15-394 Assignment 1: Build an Automaton


Design an automaton in SolidWorks similar to the LittleMan exercise we did in class, but don't just make another figurine. Be creative. The design critera are:
  • Must have at least four links. They don't all have to be part of one figure; you could have multiple figures, or a figure and a sun or moon or vehicle. Be creative!
  • Must use gears that don't all have the same number of teeth.
  • Must include a crank you can turn to power the mechanism. No link (other than the crank gear) should be directly driven.
  • Don't forget to include spacers where needed.


  • Simulate your automaton in SolidWorks. Remember to turn on SolidWorks Simulation in the SolidWorks Add-Ins tab, and then change the animation type from "Animation" to "Motion Study.
  • Save an animation file from your simulation. To do this, click on the Save Animation button which is in the same row as the Motor, Damper, and Solid Body Contact buttons, but further to the left. Use the AVI file format.

Make a Drawing

  1. Do File New and create a new Drawing (not Part or Assembly) document.

  2. Make sure the units (bottom left corner of the screen) are IPS (inches/pounds/seconds) and not MMGS or Custom.

  3. Set the sheet size to "custom" and enter 12 inches by 12 inches as the width and height, then click "OK".

  4. Insert a part onto your drawing. Remember to hit Escape to cancel insertion of additional views of the part. In the properties manager, set the part to use sheet scaling, not custom scaling.

  5. If your part has circular holes that show up with centerlines (cross shapes) in the drawing, click on and delete the centerlines.

  6. In the Feature Manager Tree, right click on Sheet1 and select Properties. Verify that the sheet scaling is 1:1; somtimes it defaults to 2:1.

  7. Lay out all your pieces on this one sheet.

  8. Save your file as a SolidWorks drawing file. This is important in case you want to go back and edit any of the individual parts; the drawing file will automatically update, but a DXF file will not.

Make a DXF File

  1. Once you've created your drawing file, choose "Save As" and save the file again as a DXF file.

  2. Run Inkscape, set the file type to DXF (it always defaults to DWG), and open the DXF file. Turn off the "Use A4 scaling" and set the scale factor to 25.4 to convert from inches to mm. Zoom out and you may see a "SolidWorks Educational Edition" banner in the bottom left corner. Click on the banner lines and hit Delete to remove them. (If running on a MacBook you will need to press function-Delete.) Then type control-A to select everything, and set the color to blue.

  3. Hit Escape to deselect everything. Then click and drag to select any internal shapes that should be cut first (such as the little holes in your gears), and set their color to red. If nesting one gear inside another, choose another color, such as green, for that. The idea is to be able to cut shapes from the innermost outward, because when a piece of plastic is separated from the sheet it can drop slightly and thus fall out of alignment with the laser.

  4. Select "Save As" in InkScape and set the file type to "Desktop Cutting Plotter (AutoCAD DXF R14)". Click "Save", then set the base units to "mm" and click "OK".

Fabricate and Assemble

  • Laser cut your parts using some combination of Masonite/hardboard and carddboard.

    Follow the Rabbit Laser Instructions.

    Important: Make sure to select all and do "Tools > Unite lines", and use a tolerance of 0.01. If you don't use "Unite lines" your pieces will be cut in an awkward sequence and may not cut all the way through.

  • For the hardboard you were given in calss, use speed 12 and power level 80%.
  • Use the brass round-headed fasteners to attach the components.
  • For the artistically inclined: color your components by painting them, drawing on them, applying stickers or decals, etc.


  • Generate a realistic rendering of your mechanism in SolidWorks:
    1. Assign materials to your parts. To do this, open each part file and, in the feature manager tree, right click on Materials. You can either choose one of the popular materials listed in the pop-up menu, or choose Edit Material for a wider range of choices.
    2. Go back the assembly and verify that your parts are colored correctly. You may need to remove an existing appearance attribute in order to see the material's color. To do that, click on the part, click on the beach ball (Appearances icon), and click on the red X to remove any unwanted appearance attributes.
    3. Go to the SolidWorks Add-Ins tab and select PhotoView 360.
    4. A new tab will appear to the left of SolidWorks Add-Ins called "Render Tools". Switch to the Render TOols tab.
    5. Click on Edit Scene, and in the "Appearances, Scenes, and Decals" menu on the right side, click on one of the basic scenes, such as "3-point faded", and drag it into the graphics window.
    6. Click on the green checkmark to accept that scene, or click on the red "X" to choose a different one.
    7. Click on the Preview Window button to see what the final rendering will look like. You may need to rotate or translate your part, or zoom in or out, to get the view you want.
    8. Click on the Options button to adjust the resolution of the rendered image. The default is probably good enough, but you can change it if you wish.
    9. Click on the Final Render button to pop up a Final Render window and generate the rendering. This will take a little while.
    10. Click on the Save Image button in the Final Render window and save your image.
  • Take a photograph of your actual automaton.
  • Post the rendering and the picture to Piazza in the thread provided for this purpose.


    Hand in a zip file handin.zip containing the following:
    1. Your SolidWorks part and assembly files.
    2. Your animation file.
    3. Your rendering image.
    4. Your photograph of the automaton you made.
    Due date: check the class schedule.

    Grading (10 pts)

    • 4 pts - At least four links in your automaton; different/custom character
    • 0.5 pts - Crank
    • 0.5 pts - Different gear ratios
    • 2 pts - Motion study
    • 1 pt - Reasonable files and style (colored DXFs, etc.)
    • 2 pts - Assembly and documentation (picture)
    • 1 pt (BONUS) - Extra creativity (multiple characters, interesting links, colorful, etc.)

  • Dave Touretzky
    Last modified: Thu Jan 26 01:04:18 EST 2017