Inventor, Excel, and Vault -- An Unbeatable Combination (Avatech Tricks Inventor Tutorial)

31 Oct, 2007 By: Rusty Belcher

Use Excel-based parameters with your Inventor assemblies and Vaults Copy Design function to create unlimited versions of your design.

Inventor and Excel are powerful applications. When you combine the two, the sky is the limit. Inventor has always worked with Excel, but the new Vault Copy Design practice presents challenges to the traditional ways of linking to spreadsheets. This "Avatech Tricks" column will outline the process of embedding Excel spreadsheet parameters into a master Inventor part or assembly. This master component is referenced by all other members of the design. After the design is vaulted, the Copy Design process lets you generate as many different versions of the original design as you like, including the spreadsheet parameters. To update the parameters of the new design, you can simply change the settings in the new master component.

Embedding Excel Parameters
The practice of linking an Inventor assembly to an external Excel spreadsheet has always presented problems for the Copy Design process. Embedding an Excel spreadsheet into a master component allows the Copy Design process to update the spreadsheet parameters along with the other members of the design. Set up the Excel spreadsheet using the usual parameter configuration rules:

  • No spaces or special characters in the parameter name (underscores are allowed)
  • Parameter values in the next adjoining cell (horizontal or vertically alignment)
  • The unit type in the next adjoining cell
  • The description in the next adjoining cell (not required, but recommended)
  • The parameter list can start anywhere in the spreadsheet (note of the first cell name)

The embedding process supports the Vaults Copy Design functionality.

Activate the Parameters command in the Master component. Choose the Link button at the bottom of the Parameters dialog box. The option to embed and the starting location of the parameter list are located at the bottom of the linking dialog box.

Link the other Members to the Master
The usual practice of linking requires that all components in the design be linked to the same external spreadsheet. When you used the embedding process, you linked all of the design members to the master component file. The linking process is exactly the same now, except you choose an Inventor part or assembly instead of a spreadsheet. When you link to another Inventor component, a dialog box displays so you can select only the parameters that are required for the member you are working on. Direct parameter linking between parts supports the Copy Design process of Vault. When the master component is changed, only affected members are versioned or updated.

The Link Parameters dialog box lets you link to the necessary parameters only, helping make this process more efficient.

Anatomy of a Spreadsheet-Driven Assembly
There are several options for setting up a spreadsheet-driven assembly using the embedding practice. Users must be aware of one major pitfall: The master component or assembly must be a lower member in the assembly structure. You can't link to an assembly file that is located above your current component in the design hierarchy. Linking the assembly and all the parts to single component in the assembly works. Linking all the parts to the main assembly doesn't. There are a number of ways to relate parts to the master component. If the master component contains features, adaptive projections can be made from other components. Adaptivity allows the design members to update along with the master component. The New Copy Object tool lets you copy adaptive surfaces from the master component. These surfaces can serve as the base feature of the new component. When the master component is updated, the surface also updates to suit. Some components in the assembly won't be linked to the master component. Content Center parts can be adjusted manually during an assembly update. Here's a possible layout of a spreadsheet-driven assembly using the embedding process. Note that this process is similar to skeletal modeling.

Adaptive projections and direct linking establish references between all members of the assembly and the master component. Content Center parts are updated manually during the assembly update.

Vault Copy Design
The embedding and part linking practice works well with the Vault Copy Design Process. The Copy Design process of Vault lets you rename the components of the new assembly. When you rename the master component, all referenced links to the new master component are updated by Vault. This updating allows the copied assembly to reference the new master component instead of the old master component. The figure below shows the Vault's Copy Design dialog box. Notice that the master component has been renamed and that all components that link to the master component have been updated to link to the new master component.

The Copy Design Process allows users to copy and rename the master component. All components that reference the master component are updated to suit.

About the Author: Rusty Belcher

Rusty Belcher

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