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GPU Computing


Depending on your areas of interest, this may or may not be news to you.  There were commercially available products well over 3 years ago and the topic is nearly 15 years old.  However, if you’re reading this, you’re interested in CAD and if you’re interested in CAD you need to know about GPU computing.  I’ll leave it to you to surf for the details, but I’ll get us started with some basics.

“In the beginning”, there was the CPU and it was good.  Time passed, stuff changed and offloading functions from the CPU became a great idea.  The GPU was one of the devices created for the extra workload.  More time passed and someone decided that a processor is a processor is a processor.  Said another way CPU, schmePU, we can do math with a GPU, too.  GPU’s are smaller, do less and are less expensive than CPU’s.  As with all things microprocessor, GPU’s got better – more powerful and more programmable.  GPU’s became a more efficient alternative to the CPU for many applications.

Thus, the first acronym was born – GPGPU, General Purpose GPU – and the associated catch-phrase, parallel computing.  In general terms, CPU’s are built for serial processing and GPU’s expect to be used in parallel.  I know, I know, there are parallel CPU’s – multi-core and hyperthreading.  I don’t plan to get into that discussion – I’m just reporting the basics here.

gpu resized 600As CAD users, we’re familiar with using high-powered graphics cards for rendering, but if the GPGPU makers are successful, the day will come when we can run Simulation on our “graphics card”.  And - work with me – since a graphics card is a plug-in device, it could be placed elsewhere, like in a small box on our desk or over a network or … in the cloud.  And (you still with me?), if it can be on a network, then it can be shared.  Distributed rendering, Simulation, you name it.  Now all of the intensive math for things like rendering and Simulation can be done elsewhere as it is needed.  CAD guys need to be aware of the possibility that’s coming our way.

As you may imagine, just like hyperthreading, using a bunch of parallel GPU’s instead of a multi-core CPU takes different programming.  If you’re a GPU manufacturer, you’re presented with the classic business issue – I need programmers and devices, but each begets the other.  But, there is significant progress being made.  There’s a conference dedicated to this industry – GTC, GPU Technology Conference.  SolidWorks’ VP of R&D Gian Paulo Bassi was at the 2013 GTC as part of a demonstration of nVidia’s Grid VCA product that includes – catch this – a SolidWorks license for up to 8 or 16 users.  With products like the Grid VCA, we’re back to the 1970’s – relatively dumb terminals with centralized high-powered servers.  However, I don’t consider a Macbook, iPad, or smart phone a “dumb terminal”, so maybe it's the 70's only better.

SolidWorks Drawing Templates


SolidWorks drawings are made up of three pieces:

  1. Drawing Template
  2. Annotations/Model Views

I didn’t make a mistake.  There are three pieces.  The drawing template includes a sheet format – three pieces.

  1. Drawing Template
    1. Sheet Format
    2. Annotations/Model Views

All of those combine to make up a drawing - *.slddrw.

SolidWorks gave us a separate sheet format so we can have the best of both worlds – standardized drawings at the tip of our mouse, but also custom title blocks and borders to match our company requirements.  To save a sheet format, when a drawing with the one we want is displayed go to File > Save Sheet Format.

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Check out the blog post from last year -

The sheet format (*.slddrt) contains the border, title block, sheet size, and some other items.  Check out all of the stuff in the FeatureManager under the sheet format:

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To better demonstrate, here’s a page from the Drawings training class:

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The sheet format (*.slddrt) is part of a drawing template (*.drwdot), as I mentioned earlier. 

Drawing templates contain all the document specific information that is found in the Tools > Options > Document Properties dialog (i.e. units, standard, fonts, arrow sizes, etc.).

Combining the slddrt and drwdot with a model view and/or annotations makes a drawing (*.slddrw)

Let’s dig a little deeper.

With no other files open in SolidWorks, start a new, blank drawing.  See that dialog?

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The browse button will tell you the location of the sheet format – the slddrt – used for each drawing - Tools->Options->File Locations->Sheet Formats.

So, when we tell SolidWorks to start a drawing, it goes where we tell it in the File Locations for Documents TEMPLATES (tools->options->system options tab->File Locations)

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In this case, I have two locations specified in File Locations for Document Templates -

a TEMPLATES folder and a TUTORIAL folder – those correspond to the tabs in the above screenshot.

When I select “Drawing” in the above dialog, SolidWorks goes and gets the drawing template (*.drwdot – not *.slddrw) from that file location.

So, if I want to change the title block on all of my standard drawings, I can either change the sheet format or the drawing template, because the drawing template contains the sheet format.  Alternatively, if I want to change the arrowheads or the drafting standard – ANSI, ISO, etc. – I have to change the drawing template.

I recommend working with drawing templates to set up reusable formats such as company standards.  It’s simple – just get the drawing to look the way you want and save the template (File->SaveAs->Save As Type->Drawing Templates).  Otherwise, it’s just as easy to save the whole drawing with empty or no views to use as a standard.

Sometimes it makes sense to save the sheet format for reuse.  The best reason I can think of to save sheet formats is a need for different formats for sheet 2.  But for most Customers, saving the whole drawing with empty or no views is the shortest path to "done".

Maker infographics


I mentioned in an earlier post that I like infographics.  I decided to finish out our May-ker month with a few:

First, an oldie from years ago...3D Printing infographic 02 resized 600

Everyone is noticing our industry:

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SolidWorks + 3D Printing More Repair Parts


I’m fixing and modifying my Jeep using 3DP (3D Printing).  I made my own factory wheel center caps and I also had to fix my shifter knob.  The chrome trim ring on the shifter (manual – all Jeeps and Corvettes should be) broke.  I’m not sure when or how.  One of the tabs broke at some point.  I noticed it getting loose, but it didn’t occur to me to dig in and see if it was broken.  The trim ring finally came off in my hand.  I decided to design a replacement for myself.


I don’t have a scanner, so I had to reverse engineer a round, curvy part with calipers - not optimal.  Also, to prevent worrying too much about the cost, I set a limit.  I gave myself three tries – two misses and a final that works.  The first design didn’t quite fit.  However, it did look good and with a little sanding and shaving, I had a functional part. 

I used that version in the Jeep while I worked on the second design.  The part of the model that was really off was the snap hooks to retain the trim ring – the area that failed in the first place.

My second attempt was a laser shot … except for the snap hooks.  The they didn’t come anywhere close to working and that was baffling.  They didn’t click into place – as if they were too short.  However, the fit was so good otherwise, that even without the hooks, it stayed in place.  I called that a win – I only needed two tries not three.  Since I had budgeted three, I decided to create a custom version.  I added a thick dome to cover the decal with the shift pattern and embossed my own version of the Jeep 7-bar logo.

 jeep cap complete

By the way, why isn’t the shift pattern displayed on the dash along with the arrow for the fuel filler?  I can't text and drive, why should I have to stare at the floor and drive?  If the auto makers think I don't need it frequently enough to take up dashboard real eastate, then a sticker on the sun visor makes more sense than on the top of the shifter. 


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BUT, the new domed design didn’t fit.  After much too much time and thanks to a Dremel, I found that the clearance under the new dome was off.  I really liked my design, but I had used my three budgeted attempts.  Since I knew what was wrong and since I still needed to fix those tabs, I gave myself a mulligan. 

The fourth design fits like a glove, stays put in use thanks to a very tight fit ... and the snap hooks still don’t work (argh!).

I’ll have to disassemble more of the shifter to figure out the tabs.  But I have a working shifter replacement that I designed.  It cost way more than a replacement from the dealer or even a mass-produced after-market part.  But it’s all mine and the tech at the dealer approves.

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Drone Project (con'd)


Post by Wayne White 

We’re back.  We started this project a few weeks ago.  Next we're going to create the spur gear used on each of the 4 Drone’s rotors.

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First, activate the Toolbox, via tools, add-ins.

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Since I have a Premium license, I have access to millions of configurable standard components, fasteners, nuts bolts and bearings, etc (this is included in the top 2 tiers of Solidworks).

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The toolbox is easily configured per design standards including INCH and METRIC, etc.

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Once configured, the toolbox component (the spur gear here), has smartly created sketches. These sketches have equations specific to the size options selected upon insertion.

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Here we see the configure options, including module, number of teeth, etc. These would be your specifications straight from Machinery’s Handbook.

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In this case, the spur gear gets us most of the way there- the suppressed features are items that I configured specific to this geometry.

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In subsequent sketches, utilizing already existing part geometry where possible, I made use of convert entities and offset to capture the design intent and make it highly robust to future design changes.

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We want to add geometry and leave the subtractive operations for last as to capture the geometry in the minimum design steps as possible.

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Lastly, and a feature commonly overlooked is the ability to group features or operations into folders. Via right mouse button, I was able to clean up the design tree, smartly capturing features into groups.

Go ahead and practice with the included model set.

That’s all for now, until next time! 


Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

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Makers on Shark Tank


Earlier this month, I mentioned that there are places where Makers gather opening all over the country.  One of my favorites is NextFab Studio.


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Well, on May 11th they held a casting call for the reality TV show Shark Tank

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Even Hollywood recognizes that these Maker spaces are the “next big thing” in innovation and entrepreneurship.  So get in there and invent something (except another iPhone case, please) – and tell Mr. Wonderful I said “hello”.

Drone Design Project


Post By Wayne White

I picked up a first person image capturing device called the AR Drone 2 last week from a local retailer. Given its cool mechanical concept, coupled with the ability to take pictures with its onboard camera, I figured this would be absolutely a blast of a project to tie into Solidworks for our online blog.

I am going to dissect this piece by piece, noting tidbits of information of “to do’s” and things to avoid when designing some of these items in Solidworks. And, these posts will be geared toward Solidworks themes, not focused on improving the original design or mechanical concepts.

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First up: The blade/ rotor creation

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Given its complex bends, just how do we go about creating this?

First, you must remember, there are many ways to tackle this. But, come up with a thought process and follow it. I actually created this two different ways before I found a technique that worked ‘best’ for me.

Given the shape, I found that working with surfaces and more specifically a lofted surface would do the job. What can we do with a lofted surface that we couldn’t do with a boundary surface or sweep or fill? And why use surfaces, not solids?

In this case, the cross section changes only slightly throughout the length, and surfaces allow me to create nicer blend patches, and I can easily convert it to a solid at the end.

So, let’s define some cross sections for the loft.

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I created the cross sections as 2d sketched splines. I ran the “Fit Spline” tool to create a smoother curve after the spline was made.

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When using surfaces, it’s important to rename sketches and reference data- this only helps you later to remember the initial thought process. A slow left click or F2 will allow you to rename.

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I created both a 2d and 3d sketch as guide curves. When working with 3d sketches, you’ll want to manipulate the spline points from multiple perspectives to give the spline a 3d presence. Additionally, make special note of the spline points or handles. You can control the vector at that point, so both magnitude and direction to get that ‘perfect’ curve.

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You quickly run a lofted surface from the 2 profiles and 2 guide curves.

describe the imageWhen operating with surfaces, you’ll quickly become familiar with extend surface. This allows you to create ‘reference surfaces’ that can later be used to aid in trim functions, hopefully creating water-tight volumes.

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Creating a quick 2d sketch and extruding the surface in 2 directions gives me the terminating end condition for the surface extension on the right.

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Here we control the end condition for the end condition; we’ve affectively taken our surface and extended it and linearly cut the end of it with a specified angle.

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Mutual trim.. to prepare this for a knit surface operation.

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I used planar surface to cap the end of the left side.

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Then I created 2d geometry in space for yet another loft. This, I did on purpose. Typically your cross sections should have the same number of points- remember a loft is just an interpolation of information.

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When we loft in this manner and mirror, we’re left with something that doesn’t look good and certainly is not smooth because of the dissimilar cross sections and number of points. Let’s delete those faces and recreate them.

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Working with surfaces and solids collectively is not a problem. We’ll knit these pieces together, choosing the option ‘try to form solid’.

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We’ll create some circular bosses offset from the blade. When doing the extrude-thin on the line, we get a rebuild error- no problem. We can copy the surfaces using the Offset command and magnitude of 0, and choose the proper end condition then as ‘up to surface’.

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The final geometry…note the techniques used may not be the best design practice. However, it allows for multiple commands to be used, and exposure to some ‘solid’ surfacing techniques.

SolidWorks + 3D Printing Repair Parts


I have a Jeep.  For me this is great, because other than the Series III Defender that can be disassembled entirely with a 7/16” nut driver, it is the easiest vehicle I know of to modify (yes, I’ve owned a Beetle).  Since I have a seat of SolidWorks and an understanding of the 3D printing opportunities in the world, I have lots of things on my ToDo list.  As it turns out, I needed to fix my Jeep before I got to modify my Jeep, so I combined the two. 

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The wheel center caps have an annoying habit of popping off.  The first time, I found the center cap in my driveway before it was missed.  The second time the center cap escaped, a replacement cost me $8.  By the third time I needed a replacement 4 months later, it cost me $12.  50% increase – really?!  Another few months went by and … the dealer broke one during a flat repair.  They called me a few weeks later to pick up my free replacement.  I strolled up to the parts counter, announced my intentions and was asked for … $32!  The dealer straightened things out and I got my center cap gratis, but the prospect of having to pay $32 two or three times a year sent me in search of my calipers.

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$27 on my front porch from Shapeways ( plus a can of metallic silver spray paint I already had hanging around.  For less money than the dealer charges me, I get my own design – and I think a better one. 

One of the design issues I ran into involves the retention system. 

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The Chrysler (or American Motors or Daimler or Wall Street) design includes a snap-ring to try … TRY to hold the cap in place.  First – it desn't work or I wouldn’t be writing this.  Second, I don’t know where to procure this snap-ring.  Third, it’s difficult to reverse engineer the part to hold the ring in place.  Here’s my solution.

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Those spokes were "a flyer" figuring my first design wouldn't be exactly the right dimensions and would need tweaking anyway.  As it turns out, the part fit just right and the 1mm x 2mm spokes work just like a spring.  I assume the plastic will age and will lose tension, but it sure does snap in nicely – on the first shot!  Even if it needs improvement, the good – no great news is that I can fix it right away and it still costs $27 four months from now.

If you come up with your own solution, you can open up a shop selling customized center caps right on the Shapeways site.  Of course, you can’t use anything remotely resembling the Jeep 7-bar logo as I did for my personal use.  But, how about a soccer ball?  Tire tread? Whatever interests you.  This Maker movement is empowering.

Maker Movement


I’m sure there are many opinions on how this got started and where it is headed.  But if the personal manufacturing trend is to continue, then the information has to spread to encourage adoption by more and more people.  One of the ways this is happening is businesses aimed at the early adopters.

There are many branches to this new Maker “industry”.  One branch is setting up gathering places for like-minded people to collaborate and learn.  There are differences in the physical size of the facilities, the focus of the members, the funding, and the formality.  But they are all similar in the way they are organized.  NextFab describes it best - “a gym for Innovators”.  Like a gym, there’s a membership fee and ways to spend money on extra things like personal trainers, classes, and equipment.  I wish that, just as NextFab will take my napkin sketch and build it, I could hand my gym a P90X photo and pay someone to work-out for me. 

The granddaddy of these facilities in terms of size, funding and organization is Tech Shop.  Started by a former Myth Busters producer, the facilities are large, the amenities are many, membership is expensive, and the business has big money behind it.  With 7 locations and three more on the way, some with 15,000ft2 and what I estimate to be about a million dollars worth of equipment, you could start your own business inside one of these things.  They offer many classes, lots of materials - in short, lots of possibilities.  Their size and relatively quick growth can be attributed to some big name backers.  I already mentioned a former Myth Busters producer.  They also have support from and a facility near Ford Motor Company.  The Tech shop location is in Detroit – Allen Park – err.. Dearborn.  An executive at “Fords” (insider auto industry joke) saw Tech Shop when it was getting started in California, got support to build one near the Ford engineering facilities, and credits an increase in patent applications to the membership of Ford engineers.

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NextFab is larger than Tech Shop, but there’s only one - Philly.  I visited this facility back in 2010 before they moved to their current location and it was great then.  NextFab is tied more closely to the community than Tech Shop and has the look and feel I prefer.  They have all the bells and whistles any Maker could want.  For example, early on, they purchased 6 or 7 personal 3D printers, like MakerBot, built them, and let members test them out to see which one fit their needs so they could buy without worrying about making the wrong choice.  They also had a Z-Corp machine without powder on it, the floor, the walls, etc., so you know they are on top of everything. 

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NextFab has some ties to Fab@home and MIT’s FabLab via the founder Evan Malone.  I mention this because at the heart the Maker Movement is FabLab .  These three examples give a good picture of the category of Maker facilities as a whole.  There are larger ones like Artisan’s Asylum .  NYC Resistor calls itself a Hackerspace .  There was the first of it's kind named 3DEA in Manhattan (you already missed it). There’s a Wired magazine blogger who started his own (MindGear) in Mobile, AL, and there’s the Spark Truck that takes the whole thing on the road .

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So, you show up, sign up, take a safety course, and go to work on your dream.  These types of facilities are popping up everywhere, so there’s likely one near you.

May-ker Month


Welcome to May-ker month.  This month, we’ll start a series of posts on the DIY’ers, Makers, Hackers, and Hobbyists.  We’ll have our own projects and encourage the CADD Edge Customers out there to tell us about yours.

Makers are getting together, creating cool stuff and having a great time doing it.  If you’re proficient in SolidWorks, you’re going to become very handy - an Angel of Competence (Dilbert reference).  Even better, you have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.  In Everett Rogers’ book Diffusion of Innovations, he lays out an innovation adoption lifecycle.

12diffusion resized 60020110714211709!DiffusionOfInnovation resized 600We’re in the Early Adopters phase, but it’s moving fast.  Even Kindergartner’s are using Doodle and Utilimaker.  Just think for a moment - life with 3DP for these kids “just is”.  If you thought today’s children have it good, the next generation will have their 3D printing privilges revoked as punishment. 

Because of that, this industry is going to change things and change it in more ways than we can imagine.  Own Fed-Ex stock?  I’ll be able to download a model and print it – no shipping.  And that expectation that it is easy to get what I want will reach into everything.  “I want these wheels I designed on my new car.  Send them to your wheel printer”.

Acceptance and use of the technology spreads via social connections – said another way – word of mouth.  A few people get interested, get involved, tell two friends, then they tell two friends, and so on and so on…  Right now, there are many more people that haven’t even heard of 3D printing, additive manufacturing, or Makers than have heard of them.  There will be new names for it, new technologies, and new business models as the word of mouth spreads.  Right now, there are companies making 3D printers, offering basic 3D modeling software, providing service bureaus to print those 3D designs, and companies opening spaces for like-minded Early Adopters to get together and share.  But it will be different next week, next month, and next year.  So check back often this month to get caught up and maybe learn some new things about the industry.

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