SOLIDWORKS Composer in Action!

When we hear “Lights. Camera. Action!” the immediate association is that of a director shouting those words on a movie set. The director has set the scene, the lighting is finalized, the cameras are positioned and the actors are in place. “Action!” is the point at which everything starts to happen, right?

Well, it’s a Hollywood myth that things work in just that order. In reality, it’s more like: Roll sound. Roll camera. Marker! Set. Action!

In this article I will be focusing on SOLIDWORKS Composer, a tool that is SOLIDWORKS’ solution for technical communication. But first, let’s examine technical communication.

Technical Communication

As a deliverable, technical communication is defined by the Society for Technical Communication (STC) as “a factual communication, usually about products or services.” Technical communication is a field of study that focuses on technical or specialized topics, and communicates, if you will, by using technology or providing how-to instructions.

Figure 1. View of SOLIDWORKS Composer interactive parts lists, with hotspots and a simple linear explosion. (Image courtesy of the author.)

In general, technical communication describes or depicts a product form, product operation, product identification or product maintenance. Because of the many different forms of technical communication, there are various types of content/media created within an organization. Ideally, you want a tool that that leverages the same data—a single source—so that everyone is on the same page.

Should Technical Communication Be a Concern?

Is technical communication part of the critical path for product development? You bet!

For most organizations that provide a product to customers, technical communication is part of the manufacturing bill of materials (MBOM)—a customer deliverable, called an owner’s manual or installation directions or a maintenance document. You could find all three in the MBOM, or they could be combined into a single document.

Organizations may have a design completed, the product manufactured and sitting in inventory waiting for an owner’s manual or a combined document such as an installation, operation and maintenance document (IOM).

If you are missing any of these documents, you introduce the risks of missing delivery dates, which may:

  • Incur penalties
  • Mean paying for inventory storage
  • Leave your inventory sitting in production areas, increasing the risk of product damage or employee safety

These situations affect the bottom line. So, yes, technical communication pieces are part of the critical path for product development and should be a concern to any manufacturer. Beyond the need to have technical communications, creating them can be a competitive advantage if you can quickly create, author, publish and deliver them.

Figure 2. View of SOLIDWORKS Composer user interface, showing different saved views, properties area, graphics area, animation timeline and workshop settings. (Image courtesy of the author.)

What are the SOLIDWORKS Composer Products?

SOLIDWORKS Composer is a tool that provides a competitive advantage. Composer is a standalone software application that allows an organization to extend the value of their 3D data. Leveraging 3D data can enable a company to quickly create many different forms of technical communication pieces early on in the product lifecycle.

SOLIDWORKS Composer was previously branded as 3DVIA Composer. Parent company Dassault Systèmes has taken the 3DVIA Composer product and rebranded it under the more recognizable product lines—SOLIDWORKS and CATIA. SOLIDWORKS Composer and CATIA Composer each have their own branded authoring tool and player, but essentially, they are identical products.

Similar to the SOLIDWORKS CAD suite, Composer offers three levels of functionality. To complete the product suite and the nature of the authored content, a “player” utility is included.

SOLIDWORKS Composer Player is the free version. This is the player (or viewer) that you or your customer will use to view some of the communication pieces you create.

SOLIDWORKS Composer is the main authoring tool. It allows you to generate all the different types of technical pieces you may need for your organization or customers, and includes the translation and authoring tools.

SOLIDWORKS Composer Sync is a maintenance tool that allows you to control the update of all the different elements of the Composer data. This includes meta-data changes, geometry, BOMs and manufacturing information. All of this is done on the desktop, usually through batch mode processes.

SOLIDWORKS Composer Enterprise Sync is everything that Composer Sync offers, plus the ability to control and execute command line functions. It is primarily used for integrated systems like content management.

It’s All About Your Actors and Scenes

Actors are the primary element used by Composer. When data is translated and brought into Composer, it becomes an actor. If you create trace lines inside an exploded view, the trace lines are actors. Imported 3D data used as tools for showing maintenance and repair processes are actors—think about a hammer, screwdriver or ratchet. Image files that aid in showing the condition of components, like wear on a shaft, are actors. You can even create “dummy” actors that represent items that are part of the product, but may not have any physical representation, such as grease, glue, solder and even paint.

Actors read the scripts and do what they are told. They can spin or move about, change color and disappear, in accordance with the script you design to communicate to others.

How Actors are Used to Communicate

After directing the actor as to what to do and where to be, it is time to start recording. For most companies, this would start with simple static images. These images could be as complex as product-rendered images with transparent shells to show off the internal components or simple black and white images of exploded assemblies used for part identification.

Figure 3. Examples of different types of images for technical communication pieces. (Image courtesy of the author.)

While actors are very important to a product, the setting and the camera angles are just as important as well. Once your actors are in place and your cameras are set, it’s time to take the shot for posterity. For Composer, the frozen point in time is a view. Views are similar to the movie frames of film; play them one after the other and you get action. Pause the film and you get to look at a single frame. Views and actors make your action.

This is where the animation timeline comes in. Take your views with actors in one place and then drop the second view with the actors into a different position. Hit the play button and you get action. The view zooms in. Rotate the view and your actors step three paces apart—just like doing a linear explosion of a shaft assembly.

DVD, Streaming or Theater?

Choosing your media type is just as simple as deciding how you are going to watch a movie. You could either purchase the DVD, watch it at a movie theater or stream it to your computer or tablet device. SOLIDWORKS Composer provides many different media types for publishing. You can choose to create your static images and output to HTML, a vector file or even to a 3D PDF. Composer quickly takes your 3D geometry and leverages many different outputs to increase the value of your design data and reduce your overall development timeline.

Extend Your Use of 3D Data

By leveraging your data, you can quickly create various types of 2D images ranging from hidden line removal (HLR) to rendered images. (See Figure 1.) These images can be used across the enterprise to communicate your product and product benefits in basic forms, from print-like manuals and installation documents to much more advanced interactive part lists, or even interactive electronic technical manuals, known as IETMs.

Interactive parts lists work by viewing the overall product and drilling down/stepping down through different layers of the model. You select an area of the machine—which is a hotspot—and it takes you down into that subsystem. You can burrow down through the layers until you reach the level and parts you are looking for. Then you can quickly identify the part number and other information (which is stored as metadata) to order a replacement part.

Figure 4. Examples of SOLIDWORKS Composer PDF output. This shows the product structure, saved views for quick access, the ability to rotate and move (interact) with the model and part identification. (Image courtesy of the author.)

IETMs can be generated to teach your maintenance crew how to properly disassemble, replace and reassemble assemblies without any prior knowledge. This allows you to reduce the amount of training your maintenance team may need by providing just-in-time training capabilities via a laptop or portable tablet (and soon to be available in augmented reality, if the winds of change continue blowing in the current direction).

Animations with hotspots can be created to provide product training to a sales force. New product introductions or product highlights can quickly be communicated with animations using fly-through concepts and animations to show the product in action.

When it comes to technical communication, your imagination is the limit—not the software! Look to SOLIDWORKS Composer to meet your current and future technical communication needs.

CUT! That’s a take, everyone.

About the Author

Ryan McVay has nearly 25 years of computer-aided design experience in many different roles, including user, abuser, instructor (public college and corporate), software sales, technical support and customer advocate. McVay is currently responsible for the design, continued operation and development of an engineering-to-order system along with CAD, PDM and hardware administration responsibilities.

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