The Unsung Hero of Multibody Modeling: Indent

Everyone knows that SOLIDWORKS is the most feature-heavy CAD software out there. Whatever you may dream of doing with a 3D model, there’s probably a SOLIDWORKS command button that can do it for you. The problem is, our computer screens are only so big.  When you load your new shiny SOLIDWORKS only a fraction of the possible commands is displayed – there just isn’t a monitor big enough to show them all.

This blog is about a command feature that may not be front and center on your display, but it should be – the Indent command.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the I-N-D-E-N-T

The Indent command gets no respect. Whenever someone shows a demonstration of the Indent command it’s usually in the context of “pushing” or “denting” a surface model with another body. A glorified Forming Tool for bodies that are not sheet metal. Observe:

Demonstration of Indent Command

While that is very cool, I find that it is not a common occurrence that I need such geometry to be made. So, the Indent command is lost and forgotten, quietly singing the blues in the “Insert” Menu. That’s sad considering it features an option that, in my opinion, makes it one of the most useful commands in multibody modeling. Allow me to explain.

My Guitar Gently Weeps (without the Insert command)

Consider this guitar that I am working on:

SOLIDWORKS Model of Guitar

I have the inlays (the little white diamonds) modeled.  But if you zoom in, they have this zebra/checkerboard texture on them that I don’t want. That’s because the cutouts in the fretboard have not been modeled and the inlays are, in fact, interfering. This can be more easily seen if I isolate the fretboard body.

CAD Model of Guitar Fretbody

It’s just a plank of rosewood. No cutouts for anything. I need to cut out material for the inlays to rest in. The challenge is: What is the quickest and most effective way to model these cutouts?

I Can’t Get No Subtraction Satisfaction

First I’ll tell you what I used to do. I would rely on the Combine command with the Subtract option. Now, Combine is practically the bread and butter of multibody modeling in SOLIDWORKS. What could possibly be wrong with it?

It’s the Subtracting part. The command destroys whatever you used to subtract.

Combine Command Producing Cutout

The Combine command produces the proper cutout, but the inlay itself is nowhere to be found. To get around this you would have to use a Move/Copy Bodies command to copy each of the bodies in place, effectively doubling the amount of inlay bodies in the part file. This can spell trouble for performance and, on top of that, it is now a 2-step process. What else can I try?

Born To Run...Away From Extra Steps

I can also convert all the entities from the inlays into a sketch and then use that for a Cut-Extrude.

SOLIDWORKS Model of Fretbody after Cut Extrude

While we can do this, this is a multi-step process:

  1. Select all the entities to convert
  2. Set the end condition to “up to surface” to make sure that it cuts the perfect depth
  3. Ensure the feature scope is set correctly so that you don’t accidentally cut away the inlays you’ve worked so hard to preserve.

That’s a lot of steps! There must be a better way.

And there is.

A Pocketful of Sunshiney Indents

Check out what the Indent command can do!

SOLIDWORKS Indent Command at Use

Add the FRETBOARD body to the “Target body” box.  Select the “Tool body region” and then click on each of the inlays until they are all listed.  At first, you will not see a preview. That’s because, in this case, the “dent” is too complex to solve out. No problem. Simply select “Cut” and the tool changes from trying to make an indent to making a pocket in the exact shape of the selected bodies. Perfect.

Fretbody Inlays

Now I have perfect mother-of-pearl inlays sitting in perfect pockets. All in one step. This is my new favorite command!

Play That Funky Music, Indent Command

The Indent command is also useful for setting the frets in the fretboard as well!

Indent Command Using Cut Option

Just set the fretboard again as the “Target body” and each of the frets as the “Tool body region.” Don’t forget to select the “Cut” option!

SOLIDWORKS Model of Guitar Body

Gimme Some CAD Lovin'

One more example to show how the Indent tool becomes a Pocket tool!

SOLIDWORKS Indent Tool Becoming Pocket Tool

A pocket needs to be cut into the body to accommodate the base of the neck.

One Indent command later and…

Perfect Fit with Indent Tool

A perfect fit!

Let the Music Play

And there you have it! Three examples of how indent offers more than what’s in the name, and my guitar is looking good so far. Maybe next time I’ll do a vlog using my new guitar to sing the Indent command’s praises.  Maybe.

SOLIDWORKS Final Guitar Model

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