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NI, SolidWorks Bring Virtual Prototyping to Mechatronics Design

DN Staff

September 3, 2009

3 Min Read
NI, SolidWorks Bring Virtual Prototyping to Mechatronics Design

After almost three and a half years of collaboration, SolidWorks and National Instruments are poised to release avirtual prototyping tool geared for mechatronics applications that seamlesslyintegrates SolidWorks 3-D CAD software and the NI LabVIEW graphical systemdesign environment.

The LabVIEW 2009 NISoftMotion Module and capabilities in the forthcoming SolidWorks 2010release allow mechanical and control engineers to work in tandem onmechatronics designs by optimizing, validating and visualizing the real-worldperformance of machines and motion systems without having to build costlyprototypes. This cross-collaboration between disciplines is important becauseevery decision has a ripple effect in a mechatronics design. For example, if ateam decides to change the material and, therefore the weight of a mechanicalcomponent, there are ramifications on motor sizing or even the type of motorrequired to sufficiently operate the machine. Traditionally, the twoengineering disciplines worked separately on their respective systems, and onlybecame aware of design flaws or potential problem areas late in the designprocess when time and money was already devoted to building and testing aphysical prototype.

"Improving team communication and collaboration betweenmechanical engineers, electrical engineers and control engineers is crucial,"says Christian Fritz, mechatronics and motion control manager at NationalInstruments (NI). "Tools that offer seamless integration and help them sharedata throughout all phases of the development cycle will enable vividcollaboration and exchange of information."

Creating seamless integration between the two tools shortensthe iterative design process and enables control engineers to begin working oncontrol applications as soon as the CAD model has been created. By leveragingthe new integration capabilities, existing SolidWorks CAD models can beconnected to LabVIEW, which automatically links the motor actuators and positionsensors defined in the model. Using the functions delivered in NI SoftMotionfor SolidWorks, engineers can then develop sophisticated motion controlapplications and use the virtual prototype to visualize realistic machinebehavior, analyze cycle time performance and perform accurate force/torquerequirements analysis. As a result, engineering teams can optimize designsprior to building a physical prototype, identify design issues that potentiallycross mechanical and electrical boundaries and properly size motors andmechanical parts.

"At the end of the day, this makes a serial processparallel," says Fielder Hess, vice president of product management forSolidWorks. "It's getting rid of the `throw it over the wall' mentality andallows the disciplines to communicate earlier."

Streamlining the iterative nature of mechanical and motioncontrol design has the potential for huge time savings benefits, according toKent Wedeking, LabVIEW/mechanical engineer for Fastek International Ltd., which offerstest and measurement services for control systems. Currently, Wedeking says histeam creates their motion control code in LabVIEW, builds their prototype inSolidWorks and puts them together in a lab and hope that it all works.Debugging the system is done strictly with physical components. "If somethinggoes wrong - a motor doesn't shut off or there's interference, we find that outwhen pieces actually start banging into each other," he says. "If we get to thepoint where we're redesigning parts, we have to have things re-machined, whichadds time and cost and makes it more difficult to meet deadlines."

To create the integration, NI and SolidWorks invested timeand R&D dollars in ensuring that control engineers can create their custommotion control applications using the LabVIEW graphical programming paradigmthey already know, Fritz says. In addition, mechanical engineers don't have toleave the familiar SolidWorks' environment to make a 3-D model simulation readyto test out the control system.

Fritz says the request for the seamless integration camedirectly from customers and while there is no exclusive arrangement, NIcurrently has no plans to develop similar capabilities for other 3-D CADsystems.

NI SoftMotion for SolidWorks lets engineers visualize realistic machine behavior and analyze cycle time performance with a virtual prototype.

NI, SolidWorks Bring Virtual Prototyping to Mechatronics Design

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