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Electro-Mechanical simulations using both Flowcode and DesignSpark Mechanical

Computer based simulations of simple electronics components has been a feature available in Matrix Multimedia’s flowcharting software, Flowcode, for many years. However, performing simulations for electro-mechanical components is both inherently more difficult to achieve and not well suited to a 2D design environment, due to the required movement of parts within the simulation.

On September 2nd 2013 Matrix released the latest version of their Flowcode software, v6. There are many new features available in Flowcode 6; one of which is the ability to now simulate electro-mechanical systems in a 3D design environment. The use of a 3D environment allows the simulation of components such as stepper motors, servo motors, switches, linear actuators, solenoid valves and many more. Alongside simulating these components, 3D models of hardware components can be created within Flowcode or imported from specialised 3D design packages and characterised to move relative to the programming of the simulated electro-mechanical components. This allows complex 3D models such as XY plotters, wind turbines or robotic arms to be simulated before the requirement of creating hardware. Flowcode 6 was launched with an extensive library of pre-made components, however, users are able to create their own components to allow their own 3D designs to be realised. In industry, simulating electro-mechanical systems can allow more rapid development of complex systems. In education, simulating these systems allows each student to develop their own projects independent of hardware.

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While Flowcode 6 includes basic 3D drawing tools, it is advised that for complex systems dedicated 3D design packages are used. These packages can be expensive and/ or complicated to use. DesignSpark recently released their own 3D design package; DesignSpark Mechanical. It is an intuitive piece of software which aims to rid designers of the requirement of using pen and paper and encourages creativity during design for users of all skill levels. Perhaps best of all, it is completely free to use! Alongside the 3D design package, DesignSpark have also provided access to over 80,000 3D models available from RS Components. This allows users to import pre-made components into their designs. Due to this ability to create 3D models with DesignSpark, the software perfectly complements Flowcode v6, allowing users to save their own designs, or pre-downloaded, and import them into Flowcode for characterisation. To demonstrate how CAD components are taken from DesignSpark Mechanical into Flowcode, and then used for electro-mechanical simulation, we have written a short paragraph or two. We must first select an electro-mechanical component, here a push button switch from the RS catalogue of parts, RS Part number; 103-6252. The CAD files were downloaded and opened in DesignSpark Mechanical.

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This particular file has 6 parts linked together as an assembly. We can colour each part as desired to suit the switch properties, or our own design requirements. This is achieved by changing the colour property of each in the ‘Display’ tab. The next step is to separate those parts of the design which will be required to be moved. In this example, since we are using a switch, only the plunger part needs to be free to move. This required the design to be separated into two files, as seen in the screenshots below. The parts are each saved as .OBJ files and can be imported directly into Flowcode. Once in Flowcode the user must manually move the plunger to the correct location within the switch within the 3D design environment. Once the 3D models were mechanically characterised, the electrical characterisation of the switch was performed to enable it to be used as a switch component during simulations. This is a process taking only approximately 10 minutes and can be performed by novice Flowcode users following a guide.

Once the switch was fully characterised it was exported as a component. In future Flowcode programs, users could now use this switch as a component whenever they required a digital input. In the screenshots seen below, a simple flowchart was created to turn on an LED whenever the user pressed the plunger of the newly created switch. A video has also been provided to demonstrate the switch in operation.

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If you have any questions please feel free to comment, or if you would like to try Flowcode visit our website www.matrixmultimedia.com/flowcode and download a free 30 day trial of our software.

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9 Oct 2013, 15:08