Design Tables in SOLIDWORKS
Designers and companies are always attempting to innovate and create something new for their customers. They all want to showcase that shiny new idea they have. It’s unique! It’s groundbreaking! It’s turning the industry on its ear! Herein lies the problem: Almost inevitably, as soon as this new product is out, everyone wants a new variation. They want the same thing but in a different size, or the same thing but in a different configuration—and they want to know why you don’t already have it!
Those of us who are engineers know we can’t let them down. We have to produce products quickly—and perfectly—just like we did the first time. That means we have to reuse all the existing models to be efficient. As anyone in the trade knows, when dramatic changes in variation happen, engineers rarely get to use the same exact models twice. We may take one model and stretch and pull, save as, revise and reassemble into a new model that has no real connection to the original design that everyone loved.
Enter the SOLIDWORKS world of configurations.
With configurations, we turn parts on and off, change sub components, dimensions, part numbers, revision levels and pretty much anything that is CAD-related and can be controlled in configurations. If designers are unaware of configurations, they should really start studying up to better increase their time to market. The Help page on Configurations explains this very well.
One of the problems that configurations have is that they are difficult to tightly control from the general interface at a macro level. SOLIDWORKS does offer very intuitive controls for this, but as the design complexity and sheer amount of variations grow, these tools become increasingly difficult to maintain.
Design tables are the saving grace for these situations.
By inserting a design table into the configurations that are already in place, the software takes nearly every variation throughout that level of component and places it into an Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is natively embedded into the file and formats so that any Excel-literate user can easily make hundreds of new configurations in a matter of minutes. It can become as easy as copying and pasting rows into Excel followed by a simple find/replace command. Of course things can get more complex than that, but if the design table is setup with substantial forethought, it can actually get even simpler than that.
Let’s walk through the basics first.
In my early days, when I was designing mining equipment, I would always need motors to drive various aspects of the mining equipment system, including conveyors, crushers, screeners and various other smaller components. I would always have to find a model from the manufacturer, or someone would share one in an online repository such as 3D ContentCentral. I was rarely lucky enough to find anything accurate for my specific needs. The models were often sketchy at best, and very time-consuming to track down. The total number of usable motors that I needed climbed to over 200. I also needed to be able to play with many of those options while I was designing. To solve this problem, I decided to model one myself. It was very flexible and had all of the features available so that I could modify or suppress as needed. It took me one model and a couple days’ worth of research and data entry to get all of them into one accurate selectable model that I would never have to maintain again. I didn’t have to worry about a huge file management problem, and I didn’t have to worry about the inevitable mate problems associated with different modeling techniques for each model.
Figure 1. A view of the base model created by the author. On the left is a small selection of the configurations that were required for his shop. (All images courtesy of the author.)
Figure 2. A design table used to create all of the motors in the author’s shop. Users should name the features and dimensions that will be configured to make their processes easier and more understandable to future users.
As most can understand by looking at Figures 1 and 2, setting up this environment takes some forethought. But once it is created, it can save you a lot of time. By using design tables and equations built into the Excel design table in the upper level assembly, I was able to control which motor was used via traditional engineering calculations.
With design tables, I could use the option to save a design table to a standard Excel file that controlled my conveyor length, shape, types of rollers, belt guides, pulley sizes, guards and every piece of the bill of materials (BOM). All I would have to do is get my rough dimensions from design sketches of conveyor inputs and outputs. My sales group would provide requirements such as the weight of material and speed required to satisfy the mining equipment output. I was able to put all of those rules and equations into this external Excel file, fill in the requirements and open the assembly, and all of my modeling work would be done.
At the same time, the vast majority of my drafting work was done—except for the dimension location cleanup and double-checking everything. Then I would just simply “Pack and Go” that file to a new part numbering scheme and be done. What used to take at least three days to fully complete now only took a few hours—sometimes less.
Figure 3. An example of a conveyor that can be created using only a spreadsheet.
This process was exceptionally helpful in a custom design shop that focused on similar and commonly used types of components. The end goal is to allow marketing to input basic data of this type and speed things along.
Designers might debate the notion that they don’t work in a custom design shop and that this may not help them. However, I would strongly encourage them to think about how it can help them. I have used design tables in a wide range of engineering industries and have always found them to be useful. However, I would warn users that the first couple of times should be run through the BOM and file management process that their company uses and make sure that those processes are fully incorporated into their setup of design tables.
Education of all engineers associated with a project is well worth the cost. I would also suggest leaning on a reseller to help in facilitating this, or at least bounce some ideas off of them before going too far. File management, product data management and product lifecycle management can sometimes throw some curve balls at this process. When a company goes into this with its eyes wide open and plans to succeed by using design tables, time-to-market can be greatly reduced.
Visit the Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS website to learn about all of the company’s time saving design tools.
About the Author
Ryan Reid is a CAD administrator, PLM enthusiast, designer, GD&T specialist, lead, lean philosophy supporter, Microsoft Office expert, 3D printing hobbyist and manufacturing-focused professional with 17 years of combined experience in those areas. Reid has accomplishments in all aspects of manufacturing engineering, from cradle to grave plastics/mold to structural, systems, process and change management design.