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Sunday, November 22, 2015

An iProperty in Time - Linking Autodesk Inventor Properties to Your Drawing

Creating and modifying prints often comes down to details.

Many errors I've seen (cough, made myself), are smaller, easier to miss details.  One example, is forgetting to update a text field.

This is not the print you want to miss a detail on.
Just ask this engineer.  He's got a tough boss!

These are often notes that are hiding in a corner in the drawing.  A part number in a note is a prime example. 

But what if I told you there was a way to set up your template with a field that automatically read in the part number?  So that every time you placed a part in the drawing, the drawing automatically read in that part number. 

There is, and this is how. 

Start out by typing text, just like you have countless times in an Inventor drawing.  But choose the settings indicated in the image below: 

Here are the steps the image describes.

1) Start the text tool.  You won't get far without this step.

2) Start typing! You'll need to get to the point where you're ready to insert the text.  

3) Set the Type to Properties - Model.  This makes sure that your reading the property from the model placed on the drawing. 

4) Property - This is the property being placed in the text field.  In my case, I'm using part number, but there plenty of others to choose from.

5) Insert - This is "pulling the trigger".  This places the text in to the text field. 

Next, you'll see carets with the property insert into your text editor.  Part number appears in my case. 
After this is done, complete typing the note you need.  Once you hit OK.  The text will appear on the drawing and the property's value will be read in. In my case, it's the part number 2015-48-12.

Should the property change, the field will update, wherever it's called out on the drawing, including multiple locations, if you have them. 

In my example, I'll change the part number from 2015-48-12 to 15-1595-ABLE.   Which, let's face it, part numbers, among other fields, can change.

Once the field is updated, the drawing will read that property from the model and automatically update. 

There are the steps to get a property linked into a text field.  To get real bang for your buck, add required fields to your template, and get rid of some of those repetitive, and easy to forget tasks!

And look at what other fields you can add.  There are plenty to choose from!

I did create a video for this one using Autodesk Screencast.  No sound, I'm afraid.  But life has been keeping me *just* busy enough to keep me out of my little editing room!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Mid-Week PSA - A Wealth of Information from the Stainless Steel Information Center!

In my post earlier this week, I blogged about learning how the orientation of the sheet metal flat pattern in Autodesk Inventor can affect the finish of the part that comes out of a machine, and how to flip the base face to make sure that the desired side was unblemished by the laser mill bed.

In my case, the finish being applied was a #4 finish to a stainless steel sheet.  That was the nice finish that had to be protected.

Another view of a laser mill, and that finish destroying bed.
Now, this is the point where I confess something to all of you out there.

When I first heard #4 finish used in conversation, I was the guy nodding my head as if I knew of the #4 finish they spoke.

In reality, I had no idea what a #4 finish was, aside that it was special.  While I was nodding knowingly, I was tilting my head like a curious dog on the inside. I endeavored to make a few Google searches when I got back to my desk.

Admit it! We've all looked like this at one point or another! 

And Google paid off in spades.  I found the website for the Stainless Steel Information Center.

Not only did I find exactly what I needed to know about #4 finish, I found a wealth of information on stainless steel, I found definitions, information on composition, applications, corrosion properties. The list goes on and on.

I haven't even gone through the entire site yet!  But I know that I will eventually.  I'll refer to this site often!

I've already started downloading some of the handbooks for myself.

But if you're using stainless steel, thinking about using stainless steel, or you're a student wanting to learn about stainless steel, then this is a resource well worth considering.

And if you know any other great engineering materials, or anything at all, feel free to share with a comment!

And by the way!  A #4 stainless finish is what you'd find on appliances, architectural wall panels, and tank trailers, among other things.

But now you have the resources to read that yourself!

Photo Credits

Laser Mill by: By Metaveld BV [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

photo credit: DSC08200.jpg via photopin (license)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

For a Good Finish - Flipping a Flat Pattern Base Face in Inventor

Laser mills can be fascinating machines to watch.  Even thought they've been around for years, watching them still feels like a little bit of science fiction.

Just watch this video from Wikipedia and try not to imagine something sci fi!

But no matter how sophisticated the tool, there are always "tricks of the trade" to get a little more out of the tool. 

One thing I've learned is the care of keeping the "good side up".  

The material in a laser mill rests on a grid of pointed steel plates I've taken to calling the "bed of nails".  

Looking at the image below, you an see pretty easily how that could mark up a surface you'd be hoping to keep free from marks.  

The laser mill bed. Certainly not the place to get a good night's sleep.
Because of that, you may have guessed it, it becomes important to keep the "good side up".  This keeps the visible side of the sheet metal off the "bed of nails", making sure it's got a clean finish. 

In Inventor, this means making sure that when clicking the flat pattern icon, the face that Inventor shows you is the "up" side.  

But how to you make sure the good side is out?

The obvious way, is to choose the "A" side right away, either by using the "A Side" tool, or by selecting that as your face when you create the flat pattern. 

But what if you need to change it after the fact?  In spite of the best efforts of the best designer, it's always possible one flat pattern is going to be reversed. 

An easy way to fix an incorrectly oriented flat pattern is just to delete it and replace it.  This might work great if a drawing using the flat pattern hasn't been created yet, but what if it has?

If a flat pattern view is created, deleting the flat pattern means recreating the view in the drawing. 

This is a fairly simple flat pattern.
But do you want to recreate it if you don't have to?

In other words?  It means more work. 

So here's an alternative that I think you might like. I'll flip the "A" side of the sample below.  I've colored one face red to make the change a little easier to follow.

Getting started with a sample part.

First, while in your sheet metal part's flat pattern, right click on the flat pattern icon and choose Edit Flat Pattern Definition.  

Accessing the flat pattern definition.

Now, a dialog box appears that allows the option to change, create, and save orientations if you'd like. In this case, it's the Flip option under the Base Face section we're interested in. 

Clicking this face flips the sheet metal face over like a pancake on the griddle.  In the flat pattern sample used here, the silver face is now visible. 

The face is flipped over

Now, switching to the drawing, the flat pattern also shows the silver side, Careful inspection will also show that the bend directions have all changed too! (Careful, the view is rotated 180 degrees).

The flipped, can completed, view.
You may noticed that the dimensions need some rearranging, but at least speaking for myself, I'd rather rearrange annotations than recreate a set of annotations.  In other words, this is a small trade off for the time saved when facing recreating entire views. 

So if you're facing flipping a sheet metal pattern over for any reason at all, I suggest considering flipping the base face.  It can be a real time saver. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Batch Converting Files in AutoCAD - A Very Handy Tool

Earlier this week, I was faced with saving a handful of AutoCAD files from the 2015 to a 2000 version for use in a laser mill.

Naturally, the most direct way is to open the file in AutoCAD, and save back as a 2000 version.  But there's a handful of files, so it's going to take a little bit of time to save the files one a time.

Converting files one at a time.  This is a common look for
the person stuck with that task. 
But there's a utility here to help us out with that.

It's called DWG Convert, and lets you batch convert AutoCAD files to an older version of your choosing.

To get to the tool, go to the Application Icon (the big "A" as I like to call it) and choose Save As.

On the flyout, look for the DWG Convert icon.

The DWG Convvert Icon.
Choosing this icon, you'll be greeted by the DWG Convert dialog box. And there are options to choose from.

The different areas of the DWG Convert dialog

The sections listed by the blue icons are:

1) The list of files to convert (these haven't been added yet).
2) Icons to add files to be converted.  From left to right, they are:
Add files to convert

  • Add files to convert
  • Create list of files to convert
  • Open a list of files you've previously created
  • Append files to an existing list
  • Save to list

3) This section provides a list of selection setups to choose from

4) Finally, the Conversion Setup icon allows you to modify an existing setup, or create one of your
     own.  This is the one we're going with right now.

Clicking on the Configuration Setup button shows a new dialog box.

The Conversion Setups dialog box.
Here, you can create a new setup, as well as rename, modify, or delete existing setups.

In my case, I chose to create a new setup.  Since I'm converting to 2010, I used Convert to 2000 (in place) and selected new.  This creates a new setup based on the existing one I chose.

Changing different options for the conversion.

Now modifications can be made to the setup.  These include, how the files are handled (such as a zip file, or folder of files) which format to convert to, as well as several actions to perform on the files, such as purging and error correcting.

It's listed quite nicely in the Autodesk Help System here, so I won't try to recreate that particular wheel in this post.

Accepting the settings, I'll return to the previous dialog box, and add the files I want to convert.

Adding files to convert.

Once the files are added to the list, all that's left to do is click Convert, and let DWG Convert do its thing.

The conversion in progress.  The list can be seen in the background.
After a short span of time, depending on size, and how many files you're converting, it will all be done.

All done!
You can now get the files from the location you saved them to, and they're ready to do what you need!

So when you need to batch convert a bunch of files, here's a tool to keep in mind!

Photo Credits:

photo credit: 2 a.m. Tedium via photopin (license)

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Show Sick Constraints in Autodesk Inventor - A Newer Trick That's Worth It!

To borrow a phrase from Fiddler on the Roof, "Our old ways were once new, weren't they?"

And I'm reacquainting myself with building, changing, and modifying assemblies in my new capacity.  That means changing geometry after parts have been assembled.

And that means dealing with sick constraints!

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
But sometimes you need a heaping pile of cure.
I had to change a hole into a slot in order to give a part a easier to adjust.

Note! For this post, the top nut and washer have their visibility turned off to make the slot easier to see.  But it is there!

One of these holes has to become a slot
Creating the slot is easy enough.
However there were threaded rods and nuts that were constrained to the now removed holes, and naturally, those constraints lost association.

Locating these in the browser is usually easy enough.

The sick constraints in the browser.

But then I remembered that there's a tool that will make glyphs visible on screen to show me where my problem constraints were.

It's called Show Sick Constraints, and it was actually introduced in Inventor 2014.

Clicking this tool shows glyphs for the sick constraints right in the modeling window.  By right clicking on these, the options to change the constraints become available

The glyphs shown.  Note one washer/nut combination is invisible
Choosing the Edit option, the lost constraint becomes visible.  It's represented by the red arrow.

Right click on Edit

By clicking it, I can re-associate the missing constraint to the new geometry represented by the slot. It's just like when the constraint was added in the first place.

Replacing the constraint.  The nut and washer are invisible.
This makes it easier to select the desired geometry.

When compared to fixing constraints by the "right click in the browser" method, I found this to go by quickly.  I wasn't checking the browser, and using tools like "Isolate Components and "Find in Browser" nearly as often.  And while those are great tools, "Showing Sick" made the process smoother with a minimal amount of "mouse mileage".

The constraints restored!  The glyphs can now be hidden if desired with
the "Hide All" tool net to "Show Sick"
It's a nice tool that helped me quite a bit in this particular situation, I'd suggest you take a look and add it to your repertoire of tools!

Photo Credits

photo credit: photo credit: Conefluence! via photopin (license)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Lesson in Technology - The Activated Roller Belt

My learning experience in material handling continues and continues.... and continues some more.  Many times faster than I can absorb it.

Learning.  It can be a bit like this!
One newly acquired bit of knowledge I thought I would share is something called the "Activated Roller Belt" made by Intralox.

This fascinating bit of technology has a conveyor chain, like you might expect on a conveyor line, but in addition to that, it has small rollers embedded in the belt at an angle to the belts direction of travel. 

By activating these rollers in a controlled manner, the direction of travel for anything on the belt can be changed.  This is accomplished without gates or any other (apparent) physical force. 

Instead of trying to describe it, I was able to find a video showing it in action.  It's an interesting little watch.

I hope you enjoy a sharing my little bit of insight into the material handling world!

Photo Credits:

photo credit: punch via photopin (license)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Using the Refresh tool from Autodesk Vault

There's no better experience than real experience.  Especially when it comes to the nuances of things.

Some things you can learn by reading, others, like riveting, you must get out there and do!
One of the tools I've been using quite a bit in the last month is Refresh from Vault, particularly when I'm renaming or moving a file.

And I've found I do this a lot.  File names, which go part and parcel with our part numbers are always being tweaked in Vault.

With regard to moving files?  I have found that sometimes, I get in a hurry and hit that save button before I realize where I've saved to!

Fortunately, Vault's rename feature makes renaming files easy.  And it's just as easy to drag files from one folder to another in Vault  But there's always one rub.

I have the assembly containing the files open in Inventor at the same time.

Now I could always close Inventor, rename the assembly, and reopen the file, but that takes those few, precious, minutes I don't always have.

I could always wait to do it at the end of the day, just before I leave, but who am I kidding!  I'll never remember at the end of the day!

These don't often work for me...

I'll just keep repeating the remember/forget/repeat process in an engineering version of Groundhog Day!

But here's how you can use Refresh from Vault to quickly update files after a rename or move.

After files have been changed in Vault via Move or Rename, switch to your Vault browser in Inventor.  You may need to refresh the browser to make sure it's up to date.

You'll see a red symbol next to the files that need to be updated.

Files that need refreshing after a move or rename operation
All that's required is to right click on the file you need to update and choose, you may have guessed it, Refresh!

Right click to rename the files

Once that happens, the files will update!  If you've moved files, the locations will be updated, checking the files into the correct location in Vault, and the renamed files will be updated.

Files have been refreshed! 

It's a nice trick that saves a few minutes, makes my day a little smoother, but most of all, makes sure I do something that needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and makes sure it doesn't get "saved for a later that never comes".

Photo Credits:

photo credit: Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a B-25 [i.e. C-47] bomber at the plant of North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood [i.e. Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach], Calif.   (LOC) via photopin (license)

photo credit: Russell Building: Interior Design Studio via photopin (license)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Getting Your Autodesk Inventor Threads to Stay on by Default


A couple of notes before you read the whole blog!

  • My tests were conducted with Autodesk Inventor 2015, the version I'm currently using at work. Other versions may behave differently!
  • If you're comfortable editing your registry, follow the instructions at Being Inventive here, and you won't need to follow the steps I describe.  

If you choose to read on... Welcome!

Thread solo! 
Relearning design engineering has been an eye opening experience, and there's no doubt it will continue to be.

I had forgotten, in the mad world of hustling drawings, every little thing you can do to make your life a little easier helps.  Something a little faster or a little more accurate can save you a lot of time.

One setting that got me on a drawing was the default thread behavior in Inventor.  It's unchecked by default, which means that threads won't display in a drawing.

It's not a big deal to check the box and turn it on.  The trick is remember into to check the box!

What would really be desirable, is to set it once, and have it stick that way.

Fortunately, there is a way!  Here are the steps.

The first thing to do is start a base view just like you would any view.

But before you place anything, make sure to check the "Thread Feature" option to turn on the hidden lines that represent threads.

This part is important.  Make sure to check the box before placing the view!

Check this box BEFORE placing the view.

Once the box is checked, place the view.  The threads will not only show, but the threads will "persist" and display by default the next time you place a view..

There are my threads!

There is a small downside though.  You'll have to do it for each file type.  That means doing this procedure for parts, sheet metal, assemblies, etc.

It's not difficult, it just takes a little bit of time.

Also, if you want Autodesk to change it, don't shake your fist in the air.  Let them know at the Autodesk Idea Station here!

I've placed my vote!

Photo Credits:

photo credit: The Backup Band via photopin (license)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Never, Ever, Stop Learning

This week's post isn't an Inventor related post, at least not directly.  The new job has been keeping me hopping.  But I do have a post in the works.  I'm hoping for something next week!

This particular weekend was consumed by attending a 15 hour avionics and electricity course with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

An example of a harness I learned to make! 
It was exhausting, but on so many levels, amazing and inspiring.

If you've read back to my post a few months ago, you know that electricity has intimidated me in the past.

In fact, it still does in some ways.

But there I was, on October 10th, 2015, facing electricity again.  And just like in my last class, I took a deep breath and told myself; "You can learn this!"

And.. I did!   How?

The instructor was amazing.  He had worked on aircraft for years, and had that rare gift of making the topic interesting, and easy to understand.

The examples contained both theory, and hands on exercises that reinforced the theory by application in the real world.

So I listened, I practiced stripping and crimping coax cable.

That making taking this.

A journey starts with a single step.

And turning it into this!

The end of one, small journey. 

I studied a chart that sized wires based on voltage, amperage, and wire length.

With a little work, I can interpret this chart now!
(From FAA AC43.13)
Finally, at the end of day two, I was given the following pile of components and a schematic

  • Power (AA battery)
  • Circuit Protection ( a fuse)
  • Switch
  • Light which was turned on by the switch
  • Dimmer
  • A light controlled by the dimmer
  • An aluminum chassis to mount it all in

I took a few minutes, to look at the schematic and components.   I had to use those components to make the schematic reality.

I traced schematics, I cut and stripped wire, I soldered wires to connections and crimped on round connectors.

Finally, it was time to test.

I flipped the switch... and the light turned on!

I twisted the dimmer... and the light dimmed and brightened.

I had actually done it!  Me, the man who hated electricity built a circuit that worked the first time!

It even looked reasonably clean!

So in the end, so what?  I soldered a grip of wires and components together.  There is no doubt that there are those of you out there who can outdo my work in your sleep.

Two words.....  Confidence.  Inspiration.

Not mine.  Yours.  Ponder that a moment, if you will.

The business types, the ones in the fancy offices and neatly pressed suits sometimes wag their fingers at me and say "there always has to be a call to action".

So here is your call to action.

Never stop learning.

I'll say it again.

Never.  Stop.  Learning.

Try.  Fail.  Even fail epically.

Ignore the peanut gallery mocking you from the safety of their couch.

Why? They're safe on the couch.  They aren't out there trying.

Go out there, and do what scares you a little.

Maybe learn a new software package, or learn how to run a 3D printer.  Learn how to change the oil on your car if that excites you!

It might be tough, it might be intimidating.  But if it inspires you, it's going to pay off.

It's worth it.

Now, go find it!

Photo Credits:

photo credit: Hello My Name Is a Student of Life via photopin (license)

Monday, October 05, 2015

An Application Engineer's Tale of Returning to Design

Last week, I accepted a job working as a design engineer again.

The engineer print.  It's been a while, my friend.
This meant leaving the world of being an applications engineer, or "AE", where my job functions included the support, training, and implementation of software such as Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD, and Autodesk Vault.

Now, my function is to create designs for material handling equipment using those very same tools.  Conveyor lines, in a word or two.

My first steps to "learning the ropes" was helping another engineer create drawings for his project.

And I while I can't say that I was surprised at any one change in particular.  The experiences I saw were for the most part, what I expected. Yet, I still found myself reflecting on what I saw during week one.

Here are a few.

I have a desktop, not a laptop!

Well, this is different!
If there was a surprise, this was probably the one.

I've been running Inventor on laptops for over ten years.  I've gotten accustomed to just flipping open my laptop at home and running Inventor.  Now, when I leave work, I'm done with CAD until the next morning.

That also means that creating Inventor videos for InventorTales is on pause for the moment.  I don't currently have the gear.  But I am hoping to be able to do that again soon.  :)

Change is hard... For a reason.

Changing is one thing.  Making the right changes?  Another thing entirely. 
As an AE, running my own system, I could turn on a dime.  If I wanted to change how I maintained templates, for example, I just did it.

I could take a couple of hours to reinstall software if I needed to.  It just took a little planning.

Now, I'm exposed to the deeper ramifications to changing things.  How does this affect your fellow engineers? Will this "simple" change cause confusion on the shop floor that will cause delays and mistakes?

Change often requires the careful thought of a chess master, not the lightning fast reactions of a table tennis player.

Just because change is hard, it doesn't mean good people are unwilling to make changes.

One thing about change.  You can't avoid it.
My new coworkers have started asking me questions in Inventor.  I've gotten a couple of "how to's", and I'm more than happy to help.   If a new tool or process in Inventor makes sense, they're willing to adopt it.

Which brings me to my final point...

Know your product! 

Remember, tools are what make your product. Good tools should make a better product faster.
As an application engineer, my product was software, and the processes that surrounded it.  Software like Inventor and Vault, and their services were the product.

Now....  Surprise!  Material handling equipment is the product.  Software exists as a vehicle to get that equipment built.  It's a tool, just like the laser mill for cutting steel, and the router for cutting plastic.

No matter how cool the tool is, how pretty it works, if it doesn't help get the product made, then it's just a cool parlor trick.

In Conclusion?

First of all, there is no conclusion.  This story is still getting written and it will get written for some time to come.  I hope to be an asset to my new employer helping them make a better product, and I hope to learn a new set of skills myself.

In one week, I've only taken the very first steps.  I hope in the following weeks to keep taking those steps, and to share them with you out in the 'Verse.

Stay tuned!

Photo Credits

photo credit: Rolleiflex TLR on Rollei blueprint at Rollei/DHW factory Braunschweig Germany via photopin (license)

photo credit: Choose Your Direction Sign House Gainesville via photopin (license)

photo credit: Changes #2 (lock) via photopin (license)

photo credit: A Worker at Linread via photopin (license)