For Technical Documentation, Animation is Worth Way More Than a Thousand Words

Jeffrey Heimgartner | Comments | January 31, 2018

Most people would agree that a great product starts with a great design, but what makes a great design? Some descriptive terms that might come to mind may be: innovative, useful, functional, aesthetically pleasing, long-lasting, and manufacturability, just to name a few.

Looking at your product through the end user’s eyes, however, there are some more important features to consider. What if your product requires installation or assembly? What if that installation or assembly contains some very complex steps? If you are not able to communicate those assembly instructions to the end user in a clear, concise and understandable format, they may not agree that your great design has, in the end, produced a great product. The resulting frustration that comes from the difficulty in trying to understand or interpret someone’s lackluster instructions, can quickly overshadow your best design intent.

Most of us have struggled with poor product instructions at some point in our lives. Some are so filled with legal disclaimers that seem to be directed at those who might be up for this years’ Darwin Awards, that they distract from the actual instructions themselves. Others seem to have misleading or missing instructions that were obviously lost in translation, making it near impossible to follow along through the steps. I’m not naming any names here, but some instruction manuals don’t even have any descriptive text at all, opting to use what looks like illustrations taken out of a comic book. I could go on, but I think you get the point that making sure your end user can easily assemble or install your product, is just as important as all the other criteria that goes into a great design.

SOLIDWORKS’ solution to help designers with this technical communication is SOLIDWORKS Composer. In addition to helping to communicate installation and assembly instructions, Composer can also be used to help create: product manuals, maintenance and repair guides, training systems, presentations, demos and more. Composer enables users to easily incorporate 3D graphics and interactive animations, as opposed to just 2D drawings and text, into technical product communication. It also allows users to easily pan, zoom, and rotate the product model to show products from multiple perspectives.

Using existing 3D CAD data to communicate technical information. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

One of the more intriguing things to me about the software is that it was created so that it can also be effectively operated by non-technical users. You don’t have to be a SOLIDWORKS power user to use Composer. One of the main ways this is possible is that instead of creating all the CAD data for Composer, users can easily repurpose existing 3D design data to create and update the graphics they need. In addition to being able to use the existing CAD data, that data is fully associated to your graphics in Composer. This means that any design changes that are made to the CAD data are automatically updated in your Composer graphics. Using your existing CAD data, as opposed to product pictures, also means that you can develop your technical communication deliverables earlier in the process and keep them current, instead of having to wait until the product is complete.

I mentioned some of the powerful features available in Composer above. One of the most powerful features in my opinion is the ability to create animations. Composer provides tools to create both simple and complex animations that can help to convey ideas, concepts, and designs, as well as hard-to-describe steps in assembly and operation manuals. Even this powerful feature is straightforward enough that non-technical users can utilize it. The user simply drags the starting state and ending state of the desired animation into the timeline. SOLIDWORKS Composer connects the dots and quickly creates a fluid animation linking the two. Animations can include a myriad of different types, including parts, labels, measurements and more, thus allowing users to walk their viewers through all aspects of an assembly or even repair. Animations such as these can help to reduce errors in manufacturing, assembly or installation, eliminate potential language barriers by showing the process as opposed to trying to explain it. They can also significantly decrease the time it takes your product to reach the end user by enabling you to use the design CAD data to create your technical documentation as opposed to having to wait until prototyping or manufacturing is complete to take photographs to incorporate into your documentation.

Using animation to convey assembly instructions. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

There are two other Technical Communication Packages that can work in conjunction with Composer as well enhance the technical communication deliverables you need to produce. One is SOLIDWORKS MBD (Model Based Definition). This is an integrated drawing-less manufacturing solution for SOLIDWORKS that guides the manufacturing process directly in 3D instead of using traditional 2D drawings, which helps streamline production, cut cycle time, reduce errors, and support industry standards. The other is SOLIDWORKS Inspection, which helps to streamline the creation of inspection documents by leveraging your existing 2D legacy data, regardless of whether files are SOLIDWORKS, PDFs, or TIFFs.

Your company, your vendors and your customers rely on your technical product documentation for communicating detailed information about your product. Information about how your product is put together, how to assemble it, how to use it, and how to service it. SOLIDWORKS Composer allows you to make technical documentation and communication more visual and more effective for your manufacturing and service teams, suppliers, and customers. It does so regardless of language or technical ability, helping you to take your great design all the way through manufacturing, assembly and installation to a final end user that will truly appreciate your great product.

To find out more information on SOLIDWORKS Composer or the other Technical Communication Packages from Dassault Systemes, click here.


About the Author

Jeffrey Heimgartner photo2
Jeffrey Heimgartner has more than 27 years of experience in the computer-aided drafting and design field. He manages Advanced Technical Services, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based drafting and design firm. His main responsibilities include managing the CAD team, client and project management, sales, IT, drafting and design, BIM, 3D printing and 3D scanning. Jeffrey also is a freelance writer and technical editor for CAD related industry publications and has been a CAD instructor for Southeast Community College in Lincoln.

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