Automated Sheet Metal Structure Design with Autodesk Inventor

This post is a bit off-topic as it relates to the normal woodworking genre on this site (originally posted on the Open Design Project), but a great deal of the visitors here are not woodworkers, and I myself have a good deal of experience in designing metal structures (I used to design Mega Yachts before the Great Recession) –so I’ve decided to post some sheet metal structure stuff. It’s about a quickie study model I created to solve a design problem a manufacturer had with exploding sheet metal structure assemblies…

I did the study to see if I could overcome the problems a manufacturer was having with a large ‘bottom-up’ sheet metal structure model that was driven by a spreadsheet (makes me cringe to even think about spreadsheet driven models!). The model was quite frankly a mess. Every reconfiguration generated many hundreds of errors –all of which needed manual fixing –every time. There were so many workarounds and fixes needed every time the model was run that it was basically unusable by anyone other than its creator.

The design of these structures presented some interesting design challenges. The structure needed to have a narrow central panel on the front and back with flanking panels and side panels that expanded or contracted until either another panel was added when they reached the maximum size, or the panel was subtracted altogether when it reached its minimum size.

What I came up with is somewhat like a square shutter mechanism where four segmented quadrants slide past one another and add or subtract segments based on min/max specs. The whole schlemiel is controlled by a series of formulae within the iLogic code that assure that the design is consistent, as waste free as possible, and error free. A totally lean design schema.

This image shows how the Automated Sheet Metal Structure Design

 As stated in the video, the original version of this model was designed to have standard pre-configured sizes, but a better way to do it would be to have ANY size available within a min/max, then specify the needed standard sizes as set choices. That way, the standard sizes are merely pre-set stopping points in a infinitely adjustable model, and the in-between sizes can be bid/designed at the click of a button. Why on earth anyone would limit their product to a few set sizes when one could offer the customer whatever it is they need!

Most of the tutorials on this website include skeletal modeling techniques –which is what you need to learn to model top-down as seen here. You just need to apply the techniques to your design. If you have a difficult design challenge, please comment or email below or contact me via LinkedIn. Maybe we can help!