Find us on Google+ November 2011 ~ Inventor Tales

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

AutoCAD Blocks and Autodesk Vault - An Unexpected Encounter

“The essence of wise living is anticipating the unanticipated and expecting the unexpected.”
Kevin A. Woolsey

Earlier this week, I was configuring Autodesk Vault to read properties from a title block in AutoCAD.  Usually, this is pretty straight forward.  Go through the steps like those on the Autodesk Wikihelp page, make sure the properties are mapped in Vault, verify the steps, and finally, serve and enjoy!

This day, I went through all the steps, I did my check, and...... (insert sound of needle dragging across a record)..... only some of the drawings would have their properties read in correctly.  Others were inexplicably blank.

A "reenactment" of what we saw.  I couldn't show customer data, so I had to create an example

Only some?  I'm standing there with the I.T. admin, and we're both puzzled.  If something went wrong, they all would have failed, not just a some!?!

We recreate one of the properties displaying the problem.  Maybe we made a mistake in mapping....

Nope.  That was done right.

Maybe we used the wrong tag from AutoCAD?  Maybe there are different tags in different drawings?

I jump into AutoCAD, open a problem file, and type "BATTMAN"  at the command line.  I start checking the Block Attribute Manager. 

The attributes are correct.  We didn't make a mistake there.

We repeat the process a few more times.  It all seems right.  Why? Why?  WHY!?!  We ask over and over.

We hadn't missed a step in Vault. 

Finally, after returning to AutoCAD and opening the Block Attribute Manager again, my eyes land upon something I've never noticed before.

There are two copies of the block in AutoCAD.  One is full of the pretty text we're trying to read into Vault.  The other....  as barren and empty as Death Valley on the Summer Solstice.

Two block!  In the end, there can only be one!

Vault was picking up data from the empty block! 

There was only one block required in the drawing.  Once we deleted that, everything started running exactly as expected.  We began breathing again!

I can't say you'll ever encounter this problem.  It can easily be said that it's one in a million. But it also does prove no matter how much you test, there's always something unexpected waiting in the wings.

So keep your eyes and mind open.  As Sherlock Holmes put it.  "Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.

P.S.  Would you believe that this is the 300th blog post!  Thanks for all those who've supported me! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Never Take a Tool For Granted - iMates in Autodesk Inventor

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Oscar Wilde

iMates in Autodesk Inventor.   I would often joke that the only time I used them was when I showed them in a class. (Click here for the Autodesk Wikihelp on iMates)

That was because I rarely, if ever used them.  I thought they were great for "plug in play" types of applications, where a finite pool of components was used to create a larger assembly.

Sure, there was the occasional exception, but they were specialized, and very few.  I only encountered one or two in my travels.

Over the years of using Inventor, iMates slowly crept into the back corner of my dusty mental attic.  A curiosity.  A footnote.

But one evening a few weeks ago, I had a wood working book open on my desk, and was taking some plans for a small table and recreating them in Inventor (with some additional details I wanted), and it happened.

I hit the case that made me run up to my mental attic and blow the dust off my old iMates.

The table, as rendered in Autodesk Showcase

Dowels were going to be used to pin the legs of the tables to the aprons.  I wanted to put the dowels in, so I could have an accurate bill of materials.

But each leg required four dowels, for a total of 16 dowels.  Placing 16 insert constraints was going to get old quick!  Especially when each insert constraint had to be flipped to provide the alternate solution.

So what did I do?

I created an iMate on the end of the dowel, building in the flip that was going to be necessary to get the dowels to position correctly.

Creating the iMate.  Notice the dialog box is nearly identical to the standard constraint (it's missing the "2" button)

When I placed it in an assembly, I could hold down the Alt key, and click on the iMate glyph with the left mouse button.

Then I could drag it, to the mating hole, and the iMate would take effect, and POP!  Into position it goes!

The nice part of this method, is that I can put this dowel in a library, and reuse it, and it's newly created iMate, again and again.

So what's the moral of this story?  Don't be too quick to use a tool!  While they may initially seem a curiosity, they have a way of coming back and making your life a lot easier! 

So to show the way I used iMates, here's a video with the whole process!  Enjoy!

And by the way!  This is just one way you can use iMates!  Remember that Wikihelp link at the beginning of this post?  It's got other ways you can use iMates to your advantage!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Life Lession - Never Quit Learning!

This weekend, I walk into the world of past, of history, and of legacy.
Jonathan Landeros

I spent this last weekend pursuing one of my "other passions".  I took a class on how to cover fabric aircraft components.  That's right.  Fabric.  Technology that has it's roots in the earliest days of aviation, although it's still used on some aircraft, even today.

It's been something I've been learning to do for the last few months as part of my volunteering at Planes of Fame.  It's challenging, at times frustrating, and always rewarding.

"So what?"  I've heard in many a demo I've presented.  "Why is this important?"

Because I think these lessons cross over.  I've found that things like this don't occur in a vacuum, and there are lessons that can be shared, at least in my own eyes.

So what did I learn from this class that I can apply to my greater world?

1) You often know more than you think.

My experience with covering in fabric is limited.  But even that limited knowledge of having done those steps before will give you a foundation to step forward.

There was more than one point where I was thinking, "I know this part!"

Fabric laid out across a control surface
2) You don't always know as much as you think.

The class was laying out stitching lines across a curve.  The problem involved was using basic right angle geometry.  We were confused on the measurement, and I was certain we should be measuring along the leg of the triangle, instead of the hypotenuse.

Another student thought it was the hypotenuse. 

True to my Irish/Mexican heritage, I allowed myself to become so sure that I was right about that measurement I stubbornly stuck to a position longer than I should have.  Then that light bulb finally when off.  It was the hypotenuse we should be using, I had to suffer through that embarrassing moment of feeling like an ass.  (Come on, admit it!  We've all been there!)

Those blue lines.  Where I so confidently blew my geometry.  :-(

3) Be open to learning new tricks.

Fabric covering is a process that has a lot of flexibility in it, as long as you follow the fundamentals of the process.

As a result, there was a lot of subjectivity in the way things were laid out.

There was more than once where things like, "I like this layout for the clean look."  or "I like this because it's easier to put together."  

Both layouts were structurally sound.  It was all subjective.

It was another example where "because we've always done it that way" wasn't reason enough.

Laying out tape.  As long as the tape meets specs, the look is what you like

4) Keep learning.

I was once told that this type of class is a "License to Learn".  I didn't leave this class knowing everything there was to know.  But I did leave the class knowing what I needed to know.  Not the least of which was how much more there was to learn.

But now this class leaves me with a strong foundation where I can carry on and continue my learning experience.

And after all that work, we tore it all off.  But the lessons learned are forever.

So those are my big lessons from my class.  I'll happily apply them to my own experiences at Planes of Fame, but they can always be applied in my CAD world at KETIV too.

After all, how many times, staring at a computer screen, have anyone of us:

1) Not said something because we had one too many doubts.
2) Opened our mouths, only to put our foot in it.
3) Seen somebody do something with a model or drawing and thought; "That's an interesting way of doing it!"
4) Walked out of a user group, classroom, or Autodesk University session and thought, "I don't know exactly what that instructor did, but I know where to look now!"

So what I've probably said here, in a lot of words, is: "Stay open minded and always keep learning!"

P.S. I've added a couple of more tips to the "Tips & Tricks" page.  Take a look!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Resetting Defaults in AutoCAD 2012 - You Arrived When I Wasn't Looking!

“Combined they could be extraordinary, but that doesn't [automatically] move them to the upper echelon. It puts them in the right path but not by default.”
Allen Weiner

This week I'm off at a two day seminar learning how to cover fabric surfaces on aircraft

In other words, if you're me, it's a major geek fest.

That's not a table cloth.  :-)

Since I'm spending the weekend in a hotel room, I'm not able to do much by way of video recording this week!

But that doesn't mean I can't offer up something!

I don't spend as much time in AutoCAD as I used to.  Most of the time, I'm working in Inventor, Vault, or Showcase.

But there are times I have to return to good old AutoCAD.  Like a trusty old friend, it's there for many tasks I still do, like editing dxf files, to minor edits on AutoCAD data from a different source.

The other day, I managed to break my AutoCAD.  And after trying to fix it the "old" way for an hour or two, I stumbled onto the new way. 

You know, the new way that does the job in about 15 seconds?

Back a few weeks ago, I was working on my laptop, and it just shut down.  Click.  Powered off with no warning.

I check that the power supply didn't come unplugged, and it hadn't.   Everything was powered the way it should be.

I check the underside of my laptop.  It's hot enough to fry an egg on.  I must have overheated it.  I'm in an air conditioned room, and I over heated my laptop?

I think it's time to check the cooling fans.

I finish the days task, grab the "Can o' Air", and blow a tribble or two out of my laptop's cooling fans.

I think I found my problem!

I fire up my laptop, and get a warning that my laptop did overheat.  Lovely.  It does some memory checks, and once again, is humming right along.

But a few days later, I go to fire up the AutoCAD 2012 that's part of AutoCAD Mechanical, and guess what.

All my toolbars have disappeared.  Every.  Single.  One.   Even the workspaces are gone.

So now what.  I know there are some settings I can erase that will prompt AutoCAD to reset it's toolbars.  So I search, and I search, and I search some more.

I searched so long, that my searcher was sore.

Then, during one of my searches, I find a "What's new" article for AutoCAD 2012.  What do I see?

There's a "Reset Defaults" button in AutoCAD!

What's this I see?  Reset Settings to Default?

I find the button, click it, and a few progress bars later, I'm back in action.

I can't say that I have a super tip for finding this.  I stumbled onto it through pure, dumb luck.

But I can share it and spread the word!  There's an easier way!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

That's Not Supposed to Happen - Autodesk Vault 2012 - 1328 Error Installing Update 1

“A sudden, bold, and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open”
Francis Bacon, Sr.

Recently, I was adding Update 1 to Autodesk Vault 2012.  I've done it plenty of times.  Should be a walk in the park, right?

If this install were a walk in the park, I wouldn't be spending the time writing this post! 

I run in the install.  And I get this error:

Eh?  What the?
Windows installer error 1328?  Error Applying Patch?  What? 

I check, I double check.  I double check the double checks.  Vault 2012 hasn't been updated.  It's still at "Update 0".  So it can't be "updated by other means"!

Does the user have Local Admin?  Check!

Virus scanners off?  Check!

UAC off?  Check!


I resort to the "Big Stick" in an Application Engineer's arsenal.  That's right.  The I call in the geek's equivalent of a B-52 air strike.

I Google it.  

Now, little Windows error... You will die.

I find the following blog post in, "Cracking the Vault" that tells me this isn't the first time it's come up. It's a *.dll file that's acting up.  Apparently it only affects "Vanilla" Vault.  The licensed versions (Vault Workgroup, Collaboration, & Professional), aren't affected.

But the good news is, I know that I'm not alone in the dark.  Now, how to fix it?

I try another Google search, then another.  After a few minutes, I have my solution.

In my best "Darth Vader" voice, I say: "I have you now!"

Except this time the perky rebel gets it.

It's found on the Autodesk discussion group, here. Near the top of the page.

It's a new *.dll!  I download it, do some swapping of files, and all is suddenly good. Progress bars move and hard drives whirr musically.

So to use a buzzword out of the corporate dictionary, what's the "take away"?  The "call to action"?
  1. The obvious one.  If you run into this error, here's one way to solve it!  That's why I wrote this!
  2. Google is your friend.  It can help you find documented solutions, even some undocumented solutions.  Although be careful with those, sometimes they can get you in trouble!
This is also one of those things that shouldn't be needed unless you actually run into the error.  So don't start swapping *.dlls because you can.  It's a "when necessary tool".

But when you're pinned down, it can be just the ticket to get you out!

UPDATE!  New hotfix released to repair this issue!

In my travels about the web, I found this hotfix that addresses this issue.  If you get this error (or one similar).  Install the hotfix found here!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Tips Page - A Premier

“Language is the archives of history”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I've walked through my travels in "the industry", I've found that many times, it's not always a fancy feature, with chrome renderings, animations, or mutli-core whizbangs that users like.

Don't get me wrong, fancy features are always cool.  I use them quite a bit myself!

But sometimes, it's the little things, like having an automatic coffee maker, that make the daily grind a little easier.

Ohh.. Coffee maker. Like a good Inventor tip.  You make the day bearable.

They're tricks that are like "secret handshakes".  You don't see them in documentation, you only hear about them from another users that learned them from:  Where else?  Another user.

So, this week, I roll out a Tips and Tricks page on my blog.  It's a collection of those little tricks that I've picked up over time.  Not because I'm somehow more savvy than anyone else, just because I've had the good fortune of learning them.

The page is in development, so it will nearly certainly evolve over time.  I'll add more "tricks of the trade".  I may even change the layout a bit as I learn.

But here it is, in it's earliest form. I'm starting with Autodesk Inventor, but will likely add more procucts as I go.  They're set up with the intention of being browsed through in a few minutes, with links to more "in depth" explanations where possible.

Take a look!  Let me know what you think!  And most of all, enjoy!

Take a look HERE! 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Lock & Load: Loading Data into Autodesk Vault with Autoloader

“It's not the load that breaks you down - its the way you carry it”
Lou Holtz

Last week, I needed to show someone how to bulk load data into Autodesk Vault.  Typically, bulk loading data is done when a Vault "goes live", and loads existing data into Vault.  The data can be anything from AutoCAD data, Inventor data, even MS Office documents.

Thus this weeks video is inspired!  This video walks through how to use Autoloader.

It would be remiss of me not to mention two approaches to loading data into Vault.

The first is what I'm describing here, bulk load with Autoloader.

The benefits?
All the data can be loaded into Vault, flip the switch, and use Vault from that point forward.  We "flip a switch."

The drawbacks?
Autoloader doesn't want you loading files with broken links into Vault, so you'll have to resolve these before putting them in.  This can be enormously time consuming if you have a lot of broken links, and may require resources that just can't be dedicated to that task.

Autoloader found some broken links!  These have to get fixed!

The second, is "as we need it".  In other words, we'll use the current system we've been using, and all new projects will be placed in Vault. 

The benefit of this method?
Data can be culled to see what's getting put into Vault, and you can resolve broken links as you encounter them.  It's a "finer toothed comb".

The drawback?
Two systems are being maintained.  Which can complicate data management.  Not to mention that if the old system is still available, that "project inertia" can set it, where users never quite make the necessary commitment to Vault.

Which is the right one?  If you're expecting me to make a bold statement of which I believe the one method, I'm afraid I must disappoint you.

I don't believe there is one.  It's a decision that has to be based on a given situation, and where resources can be best utilized.  It depends on how broken your data is, and how much time you want to devote to using it. 

I've spent a month onsite fixing data before.  That's a lot of time fixing a lot of data.  For that company, the time was worth it, but can another company justify that?  Hard to say.  So I leave that question, "open ended".

What I can do, is give you a video showing you how you can use Autoloader.  It's a tool in your arsenal, and while it may not be the "ultimate weapon", it still gives you options when faced with getting data into Vault.