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Solid Edge ST6 First Look: Generating 2D Drawings from Large Assemblies

By Attilio Colangelo, October 22, 2013

"Drawings are king" is the Solid Edge mantra - and for good reason. While there is always discussion of how best to bring 3D models to manufacturing, 2D drawings remain the primary source from which things get built. This is true especially in process plant design where I have spent a great deal of time tweaking 2D output of solid models (mainly from SolidWorks) to make them production-ready. Or in other words, to make them look like 2D AutoCAD drawings.

Large Assembly Detailing

Which brings me to this First Look article on the capabilities of Solid Edge ST 6 in handling large assemblies and associated production drawings. I will take a look at well how it handles the drawing/detailing portion of the design cycle. This includes the following tasks:

As a long time SolidWorks user, I have nevertheless followed Solid Edge over the years. As an end user with responsibility for ensuring drawings are delivered reliably and on time, I do not claim to know in great depth the technological underpinning of technology like history-based modeling and synchronous modeling. My reference point for ease-of-use modeling remains IronCAD, circa 1998. Back then, however, it lacked a robust drawing package. I had attempted to implement on the production floor of a fabrication shop a pure 3D, solid modeling workstation using IronCAD; the feedback I received was, "Where are the prints?"

Fast forward to 2013. Complex 2D drawings start with large 3D assemblies, and I found that Solid Edge ST6 opens the assembly shown in figure 1 quickly. "Large" is a relative term, of course. I used a 400+ part model.

Figure 1: Initial view of a large assembly in Solid Edge ST6

Starting the drawing process was straightforward (see figure 2). Dynamic tips at the bottom of the screen guided me. Although many CAD packages use the same general approach, it was my first experience using Solid Edge and it was seamless.

Figure 2: Menu for new drawing creation

Starting a new drawing took me to the menu shown in figure 3, which proved to be the one first of many time-saving steps in the large assembly process. I could choose from simplified configurations defined in the model. This allows the current drawing to ignore those parts and assemblies that are not required for detailing. But I continued with the All Parts ON configuration to better gage the drawing performance.

Figure 3: Initial drawing view placement dialog

Note the Command Finder highlighted at the bottom of figure 3. I am usually pretty skeptical about these sorts of "Tell me what you're looking for" dialog boxes, but I found this one actually helpful. Instead of bringing up layers of help menus through which to navigate, in most cases it went right to the appropriate menu command button.

Figure 4 is where I got to create the three standard drawing views. In addition, I found the usual options for creating many kinds of auxiliary and isometric views.

Figure 4: Initial 3 views

My first placement of these views was at too small a scale. How to solve the problem? My first hunch was to Ctrl+right click a view, which indeed brought up a menu with which to edit the scale for all selected views.

Sectioning Views

As with most items in the Solid Edge environment, the interface guided me to the feature I was looking for, and this is certainly true for sectioning. As I would expect, the first step is to define a cutting plane in the view that I need to section. Tips at the bottom of the window provided me feedback.

Once the cutting plane (or line) was defined, the Section command completed the process and placed the view. By default, the section view is aligned with the source view (see figure 5). The section view can, however, be made to float anywhere on the sheet by toggling an alignment option.

Figure 5: Section View

I found that after moving the view with alignment toggled off, I could re-enable the alignment toggle and have the view snap back to its original alignment.

Back in 1998 when I attempted to replace 2D CAD systems with large assembly solid modeling, I had faced a major hurdle: ensuring drawings were clear and concise. The team and I were working at the time with a complete solid model representation of a blast furnace facility; when it came time to produce the items that paid the bills, the 2D drawings were not well received. For example, a section view that detailed a nozzle also projected the tower stairs that were a quarter-mile away!

Today's solution is the section view depth feature. While this is not unique to Sold Edge, ST6 implements it in an intuitive way. Figure 6 shows the menu for accessing this function (available from a right-click shortcut menu). Figure 7 illustrates the cutting plane that stops projecting model features. I snapped to the geometry in the view, using it as a reference for the plane. It proved a useful feature for filtering out "noise" from views.

Figure 6: Section view depth menu


Figure 7: Defining section view depth plane

I checked the performance of this function, and found that raw computation time for section views was similar to SolidWorks. The advantage to Solid Edge is that I can delay rebuilding Section A-A as I continue working on other portions of the drawing; later, I activate all rebuilds at the same time.

Parts Table

My early experience with auto-generated parts lists and ballooning was less than positive across all CAD packages. They got the job done, but I found it difficult peeling away the clumsy machine-generated look and feel.

Solid Edge's capabilities in this area are not new to the ST6 release, but if you're new to Solid Edge (as I am), then you need to check this out by viewing the dialog box in figure 8. It gives you an idea of the many customization options for creating bills of material (i.e., parts lists). At first glance, the volume of options may seem overwhelming, but as with many other parts of the Solid Edge interface, the dialog box follows a logical progression. I will go through some of the unique aspects of these features.

Figure 8: Parts List Columns dialog

In figure 8, the dialog box shows the Parts List feature. I selected the Columns tab to show the amount of customization possible for individual columns. In addition to being able to list almost any property associated with the design, there is also cell customization, something normally available only to dedicated spreadsheet programs. Notably, the Merge options highlighted in figure 8 make available a powerful formatting tool available to row and column data. In my experience, this makes for better readability of the data in the parts list.

Figure 9: Cell Override feature

Figure 9 shows how the parts list can be further customized. The Data tab allows direct editing of the parts list, overriding data that came from the model. It is important to flag these changes, and Solid Edge changes the cell background color to white (the "TBD" value shown in figure 9) to remind us that model data was overridden. The overrides can at any time be restored to original values.

For comparison, I reviewed the parts list/BOM features in SolidWorks. While there is no direct feature for feature match, equivalent table formatting tools are found in that package also.


Solid Edge ST6 continues Siemens PLM tradition of focusing on what many of us produce as deliverables: 2D drawings. The detailing portion of the package is very intuitive, with context sensitive help via the Command Finder. A key performance advantage is being able to delay the rebuild of views by allowing multiple edits without interruption.

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About the Author

  Attilio Colangelo has over 25 years in design, project management and field experience in chemical, process, ceramic, advanced materials and steel industries. More...

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