Autodesk Inventor 2011 (Part 1) – Direct Manipulation

Autodesk Inventor 2011 has a number of new features and enhancements. In this series I will discuss a few of them that I found interesting.

In this part I will talk about something called Direct Manipulation, which is similar to the Instant3D feature of SolidWorks but pumped up with steroids. Autodesk has added something known as “In-Canvas Display” to Inventor 2011, which is basically a bunch of controls and gizmos that pop up right in the graphics window as the user interacts with the model.

The in-canvas display can be broken down into (1) a mini-toolbar, (2) manipulators, (3) selection tags and (4) value input boxes. Let me explain each by means of a very simple example – an extrusion. Say I sketch a rectangle, exit sketch mode and click on one of the line segments. This pops up a mini-toolbar containing buttons for commands that I will most probably want to execute next – Create Extrude, Create Revolve and Edit Sketch, which can be seen inside the rectangle in the figure below.

Clicking the Create Extrude button starts the Extrude command which pops up the Extrude dialog box and another Direct Manipulation mini-toolbar along with a few other things.

Click image for larger view

The orange arrow is called the manipulator which can be dragged with the mouse to increase or decrease the extrusion distance. The balloon marked “Profile” is called a selection tag and it used to add/remove profiles as necessary. The edit box located above the mini-toolbar is called the value input box and is used to enter parameter values for the command. If you look closely all the components of the in-canvas display of the Extrude command actually contain the most commonly used controls and parameters of the Extrude dialog box.

Lets fiddle with this a little. Notice the small shining sphere at the base of the orange arrow manipulator in the figure above. If I click on it and drag it a bit, it actually adds a taper to the extrusion.

Click image for larger view

Notice that another rotational manipulator (the one in orange) pops up and I can now dynamically adjust the taper by click dragging the arrow with the mouse. Also notice that doing this automatically makes the “More” tab in the Extrude dialog box active. At any time I could click on the first manipulator (now shown in gray), make it active and drag it along to increase/decrease the extrusion distance. Doing so would not mess with the rotational manipulator and the taper would stay intact.

Now let’s tweak this some more. Clicking the left most button in the mini-toolbar drops down a menu allowing me to chose the direction of the extrude.

Picking Asymmetric creates an asymmetric extrusion and gives me two more manipulators on the other side.

Click image for larger view

I added a taper (positive 20 degrees) on the other side in exactly the same manner that I did previously. The point to be noted here is that although the images above have the Extrude dialog box, I never once used it. In fact the dialog box kept changing its form and controls depending upon what I was doing in the graphics window.

This is what Autodesk means by Direct Manipulation. You manipulate the model directly in the graphics window using the components of the in-canvas display. Which means that after you get used to working with the in-canvas display you can auto-hide the dialog box and start creating or modifying your model features right in the graphics window itself.

Doing do rolls up the Extrude dialog box and frees up valuable real estate in the graphics window. The good thing is that the auto-hide option is not an application wide one. You can set it up for each command. So you can auto-hide the dialog box of each command one at a time after you are comfortable with using the in-canvas display for that command. I believe Direct Manipulation is a nifty productivity enhancement in Inventor 2011. Apart from saving time it also prevents the need for having to constantly shift focus between the parameters dialog box and the graphics window.

Now for those who are resistant to change or who do not like the graphics window to be messed up with toolbars, popup menus and manipulators, you will be pleased to know that you can turn Direct Manipulation off. Unfortunately there is no switch that you can simply turn off. Rather you need to dump the new Ribbon UI that came with Inventor 2010 and revert to the old style menu user interface of Inventor 2009. Yes, Autodesk still allows Inventor to be run with the good old menu user interface. Use Application Options > Colors > Interface Style to change Inventor’s UI.

When SolidWorks came up with the Instant3D feature, some loved it and some hated it. I know people who still hate it and have always left it turned off. Personally, I like the Direct Manipulation feature of Inventor 2011. After I created the sketch above, my focus didn’t move from the graphics window for a moment. I didn’t even have to use the ribbon to start the Extrude command and never use the Extrude dialog box at all.

Note: Direct Manipulation should not be confused with Direct Modeling which is what Inventor Fusion is all about. And that is a completely different story all together.

There is another reason why I chose the Extrude command to explain Direct Manipulation. The Asymmetric extrusion I showed above is a new feature of Inventor 2011. Previously there was just Direction 1, Direction 2 and Symmetric. Same goes for the Revolve command as well. In Inventor 2011 you can now revolve asymmetrically as well.

Part 2 >>