Autodesk's Two Application Approach For Freeform Surfacing

This post can be considered as a continuation of my earlier post titled “Alias Design Freeform Surfacing In Inventor Fusion” where I explained how the “Edit Form” command works. Just to recap, you basically select a solid body in Inventor and click the “Edit Form” button. This starts up Inventor Fusion, a separate application where you deform the edges of the solid body to give it the shape you desire. You then click the “Return to Inventor” button in Fusion and your model is updated in Inventor.

If you read my earlier post “Direct Modeling In AutoCAD 2012” you already know that I am not a fan of this two application approach. Apart from being too cumbersome, it’s just not implemented efficiently. I find no good reason to kill the mammoth Fusion application every time the user is done with it and load it up over and over again. I find it odd that Autodesk is doing this especially since they have already solved this problem with AutoCAD years ago. When you run any solid modeling command in AutoCAD (eg. “box”) for the first time, AutoCAD take some time to load the solid modeler DLL’s into memory. Subsequently any other solid modeling command starts immediately because these DLL’s are not unloaded. The same thing could and should be done to Fusion. And I think it will.

But here is something that I found quite disturbing. Some time ago I wrote a four part series on “Alias Design For Inventor” where I explained how the Alias Design free form surfacing technology is used in Inventor. The way this works the installer for Alias Design also installs an Inventor add-in that adds a tab called “Alias” to Inventor’s ribbon bar.

All you need to do is select a solid, click the “Edit Form” button and you deform the edges of the solid right inside Inventor itself. No need to start another application and jump through all those hoops. So a tight integration with the Alias Design freeform surfacing technology already exists for Inventor. And here is the shocker. Autodesk is throwing it all away. No, this is not an April Fool’s joke. Autodesk is not going to ship this integration with Inventor 2012. Instead they are going to make users do the Alias freeform surfacing outside in Fusion.

Now although I don’t like the two application approach, I can understanding why Autodesk did it for AutoCAD. They didn’t have an integration already in place for it and this two application solution could be an intermediate one till they develop an integrated solution. But Inventor? What the hell? A wonderful integration already exists and more importantly, it is currently being used by customers.

Why on God’s green earth is Autodesk pulling out something as wonderful as the Alias Design Inventor add-in and forcing users to mess around with Fusion? A totally different application. I decided to ask the Autodesk executives while I was at their Lake Oswego office this week. They replied that the Alias Design freeform surfacing technology could be developed and enhanced much better if it was kept outside in Fusion, rather than integrated within Inventor. Moreover, Autodesk would need to maintain the technology in two places instead of one. While there is some truth in all this, I am not sure I am entirely convinced. As a software developer myself, I consider user experience to be of paramount importance. There is a reason why my company’s slogan is “Software Made Simple”. Engineering software is complicated as it is. As software developers it is our responsibility and duty to make it easy for our customers to use. How we make it easy is our problem. In fact, that is precisely one of the reason customer’s pay us money in the first place.

In my previous post titled “Direct Modeling In AutoCAD 2012” regarding the way direct modeling and freeform surfacing has been implemented in AutoCAD 2012, I wrote:

“The optimist in me says that this is just the beginning. I hope that in subsequent releases of AutoCAD, Autodesk does away with this Fusion nonsense and puts direct modeling right into the AutoCAD application itself.”

This basically dashes all my hopes that one day AutoCAD will have Alias Design freeform surfacing as part of itself. I mean, if Autodesk is actually ripping out the integration with Inventor, I don’t think anyone at Autodesk is working or will be working on an integration with AutoCAD. So where is all this headed? Has Autodesk started doing a Creo on its product line. I mean take individual technologies from products, bunch them into separate applications and invoke them from other products. Is Fusion going to be called from 3ds Max next?

I have always said that Autodesk’s main problem is its diverse and different software platforms, which is a direct result of its many acquisitions. Now Fusion has been added to this mix of platforms. Maybe Fusion is being developed from the ground up as the common platform and this two application approach is part of a larger plan that has been set into motion. I guess time will tell.