Movies offer clues to CAD’s direction

While the number of actual visitors to Autodesk University 2009 was down 30%, an estimated 20,000 attended via a video link, making it the most successful AU to date. Alan Johnson reports from Las Vegas.

Readers who want to see the future direction of 3D design should take a peek at the technology behind James Cameron’s latest Stereoscopic 3D movie Avatar.

Visitors to Autodesk’s recent user conference, Autodesk University 2009, held in Las Vegas December 1-3, saw how elements of this exciting technology will be used in upcoming software releases for the manufacturing sector.

The technology is amazing, while the actor performs in a simple black jump suit, with sensors attached, the director is able to see the actor in character; what the audience will actually see.

Autodesk is clearly utilising technology developed in other areas of the company, to the benefit of industrial design engineers.

The Vegas event highlighted a series of real-world applications of digital prototyping, designed to inspire manufacturers with better ways to design and manufacturer leading products for competitive advantage.

Carl Bass, Autodesk’s CEO, said the company is developing systems that enable users to move between tools easier, “with more interoperability”.

“We are also developing more simulation and analysis tools to make design engineers more productive.”

Bass also took time in his keynote address to talk about the benefits of web-based computing – cloud computing. Describing it as a “long monitor cable”, Bass said the price points are shifting for users.

“For those companies using computer heavy software, it makes sense to use someone else’s computing power.”

Bass believes it will become far more common in three to five years, despite present IP concerns of users.

Amy Bunszel, Autodesk’s senior director – digital engineering division, believes most manufacturers are still sceptical about cloud computing.

“As well as their IP, they are also concerned about bandwidth and latency. But cloud computing will come.

“I compare it to electronic plane tickets. Most people were concerned when they were introduced; they didn’t have a ‘proper’ ticket, but today they are commonplace.

“Cloud computing will be the same. There will be internal firewalls so their IP is protected,” Bunszel said.

Sustainability and simulation

Sustainability and simulation were the other keywords at the event, with Autodesk developing software which enables manufacturers to look at alternative materials.

“For manufacturers, materials are one of the biggest areas that have an impact on their sustainability, and the product’s weight and cost.

“Simulation is a huge opportunity for us. Even in a tight market, customers are investing in simulation. It helps them be more innovative, especially in the plastics field with Moldflow,” Bunszel told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Autodesk’s Moldflow software, for example, has over 8000 different materials, and according to Bunszel, the company is looking at expanding the range of materials covered to metals and aluminium.

“Sustainability for us includes what the material is and how much material. Customers are using simulation to try some crazy things, which is easy with no materials used.

“Companies who are looking to revamp their product lines are bringing simulation further up in the process, and not just be a validation exercise,” she said.

For those companies who still haven’t made the move to 3D software, Bunszel shakes her head.

“Without digital prototyping they are at risk. Because of what you can do in 3D, there is a huge gap.

“The visualisation alone; if you are competing with companies with 3D drawings, you have a huge dis-advantage.

“And then you have simulation, which will help drive people from 2D to 3D. It helps companies drive innovation and solve problems,” she said.

Bunszel advises companies not to be afraid. “We have made the transition as easy as possible, and can handle legacy products.

“Plus we have made a big effort on driving up user productivity and taken out much of the complexity. Our Inventor product is now 10 years old and the technology is expanding rapidly.

“For example, we are working on a new graphics engine that allows customers to go from pencil drawings to fully photo realistic images of their 3D model.

“The rendering so good, it’s not possible to tell the difference from a picture or manual rendering,” Bunszel said.

Product documentation

Of interest to Autodesk users and non-users alike is the preview debut of Inventor Publisher on Autodesk Labs.

Historically, product documentation has been dominated by 2D manuals that are text-heavy and confusing. Publisher is designed to improve the user experience by producing documentation such as assembly instructions and operating procedures or repair and maintenance guides that are 3D, highly visual and easy to understand.

With Publisher, product manufacturers can easily create highly detailed technical illustrations and animations without any prior animation experience.

Tools specifically designed for creating documentation work directly with the digital CAD data to automatically create exploded views and view sequences or generate full-motion animations illustrating a process from multiple viewpoints.

“Publisher helps us to more clearly communicate complex instructions with 3D and impressive animation,” said John Cay, project design engineer at ContiTech Beattie, a leading supplier of specialist hoses and fluid handling systems for the international oil and gas industry.

“That helps us create a better customer experience and reduces the chances of operator error,” Cay said.

Once authored, documentation can be published in a variety of formats including SWF, AVI, DWF, PPT, PDF, and other common image file types. This documentation can then be made available on the web or delivered electronically via email.

Publisher is said to benefit manufacturers as well as end users. Part of the Autodesk Solution for Digital Prototyping, Publisher provides the ability to produce documentation directly from the digital prototype, reducing rework and inefficiencies. And because documentation can be developed concurrently with the design process, companies can start creating their product documentation sooner – allowing for faster time to market.

Autodesk is offering a free download of Publisher, simply visit http://labs.autodesk.com.

3D printed jet engine

At AU 2009, Autodesk and Stratasys unveiled the world’s first 3D print of a life-size commuter jet turbo prop engine.

The engine, which includes some functional, moving parts such as the propellers, was designed exclusively in Inventor software by Nino Caldarola, an aerospace designer and engineer based in Manitoba, Canada.

The 10 foot by 10 foot engine, comprising nearly 200 ABS plastic parts, was on display in the AU Design Matters pavilion and will permanently reside in the Autodesk Gallery.

According to Autodesk, a 3D print of this sophistication could help aerospace engineers validate the digital prototype, conduct analysis and determine how components will fit together.

An Australian perspective

When it comes to cloud computing, Karsten Hojberg, Autodesk’s director of manufacturing solutions here in Australia, says there are several manufacturers who are interested; mainly because of the computer power it can offer.

“Any company with million part assemblies on 64 bit needs a lot of computing power.

“While they are a little wary on how they control it and protect their IP, they are not saying this is ridiculous.

“They are saying it’s interesting. ‘How can we make this work for us to our advantage?”

Denis Branthorne, regional director – ASEAN & ANZ, believes cloud computing will only be taken up by manufacturers who are having problems in that area.

“Life would be very simple if all manufacturing was done locally with a small team, and customers were just round the corner.

“The problem is the world we are living in is far more complicated. Manufacturers are working with customers who are in other parts of Australia or the world.

“They have to manage supply chains that might not be in Australia either, or you could have a JV which means project management collaboration becomes critical,” Branthorne told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Cloud computing is designed to solve these problems, but Branthorne admits it’s not clear at this stage how it will work.

“It’s still in development and is being driven by our customers. They decide the direction.”

Hojberg believes Australian manufacturers have the ability to adopt new technology relatively quickly.

“We saw that with the adoption of 3D over the past couple of years. They recognise the need to be competitive and use technology to keep them in front of their opposition.”

He says Publisher will be of interest to many Australian manufacturers, with something like 75% of companies struggling with their technical documentation.

“The number of Australian downloads from Labs has been very encouraging,” Hojberg said.

Branthorne agrees, Australia is an early adopter of 3D CAD, but says Autodesk is more than just one product.

“Digital prototyping is our overall solution and it’s getting stronger year after year,” he said.