If you’ve ever tried copying and reusing an Autodesk Inventor® assembly, you know that it can be a fiddly job. However, if you know in advance that you will want to create an assembly that has many variations in size and shape—Autodesk Inventor’s iCopy tool could be just what you need.
The iCopy tool uses adaptivity and skeletal modeling to automate the process of copying and positioning similar components within an assembly.
This exercise demonstrates how to use iCopy to create an adaptive sheet metal cladding panel.
Note: iCopy is a new tool that was added to Inventor as an Autodesk Labs plugin for Inventor 2010. Beginning with Inventor 2011, iCopy is included in the program.
iCopy vs. iAssembly
iCopy is different from an iAssembly, in that the iCopy tool creates infinite sizes of a design from a template Assembly. An iAssembly is usually used to create a number of variations controlled by a master table.
iCopy assemblies are used in conjunction with a skeleton part (much like the Frame Generator).
The iCopy Assembly is referenced to the skeleton part using Autodesk Inventor’s adaptivity feature and will update when the skeleton part updates.
iCopy can also be used to automate adding patterns of Assemblies, like rungs on a ladder or curtain walling panels.
iCopy handles the creation and naming of the new assembly file and all its component parts. Unfortunately, there is currently no option to choose how the iCopy tool handles the file name increments
An iCopy assembly is best used when the shape of the design is likely to change rather than the configuration.
Note: There is no reason why iAssemblies and iCopy couldn’t be used in conjunction with each other (although the thought is pretty mind boggling!).
The iCopy Ingredients List
To create and use iCopy assemblies, you will need:
- An iCopy Template assembly
- A Host assembly, containing a Skeleton part
Creating the iCopy template assembly
An iCopy template assembly contains an adaptive master part file, which contains an under-constrained adaptive sketch.
This sketch will be derived into every part in the iCopy assembly that needs to adapt. This technique is called Skeletal Modeling (not to be confused with the skeleton part).
When placed, the sketch will adapt to suit the skeleton part. As the skeleton part resizes, the sketch will resize and all the parts referencing the Master sketch will also be resized.
What is Adaptivity?
Adaptivity allows parts which include under constrained sketches or features to adapt to suit other parts within the context of an assembly.
Creating the Master Part
Create a new part and save it as ‘Panel Master.ipt’.
Note: Make sure that Constraint Persistence is toggled off, or hold down the CTRL key as you sketch.
In the default sketch on the XY plane, project the centre point into the sketch, and sketch out a rectangle.
Constrain the one corner of the rectangle to the centre.
No other constraints are required.
Figure 1: The under-constrained master sketch.
Finish the sketch. Now right-click on the sketch and choose Adaptive, then save the file.
Great! That’s the first step done.
Tip: You can add temporary Dimension constraints to your sketch to size it, but remember to delete them before we get to the next step.
Creating the iCopy Template Assembly
Create a new assembly, and save it as ‘iCopy Panel Assembly.iam’.
Place the Panel Master.ipt into the iCopy Panel Assembly.iam.
For the iCopy tool to work correctly, the Master Part needs to be constrained to the origin and grounded. A quick way to do this is using the Ground and Root tool:
Assembly Tab > Productivity Panel > Ground and Root
Finally, right-click on the part and chose Adaptive, then save the file.
Figure 2: Right-click for adaptive.
Note: It is very important that both the under-constrained master sketch and the part itself are marked as Adaptive.
Preparing to Test the iCopy Template Assembly
“What?” I hear you cry. “Are we ready to test this already!?”
Yes, we are. Testing at this stage lets you know you’ve got the adaptivity correct before you go building a hundred parts into your iCopy Template assembly!
The more complicated your master sketch is, the more important this testing stage is.
Turning the Assembly into an iCopy Template Assembly
With the iCopy Panel Assembly.iam open, fire up the iCopy Author tool:
Manage Tab > Author Panel > iCopy Author
Figure 3: iCopy Author
The iCopy Author tool will prompt you for a ‘Layout Part’. Pick your Panel Master.ipt.
You will notice that the Geometry tab and the parameters tab are now available.
Pick the geometry tab. The geometry tab allows you to pick and name control points that you will use later when placing your iCopy assembly into your project.
Use the Point column to pick the corner sketch points from the sketch in the Panel Master.ipt.
Use the Label column to give each point a name, number, or description that will help you remember the order in which the control points should be placed.
Figure 4: iCopy Author, Geometry tab.
Note: The Parameters tab can be used to make your custom parameters available when the iCopy Assembly is being placed.
Save your brand new iCopy Template Assembly. We are done with that stage, and we are ready to test!
Testing the iCopy Template Assembly
To test your iCopy Template Assembly you will need a host Assembly, which contains a skeleton part.
The skeleton part simply needs to be a part containing a solid, sketch, or work feature that you want to use to host your iCopy Assembly.
Note: The Autodesk Labs iCopy plugin for Inventor 2010 requires a Work Point in the host assemblies’ skeleton part for each control point in the iCopy Assembly.
From 2011 onward you can use any point or corner feature on your skeleton part.
Inserting an iCopy Assembly
Once you have your test rig all set up, fire up the iCopy ‘Insert’ tool:
Assemble Tab > Component panel > iCopy
Figure 5: iCopy insert
You will be prompted to pick your iCopy assembly. Browse for and pick your gleaming new iCopy Panel Assembly.iam.
Pick control points on your skeleton part as directed in your Instructions.
Did your iCopy Assembly behave how you expected? Great! You’ve mastered the hardest part of the procedure. The rest is icing.
Tip: You can create a copy of your iCopy Template assembly at this stage to use as the basis for future iCopy designs.
Icing Your iCopy Assembly
So you’ve created an iCopy Assembly containing a single part which contains a sketch that adapts to suit a skeleton part in the host assembly.
But you want more, huh?
Well, the next step is to add in all the other parts we want in our iCopy Assembly.
We can add two kinds of parts to our iCopy assembly. We can add regular parts that aren’t designed to adapt with the assembly. These can be simply added to our iCopy template assembly and constrained into position.
We can also use the Skeletal modeling technique to add parts that will adapt with the Master sketch.
What is Skeletal Modeling?
Skeletal modeling is a technique which uses Inventor’s ‘Derive’ tools to create relationships between Parameters, Geometry, and Features in separate part files.
With this technique a master part file can be created that controls the features in any number of ‘Derived’ part files.
Creating Parts for Your iCopy Assembly
Typically, when using the skeletal modeling technique I will start by adding some extra information to my master part.
• First I’ll add in some custom parameters for my critical dimensions.
• Next I’ll add in some work geometry and features, which will host my sketches.
• Finally I’ll add sketches that I will use to create my parts.
All the geometry I need to create every part is contained within the Master Part, as if the entire assembly is to be built inside one part file. This is an essential concept in skeletal modeling.
As each part is created, its position in space will be defined by the geometry that created it. We don’t need to use constraints to hold the Assembly together (Woot!).
Creating the Derived Panel
- Open your Panel Master.ipt.
- Click on the ‘Make Part’ tool: Manage Tab > layout Panel > Make Part. This will open the Make parts dialog.
- Make sure that your Master sketch is selected in the Status tree.
- Click on the folder icon at the end of the ‘New File location’ box.
- Name your part ‘Panel.ipt’ and choose where to save it.
- Choose the ‘Sheet Metal.ipt’ template and check the box marked ‘Place part in target assembly’.
- This time click on the folder icon at the end of the ‘New File Location’ box.
- Pick No and browse to the iCopy Panel Assembly.iam that we created earlier.
- Hit the OK button to see your iCopy Panel Assembly.iam magically open with your new derived part contained within.
Figure 6: The Make Part dialog.
The Make Part Tool provides a quick and easy way of creating parts that contain derived features.
Notice that the part you have created has already been inserted relative to the origin and grounded.
Note: Although the new part appears in the assembly, it hasn’t yet been created on disk. Hit save now to write the new file out.
Adding Features to the Part
Open the Panel.ipt part file up for edit. You can see that it contains geometry referenced from the master part. We will use this geometry to build our part features.
Because the part is built on geometry referenced from the master part, if the master part changes this part will change, too. This is important, because our master part is going to adapt when we use iCopy to place it into the host assembly.
Note: Reference geometry cannot be edited from within the derived part file. You have to go back to the master part file to edit the geometry, and then use the ‘Update’ tool to update the geometry in the derived part.
I’ve use Inventor’s sheet metal tools to build up the face panel, but I won’t go into sheet metal any further here. We’ll save that for another time.
Creating More Parts
If you wish to add more parts to your iCopy assembly, you don’t need to use the Make Part tool every time. Just copy the derived part, rename, and edit it before inserting it into the assembly and grounding it at the origin.
Testing the Assembly
Now is a good time to test your iCopy Template assembly.
Edit the geometry in the master part file. Go back to the assembly and hit the ‘Update’ button (you may need to hit the update button twice).
All the parts in your assembly should update to suit your master part.
The great thing about Skeletal modeling is: No constraints = No Constraints to Fail!
Bonza! You’re doing great.
Don’t forget Your BOM
If everything is working out in your assembly, it is good time to get your BOM in order. Set up the BOM how you like it and test that all is well before you create multiple copies of your assembly.
Tip: Don’t forget to set the BOM property of your master part to Phantom. You can make your master part invisible within the context of your iCopy template assembly file.
Preparing the Assembly for iCopy (again)
Now is a good time to decide whether you want to have additional functionality in your iCopy assembly.
Any of the custom user parameters that you added to the master.ipt file can be included in the iCopy template assembly and adjusted as the iCopy template assembly is inserted into the host assembly.
To do this, fire up the iCopy Author tool once again.
The Panel Master.IPT should already be highlighted. Skip over the Geometry tab and switch to the Parameters tab.
Your custom parameters from your Panel Master.ipt should already be highlighted in the left-hand box.
You can choose which parameters from your master part can be edited during iCopy insertion here, by using the arrow buttons (>>) to make sure that they show up in the right-hand column.
Testing the iCopy Template Assembly in the Host File
Hurrah! We’re finally ready to stick that bad boy into our host assembly to see how it behaves.
- Open up your host assembly that contains your skeleton model part.
- Fire up the iCopy insert tool: Assemble Tab > Component panel > iCopy
- Browse to your iCopy template.
- Pick control points on your skeleton part as directed in your Instructions.
Figure 7: Constrain iCopy.
Bada bing… what did you get?
You should find that your iCopy Assembly will automatically resize itself to suit your skeleton model. The iCopy tool will automatically create a copy of the iCopy Template assembly.
Notice that the new copy of the iCopy Template file is also marked as adaptive. Changes in the skeleton part will be reflected in the new referencing assembly.
If your iCopy assembly worked as you expected you are an iCopy Master. Draw yourself an ‘I Mastered iCopy with AUGI’ button and take an extra cookie.
Error Checking Hit List
If your iCopy assembly threw an error you may need to go back through and check your work. Here is a short hit list of items to check.
- Is the Master sketch unconstrained?
- Is the Master Sketch adaptive?
- Is the Master Part adaptive?
- Is the Master part grounded AND fully constrained within the iCopy Template Assembly?
- Does your skeleton model work in the context of the iCopy Template Assembly?
- Are the constraints on any non-skeletal (i.e., constrained) parts fouling the works?
- Have you applied the control points in the same order as they were set with the iCopy Author tool?
Patterning with iCopy
For your final trick you can also use iCopy to create patterns from your iCopy assemblies.
To make use of this, you will need to add some extra geometry into your skeleton part.
- You will need geometry which defines the path of each control point.
- You will need geometry to define the path for the pattern.
- You will need a work plane tangent to the path.
To access the iCopy Pattern tools, start up the iCopy Insert tool:
Assemble Tab > Component panel > iCopy
Click on the Pattern button in the bottom right of the dialog to expand the dialog and show the pattern tools.
Follow the prompt to pick the path and work plane for your iCopy assembly to follow.
Enter a number for the number of assemblies you wish to create and a distance for the pattern.
Congratulations—You Made It!
Thanks for sticking with me through this lengthy tutorial. While iCopy might seem quite involved, the steps are pretty much the same for every iCopy template you will need to create. I’ll place the data set for this tutorial on my Blog at CadSetterOut.com
Of course, the amount of time you spend building your iCopy assembly will depend on the complexity of your design.
iCopy is a great tool for creating lots of similar assemblies that need to vary in size and shape. I hope that you found this tutorial useful. Until next time…
Paul Munford is a Joinery Drafter (a 'Setter Out') for Beck Interiors, a museum interiors specialist contractor in the UK. Paul has been drafting with Autodesk products for seven years, before which he designed and built scenery for theatre, film, and TV. In his spare time, Paul writes the CAD Setter Out Blog. You can get in touch via Twitter @CadSetterOut, or email: Paul@CadSetterOut.com.