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Inventor Fusion, a Transitional Modeler for 2D Users

Kevin Schneider, an Autodesk product manager for Manufacturing Solutions, discusses why Fusion may help 2D users ease into 3D.

Kevin Schneider, an Autodesk product manager for Manufacturing Solutions, discusses why Fusion may help 2D users ease into 3D.

Now in its third incarnation as a technology preview (a free download from Autodesk Labs), Autodesk Inventor Fusion represents the company’s initiative to deliver an easier, simpler mechanical CAD modeler. But what started out as an alternative to history-based parametric modeling programs may also become a migration shortcut for 2D CAD users to venture into 3D.

Kevin Schneider, a product manager for Autodesk’s Manufacturing Industry Group, noted, “Fusion tries to build a bridge where customers can reuse a lot of their existing 2D knowledge and experience, and learn new 3D experiences … lots of users, for various different reasons, have found moving to 3D a challenge. We hope Fusion provides an incremental stepping stone to them.”

Some of Fusion’s direct geometry manipulation functions have now been incorporated into Autodesk Inventor 2011, the latest version of Autodesk’s classic history-based parametric 3D modeler. Similarly, some may soon crop up somewhere in AutoCAD, the de facto drafting and drawing program for many 2D users.

“I think there are a lot of capabilities inside Inventor Fusion that are attractive to AutoCAD users, particularly as AutoCAD’s 3D tools become more sophisticated … As we refine functions in Fusion, we can choose to make some of those capabilities available and integrated them into the Autodesk Shape Manager (Autodesk’s solid modeling engine). And that benefits all of the Autodesk products that use that engine, AutoCAD being one of them …”

In this interview, Schneider discusses the softer side of Fusion, why the difference between “direct manipulation” and “direct editing” or “direct modeling” is more than semantics, what the future holds for Fusion, and more.

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. Last time I can remember softball questions like those asked of Kevin Schneider by Kenneth Wong I was wasting time reading a Franco Fettuccine interview on his Dull Edge blog.

    Lets cut to the chase shall we. The tools in Alias are too difficult to use for most CAD users. In order to really differentiate Inventor Fusion / Inventor and gain serious market share Autodesk will have no choice but to make surfacing tools a whole lot easier to use than they currently are to use in hybrid solid / surface CAD modelers. Inventor users or potential Inventor users aren’t going to put up with dumbed down surfacing tools in Inventor Fusion just because Autodesk doesn’t want to step on the toes of Alias users or hurt Alias’s market share. The bigger market is what Inventor Fusion needs to appeal to and if this means hurting Alias market share so be it.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  2. Jon: Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    I don’t know of any hybrid surface/solid modeler that lets you create sophisticated surfaces and traditional mechanical parts with equal ease. Most surfacing or mechanical modeling software puts its focus on one or the other: For instance, Alias and Rhino for surfaces; Inventor, SolidWorks, and Solid Edge for MCAD.

    However, the latest release of Alias Design (2011) includes an Inventor plug-in, Alias Design for Inventor. It’s not a free tool (as you need to purchase Alias Design 2011 to get it), but it does give, in my view, the right amount of surfacing capabilities to an Inventor user with the right level of ease.

    But if you happen to know a hybrid package that lets one do both mechanical modeling and surfacing with equal ease, let me know. I’d like to take a look at it and cover it.

  3. Kenneth,

    Thanks for publishing my thoughts uncensored. I really appreciate that.

    You said:

    “I don’t know of any hybrid surface/solid modeler that lets you create sophisticated surfaces and traditional mechanical parts with equal ease.”

    Neither do I. The words I once stole from VX marketing material to describe what I believed needed to happen were: Seamless, Unified and Hybrid. I don’t believe that VX ever fully delivered on this promise but they made a good start and back then VX was further along toward achieving this goal than other mid-priced solid modelers. In some ways they still are but their significant advantage is fading with the passage of time.

    You said:

    “However, the latest release of Alias Design (2011) includes an Inventor plug-in, Alias Design for Inventor. It’s not a free tool (as you need to purchase Alias Design 2011 to get it), but it does give, in my view, the right amount of surfacing capabilities to an Inventor user with the right level of ease.”

    I agree that it’s the right level of ease of use. I don’t agree that it’s anywhere near powerful enough yet. Based on what I’ve been shown and told by an Autodesk employee I believe Autodesk is moving in the right direction in this area.

    I’d like to conclude with some conclusions I’ve made after many, many years of following the CADCAM business:

    Autodesk is almost in the position to convert a significant number of SolidWorks accounts because I believe they have invested very heavily in direct modeling where SolidWorks hasn’t and because Autodesk has the surfacing technology (Alias) that can be used to give Inventor powerful surfacing. As a outsider it appears to me that Buzz Kross and his staff have worked very, very hard to get to this point. What I believe is now needed from Autodesk is the commitment and the understanding of what it will take to seriously grow Inventor’s market. There are lots of wonderful user interface tools in Inventor Fusion but it’s no where near powerful enough at this point to make a significant impact on the market.

    Please give what I wrote above some thought and let me know if you reach the same conclusions I have.

    Perhaps in the future CAM running inside a direct modeler rather than a history based modeler would make a good discussion because I feel this really needs to happen.

    Finally, some final thoughts not directly related to any of this. I remember seeing a video you did around Halloween. I really enjoyed the end of this video and thought it was unique, very creative and made you stand out from your peers. I like your style but I’d like to see you temper your warm and friendly approach to CAD slightly with the type of conclusion I’ve made: That powerful direct modeling and much easier to use surfacing tools is where CAD modeling needs to go at this point. If you or others get a chance you might want to read Paul Hamilton’s blog where Feature Recognition is discussed as a way to greatly enhance direct modeling.

    I spent the last two years working for Qualcomm’s machine shop in San Diego and for sure a powerful easy to use direct modeler with feature recognition would have significantly enhanced our productivity in the Qualcomm machine shop.

    Jon Banquer
    San Diego, CA

  4. Jon: I’m in agreement with you for the most part. I covered direct modeling extensively in blog posts, videos, and newsletters. The previous posts on Inventor Fusion, Alias Design for Inventor, and the current series on Solid Edge with Synchronous Tech 2 illustrate my support for direct modeling and my belief that there’s much value to be gain with this modeling approach.

    According to Autodesk execs, Inventor Fusion is not meant to become an independent product unto itself. It’s a technology preview whose features and capabilities will eventually be absorbed into Inventor proper, allowing users to use both history-based parametric editing as well as direct modeling methods. For this reason, I don’t focus too much on the shortcomings of Inventor Fusion’s interface.

    I advocated direct modeling in the editorial I wrote titled “Anticipating the Next Paradigm Shift in CAD,” available here: http://www.deskeng.com/articles/aaarxw.htm

    I haven’t covered surfacing tools that much for the simple fact that I lack expertise in the subject matter. But in principle, I do agree a CAD product that has powerful–and easy to use–surfacing tools is a necessary step in the evolution of CAD and critical to unleashing user creativity.

  5. I must agree with Jon Banquer’s comment. I’ve been a hardcore Solidworks user since the beginning (1997). Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed a degradation in the usability of the Solidworks product. Having been spoiled by the ealier years of Solidworks development, where enhancements were just that…enhancements, I’ve noticed that each new release seem to break (usability, large assembly performance, PDM, Motion, etc.) more than they fix.

    In any case, I’ll be test driving Autodesk Inventor this summer, base on one simple fact…R&D investment. I’ve reviewed the Annual Report for Solidworks and Autodesk. Autodesk invested $576.1 million in R&D for 2009, where i expect 65% ($374.4 million) was used for development of engineering applications.

    The Autodesk R&D budget is equal to the total revenue of the Solidworks product lines. Dessault spent approximatly $500 million on R&D, but I estimate the lions share went to improving PLM (corporate focus) as opposed to the main stream CAD product line (Solidworks). Based on revenue percentates I estimate the R&D budget of Solidworks at $100 Million, or 1/4 what Autodesk is investing in the market.

    Lastly, the tone of each Annual Report says even more. Dessault Systems is focus on its PLM product line which is probably where most of its R&D budget is directed. On the other hand, Autodesk is focused on their applications (AutoCAD, Inventor, Maya, 3DMAx, etc.). If these trends continue at each company, I expect Inventor, as well as other Autodesk products to grab significant MCAD market share based on improving the robustness and usability through R&D investment.

  6. I stumbled on this site from a link at delicious. Interesting topic with many great points. I wanted to say thank you for taking time to share this information. Robert from Illinois

  7. A post on the SE BBS forums today brought me to to this post and has me thinking of a few things here.

    D Damatos letter really resonates with me. Many long time Solid Edge users feel the same way towards what they perceive to be the cavalier attitude the various owners of Solid Edge have taken towards their users and it is an ongoing topic of discussion on the BBS forums for the last year plus. It currently is like if we are not joined at the hip with PLM we are of no interest because we are not spending enough money with them. And heaven forbid the name of Solid Edge in an ad campaign. This post today is a case in point. Below me I see an ad from Siemens. It is one of their typical silly ads with no mention of a specific software but says ” How can you get your teams to collaborate faster”. We all know this means PLM and it appears to be the only thing they care about.

    Quite frankly I bought Solid Edge the cad program because it is what I want to use but problems persist going into the third version of ST now and the focus Siemens elects to take is just like the one Dassault is taking with SW users. If you aren’t PLM you aren’t worth talking to and your user problems don’t count enough for us to free up the money to solve them. Solid Edge users I talk to feel our subscription money is going sideways to develope products we have no interest in or benefit from and it does not sit well with us.

    A big part of what I am looking for in the cad program I use happens to be the potential for future work and the bigger the market share for my software of choice the bigger the potential payoff is for me. I am 56 and I am really looking for a place to stay for the rest of my working career. The idea that Autodesk is spending this kind of money tells me that they may hopefully be takeing the future seriously and are willing to pursue it. Their ads tell me what they are and do so with great regularity and specificity. They are telling me they are going to pursue market share. As I stand here looking in the window at the Inventor world I am interested to see how they implement their direct modeling and certainly will entertain the idea of switching if they can bring a program that is focused on CAD and not PLM, does not use me for a beta tester for two going on three years, and will work. I see them taking quite some time to develope their direct editing and they are certainly soliciting for user opinions which I assume they are taking into consideration. I am watching.

    I happen to like SE for the most part warts and all and speak favorably of it in most areas and I bought it over SW and Inventor. Over time things can change though and I have come to conclude that opportunities for employment with the software you choose are probably as important as the ability of the software you use if not more so. I look at Inventor and wonder if they will make it worth my while to switch from a company like Siemens that seems to take me for granted. I can’t consider SW even though they have the market share anymore because they are clearly going to the forced subscription data hostage cloud model in the near future.

    I see VX mentioned here also and I have been a user since V9. They are going to be implementing a direct modeler for V15 sometime this fall and I am quite eager to see how this works out. VX is a small company compared to the others mentioned here and I am quite certain the capital is not there for a big ad campaign and I suspect they may never have a large market share. But if they pull off the direct modeleing right I think they will finally get some serious attention. While their lack of sheet metal and things like pipe and electrical routing in any meaningfull form precludes them from MCAD their modeleling and cam capabilities combined are less expensive than most versions of SE,SW or Inventor’s cad programs alone. Less than $7,000.00 buys me a great modeler and 3 axis milling with $1,500.00 yearly. SE for instance since it is the only other one whose prices I know would be over $18,000.00 to get cad [Classic version on cad which is what I have] and 3 axis cam with of course the much better MCAD capabilities but look at the price tag. And lets not forget the $3,500 yearly fee if I remember right.

    It is a shame that we have to make choices of programs based on the problems we know we will have and can choose to live with as compared to those we know we can’t. Leaves the market wide open for the first company who will take users seriously, create a great Direct Editing MCAD program and can command large market share to eat up the user base of competing software. Will Inventor be the one? I still beleive Solid Edge COULD have been the one but may indeed be stuck as an also ran with just dancing around the bullets Siemens, UGS etal likes to aim at it’s feet as it’s reward.

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