I think it all started with my first Trapper Keeper in school. About half the other kids had the same blue Mead Trapper Keeper I had. Small town, one store for school supplies—it was bound to happen. I had to change that blue Trapper Keeper and make it my own. It needed to be more awesome that Billy’s or Peter’s. So came the stickers, doodles, and attachments to make it my own and to make me proud of my Trapper Keeper.
Why shouldn’t I do the same with my software design package?
In this article I will take a look at several ways to make your Autodesk Inventor® install better than Billy’s or Peter’s. In no small way is this a finite list of cool stuff you can do, but it’s a good start for most of us and it is bound to turn some heads.
1. Marking Menu
Our first customization digs into the Marking Menu that was introduced in Inventor 2012 and enhanced in 2013. This radial menu allows users to find commands easier than with the traditional pull-down menu system. After a couple days of playing around with it, I really started moving with this new interface element. I have found over time I am spending much less time in the ribbon and I owe all of that not to the out-of-the-box Marking Menu, but to the ability to customize it for my tasks.
To customize the Marking Menu, go to the Manage tab and choose Customize on the Options panel. The last tab in this dialog box empowers the user to change anything in the different arrays of the menu. Simply select an item in the radial that you wish to change and find the new command on the right side. Selecting it there will replace it in the menu.
To take this customization further in 2013, we have the ability to add an additional User Marking Menu with a Ctrl+right-click for any extra commands we want that didn’t fit in the original eight menu items.
There is also a predefined scenario just for sketching that will activate a radial menu of just your geometric constraints so you don’t have to travel to the ribbon to get them.
2. iLogic Forms
Inventor 2012 introduced us to software creation for our own custom forms. Since then I can’t think of a project in which I haven’t tried to use a form at sone point.
The best thing about iLogic is that it is all about customization. This part of the software will tell Inventor how to meet your design criteria instead of mashing through the same routine over and over again. The following are some ways I have used iLogic forms over the past couple years.
• Filling out Title blocks in one location instead of using iProperties from all over the place and Prompted Entries.
• Inside of Start Parts to quickly change design criteria quickly instead of looking through the parameter table and manually making several cascading changes.
• Sales Configurators for quick quoting turnaround before a job is actually received.
• Loop back functions to dial in mass properties or volume for a part instead of constantly fudging a number to get there.
In order to create forms, you don’t have to know custom scripting as you did before the release of Inventor 2012. Now you can use an easy in-software build box to create a form on the fly. Just remember the differences between Local and Global forms. Global forms will reside in your Design Data directory with the rest of your Styles Library in a new folder called iLogic. Local forms stay in the file in which you created them, and are only editable there.
One thing you may not immediately understand about iLogic forms is that you need to use another iLogic rule to fire the form when you decide you want it to appear.
Then an Event Trigger needs to be established that calls the rule to fire that form.
3. Content Center
Content Center has to be perhaps the most time consuming of these customizations due to the nature of the discussions and management around standard parts in your company. I am just going to take a topical look at this item since I could write an entire article on this area alone.
For starters, I always take the Content Center, and immediately copy and farm out all the data I want to my own personal library for editing. I do this because the Autodesk-supplied library is read only and Autodesk does not have my company naming and material specs in mind when they mass produced this.
You can create a new Content Center library with either Desktop Content or Vault Libraries; just make sure you have the access rights for the latter. Use the Content Center Editor on the Manage tab once you have the library created to farm in the content you wish to modify.
From there it is simply a matter of changing the Material, Family Naming, and assigning any part numbers you want. This helps get rid of that nasty, long name Autodesk gives everything. If I wanted a description that long I would have asked my 6-year-old about his day at the zoo!
Open the Family Table to add new lengths, part numbers, custom properties such as a SAP number, or anything else you want to tweak. You can even adjust the table in Excel.
4. Document Settings
Document Settings have come a long way in recent years. You can now preset Drawing Limits (Modeling tab) for your new part creation. No more looking at a 5x3-inch area when you are building large parts.
Some of the other tweaks I make include changing my dimension display to Expression so I don’t have to do that for every new file I make. Other considerations to make should include default Material selection and the Make Components settings for Multi-Body work.
Take some time and adjust these settings to your liking in your Part Templates.
5. Lighting & Shadows
Starting with Inventor 2012, the default Visual Style out-of-the-box for parts and assemblies was switched to Shaded Mode with no edges. Well, that doesn’t fly too well with me. I like those edges on the model and I have grown to expect them. So let’s take control of how our documents open each time with the Visual Style and Lighting settings preset.
In the Application Options on the Display tab, there is a setting that controls just this. I am amazed how many people miss this in their installs. By default, it is set to Document Settings of the opened file. I prefer to change it to global Application Settings and then adjust right here how everything will appear on open.
The settings we can adjust here include Visual Style, Shadows, Reflections, Lighting Environments, Ray Tracing settings, and more. Set these up the way you prefer and stop changing them all the time. Nothing is more annoying than a coworker saving the model in a particular way with these settings and then you have to change it when you open.
6. iFeature Icons
Inventor's iFeatures (.ide files) allow users to reuse repetitive geometry without having to remodel it from scratch each time. Typically these features are industry-, company-, or design-specific. They aid in the standardization of designs as well as the custom one-offs with similar feature sets.
Beyond just the geometric, more customization can take place inside the iFeature to create your own custom imagery for the browser tree icons. This will help users tell the geometry apart from other Inventor iFeatures. For instance, if you are using more than one iFeature in a file it would be best to create a visual difference in the browser, and it can be good for a change of pace from the normal icon. Simply start the Change Icon command inside the iFeature file. Here you will be able to change the color and design of the browser image. If you want a clear background you have to choose the Magenta color as a back fill.
Now when the iFeature is used it will have a distinguishable icon in the browser to determine the geometry it represents or maybe just a company logo to show that it is your standardization.
Inventor does need to be restarted in order for the icon changes to take effect in the iFeature placement flyout (Manage tab, Insert panel). Notice some of these do not have icons and others do.
7. Modeling Sections
This one is a little annoyance pertaining to the Slice Graphics (F7 in sketch mode) tool and the Section Viewing tools (modeling mode) in the Part or assembly environments of Inventor.
The annoyance here is that the material looks like concrete. I know this isn't a huge deal, but that is what customization is all about—making it look the way you want.
Close Inventor and start the windows registry editor REGEDIT. In the dialog, go to…
Expand the “Schemes” folder and click the color scheme folder number where you want to change the texture. This trick is scheme-specific. Following is the mapping between color scheme number and its name in the application options.
On a blank area in the right pane of the regedit dialog, right-click > New > String Value. Rename “New Value #1″ to SliceCapTexturePath. The name must be entered exactly—registry variables are case sensitive.
Double-click the name, and the Edit String dialog will pop up. Enter either an absolute path in the Value data field or a dash ( – ). Absolute path example: C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Inventor 2013\Bin\ANSI31_Hatch.bmp. Consider saving this with items you update from year to year such as textures or other style data.
Close the registry key and the Registry editor. Start Inventor and load the correct color scheme to give it a try with Slice Graphics.
Let’s change one of the blandest and, over time, most annoying sounds of Autodesk Inventor—the constraint audio notification.
This sound effect exists to alert when a user places an assembly constraint in the assembly environment. It behaves as an indication that your constraint has succeeded in selection and is ready to be applied. Unfortunately, it sounds like my son playing with a tin pop can and it makes me want to run to the kitchen to find out why.
Some users never notice this noise since they are not provided speakers at work and are shocked when they hear it at home for the first time. Others have heard it and turn it off because it becomes routine or mundane over time. I offer another take on the audio notification. Why not make it more inspiring or personal based on your tastes? In order to accomplish this we first need to find a nice short .wav file that we like, usually one word or a single effect is best. Here are some samples to get you going.
Once we have a sound file that suits us, the next step is naming and placing it in Inventor’s supporting directory for which the sound is referenced. In most installs this can be found here: C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Inventor 2013\Bin. Search for a file named “Connect.wav”. Rename this one to “Connect-old.wav” so your original remains intact in case you want to revert back to it. Rename your new sound .wav file to “Connect.wav”. You now have a new, fun notification for your constraints. I have even been known to prank one or two people in the past with this tip (but you didn’t hear that from me).
9. Background & Colors
This may seem simple, but I think it is a good setting everyone should know about. In the Colors tab of the Application Options we can change our overall color scheme and even change the background image. I do this a lot in my line of work and if you ever need to use Inventor on a projector or at a trade show this tip might be for you. Or you might just want to play a prank. Who am I to judge?
If I am going to put Inventor up on a projector, I prefer to change the color scheme to Sky so I can see the difference between constrained and unconstrained geometry better. I will also change the background to a white .bmp I created with my company logo in the lower right.
For the more inquisitive, we can go deeper. Why are my Work Planes, Sketch Geometry, and other elements of my design the color they are? How do I modify the Application Color Scheme of Inventor? Start by installing your User Tools.msi SDK (Software Development Kit) located most likely here:
Once you have installed the SDK you will have more folders here. Once of them is the Color Scheme Editor. Launch the .exe you find here and let’s take a look at what we get with this.
Take heed of the cautionary message here and back up your color scheme registry right away with Registry Export from the Backup pull-down.
Here you will see the same numbers you saw in the registry we had for #7 in our list. One thing about the Color Scheme Editor that isn’t quite clear is how to actually change the color. Don’t waste your coffee-powered fingers on the color box itself for the element. Instead, click the element and then select the color by choosing where I have pointed out with the green circle in the image below.
Feel free to play around a little and make your own (allowing for Red/Green color blindness, for instance). Remember though, this piece code is not supported by Autodesk so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work the best or you have to play detective.
10. Autodesk Exchange
Beginning with Inventor 2013, Autodesk starting an app exchange site integrated with Inventor to help users find niche tools to help bend Inventor to do their bidding. Some free and some for sale, these apps enhance the usability of Inventor for tools that maybe not everyone wants so they don’t make it into the core programming. Right now there are about 60 apps in the Inventor section alone.
Here are some of my favorites:
- 3D Pipe
- Save As + Update DWG Reference
- iProperties Manager
- Batch Spell Checker
- Point Linker
- Hanna Sketch Symbol Library
- Hanna Parts List Tool
- Work Feature Visibility by PT
- Interactive Tutorial Guide
- Batch Publish Manager
Regarding third-party apps, if you start experiencing undesired effects in Inventor, start turning off the add-ins one by one until you isolate which one is giving you fits. Proper reporting of such issues back to the app 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.
Mark Flayler is an application engineer with IMAGINiT Technologies, specializing in manufacturing environments. He has implemented Autodesk® manufacturing products within several industries including the blow/injection molding, automotive, and custom machinery markets. Mark has extensive experience and a comprehensive understanding of the technical, practical business, and human dimensions of implementation. When not providing training, support and implementation, he writes the IMAGINiT Manufacturing Blog and takes an active role in the manufacturing community. Mark is an ATC certified instructor, and is PSE and ATC certified in AutoCAD®, AutoCAD® Mechanical, AutoCAD® Electrical, Autodesk® Data Management, and Autodesk® Inventor®.