Avatech Tricks: Providing Flat Patterns to Manufacturing

7 Dec, 2006 By: Bill Graham

Export to CAM packages in a versatile format.

At the end of the design process, the final step is passing the proper information to manufacturing. Sheet-metal parts typically begin the manufacturing process as a profile passed to some form of CNC machine. Whether your CNC machine is a laser or plasma torch, you probably pass the data to the CAM package electronically via a DXF or DWG file. Autodesk Inventor 11 provides you with the ability to change or delete layers as needed,giving your CAM system only the information it requires.

Saving from the Modeling Environment
Flat patterns can be passed directly from the part environment within Inventor. This allows you to pass profiles to manufacturing before drawing files have been completed. Simply right-click on the flat pattern in the Browser Panel and select Save Copy As from the drop-down menu.

To begin, right-click on the flat pattern in the Browser Panel and select Save Copy As from the drop-down menu.

You will see a dialog box that gives you the option to save the file as a SAT, DWG or DXF. In this exercise, we are going to save the file as a DXF. The DXF file format is recognized by most CAM packages, making it a versatile file format for exporting.

Configuring Output
Once you have selected the file type you want to export, select the Options button to refine the format of your file. This opens a dialog box with two screens. The first screen is broken into three sections.

Select Options and two screens come up. In the first one, you can save setting changes to a configuration file, select the release format to save to and choose postprocessing options.

The first section lets you save any setting changes to a configuration file (we'll revisit this file shortly). The second section is for selecting the release format you wish to save the file to. Selecting the AutoCAD R12/LT 2 DXF option is best for older CAM systems that may not read newer versions of the DXF format. The last section on this screen provides postprocessing options for your DXF. If you select Pack and Go, the output file is zipped. If you select Customize DWG/DXF, you have the option to browse for a XML file that maps the layers from Inventor to DXF format. Note the location of the available XML files and browse to their location. By default, you can view the XML file using Microsoft Internet Explorer. Instructions for formatting the XML file are found at the beginning of the default FLATPATTERN.XMP file loaded with the software.

View the XML file using Microsoft Internet Explorer and edit using a variety of word processors, such as Notepad.

This file can be edited to change the name of a layer or delete a layer altogether. XML files can be edited using a variety of available editors, or even Notepad. If you use Notepad, be careful to follow the format of the example XML exactly. Once you have provided the proper XML file, you can proceed to the next screen by selecting Next at the bottom of the dialog box.

Saving Configurations
The second screen is devoted primarily to how data is transferred from your drawing files. Options are provided to allow you to indicate which sheets are saved from a drawing and how they are transferred to model space or a layout within AutoCAD. Because we are saving profiles from the modeling environment, we can ignore most of these options. Save Configuration is the only option that needs to be used on this screen.

Save file as a configuration file so that you can reuse the file at a later date.

This allows you to save your hard work in a file that can be imported the next time we save a DXF. The file can be loaded on the first screen, as seen earlier in this article.

Saving Time
Deadlines continue to compress the amount of time engineering and manufacturing personnel are allowed to spend working on a project. Simplifying the process by which they exchange data is crucial to maintaining speed and accuracy. Using the process listed above, you should be able to quickly pass sheet-metal profiles downstream without reworking the file. With minimal time invested up front, you can save yourself a tremendous amount of time when postprocessing profiles.

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