Creating a Square Helix in SolidWorks

Have you ever wanted or needed to create a square helix, or maybe even a triangular helix or any shape helix for that matter in SolidWorks but didn’t know where to start?  It’s actually pretty easy to create any shape helix in SolidWorks.  First you will need to create a “standard” circular helix by simply drawing a circle and using the helix command (Insert/Curve/Helix and Spiral).  Then select your helix parameters and options that are required to define particular helix (height and revolution, etc…).  Next hold down the Ctrl key and select the helix and the helix end point and create a new plane and draw a straight line from the orgin (or end point of the helix) outward.  Use the surfacing toolbar and create a surface sweep using the “line” you just drew as your profile and the “helix” as your path.

Helix Surface Sweep

You should now have something that looks similar to what’s above.

Next step is to create your “square”, “triangle”,”oval” or whatever shape helix you are after.  Create a sketch on the same plane you created your circle sketch for your helix.  Draw your shape, but make sure it fully intersects your sweeped surface you created.  Now in the “Surface” tools use the Extruded Surface command and extrude your shape making sure it intersects beyond your sweeped helix.  It should look similar to what I have below.

Next you will use a tool located in “Tools/Sketch Tools” called “Intersection Curve”.  Select Intersection Curve and select both Surfaces that you created.  I usually select the two surfaces under Surface Bodies toward the top of the Feature Tree.

This will ultimately create a 3D sketch that you will use to create a sweep.  Now you just create a plane and a profile on the end of the 3D sketch and use the “Sweep” command to create your final helix.

Final Shaped Helix

That’s it!  Hope this helps you create your next oddly shaped helix!

Posted in SolidWorks Tips and Tricks | Leave a comment

SolidWorks “save as” PDF, Adobe Illustrator, DXF macros

Ever wanted to be able to just click one button and be able to save your SolidWorks drawings as a PDF, DXF or an Adobe Illustrator file without having to use File Save as, then choosing the file type?  Well, there is a very simple way of doing it using macros.  Adding a macro to your toolbar is very easy to do, just follow the steps below and you’ll be saving time by cutting out unnecessary mouse clicks.  First download the macros here…   Save the macros and the .bmp images in a organized folder somewhere on your network (if this will be used by multiple users) or if you are the only one using this, then somewhere on your computer. 

SolidWorks Tools/Customize/Macros

Next go into SolidWorks and on the Standard toolbar choose Tools, then Customize, under the Commands tab choose Macro.  Drag the “New Macro Button” (It’s the picture of a man with a green shirt on) onto any toolbar.


New Macro Button

Now it’s time to assign the macro and image to that new macro you just added to your toolbar.  Once you try and add the button to your toolbar it will automatically launch the “Customize Macro Button” dialog box.  Click on the “Choose Image” button and locate your BMP macro image on your computer or on your network.  Assign a Tooltip phrase such as “Saves file as PDF” and a Prompt such as (PDF).  Next click on the button across from Macro (its the little button with three … in it) and locate the SWP file (this is the macro file).  You can also assign a shortcut if you so please but is optional.

Now open up any drawing and test it out…  It will save the drawing file as either a PDF, DXF or AI file in the same folder with the same part number as the original file.
I find these macros a huge time saver especially when every SolidWorks drawing file I save also gets a pdf and dxf.
For a complete list of Freelance CAD services I offer and my complete work history and portfolio visit my website at



Posted in SolidWorks Tips and Tricks | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

AirCut, from conception to birth…

 You have a great new product idea; the whole world is going to want this new invention the only problem is you have no idea where to start.

 It all starts with the idea, maybe you’ve seen something on the market that you know could be made better, if this feature was added or if that part was made different, boy then you would have a product that anyone would buy!

 The idea is just the beginning and is probably the hardest and easiest part of the process…  It’s the hardest because those ideas aren’t always that easy to come by, on the flip side those ideas can come to you when you least expect it.

 Norm Yerke the owner and inventor of AirCut had this euphony almost 20 years ago.  Norm saw an ad for the Flowbee on an infomercial and decided to take a chance and purchase one.  He instantly fell in love with his new purchase, no more trips to the barber shop, no more waiting for my hair to grow long, and best of all no more expensive hair cuts, in fact he hasn’t spent a dime on a hair cut in nearly 20 years!  Imagine the kind of money you could save in 20 years without that extra expense.

 While Norm loved his new purchase, one day while using his new product the “idea” suddenly hit him, why can’t the vacuum just be part of the product so I don’t need to haul out my bulky vacuum cleaner just to give myself a haircut?

 Norm sat on this idea for many years, waiting for the right time to unleash his new idea.  Then in the summer of 2008 Norm decided, it’s time to release this product to the world!

Norm being a savvy business man, owning and starting over a dozen companies was great at running a business, but did not have the knowledge to take his idea and bring it to life.  Norm decided to enlist an ad on Craigslist looking for a designer to take his new idea and bring it to market.  Norm carefully interviewed Engineer after Engineer until he found the right fit.  That became the beginning of our business relationship.

 In August of 2008 the design process began.  Step one of the design process was to layout the scope of the project.  I knew the design needed to function similar to the current product.  I knew this new design needed to have an integrated vacuum system with similar suction to a standard upright vacuum cleaner; it also needed to be lightweight so that the operator doesn’t get fatigued while using the product. 

Knowing what was required of this new product, how it was to operate, what form factor, what options are necessary, how the product will be used, safety concerns, patent protection, these where all things that were needed to be considered and carefully implemented during the early phases of the design process.

 The next step in the design process was analyzing the current product to determine how to make the existing product better while integrating all of the features required in our project scope.  I call this phase of the process the “Concept” phase.  I ordered several competitor products, and began analyzing their design and started brain storming and laying out in CAD (Computer Aided Design) my ideas on how to make the new design better (easier to manufacture and assemble, less expensive to produce but also perform the same or at a higher level).  After educating myself on how the future competitor’s product worked and laying out my ideas on making their product better, I shifted gears and started thinking about how to bring the entire design together.  How will this new product work?  What components do I need to complete this design?  How will everything interact with each other?  How will everything fit in the determined form factor?  What will the product look like?

 Part of the “Concept” phase also includes rough prototyping.  Working with specific vendors we determined what components would “probably work and I received samples for testing.  I say “probably” because during the “concept” or “prototyping” phase you are faced with a lot of trial and error.  Using SolidWorks (a 3 dimensional computer aided drafting solid modeling program) I was able to remove a lot of the “trail and error” that is normally associated with the concept phase.  I was able to go through a variety of concepts very quickly using SolidWorks and determine what would “probably” be the best design.  After working with local vendors to obtain my stock or off the shelf components (electric motors, filter material, switch, power supply, springs) I still needed all of my newly designed plastic concept parts.  Working with a local prototype shop and a local 3D printing company I was able collect all the remaining components that I needed to start my concept prototype.  Once I had everything I needed in hand I started assembling the sub-assemblies (clipper assembly, vacuum assembly) and verified that my design worked as I expected both individually and paired together.  Since this was just a concept prototype and my goal was just to see if my design ideas would work per my design scope the body or outer casing design wasn’t part of the prototype, in fact at this point wasn’t even designed. 

 My first step in verify my design was determining if I would have enough suction to actually lift the hair and be able to trim it evenly.  Being a resourceful person I simply cut an oval shape in the bottom of a plastic cup to act as an inlet for the hair, and used the large opening at the top of the cup to insert and seal off my vacuum assembly.  This allowed me to determine if my current vacuum design had what it takes to pull a persons hair up off their head and into the oval opening in the bottom of the cup.  After some playing around and trying it on multiple people I determined I needed to modify my fan design to increase the suction.  I went back into SolidWorks where I originally designed my fan and ran it through flow simulation and made some changes to the fin design to allow for more airflow using the size and shape.  Using that local prototype shop again they made me another fan.  Remaking parts is all part of the “trial and error” or “prototyping” phase, you don’t know until you try it.  After I received my new fan, which was literally a couple days later including shipping I reassembled my suction assembly and went though all my tests again.  This time the suction was enough to make this new future product work. 

 After I knew the suction was powerful enough and mimicked that of a standard upright vacuum cleaner I was on to working on the clipper assembly.  Would my clipper design cut hair?  Would it cut evenly?  Would the blades jam if too much hair tried going through?  Can anyone get injured if they tried sticking their finger in the blades?  These were all valid concerns that needed to be tested and confirmed during this phase of prototyping.  Knowing that the suction assembly was up to par and needing to test the clipper assembly I went to my local hardware store and bought some PVC tubing and caps to act as my outer casing (you know, the part that has yet to be designed) so that I could test the system working as a whole.  I did some cutting and grinding on the PVC components until everything fit inside just right and I was ready to start testing.  I got in touch with a local beautician who gave me hair clipping from multiple donors that I could run through the system to make sure that it would cut hair as expected.  After some testing I determined that we needed to make some design changes to the clipper assembly.  Back to the drawing board, not really, actually back to SolidWorks for some design tweaks.  After determining what was causing the problems I was able to very quickly make the needed modification in SolidWorks and send those files off to my local prototype shop for new parts.  A few days later the new parts arrived and after reassembling everything and testing everything all seemed to be operating flawlessly.  I was able to run as much hair of difference textures and lengths through the prototype as necessary.  Excitement ran through my body!  This thing works, and works well!

 Now that I ran through the “Concept” phase and ironed out the minor problems and knew the design would work, it was off to the next phase, “Industrial Design”.

Since this product was going to be used by consumers throughout the world it needed to not only function well, but it also needed to look appealing, be comfortable in your hand, durable but also lightweight, and needed to be easy to use.  I enlisted in an old colleague that had more Industrial Design experience and was great at doing concept sketches to send me some casing or outer shell design ideas.  Using SolidWorks I started modeling up some of his ideas making my own changes along the way.  I ran through many different shapes and sizes and submitted them to Norm for his approval.  We decided on one style and had our local prototype shop make us a sample.  After receiving the sample housing and putting everything together, I ran through some testing to verify that everything was working as expected.  The design worked great, but needed a few modifications.  I went back into SolidWorks and made some tweaks to the handle and the overall look of the body and had our local 3D printer make us up new samples.  This time it worked, looked and felt perfect!  The design was finally complete, right?  Wrong…

 Before we would move any further, we made contact with a good patent attorney and filed for a provisional patent.  The provisional patent will protect that precious “idea” from being stolen and produced by someone else.  The patent attorney is going to need a complete write up along with images explaining how every aspect of every component in your design works so that the attorney can figure out exactly what is patentable.  This is exactly what we did.  I sat down and deciphered every aspect of the design and went into detail on how each component interacted with the next and what each individual parts function was.  I also provided many computer aided design detailed images along with reference numbers referring to each and every component.

 Having a completed working model in hand and a provisional patent signed and approved it was time to move on to our next step in the process, finding the right manufacturer.  Finding someone to make your new product isn’t always the easiest task.  You need to shop around, get referrals, make sure they are capable of making your product and that’s it’s up to your quality standards.  You need to find someone that is trust worthy and will work with you through design changes and are willing to improve the design and give suggestions on making the product even easier to produce and still keep the design integrity.  We proceeded with domestic tooling quotes, along with foreign quotes.  We had many meetings and phone conversations with varies manufacturers and finally found the perfect match for our product.  The manufacturer we choose was almost like a match made in heaven.  They had tons of experience with consumer products, knowledgeable onsite engineers that were eager to help us not only to make our product but to improve upon it. 

 In the spring of 2009 tooling of our product began…  During this process communication with our manufacturer on a very regular basis was necessary to make sure everything was on schedule and that there were no problems that needed immediate attention.

 By early summer of 2009 we received a few samples of our brand new product for inspection, testing and final approval.  We immediately started playing around with our new product AirCut.  During the testing and inspection of the product we decided that we needed to make some minor adjustments to make our product perfect.  Our manufacturer quickly made the changes per our request and sent new samples for approval.  This time it was a thing of beauty, worked like it was intended and was ready for mass production.

 Once we pulled the trigger and our manufacturer started producing the final product we moved into our final phase, “Marketing”.  We started by having a professional website constructed and working with a PR firm to help get the word out.

 The AirCut officially began selling in the fall of 2009 and have sold to countries all over the world.  We’ve had nothing but praise and thanks from our customers and many write in to tell us how much they love their new AirCut!

For more information on AirCut visit

For product renderings of the AirCut or to see some of the freelance design services I offer visit:

Posted in Freelance | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment