You may have been watching AutoCAD’s development over the last few years, wondering where the really big stuff is. Where are the fantastic new technologies? Where are the enticing gifts that make installing a new version of AutoCAD as exciting as a shiny new bike at Christmas?
Sure, AutoCAD 2010 gave us freeform design And who can forget 2011’s multifunctional grips. AutoCAD 2012 has the directly editable UCS Icon and associative arrays.
In fact – there has been a lot going on under the hood for AutoCAD over the last few years, and it’s only when you start to look at the bigger picture that the development path starts to become clear.
AutoCAD can now deal with a number of different modelling paradigms, including Nurbs surfaces, solids, meshes and Point clouds. AutoCAD will now open files from Autodesk Inventor, Microstation Pro/E, Rhino, Solidworks, Solidedge, Catia and 3D studio Max (as well as ‘neutral’ file such as FBX, STEP, IGES and JT.
The AutoCAD 2013 release improves upon 2012’s ability to create associative drawing views from any 3D model that can be opened or referenced by AutoCAD. And on top of this you can still do all the 2D drafting you always did!
If you haven’t seen the connection yet, consider that Inventor Fusion doesn’t come with any tools to create drawings from 3D models. Also consider that Inventor Fusion uses the DWG file format, and that Inventor 2013 will be able to open DWG model files directly. It is clear that AutoCAD is being developed to become the Swiss Army knife of the Autodesk toolbox, bringing data in from any source and processing it into a DWG file which could be then be used by any of Autodesk’s other products.
Maybe AutoCAD isn’t as good as some other tools for rendering, organic modelling, or finite element analysis, but if you have AutoCAD you will be able to open, modify, and document 2D and 3D CAD models from almost any source.
If this chameleon-like ability works out, this flexibility will surely make AutoCAD a ‘safe’ or go-to tool for any drafting office. I can’t help but feel that Autodesk are considering a similar model as ProE’s re-invention as Creo elements – but starting from the other direction.
So what’s new in AutoCAD 2013?
The two really big new features are in model documentation and cloud computing, but there have been a few other tweaks that are also worth a mention.
The one part of AutoCAD’s operating system that Autodesk is insisting on putting up in the cloud is the help files, which have been re-structured to produce faster results. For those of you who can’t use online help (or don’t want it) the help file will be available as a separate download and you can set your preference in the options for online or offline help.
The command line has had a sexy new face lift. Command options are highlighted in a different colour to attract your attention, which can be clicked instead of typed. The command line itself can be dragged away from the screen edge and used in a semi-transparent mode to improve your use of ‘screen real estate’. Scripts and Lisp programmes can be run directly from the command line.
One of my favourite tools, the properties palette, has received an extra lift. When you hover over options in the properties palette, you can see an instant preview of the changes live on screen – before you commit.
Point cloud tools have been improved, with new tools to manipulate and sort the point cloud data, and the ability to bring point cloud scans directly into AutoCAD.
The dynamic array tool set that was introduced in AutoCAD 2012 has received a few tweaks to improve usability and the context sensitive ribbon hatching controls now allow you to operate on multiple hatches at once. Finally, External reference paths can be directly edited in the Xref editor palette, which will save a few steps when your colleagues play ‘Hide the reference’.
Back in 2007 I was working for a fit out contractor, drawing up the manufacturing drawings for the reception of a new bank in Canary Wharf. I modelled the glass envelope for a two story disabled access lift entirely in AutoCAD, and this was the last time I ever used AutoCAD’s 3D modelling tools.
My problem was that I simply couldn’t get a decent drawing from my 3D model. Not GA drawings, not sectional views and certainly not details (Don’t talk to me about ‘Solview’or ‘Flatshot’, I tried them all and the wounds still smart). In the end, I re-drew the entire thing in 2D and the time spent on the 3D model was wasted.
I had seen Autodesk Inventor at Autodesk University, and the thing that impressed me so much about Inventor was just how easy it was to document your 3D model. Simply point and click to create a base view. Draw a line across a view to create a sectional view, and draw a circle on a view to create a detail. Easy-peasy and all associated to the 3D model, so any changes to the model are automatically updated in the drawing.
The really big news for AutoCAD 2013 is that these tools have made it into AutoCAD. Creating drawings of your 3D models with AutoCAD has never been easier. And you can even use AutoCAD to document 3D models from other CAD packages. You can even reference 3D model files – you don’t even have to bring the model into AutoCAD.
Unfortunately there is no broken view, or clipped view tool right now. We will just have to wait until AutoCAD 2014 for these to be developed!
This represents a radical change in the way AutoCAD is used to document 3D models, however it is fairly intuitive and I’m sure that the uptake will be fast.
Dimensions and leaders that are associated with the new model documentation views don’t need to be scaled to suit the view – they can all be at 1:1. The dimensions take their value straight off the model, so you don’t have to tweak the value to suit the scale of the view. If you change the position or scale of the view, all the dimensions and leaders will update accordingly. This will save a LOT of time!
This could seriously change the way we use and think of AutoCAD. I hope that these tools will finally make 3D modelling in AutoCAD useful to manufacturers. Maybe if AutoCAD had had these tools all those years ago I wouldn’t have been tempted away by Inventor…
The Cloud – External
Autodesk continue to update AutoCAD’s ability to make use of Cloud computing. In AutoCAD 2013 you have the opportunity to save and sync your files directly to your Autodesk Cloud account, making it easy to access your file from AutoCAD WS or sync files between your laptop and desktop (No need to use Drop Box!).
In addition, you can use the Autodesk cloud to sync your user preferences, to keep your favourite settings the same on multiple computers.
This could be a blessing and a curse to CAD managers. Many companies will not want users saving sensitive data into the cloud, and then ‘taking it home’ with them. However Autodesk Cloud sync also gives you the option to upload support files such as fonts, hatch patterns and tool palettes to the cloud, which could be an excellent tool for anyone who has to enforce CAD standards. All of these settings can now be controlled by a new ‘CAD manager control utility’.
The Cloud – Internal
AutoCAD 2013 comes with an update to Content explorer. You can now deploy the Content explorer ‘crawler’ on local drives ( i.e. your colleagues machines) as well as your network server. Your Content is crawled and will be delivered up to you via the Content explorer palette.
This could be an extremely powerful tool, particularly in a company like ours where data management consists of the equivalent of rummaging around in your pockets mumbling ‘I’m sure I have it here somewhere’.
In with the new – out with the old.
AutoCAD 2013 is a third release, and every third release of AutoCAD has a new file format. AutoCAD 2013 DWG files are not backward compatible with previous versions of AutoCAD, although you can ‘save them back’ if you don’t mind loosing the associativity of your new model documentation views.
The release of AutoCAD 2013 heralds the demise of AutoCAD 2009. If you haven’t upgraded from AutoCAD 2009 you have now missed out on the opportunity to upgrade, you will have to buy your licences of AutoCAD 2013 at the full price.
Is it AutoCAD 2013 worth it?
The question you really want answered is ‘Is AutoCAD 2013 worth it?’ If you have been working with AutoCAD 2009 or older, then the upgrade to AutoCAD 2013 is worth every penny (bearing in mind that you also get the upgrades from AutoCAD 2010, 2011 & 2012).
If you are lucky enough to be on subscription, then AutoCAD 2013 may well be a release that you install, rather than skip over. If you are struggling to use AutoCAD to document 3D models, then AutoCAD 2013 is a must buy.
Of course, if you were lucky enough to get on to the Autodesk ‘Suites’ gravy train a few releases back then you will have even more new toys to play with – but that is a different story…
Download Lynn Allen’s AutoCAD 2013 tips & tricks e-book here:
For a complete view of the system requirements for AutoCAD 2013, check out this post from Jimmy Bergmark.