Welcome to A very Swell Idea, Inc.

We are a CAD services and software support company.

Before you move on because you think you don’t need “CAD Services“, please explore our site to learn more about how we can help you. You may be pleasantly surprised at the unique range of our expertise. We are adding new content every day, so check back again soon.

Have a very swell day!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 Uncategorized Comments Off on Welcome

Custom Database Software Development with FileMaker Pro

All of the posts on this website to date have been related to product design or development.  A recent project has highlighted a whole facet of our business that hasn’t been represented, custom database software development with FileMaker Pro.

A very Swell Idea, Inc. (AVSI) offers a unique perspective to the sale and development of custom software. Having designed software tools since 1997 for small businesses to manage their daily operations, AVSI has an excellent track record of making practical software tools that match and enhance existing business practices. Having designed custom machinery since 1991 across a wide range of industries, AVSI has an excellent track record of innovative problem solving and building mechanical systems that successfully serve their designed function. While typical software companies follow a standard business model of licensing software to the user that includes an initial per-seat cost and an annual license fee, AVSI approaches database software development with a custom machinery mindset; i.e., a fee is charged for the time and materials of the initial development, but no further fees are charged except for requested enhancements or unexpected issues. For this reason, we believe that our approach is a more desirable way to do business as it does not hold the owner hostage to a specific tool (charging fees for years to come) nor does it escalate fees for expansion of the user base. The only exception to this policy is that the core software tool, FileMaker Pro, is a traditional software tool that requires a per-seat license fee (approx $300) not paid to AVSI.

The primary benefit to commissioning a custom software tool, like when ordering a custom machine, is that the tool will be designed to behave exactly to your specifications. Any business that has been successful for several years will have inherent processes developed over time that greatly contribute to its success. Such processes usually contain checks-and-balances and other key features that have been developed by you, the owner(s), through trial-and-error, business training and industry research. By adopting an “off the shelf” software tool, the owner is essentially surrendering their tried-and-true operating processes in favor of another business’ processes. At times this may be advantageous, e.g. if the owner is planning to sell the company and wish to align their business processes with a potential buyer or if the owner’s business is not yet mature and they are looking for some best practices guidance. Adopting an “off the shelf” solution will be a learning experience, both in learning the software itself and in learning the business practices it promotes. It will require many hours of effort to become proficient at a tool which may or may not explicitly benefit the business in the long term. Some “off the shelf” tools can be manageable if they offer a sufficient level of personalization and customization, but this is rarely the case for small business software because the target market is too small to warrant such extensive up-front development. More often, there will be one or two key features that the owner (or state and local governments) deem necessary for doing business and the owner will accept to compromise their historical business knowledge in favor of the software developer’s offering.

At AVSI, we strive to capture the fundamental structure of your current processes and build them into a software tool that enhances your effectiveness. We tailor the design to your preferences, to your processes, to your existing tools and personnel. As much as you desire, we keep the paper processes intact, understanding that computers are not perfect and your existing processes are still valid. We work to understand what’s important to you and conform the tool’s features based upon that understanding. No extra, unused features will be included, so there will be no “work-around” steps necessary to make your tool work – it will be your tool. For these reasons, we believe that a custom software tool offers the best cost-to-benefit ratio both short and long term without compromising your business.

I encourage you to give us a call to discuss your custom software project and give us a chance to put our creative energy to work for you.


Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 FileMaker, Swell Ideas Comments Off on Custom Database Software Development with FileMaker Pro

SolidWorks Composer User Group Meeting

The third meeting of Minnesota SolidWorks Composer User Group, formerly known as the Minnesota 3DVIA Composer User Group, was held on 3/6/13 at the Mounds View Community Center in Mounds View, MN just north of Minneapolis. The meeting opened with coffee and refreshments followed by introductions. I counted 15 in attendance with backgrounds ranging from engineering to sales to technical publications with titles ranging from managers to designers. There were at least 4 in attendance (including myself) who do not yet use Composer in their work (but want to). Chris Narveson, UG president, reminded the group of its purpose and charter. He discussed the move to four 1/2 day meetings per year and made an appeal for volunteer officers, presenters and meeting hosts.

SolidWorks ComposerJason of Symmetry Solutions (SolidWorks VAR) began the presentations with the announcement of a rebranding of 3DVia Composer to SolidWorks Composer, bringing the product more in line with its target audience. The same license manager used by SolidWorks will eventually replace the cumbersome Composer licensing. Jason gave an overview of Composer’s uses, applications and capabilities. SolidWorks Composer is intended to be the bridge between Engineering and Technical Publications/Marketing as it extends the use of 3D CAD data beyond Engineering. He showed examples of its ability to produce marketing materials, printed materials, interactive instructions, web content and animations. The latest version (SolidWorks Composer 2013r2) has content loaded into its familiar Model Browser and Image Library tools. A library of 3D objects like a posable hand and typical hand tools (screw driver, wrench, etc.) can be quickly added to a project. The Image Library now has a whole set of standard icon images to save time in content authoring.

Jason then spent some time showing basic content authoring details. He demonstrated how Views can control every property in a scene (camera, material appearance, actor position, etc.) or any combination of properties. He showed how the Select Instances tool can quickly select all of the same part for modification. He showed that Styles work better than in previous releases and they can be written to a file, making them sharable. Styles can be applied once or “subscribed to” which makes the properties update automatically when the Style is changed.

Jason then gave a presentation about basic animation authoring. He suggested that a good workflow would progress from actor movements to camera movements to property adjustments to annotation text. He elaborated on an order of operation for actor movement that included picking an actor, setting its start location key frame, moving the actor and then setting its end key. He emphasized that the key frames only control what has changed from one key to the next so care should be taken to modify properties accordingly. For making interactive animation controls, Jason demonstrated new tools found in Author – Image2D such as a play button that has the necessary control code built-in.

Jason took a number of questions which led to more Composer capability demonstrations. A discussion about environments caused him to show background images, ground properties and 3D images (for walls that move dynamically behind the actors). He also showed how to load an image as a texture on an actor. Finally a question was raised about how Composer opens the video view by default if it exists or it opens the top view in the file, both of which can be annoying to the user.

Steve from MTS began a discussion about file management. He showed some video footage of MTS’s Finder tool that manages PDF files. Matt from MTS explained how they embed Composer files into their PDF drawings. The PDF drawing shows limited dimensions while the Composer file contains an interactive BOM. MTS has created a custom implementation which takes meta data from their SAP MRP tool and builds it into the tool tip text in a Composer file.   Their assembly teams use those files to more clearly understand the complex, 1-off machinery they are building. There currently does not exist a tool for checking items off a BOM list in Composer Player which makes the use of a printed BOM a necessity. MTS has found that for their complex assemblies, a workstation class computer is required, even for the light-weight Composer files. Mike and Matt discussed challenges with file management and revision control. Composer files are not directly linked to CAD files in the same way as typical SolidWorks files so updates are more manual. Rules are needed and discipline required to keep everything current. Mike also mentioned the importance of keeping coordinate system consistency in the design process to enable consistent updates to the Composer files. He finished with an excellent quote, “Are you guys totally yawn-fest with this?which we were not.

Chris wrapped up the meeting with some sample training videos from his work at CSI. He announced the next meeting as Thursday, May 30 and requested ideas for topics. Chris reminded us (as every good User Group Leader should) to look at the SolidWorks Forums, to consider attending the SWUGN Summit on August 20th and SolidWorks World 2014 in San Diego.

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Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 CAD, SolidWorks Comments Off on SolidWorks Composer User Group Meeting

Southern Minnesota SolidWorks User Group Feb Meeting

I’m a note taker and thought I’d share what I gathered this last meeting 02/19/2013.

Richard Doyle, the User Community Manager (his title is really long but I didn’t write it down) for SolidWorks gave a presentation about little known features of SolidWorks 2013. Some highlights of interest included:

  • A user can now install both SolidWorks 2012 and 2013 on the same workstation.  Double-clicking a file causes the system to prompt the user for which version of SolidWorks to open.
  • The file interaction dialog boxes (Open, Save, Insert, etc.) have been enhanced with some quick filter buttons that make selecting SolidWorks files more easily.  The buttons are sticky and persistent.  In addition, there is a Top Level Assembly button which looks at file references and filters out any assembly which is not referenced by others.
  • Customization of the Shortcut toolbar (activated by the “s” key) has become more user friendly.
  • The SolidWorks RX tool now runs with SolidWorks open and can be used for more than just troubleshooting and reporting system problems.  The benchmark tools seemed most helpful to track and compare system performance against other users.
  • It is now possible to replace a part in an assembly with a different part of the same name.  This feature is highly specialized in its application but may be useful on occasion.
  • It is now possible to select an entire subassembly in an assembly.  In the past, selecting a part has ignored any related subassemblies and only selected the single part.
  • Baseline dimensions in drawings can be edited, adding more points to their definition without starting over.
  • It is now possible to replace a drawing view with a simple sketch, thus removing all associatively to the parent part/assembly.
  • Revision clouds can now be added to drawings. While we would probably never use them on the face of a released drawing, they can be helpful to identify areas in need of change or review during the design/revision process.
  • A thin feature can now be made from a sketch with multiple contours.  In the past, multiple thin features needed to be created to achieve the same result.
  • Any feature with an end condition (extrude, cut, sweep, etc.) now has right-click menu choices to speed selection of the end condition.
  • The user can now assign sounds to key SolidWorks functions.  I would find it very useful to be alerted when a rendering is complete as I do work on a second computer while waiting for the rendering of an image on the first.
  • It is now possible to permanently break all external references to other files and remove any broken reference symbols.  Richard warned against using this as a standard practice because it yields under-defined geometry in your design.
  • The measure tool now saves history and remembers key preferences (like canter-to-center or minimum distance).
  • It is now possible to zoom and pan while editing text (including the Revision Block).  This is helpful when the user desires to reference a dimension value somewhere on the drawing in a note.
  • It is now possible to flatten out the feature tree to show sketches that would normally be hidden within features as they are consumed.
  • The view selector tool (activated by the spacebar) now has a 3D interface allowing the user to select a back view or alternate corner iso views with a single click.  This feature has been available in Inventor for many releases and is a welcome addition to navigating SolidWorks.  In addition, saved views can be saved globally for use in other parts/assemblies.  This will be a time-saver for users who need to create consistent viewpoints for drawings or renderings.
  • The Photoview 360 rendering tool has been enhanced with numerous new appearances to aid in producing more useful rendered images.

In addition to comments related directly to SolidWorks 2013, Richard mentioned some other noteworthy items:

  • Dessault has changed the name of its 3DVIA Composer product calling it SolidWorks Composer.
  • There are 223 User Groups worldwide.
  • The SolidWorks Part Reviewer is an Add-In available in SW2012 that provides an animated walk-through of a part file. It steps through the feature tree showing sketches, dimensions and features as they were created.  If the user applied comments to the features, those comments are displayed.  A search in the SolidWorks Forum for “SolidWorks Part Reviewer” results in dozens of sample part files that can be a very helpful training tool.  Internally, a company could establish standard modeling practices, make a sample model employing those practices augmented with comments and make use of SolidWorks Part Reviewer as a training tool.
  • Consider using Netvibes (now owned by Dessault) as a Blog aggregator tool to keep track of Blogs and other things (nice dashboard interface).
  • Rapid Sheet Metal has made available an Add-In for SolidWorks that will provide instant price quoting.  Some of our users have purchased parts from Rapid Sheet Metal in the past and may find this useful.
  • On August 20, 2013 there will be another SWUGN Summit held in the Twin Cities.  This event provides a full day of technical training with multiple break-out sessions for $40.  Users have attended this event in the past and have benefited from the low-cost training.
  • The eDrawings App for iDevices has been updated to add a feature called Augmented Reality.  The user can snap a photo with the device camera and then place a SolidWorks 3D model in correct scale context with the photo.
  • Richard made a special point to encourage users to spend time on the SolidWorks Forum website as there is an active community out there, ready to help and share knowledge.  He also reminded us to make enhancement requests and report bugs to our VAR as often as possible as each report/request is a vote for priority attention by the developers.

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Monday, March 18th, 2013 CAD, SolidWorks Comments Off on Southern Minnesota SolidWorks User Group Feb Meeting