Using SolidWorks' Mate References

1 Apr, 2003 By: Greg Jankowski

When creating an assembly, the means used to constrain and position assembly components is called a mate. A mate is a geometric relationship (for example, coincident, perpendicular, tangent, angle, and so on) between parts in an assembly.

A feature that helps automate the mating process is called mate references. This feature allows for the automatic constraint of assembly components and is similar in some ways to the SmartMates function. Each of these functions has its place and purpose. In general, a SmartMate can be used on any assembly component and is created on-the-fly, while a mate reference is used to pre-define commonly used mating schemes. The mate reference can pre-define all six degrees of freedom at once, while the SmartMates function only solves one reference at a time. The mate reference needs to be set up ahead of time in the part and the target assembly. This is why it is typically used in situations where process is repeated or components are often swapped out.

In the example shown in Figure 1, mate references can be defined for the optional product components (such as loaders, bucket styles, and attachmentss), and they can be dropped into the assembly and automatically mated using a mate reference.

Figure 1. Mates can be defined and automatically dropped into assemblies, such as the one shown here.

What is a Mate Reference?

A mate reference is used to pre-define a mating scheme for a part or assembly. When dragging a part or sub-assembly into an assembly with a similarly named mate reference, the component is automatically mated. SolidWorks will denote any mate references within the FeatureManager Design Tree under the Mate References folder. The example shown in Figure 2 has two mate references: Grill Frame and Speaker Insert1. If a part or sub-assembly with a similar mate reference is dragged into the assembly, the pre-defined mate pattern is used.

A part or assembly may have more than one mate reference. Typically the assembly would have more than one mate reference as different components are added to the assembly. Good candidates for mate references would include standards hardware, purchased components, or similar designed products that you frequently combine within an assembly. The mate references need to be defined prior to inserting the assembly component. If the SmartMate tool is active, the system will look for SmartMate combinations first.

The example shown in Figure 2 is a speaker assembly. This base assembly is used to define a number of other combinations of speakers, grills, and colors. The mate references have been defined in the speaker assembly for the speaker and the grill frame. The speaker (Speaker Insert) and grill frame (Grill Frame) have preexisting named mate references. There are a number of different speaker and grill designs that can be used. The assembly can be created and fully constrained by just selecting the desired combination and dragging it into the assembly.

Figure 2. This example sports two mate references: Grill Frame and Speaker Insert1.

Defining the Mate Reference

To define a mate reference in a part or an assembly, click Insert, Mate Reference. The name is added to the reference. Note that this name should be unique enough to ensure that it won't be used in the assembly for another purpose. The example shown in Figure 3 is named Grill Frame. This mate reference needs to be created in the part and the target assembly.

Once the mate reference is named, the geometry, mate type, and alignment needs to be defined for the primary, secondary, and tertiary references. Each mate reference may have up to three reference entities. All three references are required to fully constrain the component within the assembly. Only the primary reference is shown in Figure 3; the secondary and tertiary references are similar.


Figure 3. The mate above, reference named Grill Frame, can now have its mate type defined in the Primary Reference Entity.

The face name is displayed in the first field. The color shown left of that field is a visual clue to help highlight the selected feature within the part or assembly. There are different colors for the primary, secondary, and tertiary mate-reference entities.

The second field with reference entity area is used to define the mate type. The types available are Default, Coincident, Tangent, and Parallel. Typically, Default is not used. This allows the system to assume your mate type. The following list defines the explicit mate types:

  • Default positions selected faces, edges, and planes (in combination with each other or combined with a single vertex) in the manner defined by the primary, secondary, and tertiary references.

  • Coincident positions selected faces, edges, and planes (in combination with each other or combined with a single vertex) so they match (touch).
  • Tangent places the selected items in a tangent mate (at least one selection must be a cylindrical, conical, or spherical face).
  • Parallel places the selected items so they lie in the same direction and remain a constant distance apart from each other.
  • The last entry is the alignment method. It will determine which way the part will be flipped or aligned when a mate is applied. Normal, for a selected face, would be a part with a vector perpendicular and pointing away from the face. The Any alignment type should be avoided because the way the components will be aligned should be known and selected from one of the explicit alignment types (aligned or anti-aligned). The alignment types are as follows:

    • Any positions the components, either aligned or anti-aligned, based on their current position.

  • Aligned positions the components so that the normal vectors of the selected faces point in the same direction.
  • Anti-Aligned positions the components so that the normal
  • Closest positions the components depending on the condition that they can be met, aligned, or anti-aligned with the least movement.
  • Conclusion

    Mate references can be used to make the creation of an assembly faster and more efficient. If you use similar components on a regular basis and find the need to replace those components with the similar ones, consider using mate references.

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