital Prototyping: Autodesk Strengthens Competitiveness of Worldwide SMB Manufacturers’, published October 2008. This whitepaper differentiates digital prototyping from PLM by noting that “PLM reaches from a product’s cradle to its grave. On the other hand, digital prototyping stops at the completion of the digital product and its engineering bill of materials . . . The beauty of digital prototyping is that designs can be tested out before they go to manufacturing.”

Thus, Autodesk’s definition of digital prototyping includes the basic functions of PLM — industrial design, design and engineering, data vaulting, and collaboration, without the post-manufacturing baggage.

Autodesk has been carefully steering its Inventor software product development over the past few years to enable workflows that take maximum advantage of seamlessly passing data among its built-in application solutions. Thus, what we see in Inventor today is a careful melding of technologies that Autodesk has acquired or built. Many of these technologies are not available as extra cost add-ons to the base software, but fully included as part of the Inventor software. Some example, of which you will see more later, include mold analysis software, mold base design capabilities, built-in advanced simulation, inherent design automation options, an intelligent part library, built-in engineering calculations, and many others. Not only are these available as an integrated part of Autodesk Inventor, but they are often combined to form workflows that aid in developing the digital engineering models.

Thus, when deciding the scope of what to test, we settled on a series of tests that focus on the areas in our Delphi Expert analysis where Inventor rated the highest. These areas include the following:

  1. Plastic Part Design
  2. Plastic Injection Mold Design
  3. Assembly Design and Analysis
  4. Exporting BIM-ready Models
  5. Interoperability
  6. Design Automation
  7. Mechatronics

Even deciding on these seven areas leaves a great many options to be tested. Autodesk decided on the detailed functions to be tested; Autodesk specified the seven tests in detail. They are aimed at comparing the two systems ability to perform common, real-world engineering workflows. These tests are not designed to be impartial; they are taken from standard demos used by Autodesk that were designed to represent a series of engineering workflows highlighting Inventor’s digital prototyping capabilities. Most of them, as the users will see from the blogs that follow in the next few days, are aimed at performing a complete design sequence. The complete eight blogs, including this summary, will cover the seven workflow tests we performed. We will include the details of what we tested, images and videos of the results, what we observed comparing the two systems, and our summary of how well each system was able to perform the desired workflow.

Tests specified by Autodesk

Autodesk provided TechniCom with the test definitions including videos of Inventor performing the desired task, starter geometry, related dimensions, and other relevant data, all described below within each test section. TechniCom’s task was to perform the same tests using SolidWorks Premium 2011. Because Autodesk provided much of the model data we were able to focus on the desired workflow details of each test rather than building geometry.

Autodesk commissioned TechniCom to perform these tests and to document the results.

Our approach

TechniCom, in collaboration with a Certified SolidWorks Professional (CSWP) performed and analyzed these tests during November and December 2010 using Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011. To make the scope reasonable, we limited each vendor’s software strictly to what was included with the package or third party add-ins that we were able to find and download free of charge.

For the test definitions, we used the Inventor videos illustrating the work to be performed. We attempted to deliver the same results, as did Inventor, using SolidWorks Premium 2011.

As we publish the results of the seven tests, we will make available annotated videos of both Inventor and SolidWorks performing the tests on TechniCom’s blog at http://www.raykurland.com. Readers wanting to understand how the two products compared have the unique ability to review these videos along with reading our test summaries in this report.

We remind the reader that we compared Inventor Professional 2011 versus SolidWorks Premium 2011 with the restriction that extra cost third party software was not to be considered. When we were able, we used no-charge third party add-ins for SolidWorks — none were needed for Inventor.

Summary of the test results

We plan to provide more detail, including videos of both systems performing the tests, in a series of blogs beginning in the next two days.

Plastic part to be designed

In the first two tests, plastic part design and injection mold design, Inventor clearly outclasses SolidWorks. Whereas Inventor completed all aspects of the test, SolidWorks was unable to complete major portions of the analysis of the part and the mold.

Mold design used

Inventor was also able to design the mold significantly faster than SolidWorks due to the inclusion of automated tools for designing the various subsystems of the mold.

For the assembly design and analysis test, both systems were able to model the addition of a clevis pin. However, Inventor excelled in its ability to design the correct pin by coupling its engineering calculation library to the potential design. In other words, Inventor helped select the correct pin size because it was able to use its calculations concerning the required stress that the pin would need to perform correctly. This is subtly different than SolidWorks, which used its library to size the pin, but without taking into account its stress requirements.

Final assembly showing clevis pin

The SolidWorks approach was to design the pin and then analyze it in an iterative fashion using its built-in FEA solution until the specifications were met. In this case SolidWorks was unable to verify that its built-in FEA solution was correct. A more advanced version of the FEA solver would have been required; concomitant with more advanced engineering skills.

Chiller exported to Autodesk Revit

The latest release of SolidWorks added some BIM exchange capabilities, but Inventor’s BIM data transfer capabilities exceeded SolidWorks in key areas important to building designers. These included specifying connection points and component types that are carried over to the BIM-designer’s software. In addition, the mechanical designer using SolidWorks had a more difficult time orientating the model and simplifying a non-native model for export.

Bell housing

Our test of CATIA interoperability and direct modeling on imported models reiterated the widely known issue that SolidWorks does not directly import a native CATIA V5 file, even though both products are part of the same company. Direct modeling was comparable for both Inventor and SolidWorks, with SolidWorks being a little easier to use for the simple direct model changes we made. The SolidWorks drawing output in DWG format produced an incorrect dimension in a scaled view.

Copies of frame along a path

For design automation, our tests revealed two weaknesses of SolidWorks. SolidWorks with DriveWorks Xpress was not able to automatically scale drawing views to fit a part within the confines of a drawing after the size of the part was changed. Manual intervention was necessary. A second weakness was shown when scaling a copied assembly using 3D curves to define key points as the assembly was copied and scaled to other planes. Inventor was easily able to scale a copied assembly using drive curves; SolidWorks could, but required significant manual effort.

Electrical schematic and assembly

Both systems proved to be comparable in mechatronics where we tested the ability to build wire harnesses using schematic input from electrical software packages, albeit Inventor was able to do so with many fewer interactions.

Conclusions

Ray Kurland, President of TechniCom, knew that the tests were meant to highlight Inventor strengths, but was surprised that SolidWorks Premium 2011 was, in many tests, not able to do the work without adding pricey third party software. Duplicating Inventor’s capability on these tests with third party products will also make SolidWorks substantially more expensive than Inventor.

These seven tests underscore our contention from our previous Delphi Expert Analysis, that Inventor is a mature system that can more than effectively compete with SolidWorks and should definitely be considered for even the most complex situations.

The Inventor workflows illustrated in this series of tests are integrated and highly logical, enabling users to accomplish their design goals with minimal effort. Beyond that, we hope to have shown the value of Autodesk’s digital prototyping emphasis, which we expect will continue to evolve even further.

“I didn’t know that Inventor had this much functionality,” said TechniCom Group’s associate performing the tests, a CSWP. “I know that they acquired a lot of technology over the past few years, but I am surprised to see it all integrated so well into Inventor.”

Overall, TechniCom is most impressed with Inventor and the direction Autodesk is taking for the future. To keep abreast with our continued tracking of the industry and our reactions to Autodesk’s direction we advise readers to follow our blog and twitter feeds.


[1] “Comparing the Capabilities of Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2010 Using TechniCom’s Delphi Expert Technique”, 9 August 2010, a paper by TechniCom Group, available at http://www.cad–portal.com.

Ray posts whitepaper comparing Inventor and SolidWorks

10 Aug 2010: Yesterday I published a TechniCom Group whitepaper comparing Autodesk Inventor 2011 versus SolidWorks Premium 2010 to www.cad-portal.com. I suggest you read it carefully. The methodology used was a new research technology we have been exploring that uses our variation of the Delphi Expert Analysis. This technique has primarily been used in the past to survey experts, the aim being to predict the future. TechniCom adopted it to provide clarity in comparing complex systems such as CAD and PLM. We have also used a similar method to successfully analyze gaps in program plans that might reveal competitive opportunities.

More about this paper

This paper was not our original goal for this study. Rather, we were investigating the competitive positioning of Inventor’s upcoming (at that time) 2011 release as an internal project for Autodesk. Autodesk was particularly interested in exploring the fifteen functional areas shown in the paper, since they felt these were their strong points. Originally we proposed 24 Functional areas. I will share some of these additional areas with you below. Some of these, no doubt, would have shown SolidWorks scoring ahead of Inventor.

In any case, after the results of the expert scores were “normalized” and tallied we were surprised at the results; Autodesk also seemed surprised, but elated. Autodesk asked us to summarize and publish the results. We hesitated, but willing to stand by the results, agreed to write the whitepaper.

Other functional areas – not studied in this analysis

  • Ease of use
  • Installation
  • Third party offerings
  • No charge add-ons (not shipped with the product)
  • External user community
  • Sustainability design
  • Built in Content
  • Overall vendor support
  • Cost (initial and TCO)

Some independent comments on the web have called the report worthless. We could not disagree more. Take it for what it is – the subjective opinions of a limited number of experts familiar with the software. Several of the categories were so close that the voting could have easily gone either way.

Even more important, are that most scores of both vendors are well below the top score of 5. Reviewing these gaps shows that both of these leading vendors still have far to go before they are perfect.

11 Aug 2010: Clarification about the BIM functional area:

The study was not asking whether each system could perform BIM — rather the seven questions we asked the experts were focused on the interaction between a mechanical system and BIM. In essence, could mechanical parts be designed for use within a BIM system? Areas of focus included: managing the space requirements for the mechanical design within the building model, bi-directional data transfer, associative data management, and UI issues.

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