Find us on Google+ August 2009 ~ Inventor Tales

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tuning Your Ride - Adding an icon to Inventor’s Quick Access Toolbar

Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine.

Robert C. Gallagher

With the onset of the Autodesk Manufacturing Academy (AMA), things have gotten exciting, so I have to confess that the blog has suffered a bit. So much to do, so much to do! Getting ready with Sheet Metal, Interoperability, among so many other things. It's fun, but it's a challenge too.

But even though I'm trying to get some of the metal ducks in a row (which, to carry on with animal analogies, has been more like herding mental cats), I thought about some of the ribbon customizations that can be accomplished in Inventor.

One of the things that I've wanted to adjust is the 'View Face' (formerly known as 'Look At') tool. Even with my Space Pilot Pro, I still use it from time to time. But in R2010, it's a little inconveniently placed, at least in my opinion.

By default, it's on the View tab, with the other viewing tools, which I don't use quite as often, or access by other means.

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Not hard to get to, but not easy either

I'd like to move it somewhere it will always be within easy reach. Fortunately there is a location where you can do just that, called the Quick Access Toolbar.

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One of the nicer properties of the Quick Access Toolbar is that it's always visible, no matter what ribbon your currently using. Add to that, you can place your own icons on it, like…. View Face for example.

How do I do that? It's actually pretty straight forward. If you right click on the icon you want to move (View Face), you can choose 'Add to Quick Access Toolbar', and you're off! That's it.

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Now the Quick Access Toolbar will have a 'View Face' icon available.

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What's the benefit of this? No matter what ribbon you're using, you'll always have the 'View Face' icon available.

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One final note, I'm sometimes asked how I feel about customization. I tend to keep my customizations to a minimum. As a matter of fact, this is the only customization I've made to my Inventor interface, and even then, I was slow in making it.

Why? There're two simple reasons for me.

  1. The simple reason, I have to train Inventor, and I can't really have my interface customized to the moon. So I keep it pretty vanilla.
  2. The more 'practical' reasons. If I have a more vanilla setup, I can walk up to the majority of Inventor stations, fire them up, and start modeling, I don't have to mess around with importing, or recreating the customizations.

That's it, no great secret. This one, I'll probably keep. This may be my sole customization for a long time. But with so many things, this is up to the individual.

Happy Inventing!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Well That's Not Supposed to Happen! Changing Screen Resolutions.

“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes” Richard Buckminster Fuller (US engineer and architect, 1895-1983 )

This is one for the ages. Like that relative that nobody talks about, but appears for Christmas in years with the number '6' at the end, I've only seen this one come up three times in my entire career. Two I directly saw, the last I ran across on a discussion group.

When you start a program in Windows, all of a sudden your screen resolution drops to 'ugly'. I'm showing this one in Inventor, but it's not limited to Inventor, or even Autodesk at all. You can change the same options on programs like the 3Dconnexion Driver, and some of the Adobe products as well.

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If you shut off your program, it magically goes away. It's quite infuriating (like when that same relative empties your refrigerator). So what would cause it?

If you right click on the short cut that starts the Windows Program (Inventor in this example).

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Choose properties, click the 'Compatibility' tab, and you'll see the following screen.

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You'll usually find that one of the check boxes on this screen are checked, causing the program to drop the resolution when you start it.

Unchecking the box (256 colors) in this example, has fixed the issue every time I've encountered it.

Why does it happen? I haven't a clue. I've only seen the aftermath. It's not even a setting that a user could easily find and check by mistake.

It's kinda like coming home and finding that your relative has crashed your car into the swimming pool, but somehow all the fences around the pool are still intact.

So that fixes what might be one of the strangest 'errors' I've encountered. It seems to me more prone to happening on an XP box (I couldn't force my Vista 64bit box to create the error), but who knows. It's pretty strange.

Definitely one for a game of geek trivia!

And on one final note! Autodesk Manufacturing Academy (AMA) is back! October 15th for us in So. Cal., and October 22nd in No. Cal.!

Check it out! I hope to see everyone there!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

iLogic - Making Inventor Remember, So You Don't Have To!

Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end

Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy)

After a brief hiatus, I'm back in the saddle with iLogic again. It's now starting to make sense

First of all, what is iLogic. I'm definitely guilty of sometimes jumping into the nuts and bolts of what I'm doing, without telling everyone what I'm doing.

iLogic is a utility that allows you to create rules via a simplified code. It's based on VB.Net, but doesn't require you to be some sort of code guru to make it work.

The good news. iLogic is a free add-on for subscription members from the Autodesk Subscription website here. You'll need to login. If you're not on subscription. Well, I'm afraid that you'll be on the outside looking in.

I've been looking for something meaningful to me to start creating rules for, and something began to make sense to me.

Since I love simplicity (I think that a simple solution can be a marvelous solution), I started with the 235-U Destaco toggle clamp I downloaded from the Autodesk Content Warehouse.

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After a little conversion, I figured out that the clamping force is 750 lbs, and the clamp height is 1.69in. I can remember, this, but I decided to use iLogic to create rule that's going to remind me what they are automatically.

First, I get my part downloaded from the site, and opened up in Inventor.

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First, a disclaimer. I did change the colors of the components (initially they did come in all gray).

But aside from that, it's stock. So now to get the code started.

Step 1: Click on the Manage tab, and choose the 'Add Rule' button to start the iLogic wizard.

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Step 2: iLogic will ask you to name the rule.

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Step 3: After the rule is named, the rule wizard will open. You can start typing your code now, but if you don't know code, click on the 'Rule Syntax' tab. It'll have sample lines of code that will help guide you. (See step 3)

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Step 3: Here I've used the Rules Syntax Wizard to put in text that is essentially my 'template' for my code.

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Step 4: Now for 'Message', I substitute the following

"Clamping Force = 750 lbs" & Chr(13) & "Height Under Bar = 1.69 in"

The data in the quotes is the text I want to show in my dialog box. The text '& Chr(13) &' is the code for carriage return. This will force the text to appear on two separate lines.

For 'Title' I substitute 'Clamp Stats'. This is just the title of the dialog box.

So my overall line of code looks like this:

MessageBox.Show("Clamping Force = 750 lbs" & Chr(13) & "Height Under Bar = 1.69 in", "Clamp Stats")

Inside the wizard, the code will look like this:

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I can now close this window, and the rule is created. If you haven't made any mistakes, it'll display right away.

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So far, this is pretty cool. But I have one more thing I want to do. I want to set this so that every time this file opens, the dialog pops up and advises me of the clamp load. This way, I can quickly see if this clamp meets my desired requirements.

To do this, I click on iLogic utilities, on the Manage tab.
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When I do this, I get the list pictured below. Notice I've circled 'Rules Triggered by Events'

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When I click this button, I get a new dialog screen.

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You'll notice that there's one for 'After Open Document'. By right clicking on that, I get 'Edit List of Rules'. Choose 'Edit List of Rule'.

Yet another dialog box shows up, and you can check the box have the Clamp Load Rule trigger every time you open this document.

Now your ready. Hit 'OK' to close the dialogs and save the document. Everytime you open this file, the rule will fire, and you'll see the load for this rule.

That's it for iLogic!

As for me and my adventures? I was down at the Planes of Fame Museum again this weekend (I'm volunteering to be a guide, so I'm still in the training process). But I swung by and saw some of the guys working on the N9MB Flying Wing.

She suffered an engine fire in 2006 on takeoff, and thankfully made a safe landing, but she's been grounded since then while undergoing repairs. The engines have been reverse engineered (since they're no more spares), so it's been a time consuming process.

But, the parts are starting to arrive now, so hopefully within a year, she'll be up in the air again.

Unfortunatley, I didn't have my camera, and it didn't occur to me to use my cell phone camera, but here's a picture I took at the last airshow in May. In the second shot you can see where the engines are removed.

Let's hope we see her taking off again like she is below! This picture courtesy of the Goleta Air & Space Museum's website

Monday, August 17, 2009

Windows XP and Major Overhauls (Part 2)

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow”


Surprise! My upgrade didn't go according to plan. So, what went wrong?

The image that I'd created a while back..... No good. I installed it, and all appropriate progress bars and blinky lights seemed to be in order.

But when I go to start my new Vista 64 bit install? BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH.

Now our first thought might be to blame Vista, because that's the most obvious target. It's not fair though. I've never used this imaging software before (Ping), so it's possible that the imaging software caused the issue, or it could even be good old fashioned user error.

Besides, once the blame is assigned, I still had to contend with a laptop that was 'bricked'.

For those who don't know:

Definition of Brick (thanks to Wikipedia).

When used in reference to electronics, "brick" describes a device that cannot function in any capacity (such as a device with damaged firmware). This usage derives from the fact that some electronic devices (and their detachable power supplies) are vaguely brick-shaped, and so those which do not function are as useful only as actual bricks. The term can also be used as a verb. For example, "I bricked my MP3 player when I tried to modify its firmware."

But as one of my friends in I.T. taught me: Have a backup plan.

What's that plan?

So I install from scratch, and as of now, my OS is up and running. It takes a couple of hours to install the security updates (tedious, but necessary). Now I'm getting my remaining software slowly installed again.

So as of right now, no screen captures, because Snagit and Camtasia aren't back on yet.

But we're on our way. Software is starting to get back installed, and my performance is noticeably better. Whatever was plaguing my system seems to be cured now.

There's still more to be done, but I'm definitely off and running.

The moral of my little adventure? When you're doing anything major like this, have a fallback plan in case the first doesn't work. I'd be in for a pretty long night tonight if I hadn't had the disks as a backup.

And while things aren't ideal, I'll be at 100% by tomorrow.

Sometimes it's not about whether or not things go according to plan. It's how well you recover when the plan goes wrong.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

WIndows XP and Major Overhauls.

“Technically, Windows is an "operating system," which means that it supplies your computer with the basic commands that it needs to suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, stop operating.”
Dave Barry

This weekend, I'm in the process of performing some serious maintenance on my laptop.

I'm razing the OS to the ground, and reinstalling all over again. Scorched Earth, so to speak.

As with most Windows Operating Systems that see heavy use, this installation of Windows XP is looking pretty ragged.

For those of us who live on the ragged edge, you've seen it. Usually your system starts getting slow, and defragging and temp space clearing only does so much good.

For those foolish or daring enough (I'm not sure which I am yet), this is the time for a total rebuild of your system. Rebuild it from the ground up.

Lucky for me, I've got some of my building blocks in place. So before we start, here's what we have.

1) An image created for Vista 64 bit on this machine. (I created it a ways back, just in case).

2) Installation disks for Vista 64bit. Just in case the image turns out to be bad. (This is my first use of it, so I'm makings sure to have a backup plan).

3) Installation disks for all my software that will eventually live on the system.

So all that is in play. Now we start the long 'progress bar rodeo' of backing up all my data. (There's no way I'm attempting this without a backup!).

As I write this, my system is backing up to my portable hard drive. That's going to take into the evening.

Tonight, I expect to get the image installed. Forunately, tomorrow is a day off for me (mental health vacation day), so I can finish out tomorrow if needed.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "What kind of freak are you? It's your vacation day and you're installing software?!?"

It's the best day to do it, and besides, most of what I'll be doing is letting progress bars do their thing.

In any case, wish me luck. Hopefully tonight is met with much rejoicing, instead me cursing the error of my ways.

I'll keep everyone posted!

Monday, August 10, 2009

My First 'Product Review' 3D Connexion Space Pilot

“A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows public opinion” Chinese Proverb

So, on a note a little separate from my typical CAD Geek stuff, I've decided to post my thoughts on my SpacePilot Pro that I've been using for about two months or so now.

My SpacePilot Pro on my desk. Yes, my desk is a typical 'designer's desk'. A mess!
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I preface this with a disclaimer. These are my thoughts with my 'user' shirt on, feel free to take them and use them to formulate your own opinion.

I've also been using 3D Connexion devices for about five years now (I started with the now discontinued Space Traveler), so I'm familiar with them. It's just the SpacePilot Pro I've been getting used to.

With that being said. What is a SpacePilot Pro?

For those of us who may not have heard of them before, they're a little hard to describe. You'll hear them called '3D orbiters' (which is what I call them), or '3D mice'.

In short, they take over the Zoom, Orbit, and Pan functions inside inside of Inventor (and other CAD products they support). 3D Connexion has a nice web video HERE.

The fancier versions (like the Pro) also have buttons that can be programmed to duplicate other Inventor functions, such as starting a new sketch, or activating assembly constraints (among a myriad of other functions).

They start out with the SpaceNavigator (the least expensive and most portable), and progress through the Space Explorer, Space Pilot, and Space Pilot Pro, each adding more functionality (and of course cost).

Now with the descriptions over, lets talk about my experience with the SpacePilot Pro.

The first thing I noticed, and liked, was the shape of it. It's very comfortable. My hand rests easily on its curved shape, and the buttons are easy to get to. The puck has feels smooth and very responsive. They've definitely been improving the sensors since my trusty old Traveler.

Another prominent feature is the LCD screen. It has applets installed that will tell you what function the programmable keys are set to do, it can preview Outlook, view RSS feeds, or even be a picture viewer. A driver update also lets it show you the properties from your Inventor files.

While it may seem a little 'gimmicky', I found that the LCD did help with some of the little things, like seeing if that e-mail that came in while I was away was from my boss, or a newsletter from a vendor that could wait until later.

The LCD Screen, and some of the buttons
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The unit also feels very solid. It's got some nice heft to it, which for the most part, I like. It doesn't slide around on my desk, and lets me feel like any input I'm going to give goes straight to my model.

Last, but certainly not least, how does it affect workflow? While using Inventor, I've found that it's reduced the amount of times my left hand moves across the keyboard, especially for the orbit hot key.

The programmable buttons also unload my right hand from right clicking, or reaching for hot keys on the right hand side of the key board.

Is the change enormous? No, it's not. A model that would take me three hours to build isn't done in thirty minutes. But I do find the process of building my Inventor models to be smoother, easier, and more efficient.

Take my SpacePilot away from me, and you'll find me pawing at the left hand side of my laptop like a Golden Retriever chasing bunnies in his sleep.

As you can see, I'm a big fan of my SpacePilot Pro. If I have a bias (which I'm sure I do), you could certainly accuse me of being a big advocate.

However, as much as I like it, I can see a few drawbacks for it.

The buttons can take some practice to get used to. While this doesn't bother a geek like myself, the casual user may not get the 'seat time' to get accustomed to them. If you don't have the time or inclination for a the learning curve, it may not be for you. If you still like the functionality of having the orbiting controls, the SpaceNavigator may be a great solution though.

The price is pretty steep. With an MSRP of $499 USD, the sticker shock is pretty high. This may also cause the part time users to shy away. I think the hardcore users (like myself) will find the price more of an investment.

It's pretty hefty. While the weight makes it feel solid, it's not exactly the most portable device around, so if you highly mobile, you may not want to carry it from place to place. (I bought a ditty bag at the local camping store, and improvised a carrier from that, and the original vacuum formed packaging). A SpaceNavigator is probably the best solution for someone who is highly mobile, but doesn't want to carry the extra weight.

So in summary:

The positive:
  • It's comfortable to use
  • The buttons provide useful functionality, and are easy to reach
  • It has a solid, high-quality feel to it.
  • The LCD screen adds some subtle, but useful, functionality.
  • It improves the 'experience' of building models in Inventor
The negative:
  • They're pretty pricey
  • There's a learning curve to get used to all those buttons. It may not be for the casual CAD users (like a manager who reviews models periodically)
  • It's heavy. If you're a mobile user, it can be a lot to lug around
Ultimately, I wouldn't be without my SpacePilot Pro. I'm happy I got it, and would replace it in a heartbeat if something were to happen to it (although you have no idea how careful I am with it). I deal with the fact that it's a noticeable addition to my 'kit' when i move from place to place.

For those who want more information, you can always contact me at KETIV.

If you live in Southern California, we also have a demo station where you can try out the SpacePilot Pro for a few minutes.

Feel free to swing by if you ever want to try one out (although please let us know your coming. The unit is also used in our training labs, so we'd want to make sure it's available!).

That's it for my first product review. I hope you found it helpful.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Subtle but Significant... Displaying Coincident Constraints

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."
-- Vincent Van Gogh

This is one of those 'little things', but if experience has taught me anything, the little things matter. That holds true for things like Inventor as well.

While working in one of our training labs over at KETIV. A student pointed out that when they were sketching, the coincident constraints were showing up as yellow dots at the corner of the geometry.

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The dots representing the constraints are benign. They only server to tell you that the constraint is there. But, they do add clutter to your screen, and if you subscribe to my theory, I've got enough clutter in my life, at the very least I can get the clutter off my computer screen!

So how do I get rid of the dots?

Go to Tools>Application options, and choose the 'Sketch' Tab. On that tab, you'll find the option to uncheck the display of the those dots.

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Unchecking that option will remove the dots, making for that cleaner, uncluttered look preferred by many.

Note: You may have to right click and 'hide all constraints' to clean the point off the current geometry, but once this option is deselected, you won't have to worry about it appearing on new geometry.

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Happy Inventing, everyone! Don't forget the little things!