Set Your Design in Motion

15 Oct, 2004 By: Greg Jankowski Cadalyst

Use SolidWorks Animator to improve design reviews, product presentations, and more

SolidWorks Animator is an add-on product to SolidWorks and is included with SolidWorks Office and SolidWorks Office Professional. You use Animator to create time-based, animated visualizations of your design, showing an assembly in different orientations, configurations, and exploded views. You can then use your animations to enhance design reviews, product and customer presentations, and assembly and manufacturing instructions.

A well-defined and constrained animation can serve as a virtual prototype of an assembly. It can help you analyze and evaluate movement, interference, assembly instructions, and parts manuals. In this article I'll lead you through the steps for using Animator to bring your design drawings to life.

The Interface
The Animator utility displays a new tab in the SolidWorks graphics area. By default, the first animation is named Animation1. You can have more than one animation within an assembly. The elements of the Animator interface are as follows (figure 1):

Figure 1. The SolidWorks Animator interface.
a Toolbar Controls the animation (Start, Stop, Save as AVI, Animation Wizard, and Timeline Zoom Control). Zoom in/out buttons on the right side expand or contract the scale of the timeline.
b Timeline Displays the animation time, shown in seconds. The type and length of an event are shown below the corresponding time.
c Timebar Position this to view the animation at that time or set a time for editing. You can select the Timebar and drag it to a desired time or move it manually to view the animation.
d View Orientation When you create the animation, the current view orientation is used as the starting point for the simulation. You can insert additional view orientations at desired points during the animation by unlocking View Orientation, changing the orientation, and moving the Timebar to the new time. To lock or unlock View Orientation, select the View Orientation icon, right-click, and select Lock or Unlock.
e Simulation Shows the simulation that you added to the animation. Changebars display for the simulation and for the components affected by the simulation. The system creates the gray key point while it drives the component, and you can't perform further actions on the component until the simulation is complete.
f Component Details Each assembly component holds the different actions you can apply: movement, explode, and appearance. Expand (+) the animation tree to see the Move, Explode, and Appearance animation objects.
g Change Bars These horizontal lines connect key points to show the duration of the animation element.
h Key Point A black Key Point indicates a view orientation or simulation sequence.
j Key Point A blue Key Point indicates a component or mate element.
k Key Point A gray Key Point indicates a suppressed or motion-related sequence.

Animation Elements
The main actions you can add to produce an animation are as follows:

Animation Wizard Use the Animation Wizard (figure 2) to rotate, explode, or collapse a predefined exploded view or add a predefined physical simulation to the animation. You can import only one physical simulation into an animation.
Mates You can modify distance and angular mates between two timeframes to simulate precise assembly movement. Using distance and angle mates for parts that move in real life let you create precise motion studies and animations of that real-life movement.
Appearance Use Appearance to show or hide a component or change the assembly components' transparency or material color during the animation.
View Orientation Add new view orientations by unlocking the setting, as described above, and defining the new view orientation. Lock the view orientation or it changes with each new animation sequence.

Figure 2. The Animation Wizard dialog box.

When you place the mouse over a key point, a quick tip displays to indicate the state of the component at that time and what has changed after time 0 (figure 3).

Figure 3. Quick tips tell you what's occurring at a given point in the animation.

Use the Animation Wizard (figure 4) to rotate, explode, collapse, or add a simulation to the animation. Explode, Collapse, and Physical Simulation are predefined within SolidWorks. Rotate Model creates a rotation sequence.

Figure 4. Use the Animation Wizard to choose what type of animation you want to add.

Change the Animation
When you create an animation, you can add, change, or remove an action or sequence of actions. To change or move an action, select the corresponding key point and drag it to a new time. You can select key points individually or as a sequence using the standard Windows conventions -- , , and box select.

To start the new animation sequence, move the timebar to the desired starting location, right-click, and select Place. This places a key point at the indicated start position. Move the Timebar to the ending time to make the changes display.

To remove an action or sequence, select key points and delete.

To change how the animation transitions from one sequence to the next, select the final key point in a sequence, right-click, and select Interpolation Modes. Now you can specify one of the transition options: Linear, Snap, Ease In, Ease Out, or Ease In/Ease Out.

To play and review the animation, use the Toolbar Play and Looping controls or, as described previously, drag the Timebar to the desired starting time in the animation.

An Example
I created the following animation sequence using the features described above. Each image below illustrates a step in the process.

Step 1. Select the Animation1 tab to start the animation. The current view orientation becomes the starting point for the animation.

Step 2. Move the Timebar to 2 seconds and use the Physical Simulation option in the Animation Wizard to import an existing simulation that shows the gears spinning.

Step 3. Move the Timebar to 4 seconds and the hidden bearing displays (at 2-3 seconds) and both bearings become transparent at 4 seconds. Change the view orientation at the end of the sequence to zoom in on the bearings.

Step 4. Move the Timebar to 6 seconds and use the Explode option in the Animation Wizard to import a predefined exploded view. The exploded animation will play for 2 seconds. If you're not sure how to set up a predefined exploded view, go to the Help menu.

Step 5. Move the Timebar to 8 seconds and use the Collapse option in the Animation Wizard to import another predefined exploded view. The collapsed animation plays for 2 seconds.

Step 6. Move the Timebar to 9 seconds and change the distance mate to show a change from 0 to 11mm. The animation plays for 1 second.

Export Your Animation
Once you complete an animation, you can export it to an AVI file or replay it within eDrawings.

Call on SolidWorks Animator next time you want a better way to communicate your designs, this way you can continue to use information you've already defined within the assembly.

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