Creative Inventor: MDT Translations Revisited

In the July 2007 issue of AUGI HotNews, I provided information on how to convert various types of CAD files into Autodesk Inventor. At that time, Mechanical Desktop was still a viable product, although usage was steadily declining.

With the shipping of Inventor 2009, Autodesk announced that work on Mechanical Desktop had stopped, and the 2009 version of Mechanical Desktop would be the last new release. For Mechanical Desktop users, the usability window is closing very fast. Every Mechanical Desktop user needs to migrate to Inventor immediately in order to avoid loss of precious archived files. Action must be taken quickly, before you are no longer able to open Mechanical Desktop due to a change in hardware platforms or other reasons.

Existing Mechanical Desktop designs need to be converted to parametric Inventor files as quickly as possible in order to preserve archived designs. Depending on whether you used Mechanical Desktop correctly in the past - you will have either a relatively easy migration path, or a difficult one.

In order to translate Mechanical Desktop files into Autodesk Inventor, you need to have an active version of Mechanical Desktop on the same system as Inventor.

The Translation Process

The process of moving your old files to Autodesk Inventor requires several very important steps to assure success:


  • Careful examination of all Mechanical Desktop files prior to translation to ensure that parts are named correctly in the catalog.
  • Migration of all files to the latest version of Mechanical Desktop that you have.
  • Develop an understanding of the features that your version of Inventor and Mechanical Desktop can translate. For example, if you are using the Combine feature in Mechanical Desktop, you will need Inventor 2010 to accurately translate the Combine features into Inventor.
  • If you have not already done so, take a class in Autodesk Inventor from a qualified instructor with a background in Mechanical Desktop. You need to know how to use Inventor and be comfortable with your new design tool.
  • Take a few months and actually start using Inventor for production.
  • Set up your project files correctly and understand how they work in Inventor. Data management and structure is very important in both Mechanical Desktop and Inventor. Be sure that you have a good file structure that is both MDT and Inventor friendly.

Test Translations

  • Before you do anything else, back up all your Mechanical Desktop files to another drive or folder outside of your Project search path.
  • Do not attempt to translate without a backup available - just in case you do something wrong.
  • Select a few Mechanical Desktop example files for practice. Pick at least one of each representative file: type.
           1. Assembly file with internal part files
           2. Assembly file with external part files
           3. A single part file
           4. If you have used surfaces, then select a surface model file.
           5. Ideally all of the above file types should include drawing views.
  • Carefully examine all translated files in Inventor for accuracy before attempting any further translations. If you have an issue, you may e-mail me directly.

How to translate

Unfortunately, the translation process is not a one-size-fits-all transaction. Your results will very widely depending upon how you have used Mechanical Desktop and the specific content included within your files. As a result, you will more than likely encounter some issues, which must be specifically resolved for your file types. If you encounter difficulties that you cannot resolve, contact your reseller or Autodesk technical support for assistance. If your reseller cannot assist you in the translation process, then you may contact me directly.

Once you have examined your files for completeness, then you should be able to proceed with the translation steps listed below in this article. Keep in mind that every part in every assembly must have a unique name listed in the catalog and in the model browser. Duplicate instances within the browser should have the same name. Again, make sure that you test every process out before you proceed.

Autodesk Inventor has a tool available in the All Programs -> Autodesk -> [Inventor version] -> Tools flyout that allows you to batch process your translations once you have made sure that your files are consistent.

This program, called Task Scheduler, allows you to create a custom migration path for your Mechanical Desktop to Inventor files. In order for this to work correctly, you must save out a custom configuration in Inventor to do the translation process automatically.

I am currently producing a detailed tutorial that will be available on website in mid-January 2010. Be sure to go to the site in January to get more information on receiving this tutorial, which will be available free to AUGI members. In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me directly with any questions or comments.

Here's the Excerpt from July 2007 Hotnews.

Converting Existing Mechanical Desktop Files

In order to convert Mechanical Desktop parametric models to Inventor parametric models and assemblies, you will need to have the matching Mechanical Desktop program installed and open before proceeding with the import. The 64-bit version of Inventor 2008/Mechanical Desktop will not permit importing and conversion of Mechanical Desktop files. You will need to create a 32-bit installation on a 32-bit Windows XP SP2 or Vista install.

In Mechanical Desktop, verify the part names within the file, as the Inventor Import will retain the same names. The import function is essentially the same as shown above, except that you have the option to import the layout sheets as well as the model. The layout sheets will import into an associated IDW file.

Here are the steps to import Mechanical Desktop part and assembly files into Inventor part and assembly files with associated drawings:

  • In the original Mechanical Desktop file, make sure that all parts and subassemblies files are properly named; i.e., something other than Part1, Part 2, etc. Make sure that you use unique part or assembly names for each separate part or subassembly.
  • In Inventor, select Open from the File pulldown.
  • Change the file type in the open dialog box to AutoCAD.dwg, and select your Mechanical Desktop file.
  • Pick on the Options button, select Import. Pick OK.
  • Pick Open to start the file import.
  • In the first page of the DWG/DXF File Wizard, you may verify that you are reading content from an Mechanical Desktop file. Pick Next to proceed to the next page.
  • If you are opening a file containing solids, then you will see the model view of the Mechanical Desktop file containing the parts and subassemblies. If you are importing layout views, then make sure that the appropriate checkboxes are marked. Pick Next.

  • In the third page of the wizard, you will see areas offering options for assembly, part, and drawing views. In addition, you may specify the proper templates that inventor will use during the translation. The final box on this page allows you to set the destination folder for all of the translated files. Be sure to choose a destination folder for your Inventor assembly and part files.
  • Make sure that the detected units of the Mechanical Desktop file are correct so that the Inventor files will match the correct unit type. Pick Finish to complete the import.

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