One of the greatest assets that Razorleaf can claim is a breadth of knowledge across industries and technologies. Recently, I had the opportunity to jump into something really fun and exciting, where you enter product details into a form and magically, models and drawings appear to suit your use case. I’m talking about DriveWorks design automation software. More importantly, I had the opportunity to work with industry expert, Paul Gimbel and learn some things you can only learn by working on real projects.
Begin with the end in mind
Yes, today, your models may be built with tons of design intent embedded in them. They may include equations that drive features, or your models may contain brilliant configuration tables that generate lots of clever configurations. Congratulations, your product is a great candidate for automation! However, you won’t need all of those complex features built into your models anymore because DriveWorks will handle it for you. Now when SOLIDWORKS does something unexpected with your drawing, you have one place to troubleshoot it.
You may need to simplify and make changes to the aspects of your design that DriveWorks will control. The good news is that this process happens once when you create a Master Model rather than repeat it every time a customer orders a different product. Together, SOLIDWORKS and DriveWorks will transform this flexible master model.
One exercise to plan your master model involves asking yourself what were the initial requirements or what were the attributes the customer needed when you first kicked off the product design? One of the great pointers that Paul gave me was to create your user experience, i.e. your forms before you start to automate. The best way to do this is to take off your designer hat and put on your product manager hat. Instead of asking what design parameters you need to build your SOLIDWORKS models, figure out what information your user will know. You can have DriveWorks transform these inputs to drive the SolidWorks master models later. The most important thing to do upfront is to collect a complete picture of where your user wants to be, so you can build the map with DriveWorks to get there.
SolidWorks provides default features and dimension names like “Base-Revolve1” or “d19@sketch37”. Giving meaningful names to key features and dimensions is a good modeling practice for any SolidWorks user. However, with automation, these are now more than dimensions and features, they are parameters to be controlled. DriveWorks allows you to enter a name to use in your rule calculations, so testing and verifying models are easier if those names correspond to the models. Another tip to make the validation process easier is to display the dimension names in your models so you have a constant reminder of what you are driving (In SOLIDWORKS, View -> Hide/Show -> Dimension Names).
Budget two hours (or more, if you are a newbie) of troubleshooting and testing for each hour of development
DriveWorks development is a highly iterative process, so plan on generating hundreds of models and drawings, examining them for errors, fixing your design rules, and running them again. Paul has created a series of specification macros that run complete batches of tests with a single click. The developer can use a simple input table to run multiple design scenarios (test cases) and later evaluate the results for accuracy.
Know when to walk away satisfied
Every design automation project has the potential for a tiny detail to become a great White Whale (a Moby Dick analogy) that you chase around until you go mad. Sometimes it’s a dimension that doesn’t appear precisely where you want it to or a rule that doesn’t hold true in every case. You have to ask yourself how much time and effort should you spend to make the output generate absolutely perfectly, versus how much effort it would take to fix those rare cases in a few minutes of manual cleanup. As with many things, there is a point of diminishing returns. And much like an artistic endeavor, at some point, you need to take a step back, call it ‘done’, and release it to the world.
If you get stuck or just need a hand, Razorleaf is here to help. Many of our customer engagements begin with users who start DriveWorks projects but keep setting higher goals or run out of time. So, if you need help with your DriveWorks implementation, Razorleaf is happy to help.