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Inventor Publisher Tech Preview: Quick Look

Published 05 January 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: autodesk, inventor, autodesk university, autodesk labs, technical illustrations, inventor publisher, technical documentation

I’ve been meaning to have a play around with this since AU late last year and finally got the chance today. At the Vegas event, Autodesk launched the latest addition to the Labs website ( in the form of Inventor Publisher and its first Tech Preview. Like many things, this was first shown in the previous year’s event (2009) but this is the first time it’s been seen generally and made available.

What is it?

According to the web-site ( it is : “easy-to-use software for creating interactive 3D product documentation - from assembly instructions to operating procedures, repair instructions, and more. Inventor Publisher allows you to deliver clearer and more comprehensive technical instructions to your customers. Inventor Publisher allows technical publication and illustration teams to leverage the same digital prototype created in Inventor that is used in the design to manufacturing process. You can work directly with 3D design models to clearly communicate technical information without the need to learn CAD software.

What is it really? That’s a pretty accurate statement, the system provides you with an environment in which you can load both Inventor and DWG data, create keyframe-based animations that show the various steps in how you can assembly, disassembly or service a product. It gives you tools for either automatically creating exploded views or diving in and knife and forking them yourself to create each step. The system has a wide range of presentation styles, from shaded views, through to more tech. illustration style display methods, colour control, perspective and orthogonal options and such as well as a number of annotation tools. The whole process is drive by snapshots within a storyboard.

Each Snapshot gives you each stage and at first it seems a little counter intuitive, but once you get a handle on the workflow, it’s easy to move components, create each explode sequence, then move onto the next. The system automatically adds in the animation sequences (tweened across a user controllable time span) to move both components and camera views.

The system has an interesting array of output options. As you might expect, there’s video output, which is handy (to both flash movies and AVIs - there’s an example of the latter below), but alongside that, there’s output to PowerPoint (shown, imported into Keynote as I avoid powerpoint like black death), Word as well as standard graphics file outputs, with full control over resolution, format, transparency and size.

The odd thing is that while the animation sequences are interesting, I would imagine that the last category of output might be the most used, particularly for those publishing technical documentation. That said, the video output is particularly compelling and when used in combination with animation and colour/transparency controls, pretty effective at communicating intent and instructions.

Coming next?

This is Tech Preview territory as with many things on Autodesk’s labs resource, so what you see here isn’t what’s going to ship. My guess would be integration of these tools into Inventor and it being bundled in with one of the Suite offerings. Other things that are to come are an iPhone publishing option. It’s unclear whether it’ll be cloud or download/sync based, but Josh at SolidSmack has a nice video from AU that I’m going to steal to show you how it works:

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Digital Construction is Not a Crime: Comvert’s Bastard Bowl shows off radical 3D techniques

Published 04 January 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: design, rhino, skateboard, skatepark design, structural design, rhinoceros, comvert, extreme architecture

Had this sat in my inbox for too long, so here it is: When the alternative fashion company Comvert looked into a new space for its Milan headquarters, it came upon a vacant cinema from the 1940s.  The movie theatre had enough square footage for design offices, warehousing, and its flagship retail store.  The building also had volume—6600 cubic meters of vaulted space above the old audience seating.  This gave room for a more unusual office amenity.

offices (Photo:

The idea of building a indoor skate bowl has been around ever since we started Bastard 15 years ago,” says Claudio Bernardini, founder and CEO of the company.  Bastard is Comvert’s internationally recognized brand of clothing and accessories for skaters and snowboarders. “The cinema site gave us a real chance to make it happen.”

Milan architects Studiometrico executed a massive, multi-level renovation to the cinema, but Comvert kept the Bastard Bowl as an internal project. “The moment we found the space, we began planning our own design. We wanted the whole project to follow a DIY ethic,” says Bernardini, who was surprised at the extent of the community effort; armies of skaters from around the region showed up to volunteer at every phase of construction. Perhaps most unique about Comvert’s attic-level skate park was the advanced 3D modeling techniques and digital manufacturing methods – the same ones Comvert used to make snowboard gear. “We wanted cutting-edge structure in terms of the technologies used to design and build it.” 

Bastards doing architecture

Comvert designers had advised several local municipalities on what goes into a rad skate park, so the Comvert team knew exactly they wanted for the shape and features of the course.  They conceived of a double-kidney shaped bowl 1.85 m deep with two top hips and a lower love seat. Skate bowls originated as empty swimming pools made of concrete, but since the Bastard Bowl would occupy the upper vault of the theatre, Comvert had to take a lighter-weight approach with wood frame construction.

Bernardini had prior experience building a wood track, building parts by hand or with a jigsaw.  This time, however, the team wanted to sidestep traditional building process all together. “As forward-thinking digital designers, we chose to use Rhinoceros instead,” he says. The team had designed the majority of their snowboard and related hardware in the 3D NURBS modeler, so they were familiar with the capabilities of the software to model parts with complex surfaces that they could easily export to high-precision digital manufacturing.

 of supports (

We can break the Rhino model down into individual components and send the geometric data for each unique part to CNC cutting machines,” says Bernardini.  By the end, CNC workstations had sawed every member and panel of the design, with every piece precisely matching the curves in the 3D model.

Vertical Challenges

Once the Rhino model of the Bastard Bowl was completed, Bernardini showed it to Marco Clozza of the local engineering firm Atelier LC.  He asked Clozza to calculate the structural requirements, devise a railing system and support from the floor, and then manage the assembly on site. “Claudio gave me a surface that was ideal for skaters but for builders, not so much,” jokes Clozza. 

At first, the site itself presented Clozza with a number of challenges. The wooden bowl would rise 25 feet above the lower level, where Comvert had now placed aisles of warehouse shelving.  The auditorium-style seating of the old theatre meant a ground floor was not level, but inclined, terraced at points into multiple levels after renovation.

The design became more complex since we lacked a continuous plane to support the wood frames.  Initially, I had no idea how to attach the structure to the warehouse level,” explains Clozza. “But after taking a look at the latest in wooden bowls, we came up with the idea to introduce steel elements, which would not only enhance the look, but it would make it easier to connect to the shelving level.  And it solved the issue of protective parapets along the edge.”

Because scaffolding would block employees’ access to active shipping and receiving, he borrowed a solution from another Milanese pastime, rock climbing. Clozza would swing from a harness across cinema space during assembly.  Marco used similar contraption of carabineers and climbing rope, nicknamed the Bastard Crane, to lift the CNCed parts to their proper place. 

Phat Flattening

After a skeletal frame took shape above the warehouse, attention turned to the skating surface. Using an early release of a new Rhinoceros plug-in called Advanced Flattening, Bernardini and Clozza could translate surfaces curved in two directions into flat cookie-cutter patterns for an automatic router. “The biggest problem was the double radius of curvature of the panels,” says Clozza.  “According to the material and thickness, there was a maximum degree of bending we could do to fit it securely to the base structure without breaking.”

At first, Clozza used the Rhino plug-in to panelize the surface as interlocking polygons, like a soccer ball.  After Clozza’s trial installation on to the frame, they found a three–to-four-millimeter gap between the bent plywood– too big of a crack for smooth skating.  The team then went back to the drawing board and chose a simpler geometry for the panels.  “We found that panels with straighter lines gave the maximum dimension to curve the plywood in two directions,” says Clozza.

After several tests, we came up with the final solution that made the spaces less than one millimeter between the panels,” adds Bernardini. “This was the key feature for obtaining a perfect flowing effect.

Curves for the Community

After unveiling a few months ago, the Bastard Bowl has attracted legions of skate fanatics around the region to Bastard’s flagship store.  The track now regularly hosts demonstrations from visiting professional skaters, as well as after-hours skate parties for Comvert staff and customers.

For Clozza, the project was his first experience with digital manufacturing. “Absolutely it’s the future of construction,” he says.  Work on the Bastard Bowl has inspired him to put digital curves in other wood projects, which can be seen on his blog (, along with the full photographic story of building the ultimate Italian skate track.

The Comvert team discovered that digital manufacturing of product design can easily be applied to large-scale architectural structures. “Modifications and adjustments during the work were very few, so assembly went quickly,” says Bernardini.  “This project proved to be an experimenting ground for materials and assembly techniques, even for the most experienced on our team.  Individual experiences and contributions gave birth to a collective work that belongs to all of us.” For more information on the Bastard Bowl and everything related, visit:

And here’s some video, courtesy of the team at Antiz.

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OceanLED take on new markets with Protomold and SolidWorks

Published 18 December 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, design, manufacture, protomold, protolabs, rapid injection moulding, local manufacture

Richard Sant is excited for OceanLED’s future in the private super-yacht market. On his office wall is the blueprint for one vessel measuring 148m in length; it will have six engines, several decks, the finest materials and most importantly, lots of lights. Despite sumptuous ships like this costing in the region of 100s of millions of pounds, business is booming. To build on their success, OceanLED’s strategy is to move beyond the bespoke market of super-yachts in which it started to develop relatively higher-volume products for other growth sectors; a plan that involved a fundamental rethink of the firm’s manufacturing techniques which inevitably led them to begin using rapid injection moulding.

OceanLED ( is a young company but it has a long pedigree. Chief Operating Officer Nigel Savage has more than 25 years experience at the forefront of the marine and architectural lighting industry. He originally set up OceanLED to produce simple, maintenance-free marine lighting but went on to develop what many in the industry regard as the world’s most advanced underwater lighting system.

Owners, designers and builders of super-yachts demand OceanLED’s state-of-the-art Light Emitting Diode (LED) products to give their yachts that special touch of elegance, including the firm’s trademark ‘unbroken halo of light.’ However, the company is now pushing into the fast-growing private boat market and, as Richard Sant points out: “The USA is probably the biggest opportunity because so many people own private fishing and sports boats.”  Hence the need for lower-cost, higher-volume products for direct sale to consumers, as well as the firm’s traditional bespoke lights for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Marquis Yachts and Viking Sports Cruisers.

Although OceanLED designs and assembles its lights in-house it doesn’t manufacture any of the components. Instead, they choose to partner with very carefully chosen UK engineering companies. For example, the complex lens components come from one specialist supplier, while the big Aluminium-Bronze light housings - as used on super-yachts, and costing thousands of pounds - are supplied by another.

The new, smaller consumer lights are made from polymers which means they can be mass-produced economically and demand is growing; compared to traditional light sources LEDs are very energy efficient and produce less heat. As a result, boats can use more light units, look great and still keep their weight and energy costs low. And LEDs don’t just appeal to the marine sector - they are increasingly used to illuminate docks, swimming pools and buildings.

Richard expects particularly strong demand for the firm’s latest Amphibian range which can be used above and below water. These advanced, high-output lights use injection moulded polymer bodies that still manage to contain all the drivers and the dimmer functions, so “providing superior operation and versatility with fewer components and connections.”

As Richard points out, OceanLED had no experience of making plastic injection moulded parts for lights. “Although I’d been using SolidWorks to design mechanical products for a long time, this was my first plastic injection moulded product. Like most people venturing into plastic mass production, we started by using a company in China but became increasingly unhappy with the quality and costs. So, we looked for someone who could do a better, faster job – that’s when we found Protomold.”

Richard, who joined OceanLED in 2005 after a long career as a mechanical design engineer, was particularly pleased with Protomold’s online ProtoQuote service. This enabled him to upload his existing 3D CAD designs and receive not only a detailed breakdown of manufacturing costs but also a report highlighting any design issues, literally within hours. “The Protomold process allows an injection moulding novice to design and order a part without any problems,” he says. “It gave us complete control and it’s close to home - it’s good to know we are using the best option and it’s a company in the UK.”

At first OceanLED used Protomold to make prototypes of the various mounting brackets for all three models in the Amphibian range, including the ‘foot and bridge’ components that make up the clamp. “Originally, we thought of making the mounting kit in steel,” said Richard, “but it was ugly and expensive.”  Above all, he wanted the mounting system to be versatile, which meant being light-weight, strong, low-cost and able to fit as wide a range of mounting points as possible. He found using ProtoQuote was ideal for optimising the design because you can upload as many modifications as you like. The processing speed of the Proto Labs compute clusters means you get your analysis results in hours.

Protomold makes and gives away various educational ‘toys’ to help explain the technicalities of rapid injection moulding - but we soon realised they are definitely not gimmicks,” Richard stresses. “We found them very useful, especially the ‘cube’ and the ‘puzzle’. They helped us understand the process, the characteristics of different plastics and what’s possible. As a result they saved us time and money.

Once OceanLED had finalised the design of the mounts, it was able to order relatively low volumes of production-quality parts from the same mould. As a result the kits can be sold separately and retail for around £15-20. “At the moment, we only order 500 each time,” says Richard. “If we were using traditional steel moulds in China we would have to run off thousands just to make the tooling economical.”

Looking ahead, Richard Sant sees even more promise in the architectural lighting market. “Our lights are essentially the green alternative to traditional lighting, which means they are valuable as both decorative and functional building lights. This is an excellent market opportunity and we intend to make the most of it, with the help of ProtoLabs.

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All time top five top fives list of 2009: #5 Top Five people to follow on Twitter

Published 18 December 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: top five of 2009

#1 - for a stream of blogging goodness for all things design.
#2 - when you read that first tweet, suffix with Good Morning, the world seems somehow happier.
#3 - Might as well be “how to do Social Media 101 for the corporate world.”
#4 - if you’re an Inventor user Mr. Bedder has got tips and tricks galore - and he’s currently singing along to the Muppet’s christmas carol soundtrack.
#5 - When he’s not pimping his data translation tools, he actually has something interesting to say. Interesting? Yes. Accurate. Not always. But always entertaining.

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