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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mutiple Bodies, Multiplied Flexibilty

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”

Tom Robbins (American Novelist. b.1936)

I've been working with the new multi-body workflow inside of Inventor R2010, getting used to it's workflow, especially if you're an old warhorse like me who remembers tool bodies in Mechanical Desktop (how's that for a flashback!).

If you read the data on Inventor's multi-body tools, you'll see that it's a natural fit for plastic part creation. For example, here's the plastic cover for a hair dryer

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The cover has been modeled as a single part, because it's easier to create it that way than it is to create it as two parts that you're going to try to make fit at the end.

But the challenge doesn't lay in the creation of the part. It lays in the fact that when we finish creating the shape, we still have to create two separate parts. Inventor had this capability for some time (using derived components), but now it's become a much easier process.

Instead of creating new components and creating two files, the multi-body functionality in Inventor lets you create the separate bodies inside the part file. Which in the end, makes for a more efficient workflow.

In this example, we're going to use an origin workplane to split the part down the middle (where the parting line will be.

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Naturally, the tool used to split the part, will be the split tool, of course.

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Once activated, those who remember the split tool from earlier releases will notice that there's a new button in Inventor R2010.

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This function breaks the file into two distinct bodies, although they're still maintained in a single file. The bodies will show in your feature browser, and will highlight in the drawing window when you show them there.
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Note that if you right click on the solids, you can choose 'Properties' and give them more sensible names.

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Once the body is split, you can go to the 'Make Components' tool on the manage tab, which will walk you through the wizard to create new distinct parts.

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With this tool started, Inventor opens up a window that allows us to choose the bodies to export, whether or not we want to place them in an assembly, and what directory we want to place the assembly in.

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Once we have our desired settings, we can hit the 'Next' button. Here, we can choose the file names, and the directories for the parts to be created. Also notice that there's a scale factor (which comes in handy if you have shrinkage factors to account for).

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Hitting 'OK', builds the part, and (if you chose to do so) inserts them in the assembly. And Viola! Two parts from one! The files link back to the original part file that generated them.

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Of course the next question, maybe 'So what? Just because I can, doesn't mean I should, would, or ought to.'

Fair question. I can, but why would I
want to?

If you look up a few lines, I wrote 'The files link back to the original part file that generated them.'

This gives us the abilty to go back to that model, and make changes there, and have them propagate back to the components. In other words, mating features (like the bosses shown here) components can be placed in the original model.

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And those changes will show in the assembly when updated. Since we lined them up in the original model, we know they're lined up perfectly, without the use of adaptivity or constraints. That's where you really start to see this spread its proverbial wings! More to come. There's a lot more that can be done!


Monday, July 13, 2009

People are People... Importing Humans into Autodesk Showcase

There are two types of people - those who come into a room and say, "Well, here I am!" and those who come in and say, "Ah, there you are."

Frederick L. Collins

This question was posed to me about a week ago: "How do I get human forms into Autodesk Showcase?

Since Showcase doesn't build models, we need to get them from somewhere else. One of the most common places is from Charlie Bliss's site HERE. I've used 'iMike' a number of times.

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The people here are great for the concept of scale in a project, but they're not very realistic looking.

There is a way to do it, although it does take a bit of determination. But once that grunt work is done, you have something that you can place in your library, and (hopefully) never have to change it again.

Whats the big secret. Look for files 3ds files (the native Autodesk 3ds Max format). There are models of people to be found out there.

I found a decent selection on Klicker HERE. This is a great starting point.

But now we have a challenge to overcome. Showcase doens't import 3ds models. So now what?

Well, if you have AutoCAD and a will, you have your way.

In AutoCAD, you can go to the Insert Ribbon and choose Import. Also, if you're in the classic setting you can go to File>Import, or if you're an old school typist like me, just type 'import'.

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One of the options on import is a 3ds file. I'm using one of the samples I downloaded from Klicker.

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When you hit open, the import options appear. You can choose what and what not to import (such as lights for example). I click 'Add all' and hit 'OK'.

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AutoCAD will crunch a while, and you'll see a polyface mesh of the imported data (in this case a man).

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Now all you have to do is save this file as a *.dwg.

With the file saved as a dwg, you can open up Showcase and go to File>Import Models, and choose the dwg you just created as the file to import.

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Showcase will chug a bit, and you should see your import appear now!

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You're almost there. You may need to check the normals (not well adjusted people, the surface normals). There's a chance that not all of them are facing the correct direction.

You can do this by hitting 'F2' to show the normals. When they face the correct direction, they'll be blue. If they're yellow, select them, and hit 'F3' which will reverse them.

Why do we want to correct them? If we don't they may not show lighting and shadows correctly, which will make those areas look dark.

Here two surfaces face the wrong direction.

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Normals corrected.

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Now a few tweaks to materials and the addition of an enviroment, you have a much more realistic looking person. It's certainly not on the level of something you'd see out of a Hollywood special effects department, but it has more realism that iMike (not to insult him).

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Aside from the fact that he's taller, better looking, and thinner, I think he bears a striking resemblance to me.

Now just save him in a directory where you can use him over and over again if you need him.

One last thing. Will ever single model come in this slickly? In a word: No. I've had some that have been pretty tough.

I've been able to bring these into Autodesk Inventor and clean them up and bring them into Showcase, but I'm still pinning down the best way to do this. Once I get that nailed down, I'll share that too!

Happy Monday everyone!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Geeks Humor..... Be Careful what you Assume

"There is always an easy solution to every human problem— neat, plausible and wrong.
H. L. Mencken

Learning Autodesk Inventor, Showcase, and Vault (among other things) are often exercises in learning a process as much as the product. After a frustrating evening, I've decided to share a bit of an anecdote, and out of a need to laugh. Even if must be at my own expense.

Earlier tonight, I installed Internet Explorer 8.0, plus a .Net update, among others. I'm figuring I'll go ahead and test out the new version of Internet Explorer (being a Firefox guy, I'm wary of new versions of I.E.).

I shut off my laptop, head home after a good day at the office, and do my evening drill (stop by the grocery store, make dinner etc).

After dinner, I sit down in front of my ever present laptop (me without my laptop is like a gunfighter without a six shooter), and decide to jump on my wireless network

A few mouse clicks and....... nothing. Wireless my wireless doesn't connect, no internet. I'm knocked off the grid.

I murmur to myself. It must be a wireless setting. After all, I just installed those updates. They must have done something. I dive into my wireless settings and start dissecting my system.

Nothing's wrong, and nothings working. My murmuring turns into grumbling. More clicking of mouse buttons, and gnashing of teeth. Still nothing.

My frustration level goes. Grumbling turns an incoherent conversation with my laptop using language that makes mothers blush and cover the ears of young children.

Even using this level of diplomacy, my laptop fails to offer any suggestions.

I even try uninstalling and reinstalling the updates. Still nothing! GRRRRRRRR!

Finally I grab a spare network cable and walk to my wireless router. Determined to emerge victorious, I plug directly into the router.

My laptop flashes a message that my network cable isn't plugged in. I pace the room like a caged animal. Could it be that the updates have seriously messed up my network connections?

Good grief, does that mean that I may have problems at work tomorrow? What if I have to reinstall the OS? The muscles in my back tense at the thought.

I spend a few minutes trying different combinations of cables and ports.

No luck. Absolutely nothing. I'm starting to wonder if something has seriously gone wrong with my laptop.

Then, my eyes fall upon the router itself. And I realize something that I should have noticed right way, if I'd checked.

Every single light on the router is out.


I grab a spare power supply, plug it in to my router, and in a minute or two. The router lights are happily blinking away like the lights on a Christmas Tree, and my laptop blinks up the happy message 'Wireless Connection Status: Connected"

Exhibit A: The perpetrator and accomplice in tonight's little 'challenge'.

I had spent the better part of TWO HOURS trying to fix something that wasn't the problem in the first place.

And to add insult to injury, all I had to do was double check that the router had power.

That's my lesson for the evening. With my problem solved, I've had a good laugh at my own expense (I definitely earned it).

And the next time technology goes 'sproing!' on you, no matter what the technology, take a deep breath, and make sure you don't jump to any conclusions.

Sometimes the solution is really as simple as double checking to make sure the lights are on....

Joanthan Landeros

Monday, July 06, 2009

Autodesk Showcase - Recalling Your Past (Materials)

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand"

In my last few posts, I've talked about creating new materials, primarily by using bump maps. But there's so much more you can start doing. I've already started toying with things like highlights, reflection blurs, and highlight colors among other things. Already I find myself thinking of all the things I can start blogging.

But before I start talking about that, I decided that I wanted to talk about how we can take the material we created, and make it available to other Showcase renderings I'm going to create in the future. For example, here's the 'Rippled Metal' I used in my previous post HERE

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The downside of what I've talked about so far, is that this material is only available to the file I created it in. material I've created in. In other words, I can't easily access it from another file. Some of these materials can take a while to create, and for reasons such as consistency, and a desire not to have to do the same thing over again, it's very desirable to make this material available elsewhere.

The answer: A Materials Library.

This is a way to create an external library where I can access this material I created.

So, with all that done, what are the steps

First, I bring up my materials list by going to the Materials>Materials pulldown, or just hitting 'M'.

I've already created the material, but I should give it a proper name that will help me pick it out of the library in the future.

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First, I right cilck on the material, and choose 'Rename'. I enter the proper name, in this case, I'm calling it 'Rippled Metal'. One word of warning. Showcase keeps the materials in alphabetical order. So if the material was named 'Steel xxx', and you rename it to 'Black Steel' (for example), it will reorder. It might make you gasp a second.

This can surprise you if it moves out of sight. Don't worry, just scroll back to where it reordered. Don't forget to start breathing again. :-)

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Now with the material renamed (and relocated), right click on it, and choose 'Save to Library'. Since we've not created a library yet. Our only option is to create a new library. Which we'll do.

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Showcase will ask us where we want to create the library. I'm using a laptop, so I put it in the 'My Documents' folder, where I've created a folder called 'My Showcase Materials'. If you're in a collaborative environment, you might want to consider a shared folder on the network. This way you can keep all the materials in a separate location where it's backed up.

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Now, Showcase asks me for the category to create for the file. this is another way to organize your materials (plastics, metals, fabrics, for example). Here I've just called it 'Textured Metals'

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That's it! You've not got a library that can be easily accessed in new files!

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There is one last thing. Showcase by default, names your library after the path it's located in. You might or might not want that. If you right click on the path in Showcase, you can rename the library to anything you'd like. Note, this is also where you can add, remove, and edit the library, categories, etc.

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Now you're ready to go!

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I've got some more materials blogs planned soon, check back for those a little later!

In closing, you might ask why I don't put it in the install directory, with the rest of my Showcase materials?

For me, there's a very specific reason I don't. I done that with other programs in the past, and when I've upgraded from one version to another. I sometimes forget to back up those files before I delete the directories. I've lost quite a bit of data that way (for some reason I never learn my lesson on that one). So this is how I project myself, from... well, myself.

Have a good week everyone!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Devil in the Big Box (Bump Maps in Autodesk Showcase)

"Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face."

Nelson DeMille

One of the challenges I've found in Showcase has been something I've started calling 'The Devil in the Big Box'. They're renderings that involve larger objects with large, smooth sides, like a CNC milling center for example.

When you model an object like this in a 3D modeler like Autodesk Inventor, the sides are perfectly smooth. And when I mean perfectly smooth, I mean 'unrealistically perfectly smooth'. In truth, the side isn't 'perfectly smooth' but has slight waves and variations in its surface.

It can show up on any surface, but models with large flat sides seem to be the models that make the effect glare at you.

Using one of my airplane examples (again), here are some pictures of N-9M-B Flying Wing at the Planes of Fame museum.

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If you look at the pictures of the leading edge and underside of the wing, you can see where the surfaces that would be smooth have small dips and variations that cause ripples in the reflection.

Adding the right bump map can help add that 'character' to that surface.

So what did I do that gave that surface a little bit of that 'imperfectness' and add a little more realism? I added a Bump Map.

For starters, what is a bump map? A bump map is a texture image that creates the illusion of depth and texture without changing the actual geometry involved. There's a pretty good definition HERE (thanks to KETIV collegue Nicole for helping me find that!).

Example of a Bump Map

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They're used to give a smooth surface the appearance of being made out of leather, carpet, or textured plastic (among other things). All from a surface that has no texture of its own.

But one of the things I've discovered is that by the careful use of bump maps, you can get rid of that 'too perfect surface' that results in a rendering that isn't all it could be. Here's an example of a box without a bump map. It looks good, but with a bump map, you can get some interesting surface effects.

First, here's a rendering of the box without any bump map. The surfaces are as smooth as when they were built in Inventor.

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To add a bump map, select the surface you want to change and hit Ctrl+M. This will access the material screen. Once in the screen, scroll down to the bottom and add the texture you want.

The default directory is (install directory)\Materials. The normal maps (the ones that I've found work best for Showcase have the word 'Normal' in the title, and have a the gradient in them (opposed to the gray scale images).

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The standard libraries will get you a long way, but if you want to add more, one of the easiest ways is to just pick your favorite search engine, and look for 'Normal Map' or something similar.

You can also change the scale, rotation, and bump depth of the bump map in order to get the effect you want.

The one I used in this example on Google HERE, and copied it into a directory in My Documents, where I keep my custom materials.

Here's the result of just changing the bump map. As in other examples, I haven't changed anything else but the bump map

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Here's another example of a car from the samples directory. Similar to the box, you can see how just adding the map can change the appearance of the car.

Car without Bump Map

Car with Bump Map Added

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My biggest tip? Experiment.

There's a lot of different things you can try, and the ultimate rule remains what you (and those seeing the end product) decide is the best!

That's it for another Showcase tip. I'm learning tons, but I still have a ways to go. I guess there's a lot of truth to that 'never ending process'.

On a final note, if you're looking for more info on the N-9M-B, there's an article on it HERE.

Last I'd seen the wing in June 2009, it still had both engines removed while it's being repaired from the engine fire it suffered a few years back.

At least she'll fly again someday.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Search and Rescue for a Lost Window

"Just think how happy you would be if you lost everything you have right now, and then got it back again.”

Frances Rodman

Okay, so this isn't really an Inventor, Showcase, Vault, or even a tip on any Autodesk software at all. It's actually a general tip on any MS Windows application. I've seen it happen to others, and had it happen to myself.

It first happened to me when I activated a window in Autodesk Inventor (although this can happen in any program) and instead of seeing a window. I saw nothing. Puzzled, I clicked the pulldown again, and was greeted with the standard Windows BEEP! What happened? I'm starting to think that my program just locked up on me.

A KETIV Technologies (thanks Javier!) collegue observed my frustration (probably tipped off by an outburst of colorful language), and asked "Did you change resolution or run on two monitors last time?"

Then it hits me. I had been running on a second monitor before, and I'd moved that window to the other monitor! The window was still popping up on the now non-existant second monitor!

Here's an example. I'll admit that I 'faked it a bit' by dragging the window partially off the screen. But I want to show the effect.

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Of course, now we have to SOLVE the problem. It turns out that it can be easily fixed with a simple trick. Hit 'Alt+Spacebar'. This activates the tools for that window. Then hit 'M' for move.

Use your arrow keys and you can move the window back to the screen.

Once you know the trick, it's easy. The real trick? Just knowing the trick.

So if you've changed resolution, unplugged a second monitor, or switched to a different monitor, and all of a sudden you call up a window and the computer 'locks up'. Try this trick. The window may just be popping up off screen.

Talk about saving some frustration!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A 'Component' by any Other Name

Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Today I returned to Inventor today after spending some serious time with Autodesk Showcase. I'll be returning to Showcase soon. I've been on a mission to create some more renderings for the website (

But today I was asked a question that forced me to hunt around a bit.

"How do I change the names of Assembly Browser nodes?"

Here's an example of what the Browser Nodes are. When the files are initially created. The nodes inherit the file name of the component when it was created.

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I've run across this before. This time, I got that little light bulb in my head that said 'it's in there somewhere'.

So what did I do? I did what any good techie would do. I dove into Inventor (taking a moment to scoff at the instructions), and began clicking through tabs furiously, convinced that my expertise would help me locate the tool in no time.

About fifteen minutes and grumbling incoherently at my machine. I broke down and hit 'F1'.

With the help of the appropriately named Help system. I found what I was looking for in no time. A tool named 'Rename Browser Nodes'

It's located on your Assembly Ribbon, under the Productivity Section. Click the arrow in the lower right hand side of the button to see all the tools.

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Once you get the tool. You'll be able to rename the Browser Nodes to the Default (the original name). Filename (the filename, including the extension), and the Part Number (which will insert the Part Number iProperty).

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For example, I'm going to rename my browser nodes with the Part Number.

The assembly I'm going to use is a Craftsman style table I built as a project (my feet are resting on it as I type this). I modeled it in Inventor, created the drawings, and also used Producstream (now Vault Manufacturing) to create the a part numbers.

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The numbering sequence is simple. It starts from 000001 and increases from there. No special numbers for assemblies, subassemblies etc. Here's an example of one of the part numbers

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In any case, all I want to do is renumber the browser nodes with my part numbers.

So.... You guessed it. I just choose 'Part Numbers' from the Window above.

With that done, my browser goes from this:

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To this:

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Once you know where it is, it's not really all that difficult. If you need to switch it again, just repeat the steps, and choose a new option!

Well, that's it, back to Showcase for a while!