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Remaining one of the easiest modellers to use
Solidworks 2003 from SolidWorks Corporation
SolidWorks have never been afraid to innovate and the latest 2003 release is no exception, offering integrated functionality such as kinematic simulation and basic FEA plus significant advances in modelling methodology with the introduction of support for multiple bodies, shared sketches and FeatureManager folders.
Despite the core modeller offering more than ever, the product range has expanded to three with the Office version that adds a range of utilities including part libraries, rendering and animator, and the new Office Pro that integrates the recently acquired PDM/Works.
General interface issues have been tightened for instance allowing direct access to edit feature definitions or sketches from the parent child dialog and flexibility to roll back the design tree from a right click menu on any feature rather than needing to scroll the bar from the bottom of a potentially long tree.
Additional options include rolling back to the previous state, rolling forwards by one feature at a time and temporarily unabsorbing sketches to facilitate the addition of sketches into an existing loft or sweep.
Since the advent of surface features, complex constructions can result in a very long feature tree so 2003 introduces folders allowing features constituting logical design elements to be grouped together.
The FeatureManager can also display more descriptive feature, component and configuration descriptions.
It has been possible to make components semi-transparent for clarity in assemblies for several releases, but now other opaque parts can be selected through the transparency.
A significant modelling enhancement is the ability to interrupt builds.
Previously it was always just after launching the rebuild command that a further edit would be spotted, dictating a wait for the full rebuild before editing could recommence.
Although with experience it is possible to be aware of resource hungry features, a new feature statistics option displays the build time and percentage for each feature allowing disproportionately slow items to be investigated or suppressed until needed.
Sketches can be shared within a part allowing a single sketch to be used for multiple features without the need to manually replicate the sketch.
A new shared sketch icon appears under each feature in the FeatureManager tree and any edits to the shared sketch ripple through all referencing features.
An additional contour select tool enables the use of portions of sketches.
As a result, a complex multiple contour sketch can capture design intent and be shared between multiple features.
Contour select also helps identify correctly closed boundaries necessary for a feature without needing to use the check sketch for feature tool.
In order to achieve the better surface qualities from lofts and sweeps that result from the use of splines rather than individual sketch entities, the fit spline tool automatically converts sketch segments into a single spline.
Dimensions can be automatically generated in a sketch with the option to specify horizontal and vertical datums for baseline, chain or ordinate schema.
Many new construction methods are opened up by the flexibility to create multiple bodies within the same part.
It is important however to differentiate between a multibody part that should ultimately represent a single BOM item and an assembly where parts are likely to move relative to each other.
Disjoint bodies within a part can be viewed primarily as a construction tool.
In many cases creation of two simple solids that can then be combined or subtracted using Boolean tools can be the most effective construction method.
Similarly by splitting a solid it is possible to apply local operations such as shelling a portion of the part or to create a feature that bridges between discreetly defined forms.
A Solid Bodies folder at the top of the FeatureManager allows each body to be selected and indicates if non-manifold parts have been inadvertently created.
The scope of new features can be defined to apply to selected or all bodies.
Solid bodies can also be moved, copied patterned and mirrored and assembly files can be saved out as smaller multibody part files.
Enhancements to surface modelling tools are of benefit when tidying imported data and in modelling of complex forms.
The Untrim tool can be used to extend edges and fill holes.
Selection of one or more edges extends the surface to its natural boundaries.
The powerful surface fill tool has additional options to create a simplified Coons patch in order to improve build time and stability.
Since transitions between surfaces may not always be perfect, the deviation analysis tool calculates the angles between faces along a selected edge in order to view where the maximum and minimum deviation occurs and to assess whether the result is acceptable.
Solid bodies can be ‘uncapped’ to convert them to surfaces by deleting a face.
Surfaces can now be scaled in the same way as solids and planes can be used in addition to surfaces to cut solid bodies.
A useful addition to filleting is the option to select three face sets to which the fillet is tangent enabling an edge to be fully rounded.
Design tables have always offered powerful tools for driving configurations of family parts.
Capabilities have been extended to offer bi-directional operation so that changes made to a model propagate back to the design table.
A design table can be saved out and links created to external Excel files.
Sheet metal modelling now allows conical forms to be folded and unfolded.
Since lofted bends are likely to create deformations in the flat pattern, a bend deviation PropertyManager is available to calculate surface areas in the folded and folded conditions and resultant deviation.
There is considerably more flexibility in manipulating parts in an assembly heirarchy.
A part can be replaced by a sub assembly and vice versa with the option to replace selected or all instances in one operation.
The Mated Entities PropertyManager greatly assists in dealing with dangling mate entities by indicating problems and stepping through respecifying the required elements.
A part can now be pre-assigned up to three mate entities so that when dragged into an assembly with a matching MateReference name, the component is correctly positioned and aligned and mates automatically added with a single step.
Mate references can also be added to assemblies for placement as sub-assemblies.
Existing manual drag and interference detection tools to assess dynamic function within applied mates has been extended with physical simulation of linear and rotary motors, springs and gravity.
Additional analysis of parts is available in a basic static FEA tool CosmosXpress.
A wizard steps through tabs for material selection, application of restraints and loads, analysis and output of results as AVI animations, HTML reports or eDrawing files.
Should the part be changed, red exclamation marks appear on the analysis and results tabs to indicate that results will be out of step with the part.
It is critical to spot these flags as subtle design changes may not be apparent when displaying out of sync Cosmos results.
Creation of drawings is aided by greater flexibility in templates, allowing custom view placements, orientation, scale and line or shaded display type to be predefined.
Dimensions can be created directly to silhouette edges and centre marks and centrelines can be generated automatically.
Tolerances can be specified by fit so that if the dimension is subsequently edited the tolerances will update automatically.
Hole callout information can now be based on the specification used to create the feature with the hole wizard.
SolidWorks offers RapidDraft drawing format to allow editing without loading model data.
This not only increases performance but allows drawing files to be distributed without part files.
If a drawing is out of sync with the part data a water mark warning is printed.
Clearly some functions cannot be completed without access to the model data, but the range of available options has been extended to include bill of materials, balloons and shaded view mode.
2003 also introduces support for blocks containing geometry, text and figures.
The significant new addition to the SolidWorks family is PDM/Works, available in the Office Pro version or as a standalone product.
Although some file management functionality is available in SolidWorks Explorer, it does not address document up-issuing for complex referenced documents and is aimed principally at single users.
On the other hand SmartTeam is targetted at widely distributed, multi-discipline enterprise level implementations where full lifecycle management is required.
PDM/Works is therefore aimed at the mid range design team sharing data and needing revision control.
A standalone vault manager application is used to define user and group level access permissions to project specific data and schema for revision nomenclature.
Files can be checked out of the vault from within SolidWorks and a FeatureManager panel can display revision level and owner.
A system of status icons also indicate which open parts have changed and whether local parts are newer or older than vault versions.
Non SolidWorks files can also be checked in to the vault in order to control full project documentation if required.
Overall 2003 is a significant release for SolidWorks with enhancements to modelling methodology, capability and document management.
Although there is an ever increasing range of third party add-on tools available, the inclusion of basic FEA and physical simulation underlines SolidWorks commitment to put production capable tools on every engineers desktop while PDM/Works greatly aids collaboration and data management.
Despite the wide range of functionality and sophistication available, constant attention to the interface means SolidWorks has remained one of the easiest modellers to use.