Bringing the Past into the Future with SOLIDWORKS

A treasure chest of knowledge
A treasure chest of knowledge

As you might recall, in my last post I talked about my experience taking the SOLIDWORKS Essentials class here at the office, and my decision to try modeling an old camera I have at home. After the class was completed, I started to disassemble the camera that I wanted to reverse engineer, but found myself getting frustrated as I tried to design parts by only seeing them by eye. I would take accurate measurements, yet I couldn’t quite visualize the pieces well enough. It was also an issue that my skill level was a bit too low for the task I wanted to complete. Looking down at the pile of parts I had created, I took a deep breath, and scratched the project for a little bit. Going back to the Essentials Training Manual and working my through more of the exercises seemed like it would be the quickest way to continue learning.

One weekend my father and I were going through the basement of my grandparent’s house. We came across an old foot locker that was filled with decades of my grandfather’s work. Seeing it was almost as if he was still alive standing next to us. I could feel his hand on my shoulder, and hear him speaking to me. His laugh echoed deep in my heart and I watched his hand point at his past laid out on the pool table. Thousands of memories flooded my mind in that moment. I was looking at my grandfather’s life’s work with my father. We flipped through the yellowing pages of technical drawings, created over the span of five decades. Rolls of paper with sharp straight lines depicting parts of different machines lay out before us, telling the story of how my grandfather supported his family.

The collection starts with the mid 1930s when he was a student at a vocational school. Work from much of the 1940s is absent; during World War II he went off to Tinian in the South Pacific to build air strips alongside the Seabees.  The drawings picked up again in the early 1950s, when he started to teach at a regional trade school. One of the rolls had the blue prints and elevation drawings of the home he and his family lived in. He drew an elevation and 3D drawing of the house he grew up in on French Hill, and of train tracks going into a tunnel while a milk truck moves along on the hill above it.

As time moved on the drawings became copies of lessons, and then his students’ work while he was teaching at Leominster Trade School here in Massachusetts. The drawings ended right around the time he retired. Today, these drawings represent a nearly extinct art. Just think of the time it took one person to draw each of these, and then pass them on to another person. If they weren’t correct, you had to draw again. Every line was perfectly straight, and drawn with the sharpest of pencils. The shading was perfectly done, and each view of a part was meticulous with sharp edges.

IMG_8192-EditThe other folders contained his lesson plans and blue prints from when he was teaching machine shop. And while going through everything, a light bulb went off in my head. I realized there is no better way to preserve a legacy, remember my grandfather, and to learn a new skill than to model these lost pieces of time using SOLIDWORKS.

I chose a strap that my grandfather drew in 1935, and started by sketching out one half of it and then mirroring and extruding. Yes it was a simple part, but it was also one of the first I have done all by myself. The second part I drew was another from 1935. I sketched the Right Plane, added my dimensions and completed it with an extrusion. T

he next part I tried took me more time than I care to admit to get through, but Cholly and Steve at the office walked me through my problems. I once again was trying to make things more difficult than they really were. I was modeling a Tap Wrench Body and I tried to model section by section from the top. What I should have done was sketch one half of it, and then revolve it. Cholly also showed me how to create the threads at the end of the Tap Wrench by using the Helix Spiral. That took me a couple of practice runs.IMG_8199-Edit

My goal is to get through all of these drawings, model each of them in SOLIDWORKS, and then create a drawing for each. This gives the learning process more emotional resonance, and makes it seem like this work is something that should be done. What better way could I pay homage to the past than by bringing my grandfather’s visions alive in 3D?

Tap Wrench Body Designed from a lesson plan
Tap Wrench Body Designed from a lesson plan1935 Worc Trade School Strap1




Andrew Fontaine

Andrew Fontaine

Andrew works for Dassault Systemes in the Facilities Department. Andrew was single handedly responsible for the creation and on-boarding of the Dino-work force and was able to successfully integrate them into the work environment with little to no bloodshed. In his free time he remains as Superman’s backup when he and Lois get away for a holiday, and is currently in the process of Jedi Training. The Force wasn’t that strong with that one, but he’s learning like a good little Padawan.