Geometry is a key attribute of solids and of the bodies they comprise. It features in the solid visualizations provided by Solid blocks as visual aides during modeling. It features also in the multibody visualizations displayed in Mechanics Explorer following model assembly and during simulation. This is one purpose of solid geometry: to enable visualization for an entire modeling workflow, from the conception of a single solid to the simulation of a complete multibody model.
Geometry of a Body Element
Solid geometry serves a second, less visible, purpose: to simplify the specification of
inertia in the solid blocks. The bulk of solid inertia parameters are
readily computed if both geometry and mass, or, alternatively, mass density,
are known. The solid blocks provide an inertia parameterization,
Calculate from Geometry, that performs these
calculations for you. You specify the solid geometry and a measure of its
mass; the block carries out the required numerical integrations to obtain
the remaining inertia parameters—the moments of inertia, products of
inertia, and center of mass.
Solid geometry differs in a practical way from frames and inertia. The latter are attributes that you can model in isolation using blocks such as Rigid Transform and Inertia. There is no equivalent, dedicated block for solid geometry. The Graphic and Spline blocks represent geometries—and provide a visualization means for those geometries—but neither is an adequate replacement for an actual solid geometry.
The Graphic block merely adds a marker to a frame, typically as a means of highlighting that frame. The Spline block adds a plane or space curve largely intended for use with the Point on Curve Constraint block. If you want to visualize solids and bodies, or benefit from the automatic inertia calculations that solid geometry enables, you must use a solid block.
Use the Cylindrical Solid block to model a body with a simple preset shape—a cylinder with a radius of 5 cm and a length of 20 cm. Visualize the solid in the visualization pane of the Cylindrical Solid block. Ignore the relative placement of the solid in the (incomplete) model.
Add a Cylindrical Solid block to a new Simulink model and open the block dialog box. Note the Geometry parameters section, which by default specifies a cylinder shape 1 m in side.
In the Radius parameter line, enter a
5 and select units of
cm. You can select your units
from the dropdown list or enter them manually.
In the Length parameter line, enter a
20 and again select units of
cm. Note the warning in the
visualization pane urging you to update the solid
In the visualization toolstrip, click the Update Visualization button. The visualization pane refreshes with the new solid geometry but, due to its small dimensions, it is barely visible. Click the Fit to View button to optimize the zoom level. Ensure that the solid geometry is as expected.
Expand the Inertia parameters section and take note of the Type parameter setting. The automatic calculation of inertia properties from geometry is by default enabled. To complete the model of your solid, you need only ensure that its mass or mass density is set to the correct value. Click OK to accept the current solid settings.
If a solid block is unconnected, the relative placement of that solid is undefined. To resolve the solid pose—its position and orientation—in a model, you must connect the reference frame port (B) or, if you prefer, a custom frame port, belonging to the solid block. For example, connecting the R port to the W port of a World Frame block would align the solid so that its reference frame is coincident with the world frame. The figure shows such a connection
Specifying spatial relationships such as this is key to modeling in the Simscape Multibody environment. You can rotate and translate two frames with respect to one another by applying operations called rigid transforms between those frames. To learn more about frames and transforms, see Working with Frames.
For ease of modeling, the solid blocks provide a frame creation interface. You can use this interface to append and align new frames to select geometry features, such as vertices, edges, faces, and volumes. To learn how to create frames using this interface, see Creating Custom Solid Frames.
Solid blocks provides a sizeable array of preset shapes—those with simple parameterizations featuring readily accessible parameters, such as Radius and Length, as inputs. Preset shapes make it possible to quickly model spherical, cylindrical, and prismatic solids, among others. For greater versatility, the preset shapes include the Extruded Solid block and Revolved Solid block—shapes whose cross-sections, be they along or about an axis, you can modify. To learn more about these shapes, see Modeling Extrusions and Revolutions.
Use the Revolved Solid block to model a solid of revolution—a cone with a height of 5 ft and a base radius also of 5 ft. Visualize the solid in the visualization pane of the Revolved Solid block. Ignore the relative placement of the solid in the (still incomplete) model.
Add a Revolution Solid block to a Simulink model.
In the Cross-Section parameter line,
enter the coordinate matrix
[0 0; 5 0; 0 5]
and select units of
ft. Each matrix
row provides an [x
z] coordinate pair, specified in that order,
for a cross-section point.
Click the Update Visualization button and the Fit to View button. Ensure that the solid geometry is as expected. Click OK to accept the new solid geometry and close the block dialog box.
The Revolved Solid block generates the revolved shape by sweeping the specified xz cross-section about the z-axis. To consistently generate a valid shape without errors, the Revolved Solid block enforces a few rules. Foremost among these is the requirement that, as you proceed from one point in the coordinate matrix to the next, the solid region lie to your left and the empty (or hollow) region to your right. The same rule applies to extruded shapes, with one distinction: the cross-section coordinates are (x, y) pairs and the cross-section lies in the xy plane. To learn more about revolved and extruded cross-sections, see Modeling Extrusions and Revolutions.
Rather than specify a solid shape, you can import one from an external geometry file. To use this option, create a File Solid block. provides your best route for modeling complex or intricate solid geometries. You must obtain the desired geometry in a supported format—currently STEP (also referred to as STP) or STL.
The STEP format is recommended as it leads to what are generally smaller files than equivalent STL geometries. STEP is also the only of the two formats that allows for automatic inertia calculation from geometry. You must explicitly specify the moments of inertia, products of inertia, and center of mass of the solid when importing an STL geometry.
Note that very large files may load slowly and delay the usually fast model update step (in the Modeling tab, click Update Model). The size of a STEP or STL file depends to an extent on the application used to generate the file. You can, in some cases, reduce size by using a different application to export your solid geometry.
Use the File Solid block to import a detailed bevel gear geometry. The gear geometry was created in CAD software and subsequently exported in STEP format. Visualize the solid in the visualization pane of the Solid block and ignore the relative placement of the solid in the model.
Add a File Solid block to a Simulink model.
The Geometry parameters section updates to show the required file import properties—File Type, File Name, and, for STL files only, Units.
From the File Type dropdown list,
STEP. This is the
recommended geometry file type. STEP files are generally
smaller than their STL counterparts and enable the automatic
calculation from geometry.
In the File Name parameter field,
bevel_c.step. This file name
corresponds to an example STEP geometry that is by default
on your MATLAB path. If you experience any issues, you can
enter the file
Click the Update Visualization button and then the Fit to View button. Ensure that the solid geometry is as expected. Click OK to accept the new solid geometry and close the block dialog box.
You can obtain a STEP or STL geometry file from a CAD model. Most CAD applications enable you to export your part geometries in these (among other) formats. If you are adept at using a CAD application, or have the support of someone who is, you can create a detailed solid geometry in CAD, export it in a STEP or STL file, and import the final geometry file into a File Solid block.
If you lack a license to a professional CAD application, open-source
software such as FreeCAD may provide a suitable alternative. Onshape, a
professional, full-cloud CAD application, provides free subscription
plans. This tool has the advantage of allowing you to import complete
multibody assemblies into the Simscape Multibody environment using the
smexportonshape function. For more information,
see Onshape Import.
If you cannot obtain a STEP or STL file with the desired solid geometry, you can still approximate that geometry—by combining simpler preset shapes into a larger, compound, shape. You must use multiple Solid blocks—one for each preset solid shape. Often, you must also use Rigid Transform blocks, to specify the spatial relationships that exist between the solid reference frames. The figure shows a solid geometry that you can model as a compound shape—a binary link with a hole section (labeled A), a main section (B), and a peg section(C).
For an example showing how to model this compound body, see Try It: Create a Compound Geometry.