From concept to reality: Designing a robotic arm in SOLIDWORKS 2016

SOLIDWORKS is one of the most powerful CAD tools available to professionals, including an array of tools that enable users to turn ideas into 3D models ready for presentation or even printing using a 3D printer. Essentially, the limits only lie with the user.

The latest release, SOLIDWORKS 2016, offers a number of new features that make it even easier to design complicated geometric shapes and models with moving components. What's more, a comprehensive set of visualisation and stress-testing tools help to ensure the finished model will be ready for real-world use.

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Let's take a look at how you could create a robotic arm for manufacturing or even just demonstration using the new tools in SOLIDWORKS 2016.

Starting off: The concept and layout

Prior to opening up SOLIDWORKS, it's important to have an idea of the robotic arm – how it's going to function and what it will look like. It's particularly important to think about how the arm will actually behave and assess its range of motion and the functionality it will eventually be capable of.

While it's not necessary to have every detail recorded exactly, planning at this stage can make design significantly easier. Then, it's time to create a layout sketch of how the arm will behave mechanically. Again, time spent here will make design easier.

Once you have the basic layout or skeleton in place, it's time to start creating the model.

It's critically important to balance the design of the product with the functionality.

Moving onto modelling

With your layout, you can actually begin to create the 3D features of the robotic arm. This stage means considering both the cosmetic aspects of the arm as well as the functionality. Features such as the Fillet tool to round out edges along with the Extrude tool to cut holes will be some of the more useful options at this stage.

As any CAD software user will understand, there's a need to balance the design of the product with the functionality. Throughout the creation process, it's necessary to ensure the product can carry out its intended function. You'll want to focus on adding in the motors required to lift the arm when it's finished and test various materials to ensure its strength.

Simulating the model

In the past, you'd have needed to actually manufacture a model to see if the design actually worked. However, with SOLIDWORKS 2016, you can carry out a simulation to test every aspect of the design.

Motion simulation allows you to see if the arm works, and whether it can actually pick up objects or carry out tasks as intended. If you're designing the model for a stakeholder, then the 3D visualisation capabilities mean you can easily turn your design into something you can show off. This also allows you to demonstrate the functionality of the product.

You're then able to take any feedback and apply changes to the arm, continually testing along the way.

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SOLIDWORKS 2016 is certainly the most powerful iteration of the CAD software yet, and the native functionality, along with the numerous plugins, means there's really no limit to what can be designed. It should certainly be the first choice for industry professionals or enthusiasts creating models for side projects.