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Autodesk AutoCAD 2010

Review Part 2 - features and futures
Tue Sep 29 2009, 15:52

LAST WEEK we had a quick look at the initial feel of the revamped AutoCAD 2010 user interface, including the overall experience and interactive 3D viewing capabilities using my massive old city models.

This installment takes a closer look at the drawing and modeling features of AutoCAD 2010.

Parametric drawing and modeling was long an exclusive feature of ultra high-end engineering design packages costing upwards of five digits per seat. It's the ability to have each drawing object's features parameterised, giving them labels and constraints in positions or dimensions rather than only giving them fixed numeric dimensions, and relationships between the parameters of different objects in the entire model are tracked. As you change numeric values of a given dimension in an object, features or dimensions of other objects related to the changed object are automatically updated.

The design approach in parametric modeling uses parameters to define a model, such as dimensions, for example. The parameter may be modified later, and the model will update to reflect the modification. Typically, there is a relationship between parts, assemblies, and drawings. These capabilities provide a way to try out ideas and make design changes efficiently, while maintaining specified relationships and distances. Changes made to one object can adjust other objects. For example, if a line is constrained to be tangent to an arc, changing the location of the arc maintains the tangency automatically.

You can guess it's a very powerful way to model and draw things, but requires more skill in model creation. A complicated model for a part might have a thousand features, and modifying an early feature may cause later features to fail. Skillfully created parametric models are easier to maintain and modify.

Now, my first check on this showed that AutoCAD 2010 still lags behind fully parametric software like ProEngineer, or Autodesk's own titles like Revit, which fully parameterise architectural design from beginning to the end. But the capabilities of AutoCAD 2010 in this area are a quantum leap compared to the drawing functionality built into older AutoCAD revisions.

In AutoCAD 2010 there are also substantial updates in editing and modifying complex 3D meshes and solids quickly from basic shapes. AutoCAD now allows much easier breaking of simple surfaces into many subsurfaces and then individually editing, smoothing or transforming them. In the example below, I started with a cube, a donut and a cone, and had them smoothed and adjusted within a minute, as you can see on this screen shot:


If you're creating a complex model over many hours and days, far more is achievable of course. The basic surface and solid creation commands didn't change much, but the editing and modification tools have been improved a lot.

Finally, once you've done your drawings and models, you have to get them into a usable file format for the rest of the team, including non-AutoCAD users. The Export To ribbon panel provides a handy quick exporting capability here. I could select either the whole drawing, or an area in model space or a layout to export to a DWF, DWFx, or PDF file. DWF was Autodesk's attempt to standardise non-editable drawing exchange output the same way that PDF does for non-editable document output, but with mixed success.

Also, in AutoCAD 2010, multi-sheet PDF files can be created from layouts and sheets and published directly from the Sheet Set Manager or automatically when a drawing is closed or saved, for instance for daily drawing document exchange between departments.

In Short
In this two-part review, we see that AutoCAD 2010 has vastly improved drafting, modeling, editing and visualisation capabilities, and now has better PDF output for drawing sharing. The 64-bit version can handle large drawings and models in the multi-gigabyte range as well. Furthermore, the software core renewal process seems to be about complete here. Yes, there are other newer-generation applications like Rhino that might take the place of Microstation and such to challenge the status quo, and in time we'll try to bring you more about those as well.

For future AutoCAD development, I'd like to see a more streamlined user interface with more screen area free for actual drawing - and no, I don't mean turning off the menus to get that done. AutoCAD's 3D visualisation navigation wheel should be redesigned to avoid pressing the wrong functions as the mouse moves, although I guess that a 3-D mouse or spaceball would be more appropriate there anyway. Also, if possible, the return of OpenGL would be welcome, either via Autodesk Heidi or a truly native renderer, as an option for the real time visualisation. Many of us simply don't trust DirectX for uses beyond gaming. µ

The Good:
Core rework completed, massive feature set, parametric and 3D updates, and of course it's still the standard for CAD.

The Bad:
The GUI has become a bit too complex.

The Ugly:
Price - $495 to $1,295 for most versions, or higher - isn't going to get any cheaper any time soon.

Bartender's Report:



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