In this series we will explore the fundamentals of Content Center, starting with part 1, which covers its basic setup and configuration.
Content Center is not difficult to manage, but there are several important points which must be understood to use it correctly. Not observing these points can lead to considerable problems, especially in a collaborative environment. The goal of this document is to convey a clear understanding of how to get Content Center working correctly. First, a quick overview for those of you who may be new to Inventor, or who have never used Content Center…
Content Center is a set of libraries containing industry standard Inventor components, grouped by categories and their controlling standard. The overall collection contains millions of parts, with major libraries including ANSI, DIN, and other popular standards. Within those libraries are categories for things like fasteners, structural shapes, shaft parts, and others. Finally, the categories contain part families for individual components in their various sizes. The libraries don’t contain Inventor part files; that would take up a huge amount of disk space. Instead they contain numerical information in a standard database format. This reduces the size of the libraries, but even then, with so many parts they are still large. The 2020 ANSI library, for instance, is over 1.5 gigabytes in size. The Inventor part files themselves are created the first time a component is used. The part file is written to the hard drive as a library component at that point. After that, if the component gets used again, the created file is referenced, just like any other Inventor component.
Content Center also has the capability to use custom, user generated libraries, and to generate standard non-library components from the Content Center data. I’ll address both those features in this series.
That’s the eagle’s eye view. The details are where things get interesting.
Two Elements of Content Center
Content Center has two major elements. They are called Content Center Libraries, and Content Center Files. We’ll look at the libraries first.
Content Center Libraries
One of the things about Content Center which can be confusing is that the term “library” does double-duty here. If you’ve been around Inventor for any time at all, you may have used library folders, or at least heard the terms “Library Folders” and “Library Files”. Library folders and files are different from the Content Center Libraries. I will talk about library folders later, and hopefully clear up some of the confusion. While we’re discussing Content Center Libraries, just be aware that they are two separate things. Content Center Libraries are the database files which are used to create the part files. To save space, the information is stored in the libraries as numerical data rather than 3D geometry.
In working with Content Center libraries, you might hear the term “Stock Content Center Libraries”. This refers to the libraries which ship with each version of Inventor. They are normally copied to the user’s hard drive with the install routine. Stock Content Center Libraries are read-only. They cannot be changed or added to. Autodesk set it up this way with good reason, however, not understanding the intent of the stock libraries has caused frustration for some users. Since this is designed to be an overview, that’s all I’ll say here, but I will dive into that issue in Part 2.
There are three different ways that the Content Center libraries can be stored and managed. Which one you use will depend on how you work. If you are working in an isolated environment on just a single machine, they will be stored locally. The stock installation places them under the C:\ProgramData folder. If you are using Autodesk Vault, the Content Center libraries should be stored in the Vault. This is ideal for any collaborative environment, since it ensures that everyone will have easy access to the same libraries, and that they can be easily managed. If you are working in a collaborative environment, but not using Vault, the libraries should be stored in a network folder so that everyone can access them.
I say “should”, because as I mentioned earlier, the stock Inventor installation will by default load the libraries locally and configure the system to use them as if the install was isolated. It’s important to understand the implications of this. If you have multiple users and each one uses the default Inventor Installation, they will each be accessing the Content Center libraries from the copies on their local machines. For the stock libraries this doesn’t cause a problem because they are all the same and cannot be modified. However, if you plan to use one or more custom Content Center libraries, and want everyone to have access to them, this installation scheme will not work well. Maintaining copies of a custom library on each user’s hard drive would be an administrative nightmare. In a case like this you will want to make sure the libraries are moved to a network location so everyone is seeing the same data. All the libraries—whether stock or custom—are mapped to a single folder, so if your users need to share a custom library, the stock libraries will need to be in the same place.
Depending on the version of Inventor, the stock Content Center libraries may be installed automatically, or they may be a separate download requiring extra configuration steps. A quick online search for “Inventor [your version] Content Center” will return articles from Autodesk covering your options. If the libraries are automatically installed with Inventor, they will be installed locally.
How Content Center Libraries Are Used
There are two different ways to utilize the Content Center Libraries to create new files. The first is to create standard content. This is the default for components such as hardware, fittings, and shaft parts. It creates a library file which, like the libraries themselves, is not editable. These files are stored in a special folder that I’ll talk about in a moment. Stock Content Center part files even have a unique icon in the Assembly browser to set them apart. They have the advantage of being linked to their Content Center families, so changing from one family member to another is an easy process that will not disrupt your assembly’s relationships.
The second way to use the Content Center Libraries is to create a custom part. This process is the default for certain types of library content such as structural steel parts, which have a length associated with them that is supplied by the user when the file is created. This process creates a standard Inventor part file, which is completely editable. The link to Content Center is broken when the file is created. In this scenario you are simply using Content Center as a data source or part factory. This technique can be used even for parts which are commonly not edited, such as bolts and fittings. If you need to modify the part in any way, create it as a custom component.
Content Center Files
The other side of the Content Center coin is the Content Center Files folder, and the files it contains. With the libraries in place, we can now begin to use the component files in our assemblies…except that the files don’t exist yet. Each component’s file will be created when the component is used for the first time. Where they are saved after they are created is a very important consideration. This is an area where lack of understanding or lax administration can cause a great deal of grief. Unfortunately, this is also an area where confusion can easily be introduced. This is because Inventor’s other use for the word “Library” comes into play.
Library Components and Folders
When a user first inserts a stock Content Center component into an assembly, Content Center generates the component file and puts that file on the hard drive in a special folder called Content Center Files. The Content Center Files folder serves as a collective repository for all the stock Content Center components that are used, and that folder is always designated as a Library Folder. An Inventor library folder has nothing directly to do with the Content Center Libraries discussed earlier; the two are different and distinct things. It’s unfortunate that the word “library” is probably the best descriptive term for both, but it’s important not to mix them up.
For our purposes, the fact that the Content Center Files folder is designated as a library folder means that the components which are stored there must always be found exactly where they were originally placed, and named what they were originally named. The paths to library components are embedded in Inventor assemblies. Renaming or moving a library file is a bad idea because the assemblies will then not be able to find them. This makes each user’s mapping to the Content Center Files folder very important. I’ll go over this again when I cover Content Center settings, but in a nutshell, the critical thing is to make sure everyone’s Content Center Files folder mapping points to the same place. Obviously, this folder cannot be on any user’s hard drive; it will need to be in a mutually accessible location. This will avoid issues where a user trying to open an assembly created by someone else gets file resolution errors that are difficult to resolve.
Figure 6: Content Center's configuration will depend on your working environment.
The Content Center Files folder shares this trait with the Content Center Libraries: Depending on the CAD environment, it is stored either on a local hard drive, on a shared network drive, or in the Vault (see Figure 6). If you are working collaboratively, the Content Center files folder should not be on your local hard drive. Once a component is created for the first time, the system uses the file from this folder the next time that part is used.
If the Content Center component is placed as a custom component, the user will be asked to save and name the file as part of the insertion process. These files are not placed in the Content Center Files folder. They are not library components, but regular Inventor parts.
Content Center Controls and Settings
Content Center’s configuration settings are a little spread out. In this section we’ll look at the various settings needed to get the tool working correctly, and where they are found.
Content Center settings in Inventor
In Inventor’s Application Options on the Content Center tab, there are three settings for Content Center:
- Standard Parts. This check box controls whether Content Center components are updated from the Content Center library when they are placed, or simply used as-is from the Content Center Files folder. If your libraries are static, there’s no need to spend the extra time checking the component file against the library, but if you are changing and updating your custom libraries regularly, you may want to check this option.
- Custom Family Default. This refers to content such as steel shapes, which have one or more parameters that must be supplied when they are placed. The default is “As Custom”, which is the correct setting for most users. It’s not that you can’t create them the other way; this just sets the default.
- Access Options. This setting determines where the Content Center Libraries are stored. The two options are somewhere on a local or mapped drive, or in the Vault. For local implementations, the default location is:
C:\ProgramData\Autodesk\Inventor 20XX\Content Center\Libraries
If another location is desired, the libraries within that folder can be moved to any accessible location and the mapping changed. The Vault setting should be used if the Content Center libraries have been loaded into the Vault. A Vault login will be required to access the libraries in this case.
Mapping the Content Center Files Folder
As I’ve already mentioned, getting the Content Center Files folder mapped correctly is important, especially in a collaborative environment. There are two ways that this folder can be mapped. The first is on the File tab of Inventor’s Application Options, and the second is in the project file’s Folder Options. The mapping in the project file always takes precedence if they are different. Inventor’s installation routine sets them up like this:
The Default Content Center Files setting on the Files tab of the Application Options dialog box is set to:
%USERPROFILE%\Documents\Inventor\Content Center Files\R20XX\
In the project file under Folder Options, the Content Center Files folder is mapped to:
When the folder mapping in the project file is set to ‘default’, the system uses the mapping in Application Options. If the project file’s settings are mapped to a specific place, the project file mapping always overrides the one in Application Options. This allows a fine level of control over the folder mappings if needed. Most organizations don’t need that kind of sophistication, but if a user works mobile part of the time and can’t VPN into the company network, they will need to access the network mappings when they’re in the office, and a local copy when they’re in the field. This is also helpful for contractors, who might need to have different mappings for their various clients. In that case, simply changing the project file can completely reconfigure their environment.
Most companies will want to use a single project file for all their users. They can then map the project file’s Content Center Files folder to their Vault’s local workspace or to a network location. The mapping in Application Options can be left to the default or changed to another place on a local drive. If the user must sometimes work mobile, a second project file can be used to map the Content Center files locally. In that case, it’s important to synchronize the local and network folders as well as the folder mappings so that the user can switch back and forth between the project files without Inventor seeing a difference in the way the folder is mapped.
If multiple project files must be used in a collaborative environment, a strict protocol should be observed when creating the project files. When a new project file is created, the local Content Center Files folder mapping is used by default, and this should always be changed to the shared, network mapping. Leaving it as-is will cause file resolution errors, which in some cases can be very difficult to resolve. For Vault implementations, a single, shared project file which is managed by Vault is always best practice for daily use.
Other Content Center Settings in the Project File Dialog
The Projects dialog box contains a tool for configuring the Content Center libraries. It’s found on the lower right side of the dialog box. Clicking that button will pull up the Configure Libraries Inventor 20XX dialog box. At the top of the box the location of the Content Center libraries is displayed as a link that can be used to access the folder they’re stored in. Below that is a list of available libraries with a check box to denote which ones are in use. This setting is unique to each project file, so it’s possible to change which libraries are available to users by switching project files.
On the bottom right of the dialog box there’s a row of tools for administrating the Content Center Libraries. Here libraries can be created, deleted, moved between local versions and the Vault, etc. These advanced features are the topic for a separate blog, so they get just a brief mention here.
Other Content Center Tools
Content Center also offers tools for authoring Content Center part families, managing libraries and Placing Content Center components. Those are complex subjects in themselves, so I will cover them in a separate blog post.