Altering the interface for the long term good
Please Note: You may be looking for our review of the most recent version of SolidWorks, which can be found here
Solidworks 2000 from SolidWorks Corporation
Despite having been previewed at the SolidWorks World conference in January, the urge to release the 2000 version has been resisted until robustness has reached the required level.
The Pre-Release2 currently available to subscription users incorporates the full range of new capabilities including greatly enhanced surface handling tools, updates to the interface and a new add-in explorer application for handling references between multiple files.
SolidWorks are prepared to risk the temporary discomfort caused to the existing user base by altering the interface for the long term good.
There are too many examples of packages hobbled by the constraints of legacy users that either become entirely unwieldy or eventually face up to the inevitable need for a radical change and cause far greater inconvenience and user disaffection.
Most noticeable is the progressive shift away from discrete dialogs for each function towards the PropertyManager.
This uses an additional tab in the FeatureManager pane to display context specific information and allow command interactions for sketches and features such as ribs.
This minimises the need for dialog boxes that all too easily obscure the graphics area.
The FeatureManager can be split into two panes so that it can simultaneously display two tabs such as features and properties.
As SolidWorks has become progressively more sophisticated, the number of tabs in the Options dialog has become somewhat unwieldy.
In 2000, only two tabs are required offering tree structure access to System Options and Document Properties.
The former are global settings stored in the system registry and apply to all documents whereas the latter only apply to the current document.
Extensive use is made of the middle mouse button to dynamically rotate, pan and zoom the view using Ctrl and Shift combinations, excellent for manipulating the model mid command.
Graphics performance has been enhanced with dynamic transparency capabilities to reduce image quality during rotations to aid responsiveness and a Fast Hidden Line Removal (HLR) mode.
The most radical change in modelling capability is the expansion of surface handling tools, all available from one of six new toolbars and controlled through the PropertyManager.
To distinguish from simple base surface features that could be created previously, a modified or enhanced surface is called a surface body.
With the extend surface tool the extent of a surface can be dragged dynamically.
A dimension also appears dynamically alongside the drag direction cursor.
The behaviour of the extension can be set to be either a continuation of the existing surface curvature or linear, tangential to the surface at the extended edge.
By selecting a face rather than an edge, all edges of a surface can be extended by the same dimension.
As an alternative to a free drag, end conditions can be a specified distance, an existing model point or a surface including a construction plane.
Surfaces can also be trimmed to each other with control over which pieces are kept or cut away.
Fillets can be applied to edges between surfaces and separate surface bodies can be combined using face blends.
The knit surface feature allows complex forms to be built up.
It does not absorb the constituent features which allows easy access for editing and reuse but can rapidly generate a long feature manager tree.
Ultimately surfaces will be used to create solids by thickening or as cutting tools, but their use can facilitate the generation of forms not possible purely with solids or simply be a more efficient method of construction.
In order to be able to create complex surfaces, the curve handling and analysis tools have been enhanced.
Splines for instance can now also be created in 3D sketches and a curvature evaluator tool is available to display both curvature and curve inflections.
This plot line updates dynamically as the spline is manipulated.
Points on a spline can be assigned perpendicular and tangent constraints to other sketch elements.
The new Moving Frame tool is used to control splines without the inevitable increase in complexity that occurs through adding further control points.
In dragging the T shaped frame along a spline the tangent and normal are displayed.
Once the Moving Frame has been locked onto the spline, the frame handles can be dragged to alter the shape of the spline or have constraints added.
An intersection curve tool enables 2D or 3D curves to be generated for any intersecting planes, surfaces or parts.
By creating a planar curve for the inside and outside surface of a part the wall thickness can be readily measured.
3D intersection curves can be useful as sweep paths and by generating curves from imported geometry parametric sketches and hence models can be derived.
Edges can be converted directly into 3D sketch entities and the trim and extend tools are now supported in 3D.
One of the simple but obvious sketch tool omissions has been rectified with the new polygon tool that allows between three and twenty sides and is entirely controlled from the PropertyManager.
Patterns within sketches can fortunately now be driven parametrically and can be subsequently edited.
A significant enhancement for part manipulation is the capability to apply a non-uniform scaling factor by entering X-Y-Z co-ordinates.
This is of particular importance for mould making applications for which the Mold Tools toolbar has been created incorporating tools such as draft, split line and radiate surface.
Filleting capabilities include multiple radius fillets where three edges meeting at a corner can be assigned a different radius, round corner fillets to avoid sharp intersections at corners and setback fillets.
These allow vertex corners to be softened to avoid harsh highlights by specifying a transition distance from the face form to the fillet radius, although it is a shame that the same setback cannot be applied along edges as well as corners.
Rib construction is considerably more flexible allowing generation from open or multiple, disconnected sketch segments.
Ribs can be extruded parallel or normal to the sketch, trimming automatically to surrounding faces and with specified thickness and draft.
Shells can be created without leaving an open face for applications where a complete part may be modelled before splitting into component halves.
Patterns of seed features such as holes or bosses can be specified using an X-Y table of co-ordinates.
This can be particularly useful for irregular patterns and the data can be saved out and retrieved for subsequent models.
Alternatively points within a sketch can be used to locate patterned features.
The hole creation wizard now sports a comprehensive selection dialog including tabs for conterbore, countersink, hole, tap and pipe tap specification.
Each page offers scrolldown selector box for the required standard and relevant dimensions.
Given the wide range of features that can be generated, preferred specifications can be saved as favourites on each page.
The final tab offers compatibility with legacy hole features in pre 2000 models.
In order to speed up assembly loading and performance, SolidWorks does not load full part geometry into an assembly unless it is necessary.
Such partially loaded parts are called lightweight and are indicated in the FeatureManager and by the cursor with a feather icon.
The feather gains red stripes if the geometry in the assembly is out of date with the part file.
A new system option in 2000 forces a check for out of date parts on loading.
References between multiple files are an essential part of an intelligent parametric model so that for instance a hole in one part will automatically update if the diameter of the mating part is edited.
SolidWorks 2000 allows external references to be locked to prevent any further references from being created and unlocked to allow creation or editing of references.
External references can also be broken so that automatic updates do not occur as may be required if a particular revision level of a part is to be retained.
SolidWorks has always had good assembly constraint tools and these have been extended with spherical and conical face mates.
In complex assemblies the sheer number of mates can become bewildering.
The PropertyManager now displays a list of only the mates referencing the currently selected component.
When two components are selected mates between them are shown in bold.
The ability to drag components within the applied constraints is useful for evaluating mechanisms and the built-in collision detection is no longer limited to the types of surfaces for which it can detect collisions.
A very useful addition is the Dynamic Clearance option in the PropertyManager that displays a dimension in the graphics area indicating the minimum distance between two selected components as they are moved or rotated.
Drawings now offer layer support so that entities or complete components can be assigned to discrete user defined layers.
Since layer properties can include line colours it is possible to show each component in a different colour but it is a shame that as an alternative it is not possible to simply use each parts model colour in the drawing.
Auxiliary views can be generated from silhouette edge, axis or sketched line rather than just true part edges.
Profiles used to define the area of a detail view can be dragged around and the detail view itself will update dynamically.
Any view can also be cropped to a defined area.
Individual components can be hidden in assembly drawing views as can components lying entirely behind a selected plane.
Selected dimensions display green handles on the arrow heads.
Left clicking these flips them inside or out and right clicking pops up an arrow head style selector.
Dimension formatting including tolerances and precision can be accomplished in the PropertyManager.
Multiple notes and symbols can be created without closing the dialog and annotations can be aligned with PowerPoint style align left, right, top, bottom and equally spaced options.
In an ideal networked world all project contributors have access to all project data.
In practice however it can be inconvenient for drawing detailing operations to need full access to model files.
The new RapidDraft format allows drawings to be opened, annotated and drawing views to be scaled and repositioned without needing part or assembly files.
Drawing performance is increased, particularly for large assembly drawings, as the model data does not need to be loaded into memory.
View borders are blue.
Should part or assembly data be required for a command such as adding a new view a prompt appears and view borders change to the normal grey or green once the model is loaded.
Since the data held within a RapidDraft drawing is different than a standard drawing, the file size may be larger or smaller depending on the elements in the drawing composition.
Once a drawing has been converted to RapidDraft however it cannot be converted back.
The issue of handling multiple referenced files has always presented a barrier to easy revision control for anything more than simple assemblies and drawings.
SolidWorks Explorer offers tools for visualising, organising and controlling part, assembly and drawing files including complete support for configurations and in context references.
It can be accessed as a window within SolidWorks or as a standalone application.
Browsing and search tools open a file listing in a pane similar to Microsoft Explorer and the contents on the right are selected from an Outlook style operation bar.
Options include the selected file’s preview bitmap, properties, list of references or complete listing of where used including model file and modelling context references.
Files can also be renamed, replaced with alternative files or copied including the option to raise the revision level in the file name.
Any hyperlinks within a SolidWorks document can also be listed, edited or opened directly.
New data exchange capabilities include STEP enhancements to be able to export multiple, disjoint surface bodies and configuration-controlled data including part names, release dates, revision numbers, and individuals and organisations who approve the releases.
IGES export files can include sketch entities in addition to model data.
When importing IGES, STEP, ACIS , or VDAFS data, an option tries to knit surfaces without trying to form a solid body.
The integrated PhotoWorks rendering add-in now sports a PhotoWorksManager pane allowing direct access to scene options.
Control over the contents of the pane mean that only features or faces that have specific material attributes can be listed.
Of great benefit to speeding up scene creation is the ability to render a small windowed area rather than the full image area.
The range of predefined materials has been extended and advanced reflectance capabilities allow effects such as translucent plastic, lacquered metallic paint and grooved surfaces to be rendered more realistically.
Custom materials can also be instanced onto other parts and surfaces so that if the definition is edited, all uses of the material update together.
SolidWorks 2000 is another significant release, addressing the range of parts that can be modelled, drawing creation capabilities and aiding complex file handling.
It is a production quality modeller that represents the range of tools that should be on every designer’s and engineer’s desktop.