Thursday, July 30, 2009

Low-Res, Content Rich

I've spent more time at work in the last three days using Microsoft Paint than ProEngineer. There was a communication problem with a supplier about what surface finishes should go where on some of my complicated machined parts. The drawing depicts this information using tiny filled dots on each surface connected to leader lines ending with note callouts. NOTE 2.1 is irridite, NOTE 2.2 is hardcoat anodization, NOTE 2.3 is Aeroglaze over irridite, and so on. One finish (usually Aeroglaze) is the default for the view, and I have notes calling out the other finishes.

I'll be honest, the views look like porcupines. If that was all you had to go on, it would be tough to get a clear picture of what the finished part was supposed to look like, or even if I had any goal in mind. After consulting with the supplier and talking with the people who would have to do all the complicated masking, we decided that color coded pictures would be very helpful. I verified that no-one there was colorblind, then settled on red = irridite, green = anodization, blue = Aeroglaze.

Once back at my desk I started the process to make each picture in ProEngineer. First, to get rid of the gradient background I changed to "Black on White" view preferences. I opened the file, oriented it to show a lot of surfaces at once, zoomed in to fill the screen, switched to "no hidden lines" view, and Saved a Copy as a Tiff (Snapshot). This created an image file that was like a coloring book - all the details of the edges of the part in one solid color, on a white background. Rather than taking all the screenshots of the different part orientations at once, I left ProE set to this one orientation for reference as I colored the picture.

In MS Paint, I opened the .tif file and immediately did a save-as to add _color at the end of the filename. (Just in case I royally mess up, I like having a clean copy to start from.) The screen shot is never perfect, there may be a few pixels missing from the outline here and there due to rendering limitations in ProE. To find these "leaks" I first flood the background in pink. Then with areas to focus on I zoom in and use the eyedropper to sample the color of the outline. The pencil tool in "large" mode can close the gaps - usually it was fairly obvious where the pixel should have been. I scoot around the picture looking for other missing pixels before zooming back out again. Paintbucket to white, turn the pink to white again, and then get down to the real work.

I'll keep the .pdf of the official drawing open in a separate window for reference. (Oh, how I wish we had dual monitors!) These RGB pictures aren't official documentation, so they are overridden by the drawing, so it is important to make sure the two match. If not, our quality department could impound the parts upon receipt if the finishes do not match the released print. Paintbucket is the tool of choice, and I soon have that graphic completed. Then I save, import to PowerPoint, and start on the next one.

Three to four views are enough to describe each piece. One graphic goes on each slide, set to B size (11" x 17") paper so less detail is lost. I include a copy of the color key on each page at the request of the masking department. I finish by printing to .pdf and emailing out, then on to the next part.

I don't think I'd want to do this exercise for every single part I design. But when there are three or more finishes in one piece it is just so much easier to digest like this. Even the shaded 3D model is difficult to read correctly, because two out of three finishes I used here are black.

Bonus: pixels remind me of childhood.

1 comment:

  1. We have a similar problem with a part that has some unusual masking requirements for coating. We ended up doing what you did, using two colors to show what surfaces should and what surfaces shouldn't be coated. We use UG here, and somehow I think the designer was able to ID the surfaces in the model without having to go to MS Paint.


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