10 Apr 2014

Installations and You, 2015

It is that time of year again!  The 2015 product releases are starting to trickle out on the subscription site, and many of you will be taking advantage and adopting early.  Whether you are keen to try out the new features, or just to take comfort in being at the latest version, it will pay dividends to pause for thought and consider the following before your itchy trigger mouse finger tries to cash cheques that your smooth-running design office can't handle.
Backup your data

Firstly, the Vault.  This is the most important one not to get wrong.  The potential for unexpected downtime while efforts are made to restore functionality is fairly high, and there is the possibility of data loss.
Pose these questions to yourself, or the IT individuals involved in your upgrade/install:

- Do you have experience with the installation or upgrade of Vault and are aware of the potential pitfalls?
- Have you read the installation guide, cover to cover?  There's a lot of content in there and it is all important.
- Do you have an understanding of how Vault relates to SQL Server?
- Do you know the part that IIS plays in your set-up?

If you answer no to any of these questions then you need to either put in some time to understand what is required prior to your install, or get an experienced professional involved.
Backup your data

When it comes to Inventor, there are some important aspects to consider particularly when upgrading.  Backing up your Application Options is just the tip of the iceberg:

- Do you know which resources are shared on your network and how to back them up?
- Do you understand which non-shared resources get completely replaced during an upgrade and how this might affect your projects?
- Are you aware of the migration process in its various forms?

Then there is licensing.  Do not mix up single and network at the install - a mistake here will likely lead you to reinstalling the entire suite (the registry can be modified instead but only if you are confident in knowing which keys to change, and this has to be done for every individual application).
Backup your data

- Do you have your new license file, with the correct server information?
- Do you need to upgrade LM Tools?
- Can your clients communicate with the license server and do you know how to diagnose if they can't?

Micro Concepts support line will be available to offer advice on any specific queries you have with your installation.  If you are certain that you want to proceed on your own then we would advise clearing up any gaps in your knowledge before you do and give us a call to run things through.
Backup your data

Unfortunately what we cannot do is guide you step by step or run installations remotely.  This is due to the length of time the actual installation process takes and this can become much longer when issues arise, the diagnosis of which is compounded by the sheer number of variables that could be the cause.  For Micro Concepts to be involved any deeper than an advisory role it is necessary to arrange a site visit.  If you choose to hire the services of another contractor, make sure you confirm with them that they absolutely know what they are doing!

Finally:  Backup your data!

8 Apr 2014

Gartner's Technology Hype Cycle (2013)

As seen in last month's issue of Develop3D, the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies is a chart which sets human expectation of work-in-progress/theoretical technologies against time.  It aligns them along a path which enters several stages of hype, peaking then troughing, until a "plateau of productivity" is reached.

Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2013:

Some of these should be easily recognisable, some of them not so much.  The website isn't friendly for casual reading so for that reason here is a summary of all the technology in the chart:

Bioacoustic Sensing - the transmission of sound through e.g. skin and other organic matter.  Disney demo'd this recently, but it's not clear if this was just a concept or actual proof
Smart Dust - tiny microelectromechanical systems that can relay sensor information to a network
Quantum Computing - using quantum states of matter as the binary method of computation
Quantified Self - related to mobile health monitoring, this is the quantification of our daily lives in terms of energy consumption, oxygen absorption, etc
3D Bioprinting - the 3D printing of biological materials, most significantly human body parts
Brain-Computer Interface - a means of interacting with machines through brain communication
Human Augmentation - the use of technology in our bodies to improve physical or mental capability
Volumetric and Holographic Displays - help me Obi Wan, you're my only hope
Electrovibration - electrical stimulation of metals to replicate the feeling of textured materials
Affective Computing - essentially a form of AI, where a computer system can empathise and respond appropriately
Prescriptive Analytics - synthesizing data of potential situations to predict outcomes in business
Autonomous Vehicles - cars that drive themselves
Biochips - biological processing units for, among other things, disease detection
Neurobusiness - "Neurobusiness is the capability of applying neuroscience insights to improve outcomes in customer and other business decision situations"  In other words, mind-reading for profit.
3D Scanners - like Faro, devices to generate a 3D model of real-world scanned data
Mobile Robots - robots, that are mobile.  These are in contrast to fixed, industrial robots
Speech-to-speech Translation - instantly translating your native tongue to another's with electronics
Internet of Things - things that you never thought needed to be connected to the internet, connected to the internet. e.g. fridges, heating & lighting systems, cupboard stocks, etc
Natural-Language Question Answering - computational answering of questions posed in the human native tongue.  Similar to what Steven Wolfram is trying to achieve
Big Data - data which is too large to analyse by traditional database management systems e.g. 1EB (exabyte) which is equal to 1 billion GB
Consumer 3D Printing - 3D printing for the home, MakerBot is leading the way in this field
Gamification - to make games out of non-entertainment based activities to aid in problem solving
Wearable User Interfaces - smart watches, augmented reality glasses
Complex Event Processing - the analysis of smaller events to determine the larger driving force and use this information to make predictions or assess risks and threats
Content Analytics - essentially a computerised form of extracting the pure meaning from empirical records which contain subjectivity and nuance
In-Memory Database Management Systems - holding and working with entire databases in the RAM of the computer
Virtual Assistants - professionals who work from home with access to a company's IT infrastructure
Augmented Reality - overlaying a user interface over the physical world e.g. windscreen dashboards in cars, but also glasses
Machine-to-Machine Communication Services - machines collaborating with other machines in industry - see Industry 4.0 on our blog
Mobile Health Monitoring - e.g. heart rate monitors on mobile phines
NFC - near field communication.  A chip to communicate with a radio network when in close range, without the need for power
Mesh Networks: Sensor - piggy backing off the public to create a daisy chain of internet communication
Cloud Computing - computing, but not on your local machine
Virtual Reality - see Oculus Rift for a modern example, which has just been bought by Facebook (where is the dislike button?)
In-Memory Analytics - the analysis of large volumes of data/statistics in RAM instead of hard disk
Gesture Control - using physical gestures as a user interface.  Leap Motion is a (poor) example
Activity Streams - the cross-implementation of user activity e.g. Facebook newsfeeds across multiple sites
Enterprise 3D Printing - superlative 3D printing including more hazardous methods not suitable for home use
Biometric Authentication Methods - the use of human biological information as passwords e.g. iPhone finger scanner
Consumer Telematics - integrated information systems in vehicular transport e.g. fuel stations on a satnav
Location Intelligence - gathering information based on geography to provide business opportunities and information
Speech Recognition - recognising voice input.  Google Now gets my Scottish accent, so this has definitely plateaued
Predictive Analytics - assessing future risks/opportunities based on historical data (just like the "algorithm" in the latest Captain America movie)


2 Apr 2014

SSD prices gradually falling

I've done quite a few installs since joining Micro Concepts.  Whenever I'm asked about hardware upgrades, I advise on solid state drives, aka SSDs.  These are the single best upgrade you can get for your machine right now as they affect the speed of the entire system from booting up in record time, to loading applications not only quickly, but numerously - it is possible to load up every application you use on a daily basis quicker than it would take for just your background apps to finish loading on a normal mechanical hard-disk.

In spite of this, I've yet to see anyone using these drives in business.  Well now is as good a time as any.  The prices of the drives have dropped by about 1/3 in the past year and it's possible to pick up some of the more reliably rated brands for the same price their lesser rated peers cost this time last year.

Micro Concepts advises a minimum of 128GB, with 256GB recommend.  This is based on the sizes of the core Windows operating system, the upper limit of a Product Design Suite install (ultimate), your other applications, and enough room for your data.  Even if you have a roaming profile that houses your data we always recommend your Vault workspace is kept a folder in the root of C:\

Right now Samsung are offering up to £50 cashback on their EVO series.  These are reputed to be one of the fastest and most reliable drives on the market, and means you can get as much as a 1TB drive from Amazon for a little over £300


31 Mar 2014

Free Surface modelling in Simulation CFD 2014

The 2014 release of Autodesk Simulation CFD Advanced/Motion brought with it the ability to simulate free surfaces in liquid volumes.  The applications of this are numerous and range from sloshing in tanks, the path of free flowing water, and hydrodynamic pumps and propulsion.

While the mathematical functions behind it are extremely complex, the setup of free surface is actually very simple.  Here's a quick start guide to getting yourself up and running with a free surface analysis in Sim CFD.  Keep the following image of fluid pouring through a gate in mind for our example.

1) Model only your fluid volumes.  You will need at least 2 distinct solid bodies.  Model a reservoir and a basin, and the gap that they will pass through (the gap can be part of the basin volume).  There's no need to model anything else, since you will only be concerned with flow rather than heat transfer, unless you want to take wall roughness into account.

2) Launch your model into Sim CFD from the tab in Inventor.

3) Apply materials.  All volumes should be the same e.g. water, even the initially empty volumes

4) Skip boundary conditions.  We don't need any boundary conditions for this analysis since it is self-contained i.e. nothing enters or leaves the system.

5) Add an HOF initial condition to the reservoir fluid volume only - set the value to 1.  HOF (height of fluid) is an on/off value (0 or 1) that instructs the application as to which particular fluid volume is filled at the start of the analysis.  Any volumes not designated a height will be seen as empty.

6) Open the Solve dialogue.  
- On the Physics tab, click Free Surface and check the Enable Free Surface box.  Enter your gravity direction, which is usually negative Z (0,0,-1) but your model may vary.
- On the Control tab, the Solution Mode will default to Transient.  You will want to set more save intervals than usual for smooth fluid flow visualisation at the end of your solve.
- Choose a large number of Time Steps (1000+) to Run then click Solve.

7) To visualise the results:  right-click in space and choose Free Surface.  You will then see the HOF value in action throughout the solution.  For planes and ISO surfaces, choose VOF and plot as required.  VOF at 0.5 represents the fluid-gas boundary.


24 Mar 2014

Vault Transmittal - need only the dwfs but the transmittal doesn't give the required information

There's a pack and go tool in Vault that is great for sharing files outside of  vault, that gives options for a complete pack and go of assemblies, and all required parts or just the dwfs and sending these directly to an email. It even includes a tool for automatically creating a transmittal report and attaching that in the zip. The transmittal report is fully customisable to include the information and properties you require.
The only problem is when you create a pack and go and choose to just include dwfs (a common scenario when sending out information), the information in the report just includes the information about the dwfs, not the issue number and status of the main files.
Of course you can create your own custom add in to vault to do this (and even share files over a number of different methods such as directly to Autodesk 360), but that could be time consuming to get the extra 1% functionality required from the pack and go tool.
We have created a workaround to this problem which involves manipulating a generated pack and go zip once it is attached to an email, to strip out everything apart from the pdfs, and dwfs of drawings.
Using the pack and go tool, generate a zip of the models, drawings and dwfs and attach to an email. Building filtering in to the report template to only include information on the required files, and remove the information on spurious additional files. Then run the macro below in outlook to strip out all files except for required dwfs and pdfs.
It's a bit crude and basic, but functional and quickly helps achieve an outcome that overcomes the limitations in the existing functionality.

Public Sub clearzipattachedfile()
If TypeOf Application.ActiveWindow Is Outlook.Inspector Then
      processzip (Application.ActiveInspector.CurrentItem)
End If
End Sub
Private Sub processzip(obj As Outlook.MailItem)
Dim Att As Outlook.Attachment
Dim Path As String
Path = Environ("temp") & "\"
For Each Att In obj.Attachments
        If Right(Att.FileName, 3) = "zip" Then
            Dim tempfile As String
            tempfile = Path & Att.FileName
            'save zip to temp folder
            Att.SaveAsFile (tempfile)
            'remove zip file from email
            'delete files from zip file
            Call deletefilesfromzip(tempfile)
            'add updated zip back to mail
            obj.Attachments.Add (tempfile)
           'delete zip file from temp folder
            VBA.FileSystem.Kill (tempfile)
       End If
End Sub

Private Sub deletefilesfromzip(zipfile As String)
'macro to delete all files in a folder
On Error Resume Next
'extract files to zipfile
Dim filenamefolder As String
filenamefolder = Left(zipfile, Len(zipfile) - 4)
MkDir filenamefolder
Set oApp = CreateObject("Shell.Application")
oApp.NameSpace((filenamefolder)).CopyHere oApp.NameSpace((zipfile)).Items
Set FileSys = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
FileSys.DeleteFile zipfile
Call newzip(zipfile)
Call deletefiles(filenamefolder, zipfile)
FileSys.deletefolder filenamefolder
Set FileSys = Nothing
End Sub

Private Sub deletefiles(foldername, zipname)
Dim FileSys 'As FileSystemObject
Dim objFile 'As vba.File
Dim myFolder
Set FileSys = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
Set myFolder = FileSys.GetFolder(foldername)
For Each subf In myFolder.subfolders
   Call deletefiles(subf.Path, zipname)
Next subf

'loop through each file and check for name match
For Each objFile In myFolder.Files
        If Right(objFile.Name, 7) <> "dwg.dwf" And Right(objFile.Name, 7) <> "idw.dwf" And Right(objFile.Name, 3) <> "pdf" Then
            'add back to zip
            Set oApp = CreateObject("Shell.Application")
            Dim i As Integer
            i = 0
            On Error Resume Next
            i = oApp.NameSpace((zipname)).Items.Count
            oApp.NameSpace((zipname)).CopyHere objFile.Path
            Do Until oApp.NameSpace((zipname)).Items.Count = i + 1
                Application.Wait (Now + TimeValue("0:00:01"))
        Set oApp = Nothing
        End If
Next objFile
Set FileSys = Nothing
Set myFolder = Nothing
End Sub

Private Sub newzip(sPath)
'Create empty Zip File
    If Len(dir(sPath)) > 0 Then Kill sPath
    Open sPath For Output As #1
    Print #1, Chr$(80) & Chr$(75) & Chr$(5) & Chr$(6) & String(18, 0)
    Close #1
End Sub

6 Jan 2014

RAL Colour Appearance Library for Inventor

Dutch website Inventor Wizard have created appearance libraries for Inventor containing all of the European RAL standard colours.  There are 3 flavours on offer:  generic, metallic highgloss, and metallic matte.

The site is in Dutch but can be automatically translated by Google.  The colour names shown in the appearance browser are also in Dutch, but we have converted these to English if you prefer to understand exactly which colour you are choosing when you select a RAL code.  The converted appearance library is available here (1.8mb zip)

To use:
Place the adsklib file with your Design Data, then add it to your project file's Appearance path if you wish to use it in it's entirety as a separate library.
If you would like to add some or all of the colours to an existing library, open it in your Appearance Browser then right click and Add To > your library on each colour you want to use.


24 Dec 2013

Christmas Modelling Challenge

Christmas Modelling Challenge
Once in a while you get asked to model an object in 3D which at first appears easy but then proves to be problematic. Then on the flip side you get an object that at first appears very complex and transpires to be far simpler to model than you initially thought.

I will leave you to decide which category this next shape falls into but your Christmas challenge is to model the following:


Modelled in Autodesk Inventor by Peter Barker
It is called a ‘Mobius Strip’; it’s quite an interesting and also curious shape because it only has one surface and one edge.

Good Luck and have a good Christmas.
Peter Barker

17 Dec 2013

Microsoft offering around 150 free e-books

If you have a hankering to learn SQL Server,  Visual Studio, SharePoint Server,  Office, Windows, or virtually anything that Microsoft develop then Eric Ligman, Microsoft's Sales Excellence Manager has a treat for you on his blog.

For the princely sum of zero pounds and zero pence, there are 145 (I counted them) individual files available for download in a variety of formats to cater to your preferred method of media consumption.

If you were looking for something to occupy your time while eagerly awaiting an appearance from Santa this Christmas, I think Microsoft have you covered.

Scroll down his blog for the full list.