The Autodesk 2012 Product Design Suite for Builders

Autodesk is making big news with the ‘Suiting’ of it’s 2012 range of software. If you produce manufacturing drawings for the building industry what will this mean for you?

AutoCAD and Autodesk Inventor subscription customers will soon be getting up to 10 new pieces of software to play with for Free. You can find out more about which products come  with the AutoCAD suite here and which products come with the Inventor Suite here.

So What’s New?

If you are unfamiliar with the new software that is being bundled in with your old product you may be wondering what these products are?

You may also be wondering how useful the new software will be to you and how you might be able to integrate these new tools into your daily workflow.

In this post I aim to give a brief run down of what these new products do and give my own recommendations of the use and value of these tools to the average construction industry drafter.


OK. You all know this one! AutoCAD is Autodesk’s flagship product. It is the work horse of the UK construction industry where it is is primarily used as a 2D drafting tool, however Autodesk are improving it’s 3D toolset every year.

The AutoCAD 2012 installation screen

It is my opinion that Autodesk are grooming AutoCAD to be the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of the Autodesk product line. This view has been born out with AutoCAD 2012, which can now import 3D files from  CATIA, JT, NX, Parasolid, Pro/ENGINEER, Rhino, SolidWorks, as well as Files from Microstation and 3Ds Max.

Autodesk have also bundled Inventor Fusion with AutoCAD and provided support for creating 2D drawings from 3D Inventor models.

As usual Autodesk have taken very little away from AutoCAD with the 2012 release, so you shouldn’t have any problems settling in with the new product.


Despite all the new 3D tools that have become available, the requirement for 2D drawings in the construction industry will be with us for some time to come. AutoCAD is still a great all round product for drafters in the construction industry.

AutoCAD Mechanical

AutoCAD Mechanical is an AutoCAD ‘Vertical’ product aimed specifically at mechanical Engineering. It  is based on AutoCAD, so the way the product works will be familiar with AutoCAD users.

Autocad Mechanical 2012

I had always thought that AutoCAD mechanical would be supplanted by Autodesk Inventor, however Autodesk are here again, providing another raft of new features to AutoCAD mechanical. I am assuming that this just goes to show how popular AutoCAD mechanical is.


While Autodesk Mechanical has some great features that could be used in the construction industry, it is my opinion that if you don’t use AutoCAD mechanical already  you would be better off learning Autodesk Inventor.

Autodesk Inventor Fusion

Autodesk Inventor Fusion is a recent Autodesk Labs graduate. It is a history free or ‘Direct’ modeller, making it closer to AutoCAD than Inventor in it’s use. However, the User interface looks and works very much like Inventor.

Starting out with Fusion would be more of a learning curve for the average AutoCAD user, than it would for the Average Inventor user.

Autodesk Inventor Fusion

Picture by Autodesk Labs

In the 2012 suites of products, Fusion comes as an add in for both Inventor and AutoCAD, meaning that you can open a part file from Inventor in Fusion, edit it and then save it out to a DWG solid which you can open in AutoCAD. Or start your part off in AutoCAD, open it in Fusion and then Import it into Inventor.


Programs like Fusion are certainly the future of digital prototyping. At this stage, Fusion is definitely worth familiarising yourself with. However the parts that you need to model to make a building aren’t that complicated so I can’t see Fusion being used in production right now.

Autodesk Inventor

I hope that you all know what this is! For those who don’t – Autodesk Inventor is a parametric modelling programme. Meaning that the 3D model can be changed by altering the parameters.

The 3D model is used as a database. Information can be extracted from the database, such as the Length, Width and Thickness of parts, or 2D Drawings.

Autodesk Inventor 2012

Picture by Steve Bedder


Autodesk Inventor isn’t the future of CAD design in the construction Industry – It’s the present. I recommend that you take an Interest in Autodesk Inventor and learn to use it if you get the opportunity.

Autodesk Alias Design

Autodesk Alias is a conceptual modeller used for product design. It is best in class and usually retails for $5000. To get it for free (Or at least, as part of your subscription or Autodesk Product suite) is a massive deal!

But would you ever use it for modelling building elements? My answer is no. Alias has also been integrated into Autodesk Inventor and Fusion, so you can probably get all the functionality you need from these products.

Autodesk Alias 2012


A really superb piece of software that will be totally wasted on shop drawings!

Autodesk 3ds Max Design

Autodesk 3D studio Max is a 3D modelling and animation program, originally used by Animators but now increasingly used by Architects and designers. It is possible to create amazingly realistic still shots and animations with 3D studio.

Once again, Autodesk have been working on interoperability. 3D studio has support for more than 30 3D file types, Including Inventor, Revit and AutoCAD.

It’s worth pointing out here that the new materials library that shipped with the Autodesk 2011 product line is the same for AutoCAD, Inventor 3D studio and Revit. So if you add materials in one package, and then open them in another package that information should transfer across.

Autodesk 3D studio max


If your company supplies building systems, or pre-manufactured building components then you may need to provide visualizations for the company brochures. 3D Studio Max is just what you need.

If however you are a building contractor who wins most of their work via the tender process, then I expect that you would have little call to use such a sophisticated piece of kit. You could probably get all the rendering tools you need out of Showcase.

Autodesk Sketchbook Designer

Autodesk Sketchbook Designer is a graphic program that uses both bitmaps and Vectors to create illustrations and presentation graphics.

The really neat thing about Sketchbook is that it is available as a plugin for AutoCAD, as well as an iPad App.

Autodesk Sketchbook designer


I can see many practical applications for Sketchbook in the Building industry. From Sketching ideas to share with the Architect, to drawing up site surveys the combination of Sketchbook and the iPad could be very useful indeed.

Autodesk Mudbox

Autodesk Mudbox is used to sculpt and paint 3D models for Visualizations, films and computer games. At first glance Mudbox is a really nifty piece of software that looks like great fun to use – However, I really can’t think of a practical application for this product In the construction industry.

Autodesk Mud box 2012

Picture from 3D World Mag


Sadly – Mudbox is likely to be left to grow dusty in the Setting out office.

Autodesk Showcase

For me, the inclusion of Autodesk showcase in the Autodesk product suites is a big win for drafters in the construction industry.

Autodesk showcase takes the rendering and visualization power of 3D Studio Max and packages it into a simple ‘What you see is what you get’ Interface that any Drafter could pick up quickly and easily. The really smart thing about Showcase, is that this all happens in real time. You can spin the model around and show different configurations and finishes right in front of you.

Even if you don’t need to create presentation graphics to win jobs, Showcase is so easy to use that you could easily build this product into your projects workflow.

Autodesk Showcase 2012

Picture from ‘The Area’


You should definitely have a go with Autodesk Showcase, It’s great fun!

Autodesk Vault

Autodesk Vault is NOT 3D design software! Vault is a data management programme, that helps you to store and manage your information. Vault helps to ensure that your team are all using the correct version of your drawings files, and helps to manage multiple versions of drawings and track transmittals.

Autodesk Vault 2012

Picture from Autodesk WIKI Help


The advent of digital file sharing has not made document control in the Construction industry any easier! External ‘Project Extranets’ such as Asite, BIW and Aconex are becoming increasingly popular tools for managing ‘Published’ information on large projects.

Autodesk Vault software is intended for managing information before it is published to the wider project team. Using Vault is easy, but in practice the installation is not for the faint hearted. It is best left to the professionals.


Strictly speaking AutoCAD WS is not part of the Autodesk product suites. AutoCAD WS (Web service) is an free online version of AutoCAD. AutoCAD 2012 comes with a plugin which allows you to easily upload DWG files to the AutoCAD WS server, where you can share the drawings with your clients or colleagues.


Picture by AutoCAD WS Blog

Sharing happens in real time. You can draw, dimension and mark up a DWG in collaboration with your client or colleague before downloading the DWG file and bringing it back into AutoCAD.

Once again, the real game changer here is the free iPad app which will allow Designers, Architects and Consultants (Even Setter Outs!) to Walk the site, with the full set of drawings accessible via their tablet PC.


Whilst it will be more practical to give the guys on site and in the workshop paper drawings for some time to come,  AutoCAD WS could really change the way we collaborate and Comment on DWG files.


For me, the big hitters here are Sketchbook, Showcase, Vault and AutoCAD WS. I can see these products fitting seamlessly into the workflow of the average construction industry drafter. And very handy they will be too, I can’t wait to get started!

The rest of the products are great software products for the industries that they were intend for and they represent great value for money. I would be surprised, however to see them being used by a builder in the UK.

What’s next?

I haven’t got into the new software that is available in the building design Suite for Architects and consultants. With new tools and greater functionality aimed specifically at handing the Revit model over from the Design team to the Building Contractor, we could see the way we share information change dramatically in the near future.

Maybe that will be the subject of a future post!

[Edit] Find out more about the Revit Design Suite, and how the new tools might impact building contractors.

2 Responses to “The Autodesk 2012 Product Design Suite for Builders

  • Brian
    13 years ago

    Great post! Thanks for spending the energy to go through the suite, as it must have taken quite a bit of time to do so. Altough, it did sound like you had allot of fun doing so!