Multiple-CAD Environment Manufacturing Using SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect

3D Interconnect has been released with the SOLIDWORKS 2017 Service Pack 2. This new enhancement assists you in opening and referencing all the proprietary CAD formats inside SOLIDWORKS. When the external source designs get changed, your references in SOLIDWORKS can update accordingly.

This tool turns out to be very accessible and easy to use. First of all, it is included in every seat of SOLIDWORKS Standard, except for the Catia V5 format support, which requires SOLIDWORKS Premium. Second, if you want to reuse any of the major proprietary CAD formats in SOLIDWORKS, rather than dealing with the error-prone data export and import steps, you can just open the Creo, NX, Solid Edge, Inventor or Catia V5 file in a way similar to opening SOLIDWORKS native files.

The tool almost feels transparent or unnoticeable, as it should be, because it carries out most of its work silently behind the scene so that you can focus on your projects at hand, rather than worrying about CAD formats. This reminds me of a saying in soccer, or football, depending on which part of the world you are in. The best referees are those you don’t even notice in a game, because their job is to facilitate the players and audience to focus on and enjoy the game itself.

Please give this new enhancement a try. It will likely ease and speed up the extensive collaborations in your multiple-CAD environment. For example, we looked into a popular use case of “Multiple-CAD Simulation Using SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect” in a previous article. In this article, let’s review another popular use case, computer-aided manufacturing, or CAM.

Let’s say you run a machine shop that receives a wide variety of CAD formats from your clients. Or you work at an in-house factory where you need to program toolpaths on models from worldwide research and engineering teams on different CAD platforms. Just to open multiple CAD formats, you may need to keep a seat of every CAD software application. Then you export the model to an STP file so that the CAM software can import and program it. When there is a design change from your internal or external client, you will have to open the new model in its corresponding CAD application, export it to a new STP file, import it into CAM again and then regenerate the CAM setups, operations, toolpaths and numeric control (NC) code. This process is captured in Figures 1 and 2.

image001Figure 1. A common way of CAM programing with proprietary CAD formats.

image002Figure 2. CAD model changes result in generating the CAM programs all over again.

Alternatively, this process can be shortened using SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect and the integrated CAMWorks application. First, 3D Interconnect opens all the major proprietary formats directly inside SOLIDWORKS, so that you don’t have to open the files in their native CAD environments or export STP files anymore. Second, CAMWorks is fully integrated with SOLIDWORKS, which means you can program the setups, operations, toolpaths and NC code inside SOLIDWORKS, rather than in a separate standalone application. Third, when there is a CAD model change, the reference model in SOLIDWORKS will update accordingly, so will the CAMWorks machinable features and the resultant manufacturing programs, so that you don’t have to start over again with a brand new model. Figures 3 and 4 illustrate this shortened alternative.

image003Figure 3. CAM programming on proprietary CAD models directly inside SOLIDWORKS.

image004Figure 4. Update CAM programs directly according to the external proprietary CAD model changes.

Let’s take a look at an example of a machining vice base body. Figure 5 shows a typical vice to hold workpieces tightly.

image005Figure 5. A typical machining vice.

Figure 6 shows a simple Creo model opened in SOLIDWORKS using 3D Interconnect.



Figure 6. A Creomodel opened in SOLIDWORKS using 3D Interconnect (a full display on the left and a section cut on the right.)

You may notice this model reference brings no native Creo feature, but it doesn’t prevent us from cutting cross-sections or program toolpaths. Figure 7 shows the programed operations using CAMWorks integrated in the SOLIDWORKS environment.

image008Figure 7. The programed operations using CAMWorks integrated in SOLIDWORKS.

It’s worth noting that it took me several steps in CAMWorks to program this part, such as specifying correct units (millimeters, grams and seconds), selecting the milling machine, defining machinable features, generating operations and then creating toolpaths. It was not a trivial task, especially since manual tweaks were required here and there, such as the machinable feature Hole 7 as shown in Figure 8. The original Creo hole came in as two halves. Hole 1 was automatically recognized, but I needed to create a 2.5-axis milling feature manually for the other half, or Hole 7.

image009Figure 8. A manually created hole feature.

Therefore, when there is a design change, you definitely want to reuse the work as much as possible rather than redo everything from scratch. Now let’s update the Creo reference using 3D Interconnect as shown in Figure 9.

image010Figure 9. Update the Creo model reference using 3D Interconnect.

Now, when you switch to the CAMWorks feature tree, you will be presented with a warning against the updated part as shown in Figure 10. Please go ahead and run a full rebuild here since both automatically recognized features and interactively defined features have been created in this model.

image011Figure 10. An automatic warning against the updated model.

As you can see, Hole 7 as shown in Figure 11 is much smaller than the previous design in Figure 8, but CAMWorks was able to update the machinable features automatically, along with their operations and toolpaths. As illustrated in Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4, this automatic update from an external design, to the SOLIDWORKS reference model and then to the downstream manufacturing results can be a significant time-saver. In the case here, for a simple vice base, it can save hours of time in repetitive data import, export and CAM programing. It surely can save even more time in more complex models and more rounds of design updates.

image012Figure 11. Machinable features, operations and toolpaths were updated automatically upon a design change.

In summary, 3D Interconnect can not only directly read in all the major proprietary CAD formats, but it can also facilitate the automatic machinable feature update by CAMWorks that is integrated in the SOLIDWORKS environment. As a result, it eases and speeds up the extensive manufacturing collaborations in your multiple-CAD environment.

Please feel free to leave your comments or questions below. Also you may join the SOLIDWORKS online forum for more in-depth discussions with other users. To learn more about how SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect can help you with your multiple-CAD collaborations, please visit its product page.

About the Author


Oboe Wu is a SOLIDWORKS MBD product manager with 20 years of experience in engineering and software. He is an advocate of model-based enterprise and smart manufacturing.

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