What’s New in Inspection: Extract Key Characteristics from 3D Annotations for Inspection Reports

After you annotate 3D models with dimensions, geometric tolerances and surface finishes directly using SOLIDWORKS MBD, a natural question is how to take advantage of the integrated and intelligent annotations. If there were no consumptions or reuses of these data in the downstream manufacturing procedures, there would be no point to create them in the first place. Ultimately, the definitions, requirements or instructions, either in 2D drawings or 3D models, are to serve manufacturing. This is why for a successful model-based definition (MBD) implementation, empowering downstream manufacturing consumptions is vital.

In previous articles we discussed applications that can make use of the MBD data. For example, you can program the numeric control (NC) code automatically based on 3D surface finishes using SOLIDWORKS CAM. Besides the semantic or software consumptions, there are use cases of graphical consumptions. For instance, you can help suppliers intuitively grasp design requirements across multiple configurations conveyed in a dynamic 3D PDF so that they can accurately and quickly reply with their machining cost estimations. Similarly in this article, let’s look into another important use case of the MBD data: inspection reports.

Manufacturers committed to the model-based approach have been facing a dilemma. If you defined everything in 3D such as the geometries, dimensions, geometric tolerances and surface finishes, there was no way to easily extract the characteristics from the 3D annotations and generate an inspection report. On the other hand, there are inspection software applications on the market that can automatically pick up the characteristics from 2D drawings, but they didn’t support 3D annotations. Therefore, if you had to create 2D drawings just for inspection reports, it would slow down the model-based production workflows and derail MBD implementation. Which way should a model-based manufacturer go for the inspection procedure, 2D or 3D? You don’t have to hesitate any more. SOLIDWORKS Inspection 2018 can help extract the characteristics directly and automatically from the 3D annotations.

Let’s take a look at one of the NIST 3D annotation validation and conformance test model in Figure 1.

Figure 1. A model defined with 3D annotations.

Size dimensions and geometric tolerances have been defined semantically to the model. For example, selecting the .025 inch runout tolerance referencing a compound datum feature A-B highlights the target two partial cylinder features. After defining these 3D definitions, you can use SOLIDWORKS Inspection 2018 to automatically extract and balloon these requirements. First, start an inspection project as shown on the SOLIDWORKS Inspection command bar. For now, go with the default project settings and click the green check mark to proceed as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Create a new inspection project to extract characteristics from 3D annotations.

Figure 3 shows the next page with the general settings. In this exercise, you don’t have to change anything. Just hit the green check mark again and leave the job to the software,which will automate the characteristics extraction and ballooning as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3. Accept the general settings and click on the green check mark.

Figure 4. A size dimension and tolerance are automatically extracted and ballooned.

For example, the balloon number 5 is designated to the width size dimension and tolerance with an ST symbol or statistical tolerancing requirement. On the property list, as shown in the green box in Figure 4, the Quantity and Value—including the special ST symbol, Unit, Sub-Type, +/- Tolerances and Upper/Lower limits—have been recognized, collected and calculated.

Another example, as shown in Figure 5, is the runout tolerance indexed as balloon 6. Please notice that the properties are extracted per the semantic definitions, such as the Sub-Type as a Runout or the Upper/Lower Limits as .025 to 0 inches. In mere seconds, all the characteristics are collected and organized in the tree. This automation can save hours of selecting and ballooning time in the manual process.

Figure 5. A runout tolerance is automatically extracted and ballooned.

If you select a characteristic on the tree on the left, the graphics area will automatically jump to an appropriate view to highlight the target 3D annotation as shown in Figure 6. Visa versa, if you select an annotation in the graphics area, the tree will jump to the corresponding node automatically as well. It’s a handy usability treat.

Figure 6. Selecting a characteristic from the tree automatically switches the graphics area to an appropriate view.

What if there is a change to the requirement? Let’s say you add a surface finish annotation to the datum feature a cylinder as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Add a 3D surface finish requirement to the end cylinder.

You can simply update the project as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Update the inspection project to accommodate 3D annotation changes.

Notice that the characteristics tree has added an item at the bottom in green indicating that it’s new, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. A new surface finish characteristic is added to the tree upon a project update.

His new item doesn’t have a balloon number yet because it’s waiting for your acceptance. If you approve this change, right click on the additional item and click “Accept this annotation change” as shown in Figure 10, or you may choose to accept all the changes. In a similar fashion, if you delete certain annotations on the model, the characteristics tree will update to highlight removed items in red. You can choose to accept or reject the changes.

Figure 10. Accept the annotation change.

Now the new surface finish requirement is ballooned as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11. The new surface finish characteristic is ballooned as number 11.

Once satisfied with the characteristics and balloons, you can output the data to an Excel spreadsheet, eDrawings, 2D PDF or a 3D PDF for those who may not have SOLIDWORKS Inspection installed on their computers. For example, Figure 12 shows that you can select an AS9102 inspection report template to export a spreadsheet.

Figure 12. Select an Excel spreadsheet export template.

Figure 13 shows the blank inspection report in a spreadsheet including all the characteristics from the 3D annotations. Please note that the newly added surface finish has been listed at the bottom.

Figure 13. A blank inspection report listing all the characteristics from the 3D annotations.

With that, let’s conclude this article with several key points:

  1. SOLIDWORKS Inspection 2018 can automatically extract the characteristics defined in 3D annotations, which can save hours of manual time and further support your model-based production.
  2. Changes to the 3D annotations can be automatically reflected in the updated extraction and balloons.
  3. The software can export characteristics to an Excel spreadsheet, eDrawings, 2D PDF, or 3D PDF for quality inspectors who may not have SOLIDWORKS Inspection
  4. The 3D annotation extraction capability requires the SOLIDWORKS Inspection Professional

I’m glad that this new capability has been added to the SOLIDWORKS portfolio. It filled a major gap in model-based workflows. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments area below. To learn more about how SOLIDWORKS Inspection can help implement your model-based enterprises, please visit its product page.

About the Author

Oboe Wu is a SOLIDWORKS 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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