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Autodesk finds more to add to the gold standard of CAD, making collaboration easier than ever.

One might be forgiven for thinking that after 25 releases, Autodesk had run out of things to put into its flagship product, AutoCAD. As with many simple assumptions, that simply isn’t the case. The 2012 version of the gold standard in CAD software boasts new features designed to make users more productive, without compromising performance or utility.
Perhaps the most notable thing about this release of AutoCAD is the emphasis on collaboration and communication. First among the new features designed to make it easier for AutoCAD users to work with others is the integration of PDF creation and consumption tools. It’s now possible for AutoCAD users to publish PDF files from within an AutoCAD drawing, and to use PDF files as underlays, with attach and snap-to capabilities.
Equally valuable is a new DWG conversion tool, which allows users to translate DWG files that were created in AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT and other applications that are built on AutoCAD into five versions of the DWG specification: R14 (which dates back to 1997), DWG 2000, DWG 2004, DWG 2007, and the current version, DWG 2010. The converter also works on batches of files, allowing the mass conversion of file libraries that might have become dusty in the intervening years.
AutoCAD 2012 also boasts improvements to the model documentation tools, which allow users to generate intelligent drawing views for models created with AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor and other modeling tools. Users can easily import models from a variety of tools, including Parametric Technology’s Creo Elements/Pro (formerly Pro/Engineer), CATIA and SolidWorks from Dassault Systèmes, Siemens NX and Rhinoceros from McNeel and Associates. The imported models can be instantly updated to reflect engineering changes that affect view entities, edge displays, scale and location.
Finally, this version of AutoCAD for Windows supports AutoCAD WS, the company’s mobile device and Web-based collaboration tool, which debuted last year in conjunction with the launch of AutoCAD for Mac 2011. AutoCAD WS runs on Android and iOS devices and allows users to work on DWG drawings in real time, whether online or offline.
AutoCAD 2012 installs easily and offers migration tools for users wishing to maintain customized palettes or settings; for my testing, I used an Apple MacBook Pro with an Intel “Sandy Bridge” i7 CPU running Windows 7. Beyond the usual content management and license assignment tools, however, there’s one big difference between this and preceding versions of AutoCAD.
This release adds the option to install Autodesk Inventor Fusion 2012, which combines direct modeling and parametric design approaches in a single tool. Inventor Fusion can be invoked from within AutoCAD 2012 as a plug-in, allowing users to edit 3D solids extruded, lofted, planar, revolved and swept surfaces, and perhaps most dramatically, NURBS (non-uniform rational basis spline) surfaces.
AutoCAD 2012 boasts a number of tweaks to the user interface that were designed to make the program easier to use for inexperienced users while maintaining the productivity of seasoned operators. For example, the Insert tab now groups the tools for inserting and editing block references with those for defining blocks. Grouping operations have been consolidated into a panel in the Home tab, and the new Nudge function allow users to use keyboard commands to modify object positioning by a few pixels in orthogonal directions.
Similarly, the command-line interface has been reworked–perhaps more dramatically than the GUI–by the addition of auto-complete features that include a pick list, a color highlight of the active command in the command line window and the ability to display system variables and modify the delay before displaying the AutoComplete pick list.
Multifunctional grips in the 2012 release support a wider range of AutoCAD objects than previously. These include lines, arcs and dimensions, and in 3D drawings, faces, edges and vertices. Hovering the cursor over a grip will reveal a context menu that displays the relevant options controlled by that grip.
The UCS (User Coordinate System) features have received a great deal of attention in AutoCAD 2012. For starters, users can now directly manipulate the UCS icon through its multifunctional grips, or rotate the UCS around the X-, Y -or Z-axis without invoking the UCS command. New settings control the behavior of the UCS icon, and the UCS shortcut menu can be customized.
AutoCAD 2012 adds 3D modeling support to the associative array functions that simplify 2D documentation. Polar and rectangular associative arrays now work in 3D space, and the new path option allows the user to align objects along even an intricately curved path.
Point cloud support, which allows users to rapidly visualize scanned objects and access the object’s surface, has been enhanced in AutoCAD 2012 to support up to 2 billion points, allowing the definition of even the most intricate details.
Finally, AutoCAD 2012 allows users to easily clean up their work by identifying duplicate or unneeded objects. Formerly known as the Overkill Express tool, this functionality is now part of the core toolset.
Simplifying software often means “dumbing it down,” but Autodesk has chosen another approach to simplification in AutoCAD 2012, one that leaves all of the software’s power and flexibility intact while making it more approachable than previous versions. Instead of patronizing users (à la Clippy), AutoCAD 2012 empowers them, providing top-shelf functions and capabilities in a well-organized package.

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