Back in August of 2012, I posted a suggestion to the Autodesk Inventor Ideastation the idea of an Inventor Virtual Component Library. I had actually forgotten about this until recently when the post got another kudos, which alerted me via email. This got me thinking… why don’t I just use Vault Items as my Inventor Virtual Component Library?

Inventor Virtual Component

A Virtual Component within Inventor is really just a placeholder for iProperties. They contain no geometry nor do they require a file. Virtual components exist only within the Assembly but are listed within the browser and within the Bill of Materials (BOM). They are treated as other components in that you can set their iProperties, Unit of Measure, and other BOM properties.

To add an Inventor Virtual Component to your assembly start with the Create Component command. Enable Virtual Component which disables the Template and File Location options. Specify the New Component Name (how it should appear in the browser) and select the BOM Structure (if not “Normal”)

Inventor Create Virtual Component

The new component is added to the assembly but is only visible / selectable via the browser

Inventor Virtual Component In Browser

Right-click the Inventor Virtual Component within the Browser and select iProperties to make adjustments. This includes setting the Mass Properties (like Mass) which will impact the Assembly’s Mass Properties

Inventor Virtual Componenti Properties

The Inventor Virtual Component now appears with the BOM, showing the set properties

Inventor Virtual Component In BOM

Inventor Virtual Component and Vault Items

As I’m using Autodesk Vault Professional, I use Items to manage my designs and data.

Vault Loctite Item

From within Inventor while placing components you can browse / search your Vault Item Master and insert the item as an Inventor Virtual Component. What’s great here is that even if the Item has a file link it can still be placed as a Virtual Component.

Inventor Place Component From Vault

The Inventor Virtual Component is created, added to the Browser, and appears in the Assembly’s BOM.

Inventor Virtual Component In Browser 2

Inventor Virtual Components in Vault

With the assembly checked-into Vault, the Virtual Component is NOT listed with the Project Explorer view. Why? Remember, files are not generated with the creation of virtual components, meaning there is no file to check-in and view within Vault. However, when I assign items to the Assembly the Virtual Component appears in the assembly Item’s BOM

Virtual Component With Vault ITEM BOM

Looking at the virtual component item we’ll see that the assembly it was placed in is listed as a Secondary Subcomponent Associated File.This means that the item is in charge and the virtual component will never update its properties.

Virtual Component With Vault ITEM


With most good things there is always a “but…”.

We have a strict policy that if it is within the realm of possibility that geometry may be needed in the future, the component is created as an empty part file and then placed into the assembly. The iProperties are set on the part, the part checked-in, and an item created. In a sense we achieve the same as the virtual component, but with the added bonus of the ability to quickly add geometry and create the part in the future. It is not that its impossible to make the switch later, but why require the extra effort?

We, like others, have also found that the overuse of virtual components within an assembly lead to vault/item update issues. It can quickly escalate into time wasted and frustration. Because of this we limit the use of virtual components to 1 or 2 per assembly, which is typically just liquid type things like grease, Loctite, glue, etc.

In review… Pro(+) you can quickly build up items to use as your Virtual Component library. The cons (-) is that the overuse of Virtual Components within your Inventor Assemblies can lead to updating issues within Vault. You’ll have to find that happy medium between ease of use and difficulty of updating.

Feature Image photo credit: library via photopin (license)