Direct Modeling In AutoCAD 2012

In a post titled “AutoCAD 2010” published over two years ago I wrote:

“It is my prediction that a version of AutoCAD in the not so distant future will have 3D direct modeling capabilities equivalent to (or probably better than) what we see today in SpaceClaim and Solid Edge ST.”

Six months later I reiterated my prediction. In a post titled “AutoCAD Fusion” I wrote:

“The underlying logic of my prediction is based on the simple assumption that if you give AutoCAD customers direct modeling capability right inside AutoCAD itself, a software that they have learned to trust and are quite familiar with, Autodesk actually ensures that their customers stay with them. Obviously some AutoCAD users may move to Inventor for the Digital Prototyping features, but the ones who simply want to model in 3D will not find the need to look elsewhere. Moreover, this way Autodesk can effectively market AutoCAD and Inventor with Digital Prototyping as an explosive combination that can make a huge mark in the MCAD space. Right now, AutoCAD and Inventor look and feel like two opposites sides of two different coins.”

By shipping Inventor Fusion with AutoCAD 2012 my prediction has finally come true… kind of.  I am not entirely happy with the way it has been implemented. Here is the reason why. The direct modeling in AutoCAD 2012 does not happen in AutoCAD. Rather it happens outside in Inventor Fusion which is a completely separate application. Moreover the workflow is quite awkward. You first need to create your basic 3D shape in AutoCAD, select it and click a button called “Edit in Fusion“.

This freezes up AutoCAD and starts Fusion which takes about half a minute to load the first time you do this. The AutoCAD solid model is then taken to Fusion where you do your direct modeling.

After you are done you click the “Return to AutoCAD” button, Fusion goes away and you are taken back to AutoCAD. The original solid model in AutoCAD is replaced by the updated one that came from Fusion.

The time needed to close Fusion and revive AutoCAD is about 5 seconds. However, every subsequent “Edit in Fusion” operation take about 15 seconds for Fusion to start up. And this is for a simple box model. For large complex models the time will obviously increase.

Another thing I don’t like is that while you are doing your direct modeling in Fusion, you cannot go back to AutoCAD to look at your drawing and maybe take a measurement or something. Also, when you click the “Edit in Fusion” button you can select only solid objects. If you want to push and pull faces with reference to some other type of geometry you cannot do that because that geometry is not available to you in Fusion. You need to work with the solid models is complete isolation within Fusion itself.

I think users may be able to live with some or all these limitations. But the one thing that pisses me off to no end and I’m pretty sure will piss off many others is the 15 seconds of lost time every time I click the “Edit in Fusion” button. That’s just crazy. I can’t see why Autodesk doesn’t let the Fusion application sit idle in the background when it is not required. The “Inventor Fusion.exe” process is actually killed every time you click “Return to AutoCAD” and restarted when you click “Edit in Fusion“. By no means is Fusion a light weight application. The installation folder has 280 MB of DLL’s and the application needs around 300 MB of RAM just to idle. And I am running a Dell Precision M6400 mobile workstation. Although it’s a bit old, I would still consider it to be a pretty decent workstation.

This is definitely not the kind of direct modeling I envisioned for AutoCAD. I wonder how many AutoCAD users will find it usable. I know I wouldn’t. I don’t have 15 seconds to waste every time I decide to perform a direct modeling operation on a solid object in AutoCAD. I don’t like this AutoCAD-Fusion integration one bit and I believe this will be a huge barrier to adoption. As it is, AutoCAD users are pretty much wired up to their familiar 2D interface. I am not sure taking them outside to a totally different application is the best way to get them started on direct modeling in 3D.

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. Some how I get the feeling that Autodesk does not do a good job packaging its new technologies. If you remember, they did the same thing with Inventor as well. They decided to let Inventor be a strict history based parametric modeling system and make users do the direct modeling outside in Fusion. Then take the model back to Inventor, pass it through the Change Manager and have it update the history tree. For simple changes it works fine. For complicated changes or simple but bulk changes it does not always yield the desired result. And this is one thing where anything less than 100% accuracy will not do.

Autodesk has used the same two application approach with AutoCAD as well. And I don’t like it.