Thursday, June 13, 2019

Autodesk Vault Collaboration...Without Replication...?...!!!

One struggle that seems to be a consistent battle for most users is how to collaborate with people outside of their company.  At MESA, we have several customers that have been using Vault Professional and Replication to enable companies to share a common Vault.  Recently, we were asked if there is a way to collaborate with users outside the company without Vault replication by a company that is already using Vault.  One of my coworkers brought up Project Sync, which I had heard of, but not really used.  So I decided to dig into it and see what I could learn.

After setting it up Project Sync, in a test environment, I was pleased with how easy it was to use.  I ran through a couple scenarios, and saw some minor issues, but nothing that was a show stopper.  Project Sync may be a possible solution for your collaboration problems.  So I want to take this opportunity to explain how it works.

So how does this work?  Vault Professional uses the Job Processor to sync files to a Fusion 360 Team Hub.  Vault Professional folders will need to be mapped to Project Folders on a Fusion 360 Team Hub.  If a user installs the Autodesk Desktop Connector, it will sync the files in Fusion 360 Team down to their local desktop.  Then they can create an Inventor Project that uses the local folder as their workspace.  When the files have been edited, they will be synchronized back to the cloud.  Vault then can be scheduled to sync to the cloud, or users can do it on demand, again using the Job Processor.

To set this up you will need a few pieces of software:  Vault Professional, access to a Fusion 360 Team Hub, Vault Job Processor, and the Autodesk Desktop Connector.

In Vault Professional, a user with Administrator access will have to enable the Job Server.

Then the Job Processor will have to be started on a local PC.  There is some options here, some companies like to have a spare PC set up to run the Job Processor, some just allow several machines to run the Job Processor in the background. If all that is being done is some syncing of files, it should not consume a lot of resources.  The Job Processor also needs to have a Vault Account that it will use to carry out the process.  This can be any user or you can create a specific Job Processor Vault Account to carry out this process.

Once the Job Processor is started, it will be time to create the mapping between a Vault folder and a Fusion 360 Team Project Folder.  You will want to have the folder already created on Fusion 360 Team because there is not a way to create the cloud folder while you are mapping the folder.  The process is pretty straight forward.  You will create a new mapping and give it a name, I just typically name it after the folder.  You will identify the local folder and the cloud folder.  You can then enable manual syncing, allowing pushing, pulling, or bidirectional syncing, and/or set up a synchronization schedule.  For the synchronization schedule, you are not able to pick a frequency less then 8 hours.

Once the mapping is done, and the files are synchronized.  The next step is how to access them.  You do have the ability to log into the Fusion 360 Team web site and download, or upload, files manually.  However, to add another layer of ease to the process, you can install the Autodesk Desktop Connector.  This will sync files from the cloud to your local machine.  It will even create a phantom drive on your system to make it easier to find the files.

The actual location of these files is inside your User Documents folder.  I haven't found a way to change that location.  I did find a registry key that sets that location, but every time I changed it, the software changed it back.  Being able to customize that location is something I have heard a lot of users ask for.  You will notice that you actually get 3 phantom drives, because the desktop connector can work with BIM 360 Team, Fusion 360 Team, and A360 Drive.

Since I am a pretty heavy Inventor user, I also created an Inventor Project that uses the one Fusion 360 directory as the workspace.  This will allow me to work directly in that sync folder and as I save files, they will be sent to the cloud storage.

Here is a video I created that shows how to setup Project Sync

Here is a video that shows the Project Sync in Action

The process works great, except for a few minor issues.  In my testing, I ran through functions that I would normally do during a Vault class.  Everything worked as expected, except for renaming and moving files.  I tried renaming files in Vault and Fusion 360 Team.  In both scenarios, they saw the renamed file as a new file and kept the old files.  Not a huge issue, users just need to be aware that they need to clean up the files with the old names.  Moving files had a similar issue, where it sees the file in the new location as a new file and leaves the original behind.

If you are not familiar with Vault Professional, it allows you to create file Lifecycles that control who can edit files while it is a specific state.  I was not sure how syncing would work if the file was in a Released, read-only, state when I tried to manually sync an updated file from the cloud.  The file remained unchanged because it was Released and I was not permitted to change the file.  However, if I changed the file to a Work In Progress state, which allows editing, the file could be updated from the cloud.  The only issue is that I was expecting to see some error about not being able to update because the file was released, or read-only.  The software simply didn't do anything at all.  So that might cause a little confusion in an end user.

I really think that Project Sync can be used to solve some collaboration problems.  So if you are looking for a solution, perhaps this was able to open your eyes to a possible solution.  At the very least, keep this in mind for the next time your company could be starting a collaborative project with individuals outside of your company.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Inventor Unwrap Command

Before Inventor 2020 was released, I was keeping an eye on the information of the included new features and enhancements.  One in particular caught my attention, it was the Unwrap command.

I have been using, teaching, and supporting Inventor for about 14 years and one of the feature requests I hear often is for Inventor to flatten complex shapes.  Inventor has always been able to flatten out sheet metal shapes that have one directional bend, where the material is stretched, or compressed, in on direction.  Users have been wanting something that could flatten out something where the material it deformed in more than one direction.

Now we have the Unwrap command.  I was surprised to find that it is a standard 3D modeling feature, and not a sheet metal command.  It is really easy to use.  You just have to pick the faces that need flattened and the software does the rest.  There are additional selections for edges that are to remain linear or rigid edges that won't deform, which are optional.  To be honest, I am still trying to master those selections.  While in the command, or editing the feature, the flatten surface will be displayed as a mesh with a heat map.  The heat map displays areas that will be under higher stresses when forming the finished shape, like the image below.

The software will then output a surface body of the flattened faces.  It even creates a View Representation where the surface body is visible and the rest of the part is turned off.  .

This View Representation can then be used to represent the flattened part on a 2D drawing.

Here is a video that demonstrates this new feature.

This is a new feature, so I haven't had the opportunity to master it yet.  I can say that there are a few aspects of the output that I am slightly disappointed in.  For example, on a few really complex parts, holes always seem to distort.  However, I can say that this is a big step in the right direction.  I am sure that my few concerns will probably be eliminated as this feature is refined and enhanced in the future.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Autodesk Nesting Utility

Since the introduction of the Product Design and Manufacturing Collection, Autodesk has strived to offer tools that would create an end-to-end solution, providing tools to go from concept to manufacturing.  For years, Inventor has been the concept design tool, at the center of the collection.  In the last few years, Autodesk added tools to better enable users on the manufacturing side.  One of the most recent additions is the Nesting Utility.

 The Nesting Utility can go from assembly to nested layout to DXF output, in just a few moments. With Inventor HSM, also part of the Product Design and Manufacturing Collection, users then can export the nest to a 3D model and use Inventor HSM to create the tool paths for the nests. The Nesting Utility is also flexible enough to handle Sheet Metal Flat Patterns or standard Inventor parts.

Until recently, I really hadn't explored the abilities of  the Nesting Utility.  I think I watched an overview video when tool was added to the Product Design and Manufacturing Collection.  Then I had a question from a customer that prompted me to really understand how the tool works.

In this case, he has been using Inventor for all of his drafting and modeling work, but he was going to be called upon to start doing some CNC programming.  So we talked about HSM, then he said, that nesting the parts into one layout would be important for him too.  At the time, I knew that the Nesting Utility existed and worked great for sheet metal components.  However, I wasn't sure if it would handle wood, which would be the application in this case.  I had an idea how we could probably cheat the system if it only handled sheet metal, but I wanted to understand the utility first.  Much to my surprise, an update to the Nesting Utility expanded the capabilities to handle standard parts and sketch only parts.

The workflow is actually pretty straight forward, once you understand how it works.  However, the system is a little picky and you need to be aware of a few things before starting.
  • For Sheet Metal components, make sure you have generated the flat pattern, even if the component does not contain any bends.
  • For Standard Parts, the utility needs to understand the thickness of the part, this is typically figured out automatically, but can be manually configured in the IPT.
  • For Standard Parts, it can only handle one feature and not the finished shape.  So user might need to model their parts differently, if they are going to nest them.
  • I have also noticed that the Nesting Utility does not differentiate between standard and construction geometry.    It might not see closed loops because of this, and may display some components as containing errors.

To start the process, it is pretty simple.  All you have to do is open an assembly.  Then right click on the assembly in the browser, and choose "Create Nest."

This will open a dialog box, where the user needs to pick a template.

Then the Nesting Utility will display a dialog box, with a list of all the components.  I have done this on some larger assemblies and it has taken up to 30 minutes, or more, to compile the list.  So just be aware that the larger the assembly, the longer this will take.  It is most likely that every component in the assembly will not need to be in the nest, so it is possible to exclude parts by right clicking on it and choosing Delete.

At this point, clicking OK will bring all the selected components into a new nest file.

Then clicking Create will begin generating the nests.

The Nesting Utility will display a dialog showing the components and the packages, which are the individual nests.

After accepting these options, the software will display the nests.  

If the raw material is not the right size, that can be corrected in the Process Material Library.  You can also get an efficiency rating for the sheets in the nest.

One lesson I learned, when working with the wood components, is to make sure that the component spacing is greater than, or equal to, the diameter of the router bit.  If it is not, you can edit the properties of the individual nest and change the Item Separation parameter.

There are a multitude of tools to adjust the nests, but I don't want to go into all of that in this introduction.  However, there is plenty of documentation to understand those options.

The next step would be to either export a DXF or a 3D model.  The Nesting Utility exports to DXF because they are easily imported into your CAM software.  However, if you use Inventor HSM, you can export a 3D model and build your tool paths, while still in Inventor.


3D Model

Here is a video demo of the workflow.

The Nesting Utility is a great addition to the Product Design and Manufacturing Collection and should be a welcomed addition for anyone that needs to nest their components.  It is a great workflow that blends right into the CAM workflow as well.

Monday, December 10, 2018

One Man's Journey Into VR: Step 2

One technology that I have been really curious about has been Virtual Reality (VR).  I really have wanted to know how to create my own VR experiences.  One of my first blog posts was talking about how stereo-panoramas are an easy way to get started in VR.  That post has been one of my most read entries, perhaps you are as curious as I am.  Even though it has been a long time since that post, I never gave up desiring that knowledge.  I recognized that to build the skills I needed, it was going to be a long journey.

I decided to set incremental goals for myself.  After being able to create the stereo-panoramas, I figured that my next step should be to create a static environment that I could move around in.

The delay in gaining this knowledge has had several components.  First was the time to invest in learning this skill, but recently, I made the decision to dedicate time to gaining this knowledge.  Secondly, my only VR device is a Google Cardboard, which can be limiting.  Lastly, I had to find the right tool.

My first step was into Autodesk Stingray.  At the time it made the most sense, I work for an Autodesk partner and had access to the software and other resources for Stingray.  I had difficulty here because most of the reference material was for higher end devices, like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.  So I had some trouble making much progress.

After some time trying to learn Stingray, Autodesk announced that they were going to stop developing Stingray.  I think that they realized that they were not going to compete with Unreal and Unity, so it better to partner with them, than compete with them.

So at that point, I decided that I should just pick either Unity or Unreal and begin learning the tool.  I ended up picking Unity, primarily because most of the VR games I had on my phone had a Unity logo during the splash screen sequence.

Unity has a lot of great tutorials and learning resources, but what really helped me make real progress was a class from Udemy.  Udemy has a lot of classes in a wide variety of topics.  If you are not in a hurry, you can usually buy your classes during a sale.  For example, as I am typing this, there are three days left on sale where most courses are $10.99  The classes I purchases were normally $200.

I did buy several Unity courses from Udemy, but the first course has really helped.  I would recommend taking "Building Virtual Reality Games for Google Cardboard Using Unity."  You can find a link to the class here.

At this point, I have learned enough to create an environment, place a model from Inventor, and create a script that allows me to move around.  In this case, I hit the input button to start moving, and hit it again to stop.

Here is a video of the preview in the Unity Editor.

If you would like to download and try my first VR experience, you can download it here.  Please bare in mind before installing, I am only a beginner and this is only for Android.

If you are as interested in VR as I am, but don't know where to go first.  I highly recommend Unity and courses from Udemy.  I feel they have helped me make more progress in just a month than I had made in previous attempts to learn VR.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Mesh Model You Can Actually Edit

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a workflow that allowed me to actually edit a mesh derived from photos.  I was talking with someone about how Fusion 360 and ReCap Photo both have tools that allow you "clean up" mesh models, but not ever truly edit the mesh.  Then I remembered that Fusion 360 allowed me to convert mesh models to T-Splines.  However, it had to be a Quad-Mesh, at the time I didn't understand what that meant.  I also noticed that ReCap Photo would allow me to export an OBJ and an OBJ(Quad), again at the time I didn't quite understand what the difference was.  After a little bit experimenting, and research, I was able to connect a few dots that opened up a whole new workflow for me.

The key to the workflow is understand what ReCap Photo means by OBJ (Quad), and how that relates to the Mesh to T-Spline conversion in Fusion 360.  The big difference between an OBJ and an OBJ (Quad) is that an OBJ (Quad) has a rectangular mesh as opposed to the standard triangular mesh.  See the Images below, taken from Fusion 360.

OBJ Mesh

OBJ (Quad) Mesh

The difference becomes significant when using Fusion 360's Convert Utility to convert a Quad Mesh to a T-Spline.  T-Splines are shapes defined by a rectangular mesh.  So in this workflow, the Quad Mesh generated by ReCap Photo will have a direct correlation to the T-Spline mesh.  Once the conversion is done, Fusion 360 gives you a new T-Spline body, which can be edited with any of the Free Form editing tools in the Sculpt Workspace.

So how do you go about doing this?  In the rest of this blog entry, I walk through a sample workflow that starts with photos of my drone and ending in Fusion 360.

1.  Take your pictures

In ReCap Photo, you start with photos.  I always try to get 50 to 100 photos from 3 to 4 elevations around an object, and 10 to 15 in each cycle around the object.  Recently, I have had some trouble with ReCap Photo giving me very poor, unusable models.  Then I realized something, I was standing too close to the object.  I was trying to out-smart the software by keeping close to the object and not capturing too much of the environment, which would be deleted later.  From my experience, you need those environment elements to help the software piece the photographs together better.  So now I have started making a larger diameter cycle and a smaller diameter cycle around the object.  

Below are just a few of the photos I took of the drone.

2.  Use ReCap Photo to Create the 3D Model

Creating the model from the photos is pretty easy in ReCap Photo.  You just have to select if you are using photos from an object or if you are using aerial photographs, which can be part of surveying  workflows.  In my case, I am using the object preset.  There is no scaling done at this point, that is handled after the model is generated.

Here is a quick video that shows how to use ReCap Photo to create the initial 3D Model.

3.  Model Cleanup in ReCap Photo

Once the model is generated, you can download and open the model in ReCap Photo.  Most often, my first step is deleting all of the the unnecessary mesh faces.  This is done by selecting the faces and hitting Delete.  My second step is setting the scale of the model.  Since we used photos, ReCap Photo will not have any idea how big, or small, the object is.  Using a measurement that we have taken from the model, we can use the Scale tool to identify those points in the model and set that distance in the model.

There are additional  mesh cleanup tools in ReCap Photo.  You will also have some mesh cleanup tools in Fusion 360, as well.  However, you will find that most will be unusable because Fusion 360 is expecting a triangular mesh, and will not recognize faces or edges of the quad mesh. 

This video shows the common steps I take after generating the 3D model and some of the mesh cleanup tools in ReCap Photo.

4.  Exporting to Fusion 360

When you have completed the scaling and model clean up in ReCap Photo, you are ready to export to Fusion 360.  ReCap Photo offers Quick and Advanced export options.  If you use the Quick options, you can specify which Autodesk product you want to export to and ReCap Photo will choose which export option is best suited for that product.  In this case, simply choosing Fusion 360 will set the export to OBJ (Quad). 

This video shows the export capabilities of ReCap Photo.

5.  Importing to Fusion 360

Importing an OBJ (Quad) into Fusion 360 is a straight forward process.  You go to the Insert menu and select Insert Mesh.

This video shows how to import the mesh in Fusion 360.

6.  Converting the Mesh to a T-Spline

The final step is to convert the mesh to a T-Spline, so we can leverage Fusion 360's T-Spline editing capabilities.  Fusion 360 does have a utility to do this in the Sculpt workspace.  I typically start a new Freeform shape, then use the conversion tool.  You will find that you still have the mesh body in the browser.  Once the conversion is done, you have full capabilities to edit T-Spline, using the tools inside the Sculpt workspace.  

From my experience, you do get a T-Spline mesh that is too dense.  I just compensate for that by deleting some of the mesh edges/lines.  That seems to smooth out the shape and makes working with the T-Spline a little easier.

In the case of the drone model, it has two planes of symmetry.  It is unlikely that I will be able to create the symmetry on the whole model.  What seems to work in this case is deleting three-quarters of the model, then using Mirror - Duplicate twice to make it a complete model again.

This video shows how to convert the model to a T-Spline shape and use the tools in the Sculpt workspace to edit the model.

Once you break down the workflow to the individual steps, you will see that it really is pretty simple.  I really like that I can truly edit the mesh that I get from ReCap Photo, which is something beyond what the clean-up tools offer.  I hope that you can put this workflow to good use.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Animating Inventor Parameters

You may not know this, but a lot of my blog post ideas come from trying to find answers to customer questions.  Occasionally, the answer to the question is a pretty cool workflow or technique.  That is the case with this post.

Yesterday, a customer emailed me after viewing my Inventor Studio webinar.  She was working, in Inventor Studio, on an animation that showed a tool crimping two panels together.  Her idea was to have the pre and post crimped panels overlaying each other and have the one fade out, as the other one faded in.  Looking at her video it looked good, except for Inventor rendered a shadow, or something else, where the deformation occurs.  The customer wanted to know if I had any ideas on how to eliminate those shadows.

I don't typically use the component fade animation in Inventor, but I do remember a former co-worker saying that they never work right for him.  So that got me thinking about which other types of animations Inventor Studio is capable of, that might be able to accomplish this.  Obviously, the Component, Constraint, and Positional Representations were not possible because the change we needed to see was contained in one part file.  That really left me with the Parameter animation.  I knew that I could drive a flange angle with a parameter, I just wasn't sure if Inventor would allow me to animate that parameter and how smoothly the animation would play.  So I told the customer that I needed to test out an idea before I sent her in that direction.

The parts that get crimped looked like sheet metal Contour Flanges.  So I made a test part.  Then I created a cut where the the crimped sections would be.  The next step was to add Flange features in the cutouts.  I made sure to give the Flange Angle parameter a meaningful name, so I could work with it later in the animation.  Also,  I had to tweak the settings so that the new flange matched the original shape of the model.  While I was creating the flanges, I made the Bend Reliefs wide enough for me to add a Loft later to fill the gaps.  I was also a little worried about how the Lofts would animate, but I figured that I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

Before I went to the trouble to make the Lofts, to fill the gaps, I wanted to make sure the flanges would animate smoothly.  So I saved my part, placed it in a new assembly, and entered Inventor Studio.  

There are two things that you have to do to a parameter to be able to animate it in Inventor Studio.  First, it has to have Export enabled.  That just tells Inventor that it is allowed to use that parameter in operations like Derive. 

The second step is to make sure that you have picked the parameter as a Parameter Favorite.  Using the Parameter Favorites command, Inventor opens a dialog where you navigate a tree structure of your model and pick out parameters that you want to add as favorites.  

The rest of the process was easy.  I just had to use the Parameters animation command to pick the Parameter Favorite to animate, the start and end values, and the location in the timeline.  The software takes care of the rest.

In this case, the parameter animation was working great.  I just had to go back and add lofts to get the flanges to blend in with the rest of the part.  After I added the Lofts, I did discover that when the flange got close to the end of its movement, the automatic mapping on the lofts would change.  I had to turn off the Automatic Mapping on the the Lofts.

After all of that, I had a pretty good looking animation.  I will be the first to say that the Lofts are not 100% realistic to how the part would work when crimped.  However, for the animation in question, it is very unlikely anyone would notice, especially because of the viewing angle in the animation.

Here is a quick sample of the finished product.  

Introduction to Visualization in Inventor

I know it has been awhile since I have posted to this blog.  Summer has been a busy time and I have been working on many topics.  However, none of them are ready for a blog post.  I am sure they will show up here soon.  In the meantime, I presented a webinar yesterday on how to use Inventor Studio to create still and animated renderings.  It is just an introduction, but should be enough to help you get started.