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How to make a Chain Pattern in SolidWorks?

Have you ever wondered how you can make, say, the tracks for a tank in SolidWorks like in the example shown below?

Or maybe you wanted to model some chain jewelry or maybe a power transmission chain for a bike, but you don’t know how?

Well, today, in this article we are going to teach you how you can make any type of chain using SolidWorks. To make the chain we are going to use the Chain Component Pattern tool of SolidWorks Assembly. The Chain Component Pattern is great for designing and simulating things like roller chains, energy chains, and various other power transmission components. Not only that, but because of the diverse options this tool provides, you can also use it to make any type of chain you want. So let’s get started.

1. In order to create a chain, you are obviously going to need a link. A chain is nothing but a serial assembly of connected pieces. These individual pieces are called links. Model your link in a separate part file and save it somewhere. There are a few things you should keep in mind while modeling a link. We will talk about them as we proceed in the article.

2. Next make a new assembly.

2. Now you will be asked to insert a component. Select the part file that you modeled your link in. The orientation and placement of the link do not matter so you can leave it as it is and then click OK.

3. Next, create a sketch that will define the path of the Chain. You can either use a 2D or a 3D sketch. You can also use a model edge instead of a sketch. but the sketch must follow the below-given rules:

  • All segments in the sketch must be tangential. No hard edges are allowed.
  • The Chain tool only uses one contour. So there should only be one contour if the sketch is closed. If there are multiple contours you will have to use the Selection Manager to select one contour.
  • You can also create a chain using open contours. But similarly to the case of closed contour, only one open contour will be allowed by the tool.

4. Now, expand the Linear Component Pattern present in the Assembly toolbar to get access to the Chain Component Pattern or go to Insert > Component Pattern > Chain Pattern.

5. In the Pitch Method menu, select the method that suits your chain:

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  • Distance: It is used to pattern a component with a single link along a chain path.
  • Distance Linkage: It is used to pattern a component with two unconnected links along a chain path.
  • Connected Linkage: It is used to pattern one or two components that are connected to each other along a chain path.

Connected Linkage

6. Under the Chain Path menu, in Path specify the path for the chain pattern. Select the 2D/3D sketch that you created above. You can also select a model edge as the path.

Tip: When selecting your sketch make sure that you select the entire length of the chain. The standard click-to-select has a tendency to select just the entity that you click on and not the entire open/closed loop. Either use the FeatureManager Design Tree and then select your sketch or use the Selection Manager tool provided to select the whole loop.

7. Fill Path: If this option is checked the software will automatically calculate the number of links that can be connected so as to fill the path. Uncheck this option to get access to the Number of Instances input box where you can manually enter the number of links you want in your chain.

8. Face normal alignment: This selection field is only available when the normal direction for the path cannot be automatically derived. For example, when the path of the chain is a 3D Sketch or a selection of edges that are not coplanar.

You need to select a plane to which the patterned instances will be aligned. The entity that you are going to select as the Path Alignment Plane will align with the entity you selected for the Face normal alignment for each instance of the patterned component.

9. Under the Chain Group 1 menu, in the Component to Pattern, click on the link in the graphics area to select it.

10. Next in Path Link 1, select a cylindrical face, circular edge, linear edge, sketch point, vertex, or reference axis that will act as a pin for that link in the pattern, and in Path Link 2, select the second link in the component pattern.

For example: In our case, we selected cylindrical faces for Path Link. What will happen is that the cylindrical face of Path Link 1 will become concentric with the cylindrical face of Path Link 2 of the next link.

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Tip: Select the path links in the same direction that the component is patterned along the chain path.

11. In the Path Alignment Plane, select any plane or planer face that will be coincident with the plane of the sketch. This plane will be used to position the component relative to the path. And as soon as it is selected, SolidWorks will show you a preview of what your chain will look like. If your alignment is not right click on the Reverse Direction icon to flip the path alignment plane.

Tip: If you still find that your chain links are not in the right orientation, you may want to reselect Path Link 1 and Path Link 2 but now reverse them with one another and then reverse the direction of the Path Alignment Plane if necessary.

12. Under the Options menu, select:

  • Dynamic: When selected, SolidWorks creates and calculates the mates between each pattern instance. You can then drag any instance to move the chain. Dynamic chains with many pattern instances take a long time to generate, rebuild, and drag.
  • Static: When selected, SolidWorks just copies each pattern instance without creating mates. This improves performance in large assemblies or chains with many pattern instances. But you can move the chain only by dragging the seed component. Also, you cannot create mates between the pattern instances and other components.

Tip: Dynamic chain is usually used. Use static chains only in large assemblies or for chains with a very large number of pattern instances.

13. Selecting Synchronize configuration of patterned components to seed prevents you from changing the configuration of patterned instances.

14. Click Ok to generate the chain. If your chain is Dynamic, you can now drag your chain in the graphics area and it will move on the path.

Similarly, you can also create a two-connected component chain with the Connected Linkages method. All you have to do is to select your other link in Chain Group 2 and specify the Path Links and Path Alignment Plane as you did for your first link.

The two-connected component chain method is used for power transmission chains for bikes, etc. The left image below shows the two links used to create the chain shown in the right image.

Distance Linkage:

Distance linkage is pretty much similar as compared to Connected linkage. But in Distance linkage, you cannot use two components for the link. It only supports one link.

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The other difference between Distance Linkage and Connected Linkage is that in Distance linkage the Path Links are not made concentric but instead there is a distance between them.

Under Chain Group 1 menu, you will find that there are additional options for the Spacing Method:

  • Distance Along Path: This option makes sure that there is a specified distance between the pattern instances as measured along the selected path.
  • Linear distance: This option spaces pattern instances at the specified distance when measured as a linear distance.

In the Spacing input box, enter the spacing that you want between pattern instances.

If you uncheck the Fill Path option present under the Chain Path menu, you will get access to the Equal Spacing button. When clicked, SolidWorks will automatically calculate at what distance apart the pattern instances should be so that each and every one of them is placed equally apart and the number will be automatically fed into the Spacing input box.

The rest of the options are the same as the Connected Linkage method and are explained above. Click OK to generate the chain.

Distance Chain:

Distance chain is pretty much similar as compared to Distance linkage. The only difference is that there are no linkages between the instances. So you only have to specify one Path Link.

You get an additional option for the Alignment Method:

  • Tangent to curve: Makes the patterned instances tangent to the chain path.
  • Align to seed: This will make sure that the orientation of the patterned instances is the same as that of the seed link.

The rest of the options are the same as the Distance Linkage method and are explained above. Click OK to generate the chain. Notice that the orientation of all the links is the same in the below image because Align to Seed option was selected.

And that’s it. We hope that this article helped to understand what the Chain Component Pattern tool is capable of and how you can use it o create any type of chain you want.