21 Apr First Look at Autodesk Inventor 2017
Every year brings a shiny new release of Autodesk Inventor. According to Autodesk, one of the most requested enhancements in this year’s version, Inventor 2017, is the 3D PDF Export function. As a huge proponent of 3D PDF, I was excited to hear this. 3D PDF is a great document format and both engineers and non-engineers can really maximize their ability to communicate and collaborate when they use it. So last week I decided to take a first look at Autodesk Inventor 2017 and it’s new Export to 3d PDF function.
For my testing, I used Inventor sample models that are published by Autodesk (you can find them here). I find that these models are a good cross section of Inventor functionality: assemblies, parts, cable & harness, mold design, sheet metal, tubing & piping and weldments. I used the Inventor 2017 versions of these sample models. They are very stable and various versions of these models have been available since the 2010 release of Inventor.
Inventor 2017 - Export to 3D PDF
The best thing about the Inventor 2017 3D PDF export function is that it is free. When the 3D PDF export works, it produces very nice PDF files that can be easily shared with anyone. And since most people have the freely available Adobe Acrobat Reader already installed, there should be no requirement to purchase or download any software to view, markup and measure the PDF files.
The Not So Good
The free “Export to 3D PDF” functionality in Inventor 2017 seems to have some big challenges. The main problems that I ran into were related to reliability and performance.
Pass 62% (16 files) / Problems 15% (4 files) / Fail 23% (6 files)
I ran Inventor 2017 on a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro laptop; Intel® Core i7-4510U CPU @ 2.00 GHz, 8GB memory, 256GB SSD disk drive, Integrated Intel® HD Graphics 4400, 13.3″ high-resolution QHD+ (3200 x 1800) display. This is the same computer that I have used for the last year and has always run Autodesk products quite well.
In total, I ran 26 tests using the Autodesk test data. I grouped the results into 3 categories;
A test was put into the Pass category if a usable 3D PDF file was exported.
Inventor was able to create 3D PDF files for 16 (62%) of the sample models. The image above shows one of these successful translations. When the export function works, the PDF files that are created are really great examples of how easy it is to communicate product information using PDF.
A test was put into the Problems category if the exported 3D PDF file was significantly different from the original Inventor model.
Four of the sample models had some significant problems; bad geometry, incorrect views, missing weld symbols, etc. Below is an image that shows one of these problem translations that has bad geometry and missing textures.
A test was put into the Fail category if it failed to create a 3D PDF.
6 of the sample models failed to generate a 3D PDF. In each of the 6 cases that failed, an error dialog popped up that was filled with a lot of error messages.
All of my timing tests were done using a stop watch. One could argue that the inaccuracy introduced by the hand timing would have a dramatic effect on the results. In this case however, the results are so drastically different that any timing inaccuracies could be considered to be noise.
Performance can be difficult to benchmark. There are many variables that can influence performance results; processor, memory, disk drive, other programs, etc. So rather than just look at 3D PDF export on its own, I thought it would be best to compare it to the Autodesk DWF format. My experience with my AutoCAD plug-ins is that 3D PDF is a really good alternative to DWF. But in the case of Inventor 2017, the 3D PDF export performance lagged far behind the performance of the DWF export. To be fair, most 3D PDF files were exported in under 30 seconds. But four files took over 4 minutes apiece to export to 3D PDF.
Inventor 2017 3D PDF Export – Conclusion
I have really tried to be fair and accurate with my testing and to let the data stand on its own. If my experience is typical, there is lot of opportunity for Inventor’s export to 3D PDF function to improve. I am confident that Autodesk will work to make it better in upcoming releases. In the meantime, I hope that users don’t turn away from 3D PDF because of problems that they may encounter with the Inventor 2017 export function. There are 3D PDF plug-ins for Inventor available on the Autodesk App store that are not free, but may be a better solution for anyone who experiences problems.