Factory layout tool collection complements the components.
It takes more than a bigger
package and new artwork to turn a collection of programs into a suite. It's
even more work to take a collection of professional design tools and turn them
into a purpose-driven suite. Autodesk has accomplished the latter, with its
Factory Design Suite, a surprisingly affordable package that doesn't sacrifice
any of the power or control that users of the company's design and presentation
products expect from the software.
Factory Design Suite combines
the architectural and mechanical design abilities of AutoCAD with media
creation and presentation tools that are standouts in their own right, and adds
an understanding of factory workflows and constraints that must have taken
years to compile. The result is a polished set of tools that mesh well and
often seamlessly. It's certainly more than the sum of its parts.
The common tools of the Autodesk
Factory Design Suite fall into three categories: design and presentation applications,
the Autodesk Vault repository and a set of utilities that were built with
factory design processes in mind. AutoCAD Architecture 2012 and AutoCAD
Mechanical 2012 make up the first category. As one might suspect, the former
concentrates on the building fabric, while the latter addresses what's inside.
After using both of these, and having looked at the general-purpose version of
AutoCAD earlier this year, I'm even more impressed than I was: I didn't take
into account what it might mean to have a implementation of AutoCAD purpose-built
for a particular discipline, but now I get it.
In the bulked up versions of the
suite, the common design tools are joined by Autodesk Navisworks, which offers
advanced project review features that mesh multiformat data with 3D models to
perform validation of physical designs, and Autodesk 3ds Max Design, the
company's rendering and animation toolset.
Autodesk Showcase 2012 is also a
common component of the Factory Design Suites and provides the ability to
transform the engineering-focused AutoCAD designs into attractive presentations
and visualizations. What really lets the suite live up to its name is the Factory
Design Utilities package, which includes a large library of factory-related
content including conveyors, robots and similar material handling equipment,
the ability to optimize factory layouts in 2D for efficient material flow, and
other enhancements that make the suite's tools more factory-oriented.
Autodesk offers three configurations
of the Factory Design Suite. These bundles have unarguably more attractive
pricing than the cost of the individual applications, as low as the cost of two
or three components, in some cases. For example, the Standard version, which
includes AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD Mechanical, Autodesk Showcase, Autodesk
Vault and the Autodesk Factory Design Utilities, retails at $5,495. Purchased
separately, the total of the MSRPs is $10,485. On top of that, the
office-and-away licensing allows authorized users to install the suite on a
second computer for non-simultaneous use.
The Premium package builds on
the Standard, adding Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk 3ds Max Design and Autodesk Navisworks
Simulate. The Ultimate version, which I tested, offers upgraded functionality
in two of the Premium components: Inventor is replaced by Inventor Professional
and Navisworks Manage takes over for Simulate. The price differences between
the bundles and the per-component structure are even more dramatic in these
versions, with Premium at $6,495 instead of $20,470, and Ultimate at $9,995
In the Premium and Ultimate
versions, other factory-specific enhancements to Autodesk Inventor are packaged
with the Factory Design Utilities. These include automatic conversion from 2D
to 3D, the ability to drag-and-drop 3D elements onto a 2D floor plan, and an
enhanced content library that offers 3D parametric factory objects. Navisworks
also makes use of the Factory Design Utilities by simply implementing the concept
of a factory floor and in the purpose-specific layout tools.
I tested Autodesk Factory Design
Suite Ultimate on an HP Z600 workstation. This machine was equipped with dual Xeon
5672 processors, totaling eight cores. Thankfully, the software installs from a
USB thumb drive, instead of optical media. Customers
have the choice during initial installation between workstation-based licensing
or network-based license management using Autodesk's own tools, and depending
on available hardware, one can deploy 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the
application from the same media.
Once the suite is set up and
activated, users can access the software as individual components or from the
suite's own front end, which provides access to factory-focused workflows and
other features of the suite. Assuming that one's running the software on a
reasonably fast machine with a sane amount of memory-for what Autodesk calls
"complex models or large assemblies" of more than 1,000 objects, it recommends
8GB of RAM as a minimum, with 4GB as a
baseline configurations-the suite should perform well enough for all but the
most demanding task loads. My testbed machine had far more RAM
than the minimum, and when processor time is money, I've always recommended as
much as the machine will hold. Sometimes that argument has even worked.
Although the programs that make
up Autodesk Factory Design Suite aren't going to be mastered in an afternoon,
or even a month of afternoons, it's a testimony to the company's designers that
the programs can offer such approachable tools without dumbing down what is,
after all, a hard-learned body of technical knowledge. This is far more than a
bundle of related tools, which is the sort of thing that's cheapened the
concept of a suite. Instead, the Factory Design Utilities make this a suite in
a musical sense, where the collection actually complements the components.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at email@example.com.