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Making a Case for Finite Element Analysis


Speaking as a salesperson that had to Google FEA to be sure he got the acronym right, pitching the purchase of a good finite element analysis package to upper management can be a daunting task. While I might not be able to help you with your non-linear mesh problems (mostly since I initially thought it was curable with medication), I can certainly help you qualify bringing in such a powerful tool.

It’s important to first throw out the idea that software is just a part of your company’s overhead. The right tools in the right hands can provide a quantifiable return on investment. The further you get away from the technical benefits and the more you embrace the critical business issues FEA can solve, the better chance you have of bringing in the software you need.

1. Quantify the hours spent on an ECO issued due to a field or prototype failure.

While no FEA package can entirely prevent malfunctions or eliminate the need for a prototyping process, it’s easy to demonstrate how it can provide some level of improvement. Try to calculate the number of man hours it would save by simply removing ONE round of design changes. Take an average hourly rate for those involved in the process, double it to account for overhead costs, and then you have your savings. Want to take it further? What is the material cost associated with each prototype? How much time is spent in machining or manufacturing just to build a part or assembly to be broken?

2. Calculate innovation time / time-to-market losses.

You’ve got all of the hours that will show the savings on the front end, but what about the time lost that could have been spent on other projects? What kind of hold up are your customers facing and how much retail time is your product missing out on? If the average ECO takes a few days, a week, or even a month, that’s time not being spent on the next project and time your product ISN’T bringing in revenue. Upper management should have a good idea of how much that lost time costs.

3.) Ask if your company is spending a great deal of money on warranty work or worse yet, litigation costs for field failures.

It may be a touchy subject to broach, but these are additional costs that would be reduced with a software package that helps you design better products. Management will see this and address their warranty concerns twofold. First, less warranty work and/or replacements means less cost. Secondly, marketing can lean more heavily on warranties that rarely have to be called into action. The reduction of litigation costs or even the reduction of concern over potential litigation costs may be enough in their own right to qualify FEA.

4.) Consider SOLIDWORKS Simulation

So here comes the real sales pitch… SOLIDWORKS Simulation lets you design and test in a parallel process. You DON’T have to complete a design, export it, run a test, redesign, and repeat. With Simulation, you can conduct your tests quickly and early within SOLIDWORKS, before your design is even complete. It’s also far easier to use than some of the more expensive software packages that require a PhD and a second mortgage on your building to run. Personally, I can’t get the home button on my Galaxy S5 to stop bringing up the Google search bar but I was able to run a static stress study at one of our SOLIDWORKS Simulation Hands on Test Drives. (If you know how to fix a Galaxy S5, please email me)

5.) Bring in the team from CADimensions

I’m sure you can feel the grip on my pitch continue to tighten, but I can assure you that we're here to help. There’s no “selling” when people see firsthand the value our tools can bring to the table. We have phenomenal application engineers who can demonstrate Simulation in action and solution specialists who can help make a business case for the investment. We won #1 in Customer Satisfaction in North America this year and it wasn’t by deploying pushy salespeople...

You know the technical advantages of FEA. You are probably already sold on SOLIDWORKS Simulation if you’re reading this blog post in the first case. Make a BUSINESS case for your management to consider bringing in a more complete software solution and then help us help you complete the process.


DriveWorks 12 Just Released


Last month I spent two days at DriveWorks World in Chicago. It was an opportunity to learn more about DriveWorks, as well as hear how DriveWorks customers and employees are using the product to make their lives easier. Hearing from users that have taken advantage of the product well past the basic functionality of driving dimensions inside of models, was inspiring.

There user were running website configurators for millions of catalog items (check out Pine Research Instrumentation's DriveWorks Live website), controlling their internal and external documentation flow, and even monitoring employee's vacation requests using a form on an internal website. The stories were pretty consistent across everyone-- they needed help saving time creating models for their product line. But after digging into the capabilities of the software, they began to use the forms, rules, and specification flows to enhance their business practices. Ultimately, they found a piece of software that takes the pressure off generating models, building quotes and BOMs, and sending customer's emails away from engineering/sales/marketing teams and allows them to focus on new designs and new business possibilities. It really opened my eyes to what DriveWorks provides a user: which is full automation and customization of their business needs.

I also got to learn tips and tricks from the DriveWorks tech team and hear the exciting new features of DriveWorks 12, which was released March 24, 2015. Among my favorites enhancements were:


User Interface updates to add commonly used buttons into the ribbon command manager


Model Insight to allow for project debugging


Calculation Tables which allow real time calculations to be carried out during a specification-

And updates to 3D Preview to make the tool very user friendly.

The complete list of enhancements can be found here.

If you have any questions about the new release or a DriveWorks project you are working on, let me know!


Using Instant 3D in SOLIDWORKS

There is a setting in SOLIDWORKS that changes the software’s behavior, and most new users aren’t even aware of this setting. It is called Instant3D. If you are unfamiliar with what Instant3D does, it will be beneficial for you to continue reading this short article.


Instant3D is ON by default, and can be found on the Features tab of the Command Manager.

Drag here or here

As can be seen in the large balloon tip, Instant3D allows for dragging “handles” to resize dimensions and reshape geometry. Looking at the image above, we can see some of these handles.

All it takes to see the drag handles is to click a face of the model. The dimensions which appear will be the dimensions associated with whatever feature the selected face is related to. Dragging to resize or reshape geometry may be a nice way to visualize alterations, and it may be useful for research and development, but dragging is inherently not very precise. If a specific value is needed, typing that value in is preferable to dragging.

Underdefined Sketch Geometry

Another aspect of Instant3D is the ability to reshape sketch geometry. However, this only works for underdefined geometry. Leaving sketch geometry underdefined is not considered good practice and can result in unpredictable behavior. Where Instant3D works well is when it is necessary to reposition or reshape splines. To try this for yourself, sketch a spline and create a simple swept feature to use as an example. Toggle on sketch visibility (use those little eyeglasses in the toolbar when clicking the sketch in the FeatureManager) and try dragging one of the spline points. You will find it is possible even though you are not technically editing the sketch.

There is one more aspect of Instant3D we should discuss, which is editing dimensions and how they appear when being edited. With Instant3D enabled, a single click is all that’s needed to show a feature’s dimensions. Likewise, a single click on a dimension value is all that’s needed to change that value. If Instant3D is turned off, double clicks are required. In other words, it becomes necessary to double click a feature to see it’s dimensions, and it is also necessary to double click a dimension to edit it. This is not necessarily a bad thing. 

If we look at the dimension value itself as it is being edited, we can see how the appearance changes. In the image above, on the left, Instant3D is enabled. On the right, it is not. With Instant3D turned off, the Modify window appears when editing dimensions. There is additional functionality in the Modify window which is not present with Instant3D enabled, such as the ability to increment or decrement the dimension value by precise amounts.

In the long run, one particular work style is not necessarily better than another. Whether you decide to use Instant3D or not depends on your personal preference and what you are trying to accomplish. What is most important, though, is that you know about the Instant3D setting and what it can do. Now that you know about it, experiment and see which work style works best for you.


Create Better Looking Simulation Plots

Everyone loves looking at pretty Simulation plots. Your models light up with blues and reds, and contort into funny shapes (hopefully not too much red or too much contortion). But sometimes you want to make a cool-looking rendered image with an embedded simulation plot.

I was discussing this with a customer the other day, and I immediately jumped to the "you need Photoshop for that" response. But then I got to thinking... do you really need to buy another software for this? The answer is no, not really. We have a way to do this using just SOLIDWORKS, Simulation, and MS Paint... that's right, Paint!


FIRST Robotics Teams Excited to Use SOLIDWORKS

FIRST Robotics Team 578 at Finger Lakes Regional

When people hear about the FIRST® Robotics Competition, they immediately think “Battle Bots!” but FIRST® is much more than that.

The FIRST® program was founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, in 1992.

The premise: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC) teams usually consist of students from a high school, mentors from local corporate sponsors and volunteers from the community.  These teams are given a challenge in the beginning of January each year and then have 6 weeks to completely design and build a robot.  Teams then attend various regional and district level competitions where they get to showcase their hard work in hopes of qualifying for the Championship event, and have a lot of fun while they’re at it.

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