Automate Inspection Reports using SOLIDWORKS Inspection

One of the most time-consuming parts of the manufacturing process is the manual creation of inspection reports. It is not uncommon to spend hours creating the inspection documentation for a single drawing. But this time can be decreased to a few short clicks by taking advantage of the great tools found in SOLIDWORKS Inspection.

Why Create Inspection Reports?

You may be wondering why it takes so long to create an inspection report. In order to answer this question, we first need to take a quick look at why inspection reports exist in the first place.

Whenever we create a drawing to use for the manufacturing of a part, we need to specify the dimensions of this new part. We rarely manufacture parts to these exact dimensions, and instead work within a specified tolerance. For example, if we were to create a 1 in x 2 in x 3 in block, we might give the manufacturer a drawing similar towhat is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. A dimensioned drawing of a 1 in x 2 in x 3 in block.

As we can see in Figure 1, the 3-inch dimension has been assigned a tolerance of “Plus or Minus 1/10 of an inch,” or +/- .100. This means that when machining this part, the manufacturer needs to keep the 3-inch side of the block to a dimension anywhere between 2.900 and 3.100 inches. Anything within these values is considered “within spec” (or “within our specified tolerance”), and anything outside of these values is considered “out of spec.”

After we receive this block from our manufacturer, we will need to measure the 3-inch side of the block to determine whether it is within the specified dimension tolerance. This process of determining whether our dimensions are within spec is known as “the inspection process.”

A More Realistic Example

In the above example, we have one simple part with one single dimension to inspect. This is meant to provide a simple example, but not necessarily a realistic one. Let’s consider the manufacturing process for an aluminum wheel-shaped part, built to the specified dimensions in the drawing shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. A more real-world example of a part to be inspected.

In the drawing shown in Figure 2, we can see that there are several dimensions, each with a tolerance. The traditional creation of an inspection report for a drawing like this would require the steps that follow.

First, we would create balloons (usually red), each with their own number, next to each dimension that needs to be inspected (see Figure 3). These are known as inspection balloons.

Figure 3. Manually adding inspection balloons to our drawings—with an overlooked error.

Traditionally, these balloons would be created by adding annotations to the drawing in CAD, or by printing the drawing out and adding these balloons with a red pen. Either way, this is a very time-consuming process. It can also lead to easily overlooked errors. For instance, did you notice that there is a duplicate balloon for inspection item #5 in Figure 3? This could be a costly mistake.

Figure 4. Adding the values from our inspection drawing to our inspection report.

Next, we start a spreadsheet and create an entry for each inspection balloon in column 1. We then enter the value for each corresponding dimension in the appropriate column, as shown in Figure 4. This process is often done by hand, which can lead to further errors and mistakes. 

Next, we must calculate the maximum value and the minimum value for each dimension in our inspection report. This calculation will be based on the tolerance applied to the dimension.

Figure 5. Examining the tolerance for inspection item #8.

In Figure 5, we can see that we are working with a dimension of 8.00 and a tolerance of +0.10 and -0.20. Therefore, the maximum value for the dimension is 8.10 and the minimum value is 7.80. 

In Figure 6, we can see that these three dimensions do not have a tolerance applied, so we need to determine the tolerance from another location (often the title block of the drawing). 

Figure 6. These three dimensions do not have a tolerance, so we must look to the title block.

When dimensions are created without a specified tolerance, we often look to the title block to determine the appropriate tolerance. For inspection item #11, the dimension has one single decimal place precision (12.0). When we examine the title block, we can see that any dimension with one single decimal place precision should have a tolerance of +/- 0.1 mm. This same tolerance would be applied to inspection item #12, since it also has one single decimal place precision (25.0). For inspection item #13, the dimension has a precision of 2 decimal places (40.00). When we examine the title block, we can see that any dimensions with two decimal places will have a tolerance of +/- 0.05 mm. 

Figure 7. Using tolerance values to calculate the upper and lower values of our dimensions.

In Figure 7, we can see that by using the tolerance applied to a specific dimension or using the tolerance found in the title block, we can calculate the maximum and minimum values for each dimension. This value is required for our inspection report, so the person doing the inspection can verify whether our manufactured part is “within spec.”

Traditionally, engineers would have to go through an entire drawing, capturing these dimensions on their spreadsheets and calculating the minimum and maximum values before they could begin the inspection process. The inspection team would then receive the following documents: A ballooned inspection drawing and an inspection report as shown in Figure 8. 

Figure 8. A ballooned inspection drawing and an inspection report.

The inspection team would then use these documents to measure and inspect the physical parts provided by the manufacturing team. For each inspection dimension in the report, the inspection team would measure the physical part to determine whether the dimension of the physical part was within the specified tolerance. 

Save Time by Using SOLIDWORKS Inspection

Now let’s take a look at how easily we can create this same inspection report using SOLIDWORKS Inspection. We start once again with our drawing shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. A SOLIDWORKS drawing thatneeds to have an inspection report generated.

Next, we turn on the SOLIDWORKS Inspection add-in as shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10. Turning on the add-in for SOLIDWORKS Inspection.

Now, we are ready to start a new SOLIDWORKS Inspection project to create a new inspection report for our drawing. We click New Inspection Project, and then select the project template we wish to work from as shown in Figure 11.

Figure11. Selecting a new project and the desired project template.

We can then specify some options for things like Project Properties, Lot Size, AQL value, Types of Dimensions to exclude (Reference, Basic), and general tolerance values as shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12. Specifying our inspection project options.

And That’s Pretty Much It!

After selecting these options, we press OK. SOLIDWORKS Inspection then goes through our drawing and automatically adds inspection balloons to each of the dimensions in our drawing as shown in Figure 13.

Figure 13. After pressing OK, SOLIDWORKS Inspection auto-balloons our inspection drawing.

These dimensions are captured and listed in the inspection project, each as a separate line item as shown in Figure 14.

Figure 14. Each inspection dimension has been captured as a separate line item.

When we generate our inspection report spreadsheet, each line item will be added. Notice that each line item containing a dimension has automatically calculated the maximum and minimum values. In Figure 14, we can see that inspection item #8 has had its maximum and minimum values automatically calculated and captured. 

We can change the order of our line items by dragging and dropping. We can also edit, modify and combine line items in this list. When this list looks good, we can choose to export our inspection project. This is most commonly done with two documents.

The first document (as shown in Figure 13) is the original drawing, with our inspection report balloons added in red. This is commonly output to a PDF (or printed) so the inspection team can measure the physical part and compare this result to the inspection drawing.

Figure 15. The automatically created inspection report.

The second document is the inspection report. In Figure 15, we can see that we were able to output this report to Excel format, and that all the maximum and minimum values for our dimensions have been automatically calculated and included in our inspection report.


Today we took a look at a very simple example of the steps involved in creating an inspection drawing and an inspection report. There are many additional factors involved in creating an inspection report that we didn’t have time to explore in this blog. Things like geometric tolerancing, lot size, and AQL are all important parts of the inspection process. 

But even this simplified example gives you some sense of how long it takes to manually create a ballooned inspection drawing and a corresponding inspection report. In the case of the inspection drawing and inspection report shown in Figure 8, it took a total of 40 minutes to manually create the inspection balloons, transfer them to the spreadsheet, and calculate the minimum and maximum values for each dimension.

Once we loaded the SOLIDWORKS Inspection add-in and started the process over, we were able to create the same documents in less than three minutes. And, of course, along the way, we were confident that we were avoiding common mistakes like duplicating balloons, transcribing incorrect data to the inspection report, and miscalculating maximum/minimum dimensional values. 

About the Author

Toby Schnaars is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert from Philadelphia, Pa. He has been working with SOLIDWORKS software since 1998 and has been providing training, technical support, and tips and tricks since 2001.

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