So you need a component; perhaps a bearing solution or a motor. You need it now, but don’t need something mocked up or hokey… and you need specifications. You may not have been aware, but Autodesk Inventor® offers a great solution to your problem.
I was at a trade conference this month, and had the opportunity to chat with Douglas Korneffel, the director of technical services at Cadenas Part Solutions, who gave me a tour and discussed their solutions to these types of issues. Let’s take a look at Cadenas Part Solutions online parts catalog, see how it works, and what the company has to say about the product.
What is Part Solutions?
Preview and Selection
How exactly does FREE work?
Figure 1: The web interface for Part Solutions Catalog (a bit hard to read here)
What is Part Solutions?
Cadenas Part Solutions is an online component catalog, with 3D CAD models of just about everything you might need to get your Inventor project going. Valves, bearings, motors, dampers… and on and on. The list is pretty impressive.
The catalog is searchable over their web interface, to which Inventor offers a direct link through the ribbon:
Ribbon -> Autodesk 360 tab -> Web panel -> Supplier Content
Once selected, the user is directed to his respective vendor’s part community, such as http://autodesk.partcommunity.com where respective manufacturers' components are displayed in a web browser (see Figure 1).
The web catalog offers the following:
- Manufacturer catalogs
- Component configurations
- 3D CAD Model download
- Specification sheets
The best part is that it is certified and it is free.
Searching the catalog for a specific component can be accomplished a few different ways:
- By keyword (full text)
- By manufacturer and order number
- By manufacturer’s country
- By 3D model upload comparison (geometric 3D)
- By sketched geometry comparison (sketch 2D)
Figure 2: The query results
Keyword searching is as you might expect. You enter keywords about the component desired. Further refinement is available using the variables list to select companies and their variables, such as order number and dimensions.
Once a search is completed, the possibilities are listed by rank in terms of matching criteria, as well as manufacturer’s name, part number, and description.
Geometric 3D is where things get funky. Say you need a coupling to fit an application. You might bang out a rough solid shape to fit your application, and then upload it to Part Solutions using their online interface. Part Solutions then builds geometric criteria about the supplied solid, and searches the database for similar components that match that shape. Circular, grooves, hole through middle, etc. It then returns the list to the catalog interface just like a keyword selection. No joke.
Figure 3: Image of the live demo of the Geometric 3D comparison functionality, here shown in side-by-side comparison mode
Moreover, after you select something to preview, the interface allows you to compare your solid to selected parts in the list in a wicked little overlay. Further comparison options include various methods of visualizing the differences between the two.
Was that not enough? How about sketching your own 2D views on an interface, and have the system figure it out right there? It actually works fairly well.
Figure 4: 2D Sketch interface looking for a bracket
The results I received with this search included a T shaped floor plate, a hinge plate, and a lot of odd things that I didn’t know existed.
Neither the Geometric 3D nor the 2D Sketch searches are perfect. They do, however, show promise and can help get you onto a component when you are just not certain of the specifics.
Preview and Selection
Once a manufacturer’s part is selected from the results list, the complete configuration for that component is posted to the left with the sizes, etc.
Figure 5: The manufacturer's part configurations
Simultaneously, a dimensional preview is posted to the right, allowing users to see very clearly how the component is made up, along with dimensions related to the configurations list.
Figure 6: The dimensioned preview. This is my favorite feature in the interface.
The preview allows users to zoom in and out as well as turn on and off dimensions, hidden lines, and so on.
Once a specific configuration is selected, the 3D CAD model can be downloaded. If you are not ready to download at this time, the model stays pending in a download area for the user.
Figure 7: Component download panel
Numerous formats are available including Inventor 2013, Solid Edge, NX, Solidworks, and others; however, once in your respective parts community, the model types are filtered to your respective software vendor. For Autodesk, AutoCAD, Inventor, and DXF are available.
Korneffel discussed a nice plug-in for various vendors’ CAD applications that allows users to drop the desired component directly into their assemblies. I checked out the demo video for Part2CAD, and found that not only does it drop the components into the assembly, but they come fully constrained as well. I believe that the components also include iMates, but have not confirmed that, nor the source of the plug-in.
You can see the demo here:
How exactly does FREE work?
That’s right ladies and gents, you pay nothing to download certified components. The manufacturers pay the cost of building and maintaining the parts library. Cadenas then outfits them with an interface that the manufacturer can then use to source their own online previews and downloads. When new components come along, Cadenas adds them to the library at the cost of the manufacturer.
Manufacturers know that when looking for a new component, you may not necessarily have a loyalty with a specific vendor. It is incredibly difficult to design with null-sized components. Therefore, it’s quite beneficial to have the components sized accurately, and easily available for immediate use. Furnishing the component specification sheets is icing on the cake.
Each of the manufacturers’ components available on partsolutions.com is verified by the manufacturer. None are released to the public without the direct consent by the respective manufacturers. Once approved, the model, all its configurations, and the specifications page are uploaded to the library.
Figure 8: Assembled thrust bearings from the online catalog
Korneffel said that Cadenas goes further to ensure the quality of components, by hiring its own team of modeling experts to develop the models accurately. The team is outfitted with the best in technologies and equipment, further ensuring that the work is completed in a timely manner, and that there is no sourcing or quality control issues.
I love this capability and the ease with which I can get certified manufacturer’s components online and quickly resume my design. The certification from the manufacturer and the specifications really is a nice touch because without these, it is difficult to know if the components will actually fit, and whether the components will handle the prescribed loads.
The website is a bit awkward to navigate at times, such as when your search criteria is a bit vague. However, the company has invested a great deal in giving users as many options as possible in order to help them get what they want as fast as possible.
Hopefully more manufacturers that we often depend on, such as Timken, will join in soon as well.