Inventor In-Depth: Autodesk Inventor Features Functional Design

8 Jun, 2006 By: Kevin Schneider

Focus on the design problem instead of its geometry.

Functional design is a breakthrough approach to design and modeling. Yet the tools in Autodesk Inventor make it seem like such a no-brainer that after awhile, it seems like you've always worked this way.

Basically, tools for functional design let you move beyond simple geometric modeling to focus on ideas -- and take advantage of Autodesk Inventor to turn these ideas into intelligent models based on real-world concepts. In other words, you concentrate on the problem that you are solving rather than the geometry necessary to build a solution.

When people think of 3D design, the first thing that comes to mind is the task of modeling part geometry: sketches, extrusions, fillets and constraints. But a closer look at the elements of any piece of machinery reveals that part design is actually a small portion of the total engineering effort. You may find yourself spending more time designing systems and mechanisms: actuators, bearings, supports, piping and cabling.

Most 3D design systems are optimized to solve the problem of creating geometry. The traditional approach to 3D modeling does not provide reliable tools for solving the design or engineering problems. That's a predicament, when you think about how long it would take to model a wire harness if you had to create each of the individual geometric elements (figure 1).

Figure 1 . Modeling cable and wire harnesses is a snap with functional design tools.

The Advantage of Functional Design
Tools for functional design address the design problem by:

  • Including real-world design intelligence earlier in the design process, because design elements are active, not static; they have built-in intelligence to reflect the actual behavior of the parts they represent -- including relationship to other parts.
  • Focusing on design requirements rather than the geometric model; for example, functional design tools build torque and speed characteristics into a gear, and the drawing element knows it must interact with another gear -- it's not just a representation of a disk with a certain number of teeth and specific dimension.
  • Connecting the design problem directly to generating parts and assemblies so that parts are created from inputs such as real-world design parameters -- speed, power and material properties (figure 2).

Figure 2 . Real-life effects such as force -- rather than geometry alone -- are the parameters for functional design.

  • Integrating simulation into the workflow; functional design tools let you simulate the motion or action of a product from within the design application (figure 3).

Figure 3 . Functional design shows an object's behavior with digital simulation.

Autodesk Inventor includes a host of tools for functional design tasks such as:

  • Wire harness design
  • Tube design
  • Piping design
  • Hose design
  • Steel frame design
  • Welding design
  • Sheetmetal design
  • Motion simulation
  • Stress simulation
  • Gear design
  • Cam design
  • Bolted connection
  • Shaft design
  • Belt/chain design
  • Bearing design
  • Parts catalogs
  • Spring design
  • Spline/keyway design

Decrease the Learning Curve
Autodesk Inventor v11 was recently released with enhanced support for functional design. Here are just a few new features that make short work of the learning curve for 3D modeling:

  • Assembly configurations: New assembly configurations let you quickly define and document product families as variations from a master assembly, including excluding or substituting individual components and making changes to dimension and constraint values (figure 4).

Figure 4. Use assembly configuration tools to define product families from existing designs.

  • Sculpt tool: The new Sculpt tool lets you create 3D shapes by quickly and easily combining closed sets of surfaces. You also can incorporate imported surface data into your design and modify existing parts by adding or removing material (figure 5).

Figure 5 . Create 3D shapes and add surface data using the Sculpt tool.

  • Simulation: Simulation features in Autodesk Inventor software compute the dynamic operating conditions of your design throughout its full operating cycle, so that you can accurately size motors and actuators to sustain actual operating loads, as well as analyze the positions, velocities, accelerations and loads that affect each component of the mechanism (figure 6).

Figure 6 . New simulation capabilities do more to let you see how your design works in action.

When you increase your capabilities for functional design, you will move beyond simple geometric modeling to accomplish more with your CAD model, become more innovative and reduce or even eliminate reliance on physical prototypes.

About the Author: Kevin Schneider

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