SOLIDWORKS Inspection Standalone Basics: Creating Inspection Documentation and Reports
SOLIDWORKS Inspection is a manufacturing and quality control solution designed to assist in the production of ballooned/bubbled inspection drawings and associated inspection reports, allowing for more efficient inspection and manufacturing processes compared to traditional manual quality control approaches. SOLIDWORKS Inspection has two available modules, one of which is an add-in for SOLIDWORKS CAD (used primarily with SOLIDWORKS drawings).
In this article, we’ll be covering the basics of the second module, known as SOLIDWORKS Inspection Standalone, which is used to produce ballooned inspection drawings and inspection reports. Inspection Standalone is used primarily with PDFs, does not require SOLIDWORKS to be installed and is ideal for quality control personnel who do not have access to or experience with SOLIDWORKS, or in situations where PDF is the only available file format. Additionally, Inspection Standalone must be used when importing data from coordinate measuring machines.
This article assumes the use of SOLIDWORKS Inspection 2023 or newer, as well as an intermediate understanding of quality control terminology. Novice users should consider reading the related article SOLIDWORKS Inspection and the Importance of First Article Inspection for a more comprehensive understanding of quality control and inspection as an industry. Additionally, this tutorial is intended to be a very basic introduction to using the software and as such many advanced tools and techniques will not be covered.
Creating a New Project
The first step to generating an inspection report is the creation of an inspection project file. When first loading the software, Inspection will display the Getting Started tab, with an option to begin a New Project. Clicking this button will prompt the selection of a template, which will define the units, standards and other basic properties of the project (these can be changed as needed). After selecting a template, select the drawing file to be ballooned and click Open.
Once the drawing has been loaded, it can be navigated with simple mouse controls, which can be found (and modified if necessary) by clicking the green File tab at the top left of the interface, then going to Options and finally User Interface, which is nested under Application Options.
Next, you’ll want to provide Project Properties, which include fields such as Part Name, Part Number, Custom Properties and Sampling information. While it’s possible to type in these fields manually, it’s typically preferable to click the lightning bolt icon next to a particular field, then click and drag over text on the sheet itself – this extracts the embedded text from within the PDF and also makes updating easier in the event of a revision, as the box created when extracting the text maintains its position and can be automatically updated.
Extracting these properties is an important step, as anything captured in these fields can be automatically exported to the inspection report, which is the ultimate goal of this process. It should also be noted that in the case of a document without embedded text, the lightning bolt icon will be replaced with a small camera, indicating that optical character recognition (OCR) will be used instead. While typically still effective, the behavior of OCR can be adjusted in the Options dialog and the results should be checked for consistency.
Once complete, click OK to close the Project Properties window and consider taking a look at the available Project Options found in File > Options. These settings, along with any captured Project Properties, can be saved to an Inspection Project Template for reuse, saving significant setup time for future projects:
Of particular interest here are Characteristic settings, where default tolerances, units, inspection methods and classifications for extracted characteristics can be defined, along with default balloon settings including size, shape and color. Once you’ve adjusted your settings to meet your standards, access File > Save As > Inspection Project Template to save these settings for future reuse. It is important to note that many users prefer to keep Project Properties such as Part Name and Part Number undefined when developing a project template, opting to adjust only the Project Options seen above.
Extracting Dimensions and Applying Characteristic Properties
To begin the process of extracting characteristics, access the Document tab, click Manual Extract and choose the type of characteristic to be extracted, keeping in mind that any characteristics which are not extracted will not be exported to the final inspection report. Click and drag a window around a single characteristic to be extracted, in its entirety. Once complete, a balloon will appear, the characteristic will appear in the Characteristics Table at the bottom of the interface and the Characteristic Properties window will appear on the left, where the characteristic can be further modified:
Regardless of the type of characteristic extracted, it is typically very important to spend some time verifying the data captured in Characteristic Properties and filling in any other necessary fields. These fields are ultimately the main source of information that will be exported to the final inspection report and are divided into four major sections which can be accessed using the small blue dropdown arrows:
The General dropdown contains the extracted information, including type/subtype, quantity, full specification, nominal value, tolerance information and calculated upper/lower limits, all of which can be adjusted manually if required.
The Inspection dropdown provides fields to specify the type of manufacturing operation associated with the characteristic, its classification or “criticality,” the method or tool which will be used to inspect and several other fields including a checkbox to identify the characteristic as Key. Many of these fields operate using dropdown lists and typing a new entry into the field will add it to the list for future reuse.
The Balloon dropdown contains relatively simple settings for balloon shape, color and size. It should be noted that these settings will only apply to the selected characteristic(s) and the default balloon style (defined in Options > Project Options > Ballooning) will not be changed. The position of balloon(s) can be modified with the available position tools relative to the characteristic, or with a simple click and drag.
Finally, the Custom dropdown provides fields that can be utilized to capture any required additional information not specified in the previous sections. It should be noted, however, that these fields will not be automatically exported to the final inspection report without modifying the default report templates to include them, which is outside the scope of this tutorial.
Dimension Types and Quantity:
While they can be set manually, properties such as dimension type and quantity are recognized automatically so long as the required information is included in the characteristic extraction window. For example, the following characteristic is interpreted as a Diameter dimension with a quantity of 3:
Extracting Other Characteristic Types
Though dimensions are the most common, many other types of characteristics can be extracted, including geometric tolerances and notes. These function similarly to dimensions in terms of extraction, with a few minor differences.
When extracting a geometric tolerance, we recommend beginning the click-drag operation from within the frame of the tolerance and capturing the information within while avoiding the outer boundary for best performance (illustrated by the solid blue rectangle below). The Characteristic Properties window will contain a tolerance builder with multiple symbols available for editing the geometric tolerance displayed in the Value field if needed. To enable these tools, you must first click the edit button, highlighted in red in the image below:
It is important to note that extraction allows multiple lines of text to be extracted simultaneously, each of which becomes its own sub-characteristic with detailed numbering. If preferred, each line may be captured separately:
Introduced in 2023, Automatic Extraction simplifies and expedites the process of extracting characteristics and replaces the Smart Extract. From the Document tab, click Auto Extract and note that any existing characteristics will be deleted. The Extraction Settings page allows you to specify which types of characteristics to include, but notably does not include notes (these can be added after automatic extraction):
The following page provides optional sheet control when working with multi-page PDFs. In the following image, only page 1 has been selected for extraction:
Clicking the green checkmark begins the extraction process, at which point each of the characteristics should be reviewed for accuracy and updated with any required properties. Unnecessary characteristics can be deleted and any notes can be added using manual extraction tools. It is common practice to begin an inspection project using automatic extraction and then move into manual extraction as required.
Using the Characteristics Table
The Characteristics Table at the bottom of the interface functions as a hub for organizing and managing characteristics. Characteristics can be reordered (and as a result, renumbered) by clicking and dragging the characteristic to a different position. It may be helpful to expand the Table Manager window before attempting this if many characteristics are present.
Characteristic properties displayed in the Characteristics Table such as type, tolerances and limits can be adjusted directly by double-clicking the corresponding cell. To quickly locate a characteristic on the sheet, right-click the characteristic row in the table and select Go To.
When working with characteristics with a quantity greater than one, grouping options become available by right clicking the characteristic row in the Characteristics Table. Access Grouping and select Create for Each Instance to generate a new characteristic for each instance:
The result is similar to multiline notes – a single balloon representing multiple characteristics with detailed numbering. If preferred, you may multiselect these characteristics using Control or Shift, right-click to access Grouping once again and Ungroup to give each characteristic its own unique ID and balloon. The image below shows the before and after of the Ungroup command.
This process can be reversed by using the Group with Share Balloon command to return to a single balloon with multiple detail-numbered characteristics, or by using the Group command to create a balloon for each.
Producing Ballooned PDFs and Inspection Reports
Once all required characteristics have been extracted and populated with the necessary inspection information, a ballooned copy of the original PDF can be exported from the Publish section of the Home tab by simply clicking 2DPDF and providing a file name.
Additional settings for PDF export can be adjusted in Options > Project Options > Export, including the SOLIDWORKS Inspection watermark, default filename prefix/suffix, resolution and more.
Ballooned PDFs typically go hand in hand with an inspection report, which lists captured characteristic information in accordance with the ballooned PDF, along with upper and lower acceptable measurement limits and a blank field (or multiple fields) for manually entering results.
To create an inspection report from your inspection project, begin by clicking the Excel button in the Publish section of the Home tab.
You will then be required to select an inspection report template and your selection will likely depend on the type of inspection you intend to perform. By default, SOLIDWORKS Inspection includes templates for First Article Inspection (AS9102), Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) and Process Performance, among others. Once you’ve selected the proper template, click the Export button to produce the inspection report.
Note that different sets of information will be exported from the inspection project file depending on the template selected and the general formatting of each template is different. Some fields, such as the Results column, are intentionally left blank as they will be filled in as the inspection process is completed. Additionally, some fields may report “No Results Found” if the necessary information was not supplied within the inspection project. All templates can be customized to adjust this formatting and include characteristic, project, document and/or custom properties as required.
For more information regarding the customization of inspection report templates, consider visiting the SOLIDWORKS Inspection Standalone Help File on the subject.
SOLIDWORKS Inspection Standalone is an excellent solution for non-SOLIDWORKS users, or for those who work primarily in PDF format for inspection, especially when compared to manual creation of inspection documentation. The process of creating inspection documentation can be summarized as follows:
- Create a new project and set necessary Project Properties.
- Adjust Project Options via File > Options > Project Options.
- (Optional) Save a project template for future reuse via File > Save As.
- Extract necessary dimensions, geometric tolerances, notes, etc. for inspection using manual and/or automatic extraction techniques.
- Verify characteristic accuracy and provide additional characteristic detail as needed.
- Adjust characteristic order, grouping and balloon position as required.
- Produce a ballooned 2D PDF of the inspection drawing.
- Produce an inspection report according to the type of inspection process in use.