Inventor's Easy Button (Avatech Tricks Tutorial)

28 Feb, 2007 By: Jason Dickerson

The Frame Generator makes any type of frame easy to build and change.

If Autodesk Inventor had a version of what Staples calls the Easy Button, it would be the Frame Generator tool. From building equipment guard cages, machine frames, tables and much more, this application is more than helpful and efficient. Usually when building a frame, we start with a 2D or 3D sketch. In this tip, we'll use existing geometry from an assembly to make an adaptable parametric frame.

Let's say that you just finished designing the fixture shown below and your next task is to design a stand or table for it. You could sketch, extrude and constrain each individual piece -- which we all love to do -- or you could use the Inventor Easy Button, the Frame Generator.

Start this project with the geometry of an existing fixture without base.

Create the Parametric Base Part
Start by creating a new part within the fixture assembly that is constrained on the bottom surface of the base plate. Then, project the existing geometry from the base plate for the length and width of the sketch. Then use this sketch to extrude the height of the part that represents the height of the stand you are creating shown below. By using this workflow, the stand is going to adapt to the width and length of the base plate when finished.

Finished parametric base part.

Create a New Assembly
Next, create a new assembly and insert the FRAMEBASE.IPT you just created. Change the panel bar to make the Frame Generator tools active by selecting the down arrow on the Assembly Panel and clicking on Frame Generator. Next, click on the Insert button.

Let's examine the Insert window, shown below.

Inventor's Insert dialog box.

While looking at the dialog box, begin by picking a standard, then a type or profile of the part, the size and then the Material Style and Color. You then can choose the placement of the frame members by selecting the edges; for example, a line of a 2D sketch or the edge of a solid model (which is our case) or end points. In the Orientation Section, you're presented with a 2D picture view of the profile you have selected, along with the option to pick where your frame members are going to be placed in correlation to the edge or points you selected. You also can offset it up or down, rotate it and mirror it.

For this example, select ANSI for your standard, ANSI AISC square for the type, 2x2x2x3/16" for the size and last, but not least, yellow for the color style to help you differentiate the parts you're going to create. Choose the top left-hand corner as your orientation position and always verify that you've chosen the correct position. Next, start to select the edges of the part file in the drawing window. Make sure not to close the Insert window while doing these steps.

After you've selected all 12 edges and verified the correct orientation, click OK. If you haven't saved your assembly, the program prompts you to do so before moving on. The Naming dialog box appears next so you can change the name of each Frame Member or change the saved location. Click the OK button once you are ready, and Inventor creates each member.

Once this cycle is complete, you'll see the tree populated in your browser bar with each part and each frame member in your assembly model

Select all the edges, and Inventor creates each member.

Next, turn off the visibility of the FRAMEBASE.IPT to leave the frame.

Once that is correct, turn off visibility of the FRAMEBASE.IPT to leave the frame.

Editing Made Easy
Inventor's Frame Generator has also made it easy to make changes. Let's look at all the buttons on the toolbar.

Change. Click it and a dialog box very similar to the Insert box appears and lets you change the size, among other items. You can also perform a multiple select to give you the option of updating multiple members all at once. Select OK once you are finished, and the program saves the changes.

Trim to Frame. This editing tool lets you trim overlapping frame members. First, pick the frame you want to trim to and then the frame member. You can also place offset gaps as shown below. Click Apply to trim the first selected members, then continue to select each overlapping joint as needed.

With the Trim to Frame button, you can quickly select and trim frames.

Miter Button. Select the two members that you want to place the miter between, specify an offset if needed and click OK.

Lengthen Button. You use this tool to add the extended legs to the bottom of a frame. Within this dialog box you can lengthen on one end, lengthen equally on each end or split the difference of the length on each end -- a very useful tool.

Use the Lengthen tool to automatically lengthen any sides of your frame.

Trim to Face. Use this to clean up the interior and remaining frame members. First, select the frame member you want to trim and then the face to trim it to. And, of course, add an offset value if needed.

The Final Steps
Now, you've essentially made all of the updates that were needed so your next step is to place the frame assembly back into your original assembly of the fixture and constrain it in place as shown below. Not only does it look good, but it's also parametric -- if the base of the fixture should ever change, the frame updates with it.

A few other points to remember is that the generator has created individual IPTs of each frame member so you can generate IDWs for manufacturing and also use a part list of the assembly to generate a cut list for most parts.

The finished frame is parametric.

This should give you a small idea of what you can accomplish with the Frame Generator -- a very simple but effective set of tools. Who says we can't have a few Easy Buttons in the engineering world.

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