Why and How; Engineering

If we set the way-back machine to late 1978, we encounter Yours Truly, somewhat freshly emerged from the oven in which I had been the figurative bun, and steadily progressing to being the fellow I am today.  My parents would tell you that one tendency I have always possessed, from a pathologically early age, is the desire to question why.  They learned early on that asking me to do something was pointless if it didn’t include an explanation as to what the goal of the project was, and unfortunately for them, I was always more than willing to make the requested job as efficiently as possible.

Flash forward several decades, and I’m again asking why.  Why, I wonder, do I do what I do?  Why do I get a thrill out of engineering?

I paid for my education with hours adding up to days adding up to weeks, months, and years managing a movie theater.  As soon as I could, as soon as I’d obtained the skills necessary to approach the broad concepts of design, I seized upon the first opportunity that presented itself; as it happened, a co-worker mentioned that his friend required some design work and, ahem, didn’t I go to school for that?

The next step is meeting with his friend, a mid-level manager at a regional group entertainment company.  They include face-painting for children, and are painted into the sad corner of having to use this faulty and costly airbrush to do so.  Their goal is to design something equivalent that they own the rights to, and if at all possible, isn’t quite so costly or pathetic.

On having a look at what they’re using and how they’re using it, it immediately becomes clear that I have an obligation to help.  For reasons unknown, the designer of their current airbrush has elected to use a bizarre combination of 2 springs (one compression and one torsion), two shear pins of differing sizes, three cast and four machined brass pieces all held together with metric fasteners in an otherwise standard configuration.  It was, for want of a better term, nightmarish.  The end result was large, costly, difficult to use and near impossible to repair. 

Over the course of two weeks in my spare time, I managed to pare down the function of this device to its essentials.  My end result was demonstrated to the upper management of my associate’s company to the tune of many a dropped jaw and expression of wonderment.  I halved the weight, dropped the machined part count to 3 from 7 and purchased part count from 8 to 6.  The per-unit cost halved and, best of all, they owned the rights to the design. 

Flash forward to a few months ago, and on a jog through beautiful Mission Bay Park, I come across a gathering being tended by the above-mentioned company.  Sure as you’re born, they’re still doing face-painting, and with some creative infiltration, I am able to catch a glimpse of the hardware they’re using. 

Sure as you’re born, it’s my design.  It’s lasted 8 years unchanged, still in operation, and a quick Q and A with the fellow using it tells me it’s perfectly fine and nobody has any complaints with it. 

So, back to the question:  Why?  That’s why.  This world is full of things that could stand to be a little better, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do my small part toward this betterment.  Here’s to you, Engineering.  You rule.




Back when I played first person shooter games like Unreal Tournament, I was looking for any advantage that I could get over my competitors.  (I had to compensate for my lack of skill somehow.)  I tried a higher-end mouse, tweaking mouse settings, different mouse drivers, a track ball, a fully customizable peripheral game board, and a 3Dconnexion SpaceBall.  None of these helped.  All of the trial and error was in hopes that I could assemble a software/hardware package that got me as close as possible to the elusive goal of “Think it and it happens as you intend.”

Now there’s a new product on the market that has captured my imagination.  It’s called Kinect.  It’s a webcam-style add-on peripheral for the Xbox 360 by Microsoft.  The concept is “you are the controller.”  It works like a 3D scanner in its ability to recognize and interact with multiple people, their appendages and their distance from the camera. So far, most of the games involve dancing, boxing, running and jumping .

I found this video on YouTube today.  It shows a Windows PC being manipulated by human gestures with the use of a Kinect.  With a little more browsing of YouTube, related videos mention the 2002 film, Minority Report.  In that movie, computers weren’t controlled by the mouse and keyboard input devices like we have today; they were controlled by hand gestures and speech.  The Kinect does that.  How long until we see such technology integrated into our 3D design tools?  And, will it be any good?



SolidWorks World 2011 - San Antonio, TX

Two of my presentations have been accepted for SolidWorks World 2011 to be held in San Antonio, TX. All the numerous sessions presented throughout the 3 days of the conference are always very technical, and well worth your time and money. I will be working on both many hours and it will be my pleasure to present them. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about SolidWorks World, and I look forward to seeing you there.

What’s Old with SolidWorks 2011

I didn’t know you could do that, is that new? When did they put that in SolidWorks? This is a look at existing tools that you may have overlooked, not had time to keep up with, and use as often as you could.

With every new release it is hard to keep up with all the new features. We’ll focus on using existing tools in your daily workflow to increase your productivity, developing your skills, and expanding your knowledge of the SolidWorks tool set.

SolidWorks Tips and Tricks

Experience a fast paced session of tips focusing on how to use SolidWorks 2011 in the real world. These will not be found in the help file, they come from years of learning, teaching, and using it daily in a small dynamic design environment.

There will include something for everyone; parts, assemblies, and drawings. We’ll break down and simplify some very creative ways to use common SolidWorks tools with emphasis on why we picked various tools and explore alternate methods to solve problems.


A new TriAxial Website

If you’re familiar to the previous TriAxial Design and Analysis website, you’ll see some familiar content. Several pages remain the same, some content is new, and several areas we plan on revising in the near future. Feel free to look around, but be sure and take a look at the new pages for Recommendations, Team TriAxial, Your Product Design Process, and Importance of a Product Specification.


FeatureManager Design Tree

This is second in the series of looking back at the basics of using SolidWorks effectively. The ten essentials of SolidWorks; not just a list of beginner topics, but concepts and tools inside SolidWorks that once learned, will help you survive your day to day projects. Take a look at this issue and brush up on the topics you don't know as well as you would like. You will be more productive and work the way the tools were intended, instead of fighting them.
The FeatureManager design tree is a history based tree structure of icons and folders representing features, sketches, components, and more in the chronological order they were created. It's been called a time machine that we can jump back to any point in the history of the model and make changes, modify, and update as required.
Part FeatureManager Design Tree
The icons used to identify the different types of features in the FeatureManager design tree are identical to the icons in the CommandManager and other toolbars that were originally used to create the features.
Features in a part can be dependent on other features that were created previously (higher in the FeatureManager design tree). This relationship between the two features is known as a Parent / Child relationship. The dependent feature is the child of the parent feature. Right click on any feature, and select Parent / Child to view both the parents and children of any feature.
Since the FeatureManager design tree is just a chronological arrangement of all the features, you can reorder the features to rebuild the model in a different sequence. The big caveat here is you cannot put a child feature before its parent and likewise a parent feature after the child. For example, this reordering is useful for a series of fillet features, where the order can be both functional and cosmetic.
As the Rollback Bar (horizontal bar that is just below the last feature of the FeatureManager design tree) is dragged up just below any feature in the tree, the model will rollback to the point just after the above feature was created. This way you can actually insert one or more new features between two existing features. Other uses for this capability include rolling the tree back all the way up to the top feature and studying how the model was created by rolling the model forward one feature at a time. This will give you a much better idea of the design intent of the existing part before you begin any modifications.
All features have properties that can be accessed (right click on the feature, and select Feature Properties) providing information such as who originally created the feature, when it was created, and when it was most recently modified.
You can place sequential features into a folder in order to organize your FeatureManager design tree. This folder can be renamed and features can be added or removed from it as long as the group of features in the folder and the features outside the folder adjacent to it remain sequential. You can also delete the folder, but it's a little scary the first time because you might think when you delete the folder it will also delete all the contents. Just pay attention to the Confirm Delete dialog box, it asks if you really want to delete the folder and notice there are no items shown in dependant items box. That tells you it is not going to delete the contents.
Assembly FeatureManager Design Tree
An assembly can consist of any combination of parts and assemblies. Although an assembly inside of another assembly is referred to as a subassembly (just like in the real world), the file type is still an assembly (.sldasm). Therefore the assembly is said to contain "components" which can be either parts or assemblies.
The first component that is inserted into an assembly is Fixed to constrain translation and rotation. An assumption is made for you that the first component will used as a kind of base or framework for mating the remainder of the components. Constraining the components is also needed if you start adding in-context features to the parts in your assembly. You wouldn't want to add features based on the relative position of one part to the next when either part is floating around. As you insert this first component you can drop it anywhere in the assembly space you want, but if you hover it over the assembly origin you'll see some cursor feedback indicating that if you drop it on the assembly origin, the Fixed constraint will align the default planes (Front, Top, and Right) of the inserted component with the default planes of the assembly. The Fixed constraint is indicated in the FeatureManager design tree by (f) preceding the component name, and can be removed by right clicking on the component and selecting Float. OK, is it odd that (f) is for Fixed and not Float; couldn't they have come up with a word with a different letter? Likewise an unconstrained or partially constrained component can be Fixed by right clicking on the component and selecting Fix.
Instances of a component are copies of the same component in an assembly.  Each instance is assigned a unique number shown to the right of the component name enclosed by a "less than" and "greater than" operator <1>. These instance numbers are assigned for you as the component is brought into the assembly, and cannot be renamed. When you delete the component the instance number is also deleted and will not be subsequently assigned.
Once the component is brought into the assembly you can easily make additional copies (or instances) of the component. You can Ctrl-drag a face of the component in the graphics area from the original to the desired location. You can also Ctrl-drag the component name from the FeatureManager design tree to the desired location. Both these methods maintain the component orientation (X, Y, and Z) of the instance you are copying in the assembly. In contrast if you insert an existing part/assembly into the assembly, the location will be wherever you drop the component, but the orientation of the new component will be the same in X, Y, and Z as the assembly.
The assembly FeatureManager design tree lists all the components in the assembly in the order they were inserted. This is also the default order of a Bill of Materials associated with that assembly. You can drag and drop the order the components enabling you to better organize your FeatureManager design tree or Bill of Materials. Pay close attention to the cursor feedback, this same dragging action will move the component from the assembly you are currently editing to any of its subassemblies (mates between the components you are dragging and components in the subassembly will also be moved to the subassembly). If you are just reordering the components, press and hold the Alt key before you drop the component in its new place in the FeatureManager design tree. 
One of the most powerful functions you can perform in the assembly FeatureManager design tree is the ability to form and dissolve subassemblies within the assembly you are currently editing. For example, if you wanted to group several components already contained within an assembly together, and create a new subassembly; simply Ctrl-select the components from the FeatureManager design tree, then right click one of the components and select Form New Sub-assembly Here. This needs to be done from the FeatureManager design tree because technically when you select the component from the graphics area, you are just selecting a face, not the entire component. Conversely, you can right click a subassembly in the FeatureManager design tree and pick Dissolve Sub-assembly to disperse the components of the subassembly back into the assembly you are editing. By the way, mates between the components in the assembly or subassembly you are forming or dissolving will also be moved to the applicable assembly or subassembly.
Pan / Rotate View Orientation verses Move / Rotate Component
You should become proficient at using the middle mouse button to rotate, zoom, and pan the view orientation, although it's a little awkward for new users. What all users need to realize is what you are doing by dragging the middle mouse button is rotating the "view orientation". You are not rotating the part or assembly. You're just positioning the view orientation at one of the infinite number of viewing angles. If you Ctrl-drag the middle mouse button you can pan the view orientation, and rotating the mouse wheel zooms the view orientation in and out.
You can also take advantage of some advanced methods of rotating the view orientation. With the middle mouse wheel, pick a vertex, edge / axis, or flat face. Now the rotation of the view orientation will rotate around the vertex, hinged about the edge / axis, or hinged about a vector normal to the surface at the selected point.
While in an assembly file, you can rotate the component itself in relation to the assembly coordinate system or environment. An unconstrained part or assembly can be rotated with the right mouse button, translated or moved with the left button. Remember the translation will always be parallel to the plane of the screen, so it may be helpful to change the view orientation prior to translating the component. What this really means is you could change the view orientation to Top and the component you are moving will not translate in the Z direction, just in the X-Y directions. Just as in the part environment the middle mouse wheel is available to rotate, zoom, and pan the view orientation.
Sometimes you know the distance you want to move a component, or how many degrees you would like to rotate a component so there is another way to do this in an assembly. Just right click on the component, select Move with Triad and you'll see a colorful triad that allows you to select one of the three directions or rotations about the triad. If you then right click on the triad, you can pick from several different ways of specifying your move or rotation.
Gathering Mate Information
There is what seems like an infinite number of ways to gather mate information contained within an assembly, but there are three essential ways to understand the mates.
1) The MateGroup is a folder that resides in the assembly FeatureManager design tree just below the last component. This contains all the mates in the assembly.
2) This same mate information is repeated (as applicable) in a folder inside each component called "Mates in XXX" Where XXX is the name of the assembly the mates are associated with. This folder contains all the mates associated with the specific component. If the folder isn't there, it just means that specific component does not have any mates associated with it (maybe it's Fixed). It is useful to note that these two locations for the mates are redundant. You will find the same mate(s) in both locations.
3) If you select a component and then pick the PropertyManager tab at the top of the FeatureManager design tree, you will list all the mates associated with the component. This also works in you Ctrl-select multiple components in the assembly. After picking the PropertyManager tab you get a list of all the mates associated with those components. But wait, there's more; if you see any mates on the list in bold face type, this is indication that these mates are between the components you have selected.