10 App Exchange Reviews

November 18th, 2013

Free Autodesk Inventor® apps?  You mean like a Bloomin’ Onion at Outback?  Count me in!  Wait, you mean Inventor apps as in applications that change how Inventor works for me and makes me more productive? Okay, I’m still in, but I also still want some fried food.
  
In this article we will take a look at several of the free apps available in the Autodesk Inventor Exchange store for trial, purchase, and Subscription customer benefits.

Design Checker 

The first one we will take a look at is the Design Checker that was previously called Validus and sold through DMSI.  Autodesk purchased this software in a manner similar to its purchase of the iLogic code from Logimetrix a couple years ago.  Luckily, I was a user back before this acquisition so I know the tool pretty well.  The fact that the software went from costing around $3,000 to being a free tool delivered exclusively to Subscription customers is a really nice benefit for having an Autodesk subscription right now.

The Inventor Design Checker is a productivity solution that gives the designer insight into the adherence of company or customer standards for the product being designed. Live Checking gives instant feedback to the user and ensures a high level of quality for the entire design process.

Figure 1

Users can use pre-defined checks or define custom checks with iLogic scripts to perform design checking. Executing the on-demand checking updates the design checker results, and enabling the live-checking allows users to get the real-time feedback from the design checker during design process. The Design Checker Results Tree Browser allows users to interactively edit the objects with failed checks, and a Design Checker Results Report shows all the passed and failed check results and allows users to export the report to Excel, Word, or pdf, or print the report.

Now what I really enjoy about this tool is the iProperty checks and some of the modeling checks.  The machining checks I could live without, mostly due to the fact that most companies try not to hire users that make such drastic mistakes in machining operations.  My favorite thus far is the unconstrained sketches check that validates my design before adding it to Vault.  I have also used this as a measuring stick before hiring new engineers or bringing vendor Inventor models into my design.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Autodesk Remote 

This next app allows some really nice RDP use for Autodesk Inventor.  Autodesk Remote is a standalone application for Microsoft Window 7 and 8 and is compatible with all Autodesk products. It lets you drive Autodesk software installed on your primary computer from a remote computer or iPad for fast access to native design data over standard networks. To use it, simply install Autodesk Remote on the PC you want to share. Install it again on the machine you want to connect from and start your connection. Note:  Autodesk Remote currently works only in North America.

Autodesk Remote also has a companion application for the iPad that allows you to access your host PC from an iPad. The iPad app is optimized for Autodesk Inventor so you can work from anywhere, improving collaboration and increasing flexibility. Download the iPad app from the Apple Store.

Figure 4

The controls in the iPad app are pretty easy to understand, but that doesn’t make a high-end CAD product made for the PC instantly translatable to a touch interface.  You can see where interface elements of Inventor have started to lean more towards this inevitable progression, though.

From my usage of the iPad app on my iPad 3, I found the usage a little sluggish and gesturing a bit picky.  I found the use the ESC key a mandatory function as I often initiated one navigation tool and found myself trying to start something else before finishing the tool I was in.  In the end, I see some fantastic usage on the horizon for this app, but right now it is pretty gimmicky for my taste.  I do foresee myself at some point on my front porch with my tablet instead of my computer. I would look cooler to the neighborhood kids, too.

Figure 5

Figure 6

Be aware you will probably have to troubleshoot the setup of this app a bit; I had to lock and unlock my computer and restart the app several times before I got it just right.

Feature Recognition 

The Feature Recognition application converts neutral 3D CAD models, such as STEP, SAT, or IGES solids, into full-featured Autodesk Inventor models. Feature mapping could be executed automatically or interactively as needed to maintain design intent. Currently there is one Automatic Feature Recognition command and eight feature recognition commands you can use.

Figure 7

Automatic Feature Recognition attempts to recognize specific feature types and populate the browser tree with the recognized features. A dialog box displays the feature types you can recognize in the Features section with the defaults checked. You can select features you want to recognize and deselect features you do not want to recognize.

When you import a file it will offer to start feature recognition. If you decide to do it later, you will have to find your Base1 solid in your tree and right click on it to start it again.

Figure 8

This tool has been around for a long time, previously only on Autodesk Labs.  Personally, I don’t like it, mainly because I have to constrain and dimension the sketches when they get recognized by the tool.  If your goal is to bring in a solid and then do some minor modifications to it, then you are better off using the Edit Solid tools also shown in the image above. If you want Work Plane tools also, remember to turn off the Import into Repair Environment as well before opening the file.

Figure 9

If you really had to go the distance and recognize features, it is actually a lot quicker and generally creates a more intelligent modeling history if you just redo it yourself in Inventor.  The recognition tools only lend themselves to simple parts in most cases.

Work Feature Visibility

This product allows Inventor users to manage all work feature visibility in a fast and easy way keeping full awareness of the involved entities. This app consists of six buttons on part environment and another six on assembly environment. Inside of part environment a user can choose to enable or disable the visibility property of planes, axes or points. Inside of assembly environment a user can also choose on which components to enable or disable the visibility property of planes, axes, or points.

Figure 10

I had a little trouble with this app in the assembly environment, but that was due to some bad installation files.  This is one app really worth the $0.99.  How often have you been in an assembly and not wanted to go back to the part files to turn on and off work features? I recommend ungrouping them so you access both commands faster.

Sheet Metal Flat Export

There seems to be a plethora of these apps on the Exchange with each of them varying in price and options.  In general the idea behind these apps is to help automate the process of getting a DXF to a machine that reads them for manufacturing in a more efficient manner.   These programs will scan an assembly file and find the sheet metal files on which to perform their routines.

Figure 11

The different variations of this program range from free trials upwards of $100.00 for the paid apps.  I started with one that gave me a “lite” version that would do 20 sheet metal files and I liked it so much I started using the full version.

Feature Migrator

The Feature Migrator tool allows Inventor users to more easily create part features from assembly features. Users can migrate assembly features either by selecting them in the Feature Migrator browser or by right-clicking on one or several of them and then using the “Send to Parts” commands. Features can also be directly migrated from the regular Inventor model browser using the context menu item added by the add-in.

Figure 12

Once the operation of migrating features is completed, the Feature Migrator displays a dialog that provides information about the results: This first dialog is a “high-level” report of the migration. It provides the opportunity for the user to select the action to take for all the assembly features migrated {Suppress if Succeeded, Suppress always, Delete if Succeeded, Delete always or Nothing}; also for the part features that haven’t been migrated correctly {Suppress, Delete or Nothing} Features created by the add-in can be in an invalid state in the parts for a number of reasons.

The user can also see when a feature is out of date from the assembly and perform updates from the part side.

Figure 13

Now this tool presents a bit of a quandary for me.  I have always stood by the default mentality of Inventor that you design as you would manufacture.  With that being said, sometimes it is just easier to do it in the assembly as a feature there and migrate it down.  Other programs do this with relative ease, but I like the fact this add- in makes you think about what you are doing.  Some added dialog boxes force you through the process instead of easily making the mistake and then something doesn’t line up right during actual assembly because it a machining operation occurred at the wrong time in production.

Collisions4Inventor

I really like this one.  This is what interference analysis should be in Inventor right now.  Collisions4Inventor technically only works on Inventor 2013, but it installed fine for me in 2014.  That little caveat aside, it works extremely slowly, even on small assemblies.  The results, however,  almost make it worth the wait.

Figure 14

The app will actually isolate interferences between two parts and highlight that area only and ignore the rest of the overlaps.  With the current Inventor you have to precisely pre-click which parts or assemblies you would like to analyze.

Now why does it take so long to run the collision detections?  Well this app takes a different approach to finding interferences.  It actually uses intersecting surfaces between the two parts and when you go to another collision in the tree, it starts all over again.  For this five-piece assembly I had to wait about 20 seconds between collision checks.

Figure 15

The ability to save it to the Clipboard for quick pasting in emails or documents was a nice touch, too.  A big downside for me is that you cannot actually find the price for it until you contact the people who made the app.  This is not very marketplace-efficient and perhaps a little telling of what will hit your wallet if you actually want the program.

Time Stamp

Time Stamp is an Autodesk Inventor add-in that provides:

  • A low-cost, simple-to-use tool that adds plot time information to your prints.
  • A plot stamp that does not dirty the Inventor drawing document.
  • A simple, dockable user interface that keeps out of the way.

The Time Stamp editor lets you size, position, and orient the stamp relative to the adjacent sheet edges. You can include date, time, and current user information in the stamp. The time stamp only appears on the plot; it does not alter the Inventor drawing.

Figure 16

What I really like about this app, even though it costs $5.00 per license, is that you can find the price yourself and buy it.  It does everything it says it does and it provides an easy-to-use interface with the software with an icon that changes based on whether the tool is on or off.  If you want even more control over your plot stamping, there is a more professional version offered by this company on their website for about $40.00 a license, which will allow more reporting fields and more control on the look and location of the stamp.

Simple Sheet Settings

Simple Sheet Settings combines the existing sheet settings with some new tools such as changing the title block and also the ability to make changes to all sheets in a document at once.

Instead of first deleting the existing title block from a sheet, expanding the title block folder, and inserting the desired title block, then opening another window to change the sheet size and orientation, just click the "Settings" button located on the Sheets panel in the Placed Views tab (right next to "New Sheet"), and have access to all those options in one location.

Figure 17

When the Simple Sheet Settings window is loaded, it gathers all of the existing title block names and puts them into one drop-down menu.  To change the title block on the current sheet, simply select the desired title block from the drop-down menu and click OK.  There is also the ability to change the Title Block, Sheet Size, and Sheet Orientation to all sheets at one time.

Figure 18

This is a great little app that saves clicks and only costs a dollar.  Quite useful and no real setup involved.

Interactive Tutorial

The Create an Interactive Tutorial app provides instructions for creating your own interactive Inventor tutorial. The Guide also includes how to customize the Welcome Screen to display your interactive tutorial and add to the ribbon.

This one definitely falls under the “too much time on your hands” user or CAD admin.  After reading through the guide on how to create the interactive tutorials, you find yourself asking the question, “Why don’t I just save videos of the process we use in a company server location?”  And that is when you uninstall this app as you have realized that while it sounded good to you at first, there are better ways to accomplish the goal of company-specific tutorials and process documentation.

The tools actually rely on too much externally controlled software such as Camtasia and other plug-ins and third-party apps to make it work correctly.  Save your time and just use Camtasia from Techsmith to do your bidding.

Keeping Up To Date

With all these apps, it is easy to understand how a user could get behind on the updates to so many tools.  With that in mind, the Exchange Manager found on the Tools tab in Inventor will keep track of that for you and offer assistance not only in updating, but also uninstalling and specialized help for each app.

Figure 19

As a reminder, on third-party apps if you start experiencing undesired effects in Inventor, start turning add-ins off one by one until you isolate which one is giving you fits.  Proper reporting back on the app to the developers makes everyone happier when the issue gets resolved.  Thus far, I haven’t had near as many issues as I thought I would have.

Any Many More!

With 80+ apps currently in the store and about 60 of them ready for 2014 at the time of this article, you should take some time and look through what is available.  There are apps which are very niche to the user base as well as those that have you scratching your head over why they are not already part of the core software.  Here are some I would write about if I had more room in the article and/or a fatter PayPal wallet.

  • BOM Tools
  • EDM Express
  • Sketch Symbol Library
  • SolidWorks iProperty Import
  • Quick Views
  • 3D Pipe
  • Point Linker
  • KwikTools

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About the Authors

John Evans

John Evans is an Autodesk Certified Inventor Professional . He provides technical troubleshooting at Gustin, Cothern, and Tucker, Inc. He works as design consultant and author from his company John Evans Design and manages the blog “Design and Motion.” He can be reached at john@johnevansdesign.net

 

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