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Tag Archives: Tips

Solid Edge Variables Spreadsheet Link

After I recently and erroneously mentioned the Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link along with ST8’s new features, I decided this would be a good time to learn how to do this myself, and find out just how well it works.

Solid Edge Variables Spreadsheet Link Process

  1. Open a spreadsheet, select a cell, and use the Copy command to copy the cell to the Clipboard.
  2. Open the Solid Edge Variables table
  3. Pick the variable value cell that you want to link.
  4. Pick Paste Link from the context menu.

The link will be applied, and the values adjusted, immediately. Refer to the following images.

Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link Copy

Basic Station offset spreadsheet: Pick, right-click, and copy.


Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link Paste

Solid Edge Variables table: Pick the cell, right-click, Paste Link.


Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link Cell Update

Solid Edge Variables Table again: note the link automatically populates in the Formula column.


Solid Edge Variables Spreadsheet Link Update

Spreadsheet update: as soon as the cell updates in the spreadsheet, Solid Edge responds accordingly.



Ok, that was freakin cool. I doubt that Siemens PLM could have made that easier, or more straight-forward. I like the instant update, and not having to save the spreadsheet first.

Massive task for Solid Edge Variables to Spreadsheet Link

Now all I have to do is stitch all this into Solid Edge.

Check out more Solid Edge CAD topics at D&M and the Solid Edge Blog.

Breaking it down – Limits and Fits in Inventor / HSM

In this article, I’ll explore a workflow for utilising the Limits / Fits tools in Inventor, to maximise the benefits of using an integrated CAM system for precision machining. To start off with though, I’m going to explain a bit about Limits / Fits for the uninitiated.


When a particular design calls for a precise fit between two components, every engineer I know usually pulls out his/her copy of Machinery’s Handbook (or Boundy) and looks up the table of Limits/Fits. Inventor has these fits built in, so as long as you know what you’re looking for, it will put the correct tolerance limits on dimensions in the drawing environment, for you, once you have specified the appropriate fit. A slightly lesser known feature, is that tolerances can be used in the modelling environment as well. These model dimensions can then be retrieved and placed on the drawing.

Limits / Fits

For those of you who may not have dealt with Limits / Fits in a CAD environment, you typically dimension the part with a nominal dimension, and then specify a tolerance by listing upper and lower limits for the specified quantity. This allows the machinist a range to work within, that ensure the correct clearance or interference between the two components, regardless of whether he/she is at the upper or lower limit.

The limits/fits that everyone uses today, were conceived a long while ago, by clever people who are now probably long dead. Their age doesn’t make them any less useful today.

Broad fits categories

  • Clearance – There is always a gap between the 2 components, regardless of whether each part sits at it’s upper or lower size limits.
  • Transitional – Depending on where each part sits between upper and lower limits, there may be a gap between the two components, they may be identical in size, or material may even need to be deformed/displaced to fit them together.
  • Interference – There is always material required to be deformed or displaced in order to get the parts to fit together.

Within those categories, sub-categories of fits are often described using descriptive names such as “Loose-Running,” “Close-Running,” or “Sliding.”

You can choose to base the fit on either the hole or the shaft, and the codes for the fit are either upper or lower case to designate this.

Now obviously, if you have a range of possible sizes for the shaft, and a range of possible sizes for the hole, then there are an infinite number of permutations between the extremes. To deal with this, we often just look at the best and worst case scenarios and decide if they are suitable.

If the hole diameter is at the upper limit, then the component (with the hole in it) has less material than one with the hole diameter at the lower limit. In other words, a bigger hole removes more material. Conversely, a shaft whose diameter is at the upper limit has more material, than one whose diameter is at the lower limit.

So we have two combinations which form the extremes of the fit between these two components. The first is the biggest possible shaft in the smallest possible hole, and the second is the smallest possible shaft in the biggest possible hole. In a clearance fit scenario, they give the smallest possible clearance, and largest possible clearance respectively. We call the first scenario the “maximum material condition,” and the second, the “minimum material condition.”


If we have, say, a pin that needs to fit into a boss, but slide in a smooth fashion and remain co-axial to a high degree of accuracy, we may choose a Close Running fit. This has corresponding codes of H8/f7 in the hole basis system, and f8/H7 in the shaft basis system.

We’ll be using the hole-basis system, which means that the nominal size lies on the lower limit of the hole diameter. Another way to think about this, is if we have a perfect hole, exactly at the nominal diameter, then we will have to remove material from the shaft to get a clearance fit.


The nominal diameter is 50mm, and the H8 limits for that size give a range of 50.000mm to 50.039mm. This means that if the finished part comes out anywhere between these values, we would consider it a “pass” and it will give the desired fit when the shaft is inserted into the hole, as long as that is within it’s acceptable range too.


The nominal diameter is 50mm, and the f7 limits for that size give a range of 49.975mm to 49.950mm.

So when the parts are assembled, you can see that there could be a maximum clearance between them of 0.089mm, and a minimum of 0.025mm, depending on where the individual components sit within their tolerance range.

So how do we represent this information in our CAD model, and how do we go about conveying this information to the machinist you ask? Good question, I’m glad you asked….

Well, the way it has generally been done for as long as I know of, is that components are usually modelled or drawn at the nominal size. Tolerance notes are then added to the dimensions on the drawing, to show the machinist the acceptable range for dimensions of the finished component.

Toleranced DimensionAn example of a nominal diameter dimension with a fit code, and size limits

This is all well and good if the machinist is making this component by hand, and can adjust the size to suit, but what if we want to control a CNC machine using the modelled part? We can’t just toolpath everything at exact size, otherwise fits won’t work. Sometimes CNC operators adjust the offset parameters in the machine control to cut slightly bigger or smaller, but this is not a very good way to manage things. Even worse is hand-editing the machine code, as it gives opportunity for error and is slow.

A skilled machinist can definitely achieve very high accuracy on manual machines, but usually it is a case of removing material until close to size, and then taking a series of small cuts, with measurements in between, until the finished size is reached.

With CNC machines, this is not an easy or efficient process to use, as you have to wait for the program to complete, then create new code or make adjustments, before starting a program again. A much nicer way to work, is to have a good program, that you know will produce a part of the required dimensions.

So how do we create a model that can be toolpathed to give exactly the required result?

This is where the fun stuff starts. In Inventor, when you specify a value for a parameter, you can click the little arrow to the right side of the input box and select “Tolerance.” This will bring up a dialog that allows you to add tolerance information to the parameter.

Inventor Tolerance SettingsThe tolerance settings for an Inventor Parameter

By changing the “Evaluated Size” you can change where in the tolerance range, the actual model sits. You have 4 options, shown below.

Inventor Tolerance DialogThe tolerance dialog – What the various options do

So you can have the model represent either the maximum material condition, minimum material condition, nominal size, or half way between upper and lower limits. This gives a great deal of flexibility for use in the CAM environment (Inventor HSM), but also for visualising the fits, which I’ll show in more detail below.

When creating the CAM program, the software uses the actual geometry of the solid, to calculate the toolpaths. If you model it at the nominal diameter, then the CNC machine will machine it to close to the nominal diameter. I say close because all machines have some degree of error.

If however, you pick a tolerance that is at least twice the known potential machine error, then by selecting the “Median” value for the “Evaluated Size” option in the tolerance box, your finished part should end up within tolerance, because the toolpath will be calculated on the median value.

To illustrate what I mean, have a look at shaft diameter in the model, with each of the “Evaluated Size” settings selected:

Options to give maximum material conditionUpper Limit (Click to zoom) Options to give median material conditionMedian (Click to zoom) Options to give Minimum Material ConditionLower Limit (Click to zoom)

Proving it out

To prove it out, I created the following turning toolpath in HSM, with the “Evaluated Size” option in the model set to “Lower Limit.”

Turning Toolpath

I then posted the code and inspected the X-axis coordinate of the final cutting pass (i.e. the finished diameter.)

G-Code Example

I hope this has given you some ideas for utilising the Inventor tolerance capabilities in a machining context. I think it’s a really neat way to keep the manufacturing information inside the CAD model, and helps to create a richer digital representation of the component that is being manufactured.

Until next time…

Vault: Unresponsive ADMS Console Tip

For some reason, My local Vault decided to go wonky this morning, and after 2 restarts and no response form the Autodesk Data Management Server console I started searching for some help. I came up with this great tip for dealing with a laggy ADMS console.

If ADMS just seems to halt on load, or even after you try to pick anything in the console navigation, try the following settings:

  1. Start the Registry Editor REGEDIT.
  2. Find this key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control
  3. Find the ServicesPipeTimeout If it does not exist (as it did not in mine), then you need to add it. DWORD value (32 bit) named “ServicesPipeTimeout”.
  4. Change the decimal value of that entry to be 120000. Pick OK, and close the editor.
  5. Start the Services Manager (msc) and navigate to Autodesk Data Management Job Dispatch service.
  6. Change the startup type to Automatic (Delayed Start).
  7. Restart the machine.

When I restarted, ADMS was fine.

I have not completely researched the how’s and why’s of this edit procedure, and why it worked on my machine, but I suspect that there is a very slow-to-start service on my local machine that ADMS is dependent on. ADMS is likely timing out waiting for it, and after that, everything else fails.

Having a Vault guru on the team is great, but sometimes I have to let him sleep and take care of little research like this on my own. I hope this helps someone else.



Big thanks to Bob Felton for the post titled “How to solve a very slow Start up of ADMS Console on the Vault Server“, at IMAGINiT. You can read it here:

Document. All. The. Things.

I recently saw an opportunity to join one of the UK’s leading Autodesk Platinum resellers, Graitec and the sudden move jogged me into thinking about the tools I have created in my two-year tenure at my current post of CAD Engineer at Matrix Precision Engineering Ltd. based in Thatcham, UK.

In particular, it forced me to begin the sometimes-onerous task of documenting the tools I created along the way. This led me to tweeting the following:

A week or so passed and there followed another tweet this time regarding the AUGI survey results due to be published shortly in their “Hotnews” segment:

By this time, I was neck-deep in writing several documents that (I hope) will guide my soon to be ex-colleagues in using the tools I built and, coupled with the series of replies that followed the latest tweet above, the whole situation got me thinking about this post.

When is the best time to start writing documentation/processes and procedures?

For me, documenting the software I’ve written has up until now been a “For my eyes only” approach; wherein I document or more accurately comment the code as needed and do no more than that. As I prepared to leave my previous post (prior to joining Matrix), many of the tools/processes I had created were already out of use, primarily because the project they had been used upon had ended. This time around, the team I am leaving is in the infancy of getting to grips with helping their client understand exactly how they need to use Inventor/Vault Professional alongside their existing legacy data.

This leaves me with a challenge I hadn’t expected to face when I wrote the four main pieces of software, that I now find myself some 75% of the way through writing guides for:

What’s the best way to write a document about something I created, when my intimate knowledge of the subject could lead to many oversights/omissions in the documentation, based on assumed knowledge about a template/pre-requisite?

On this occasion, owing to the fact that we’ve been writing a document aimed at which capturing every intricacy we have encountered on behalf of the clients’ dataset, I chose to use Microsoft Word, stored in an instance of Autodesk Vault Professional 2014.

Whilst it seems on the surface to be a good match, there are multiple issues with doing it this way, not-least the fact that none of my colleagues can see what I’ve added to the file until I either check it back into the Vault or email a copy round for people to make their own notes on. In future, I think I would prefer to use Microsoft SharePoint, as it allows a more collaborative approach not available in Autodesk Vault.

In addition, everyone has their own style when it comes to writing documents of this type, so here are my top tips for writing the best documentation you can:

Is it simply code or a workflow involving multiple steps?

The reason for this differentiation is that if all you have created is (for instance) an Inventor iLogic rule, chances are the complexity of said rule will be such that anyone with a competent understanding of iLogic, should be able to figure out what it is doing based on the minimal amount of comments within the code. This of course depends on the person writing the iLogic using a Really Obvious Code (ROC) approach.

If your creation is more than simply iLogic, there comes a point where commenting the code is not going to get the necessary level of understanding from your audience for them to be able to use the tool in your absence. The technical nature of your workflow determines when and where exactly you reach this point.

When the workflow is:

  1. get external iLogic rule from Vault
  2. open file (assembly or part)
  3. add external rule to Inventor
  4. run rule

I would say there is little need to document these steps over and above a single page of A4.

If however, the above iLogic example were to rely on other pre-requisites such as Microsoft Excel templates and an understanding of (in our case) the clients’ parts list numbering schema, then there is a benefit to the team in documenting the workflow in its entirety.

Treat the audience as if they are new staff

Unless you’re prone to showing off during your workflow creation, there will be very few staff who will have any idea what the workflow you have created is capable of doing, let alone how it is doing what it does. My advice is to take a view that although the team member using the new process will be competent in their main role/software (in this case, Inventor) anything you have created will be completely new to them.

My current example of this is for a workflow I created that takes a folder structure based on pdf file names, pairs it with an Excel spreadsheet containing the relevant metadata, then builds an Inventor assembly that matches the structure. I quickly figured out a number of steps required to get the data in a useful format, and rename the files (sometimes 1000+) for each project.

What I had overlooked was exactly what tools and pre-requisites I had been using as part of this workflow, it having been some time since I had first installed them. The first draft of my document had skipped over these details because these tools were so ingrained to me that they had become second nature to make it all work.

Ask a colleague to use the workflow (and accompanying guide) on their workstation

This may not always be possible as your office might not have anyone spare to test the documentation, but for the sake of your team, I believe this step is necessary if you are determined to have a robust, user-friendly guide that covers every step required to carry out the workflow correctly.

In the event that you are not able to have someone test the workflow, there are a number of potential solutions available. These range in complexity from simply asking one of your co-workers to swap desks for a period (whilst you complete the guide), to creating a temporary user account on your current workstation (mild difficulty), to setting up a virtual machine on your workstation. Obviously, the last option is fraught with its own issues, but I truly feel all these steps are worthwhile in the long term; especially if you wish to avoid a phone call in x number of months after you departed the company asking you why workflow/tool x has stopped working.

Get to know the tools and document why you used them

Revisiting the software that forms part of the workflow I had been documenting; it is important to note that although the help guides for most software will be comprehensive, it is best to leave nothing to chance. Where possible it helps to explain some of the underlying uses of the technology/techniques you have used, to help the user better understand how it all works. This extra information will aid the team should something change down the line.

The best example I have for this is Regular Expression.

Google defines Regular Expression as:

regular expression

An example of a simple regular expression (regex) is:

Wherein the “.” Signifies any single character and the “*” matches the previous character zero or more times.

If your workflow finds you needing to work with any kind of text string, be it file names, drawing numbers, or other metadata that contains multiple pieces of information, regex is just the ticket.

As part of my workflow I had a file name that also included the Assembly level of that file:

1-1 DWG-NUMBER Sheet-Number Issue-Number.pdf

Regular expression let me remove the first part with the following simple match:

Wherein the match can be broken down by the site as:


This returns the following match information:


Which as you can see gives us the correctly named .pdf file (Match 2 above)

In the workflow I have been documenting, regex is useful in both Microsoft Excel (with the addition of the Regex Find Replace Addin) and in the Bulk Rename Utility <- a tool which does exactly as the name suggests.

The addition of extra information such as this makes any user guide so much more useful than simply saying “insert this into this cell and hit enter”, as it builds a level of understanding with the user of said guide that is otherwise not available.

This understanding is useful for future situations not already covered by the workflow or workflows you leant your skills to help create.


If I were to boil these points down into a simple list it would be:

  1. Make documenting your workflows/tools part of your team’s standard procedure list
  2. If your workflow involves a software tool you created, assuming you have followed a ROC approach, there should be little need for excessive explanation
  3. If you make use of a particular technique or piece of software (in this case regex) as part of the workflow, it will help if you explain in detail how and why you used it
  4. Have a colleague test the workflow using your documentation when you are finished; it will help highlight any areas that need further explanation/detail

If this experience has taught me anything it’s that I should always practice what I preach. I hadn’t really given the documentation a moment’s thought before deciding to move to my new job. Having to write documentation for workflows I knew intimately, forced me to consider in great detail all of the steps I had gotten so used to using along the way, and thanks to my (ex) colleagues’ feedback, there now exists a comprehensive guide for each of the most-useful workflows I have left behind.

Writing all of these points down will hopefully serve as a useful reminder to both myself and you the reader in future.

Solid Edge: Component Reference Visibility

While working within an assembly in Siemens Solid Edge, I often bind component coordinate systems together. In many cases you cannot do this if you cannot see the coordinate system base marker in order to select it. I found it quite annoying at first, trying to determine how to turn on the visibility of reference features such as planes of origin, coordinate system markers, and so forth. How complex should it be?

The reason that you have to take an extra step is because Solid Edge gives you the capability to show and hide almost anything from a single location.

Show/Hide Component

This is the command that allow users to turn on the visibility of almost anything inside a selected component file or files.

Solid Edge Show Hide Component Visibility

Select the component, and then pick Show/Hide Component… from the right-click context menu.

Solid Edge Show Hide Component Dialog

The image above shows the dialog; the list of items that users can turn on and off are as follows:

  • Reference Planes
  • Sketches
  • Coordinate Systems
  • Reference Axes
  • Surfaces
  • Curves
  • Centerlines
  • Live Sections
  • PMI Dimensions
  • PMI Annotations
  • The Design Body




In this example I turned on the Coordinate System for the selected shaft, and it appears in the image below.

Siemens Solid Edge Hide Show Components

Keep checking back with us. Much more Solid Edge to come.

Are your Autodesk Inventor Drawing views moving on your sheet?

Autodesk Inventor Drawing Views moved position Over the years, both myself and most of my colleagues or staff I’ve had working for me, have suffered with Inventor allowing drawing views to ‘float’ across the drawing sheet as if they have a mind of their own. The effect of this phenomenon is misaligned sections and detail views… as well as their respective dimensions and annotations becoming ‘sick’. There is a way to stop this from happening, however, frustratingly there has been a policy at Autodesk to keep legacy settings as the default settings, so as to not upset the established users. This policy even applies when it makes A LOT more sense to use the new setting instead.

Inventor View Justification

The setting under focus in this post, is the View Justification option within the Drawing tab of Application Options.Inventor Drawing View Fixed CenteredIt’s best if you set this before creating any drawings within Inventor. Otherwise each view you place will take on this setting. However, if you haven’t and you have a particularly important drawing in a bit of a state, then there is a workaround which will allow you to rectify the situation. Check out the video below for further details.


@%#&! Autodesk Vault just overwrote my file

Autodesk Vault is a great PDM product most of the time, but it can turn around and bite you if you aren’t careful or inexperienced. Scott shares some techniques he’s discovered during the heat of battle to help with recovering overwritten files within Windows Explorer for the two most common CAD operating systems of the moment, Windows 7 & Windows 8.1. Continue Reading

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