Written by: Alex Frank, Support Engineer
Magnetic Mates are a new feature in SOLIDWORKS 2017 that allow you to quickly and easily arrange and rearrange assembly components until you achieve a desirable configuration. This new feature is intended to make laying out things like conveyors or tracks faster and easier, particularly when it comes time to change the layout.
Let’s look at creating a magnetic mate. In order to use this feature, we have to first create a reference in the component that we wish to insert. The tool used to do that is referred to as the “Asset Publisher” and is found in the tools menu.
Activating the asset publisher will allow you to begin creating references for magnetic mates to snap to.
In the asset publisher property manager, you are required to make a few selections. The first selection is referred to as the “Ground Plane”. This selection will represent where our component rests on the ground. In the image below, this is the bottom surface of the model railroad track. Once we have defined a ground plane, we can begin to add a connector. Connectors require two selections. The first selection is a model edge. This defines the point where two components will snap together. This can be a linear or circular edge, for linear it will use the midpoint. For a circular edge, the center point will be used. Our second selection is a face on the model. This face represents the point of contact between two components when they snap. The faces will be coincident to each other. Once you have made the selection, you can click “Update/add Connector” to include it.
Multiple connectors can be added to a model.
Once they are added, it creates a feature in the design tree called “Published references” which can be edited at any time to add, change, or delete connectors. Clicking on the feature will show the connection points.
This feature can be used in either the part or assembly environment. For example, using magnetic mates to create a model railroad I can model a switch yard as a discrete assembly, and have magnetic mates at the points where the switch yard meets the main line tracks. Below we can see a sub-assembly with magnetic mate references (The sub-assembly was modeled with magnetic mates as well).
Now that I have created components with magnetic mate references I can begin to use them to assembly my layout. In this case, we will look at the model railroad again. While magnetic mates will work with free floating components, it is always good practice to locate the first component with standard mates. Once you have once component located, you will want to turn on magnetic mates in the Tools menu of the assembly environment. This enables the mates to snap together. You can see this toggle in the first image of the tools menu (taken from an assembly environment)
Then, simply drag the two components close together. As you drag, you will see the connection points created in the asset publisher appear as purple dots. A purple line will appear between the different dots as you move the pieces around. This indicates which two mates will snap together. Then, release the mouse button and the components will snap together. You can repeat this as many times as needed to achieve the desired result.
Simple and quick once you set it up! So what’s the catch? There’s always a catch right? Well unfortunately with this great feature there are a few considerations to keep in mind. First thing, is that it’s pretty easy to destroy your hard work with an errant click or drag. There’s nothing worse than spending 20 minutes getting your layout exactly the way you want it, only to add another piece and watch your assembly freak out and turn into a pile of parts.
I’d like to share a couple techniques I found to help mitigate this.
First, magnetic mates do create mate features in your feature tree. So you can browse to these either in the main mate folder, or in the component mate folder. Once you find them, a right click gives you the option to “Lock” the mate. This will prevent anything the mates from moving, and prevent other components from attempting to lock onto those connectors.
This technique has advantages; you can lock out troublesome mates from changing as you work or lock groups together. Sometimes however you may want to prevent a large number of parts from moving. In this case, say once I have a large chunk of my model railroad built out the way I want it, I would lock those down a different way. Every assembly component can be set to a “Fixed” state, where it is locked in its current position. Once I know I have a section finalized, I can use the selection box or other multi selection techniques to pick all the components. Right clicking on the mass selection allows me to set those components to a fixed state. That way, there is no chance I can accidentally damage my layout. I can always set them back to floating if I want to make changes later.
The last thing to consider is that multiple magnetic mate references close together may be tricky to get them to snap right. Sometimes the part will rapidly cycle between all reference points (three in this case). To help mitigate this, I found that if you arrange the components so that the desired connection points are close by, you can zoom in so only those two are visible, and SOLIDWORKS will tend to ignore the others. This can make component placement easier. When dealing with multiple mate references in close proximity.