Please Note: You may be looking for our review of the most recent version of SolidWorks, which can be found here
Introducing the CommandManager
Solidworks 2004 from SolidWorks Corporation
Unlike Microsoft who look likely to barely release their 2003 server and Office products this year, SolidWorks have released their 2004 version already.
Never afraid to make changes in the interest of progress, 2004 sports many new interface elements as well as a range of new functionality.
The most notable change to the user interface is the CommandManager context sensitive toolbar which, in its default configuration, has a slightly ungainly tall appearance in order to accommodate a text description for each command button.
Fortunately the labels can be switched off.
Even then novice users are not left stranded, reliant upon memorising command icons, as the command descriptive pop-up tooltips have been extended to also include a brief description of functionality.
The control area at the left hand end allows the required feature, sketch, assembly or drawing toolbar to be selected either as a flyout menu of context appropriate commands or to dynamically update the contents of the full toolbar.
Menus now include icons as well as text entries and right click menus include bold headings for groups of related entries to help identify menu items from what can now be long lists.
User defined data such as part or feature names also appear on relevant headings.
Tabs for selecting the feature, property or configuration manager panes have been moved to the top for better accessibility and when a property manager pane is active the FeatureManager design tree pops out transparently over the model graphics area.
A valuable enhancement to section views allows the section plane to be dynamically dragged or rotated.
Cut faces can be coloured and specific views saved for instant recall.
Extended material support enables properties to propagate to Cosmos for FEA, the new PhotoWorks 2 for photo-realistic rendering and general component mass properties.
By default appropriate 2D textures can be displayed on the parts but users of Nvidia Quadro4 and FX cards can benefit from RealView graphics support that displays extremely realistic finishes even as the model view is dynamically manipulated.
Modelling enhancements focus on ease of use, the generation of complex forms and specialist environments for weldments and mould tools.
Historically boss extrudes have always been perpendicular to the sketch plane, but now the extrude direction can be specified as a vector from any existing model or linear sketch entity.
3D sketches can also be extruded.
A new detailed preview option enables new or modified faces to be highlighted or new or modified bodies only to be displayed in order to evaluate the effect of the new feature or edit.
Lofts have been significantly improved with enhancements to tangency, curve and face matching and overall performance.
The old bug bear of the lack of control over how loft profiles are joined, often leading to a twisted form, has been addressed with the ability to manually adjust and create connector lines to ensure correct synchronisation of profiles.
There are similar enhancements in sweeps including path and guide curve following improvements for smoother results.
The delete and fill command option enables multiple faces to be replaced with a single face with tangency to surrounding faces if required.
New diagnostic tools include shell error diagnostics to identify problems caused by minimum radius or incompatible thickness.
The Utilities bundle also includes a thickness analysis tool that displays a colour contour over the part.
A brand new deform feature allows the shape of a model to be altered locally or globally.
Deformation can be between points or an existing and target curve with control over the extent and area of influence.
This tool offers great potential to create complex forms but care must be taken that the desired result is achieved.
Alternatively complex splines can be readily generated using a fit spline tool that can fill gaps between sketch or model edges and remains parametrically linked.
Variable radius fillets can be applied to surfaces as well as solids and data points can now be created as reference geometry for an arc centre, centre of face, intersection of sketch entities or model edges, projection of a point onto a plane or distance along an entity.
Mould making tools have been rationalised so that a sequence of tools can be employed to define the parting line, create shut-off surfaces, radiate parting surfaces from the part line and generate the core and cavity solids.
The draft analysis tool is joined by an undercut detection tool.
A full weldment environment has been created based on multi-body capabilities, automatically suppressing body merging and creating configurations for machined and welded states.
When creating structural members, a pop-up menu allows the end conditions to be defined as butt or mitre joints, automatically trimming the member to other elements.
End caps and triangular or polygonal gussets can be applied with full length, intermittent or staggered weld beads.
Sub-weldments can be saved to an external file if required and drawing views of individual weldment parts can be created together with a cut list.
Any part file containing multiple bodies can be translated into an assembly, automatically creating associative, stand alone, part and assembly files.
Dynamic interaction within an assembly is possible using a triad to the control direction or axis of rotation with an option to use a delta XYZ box to move or rotate by a precise increment.
A new pop-up mate toolbar minimises the need to move off the graphics area into the property manager for common inputs.
Multiple mates can now be edited simultaneously and mate definitions can be used for positioning only without creating a new feature.
Conical mate options are extended and gear mates including gear ratio and direction of rotation and limit mates for tolerance of separation have been added.
The property manager includes improved tools for analysing and diagnosing mate rebuild errors.
A useful design tree view lists relevant mates and dependencies under each part.
Drawings now benefit from an auto balloon function with options to align balloons in a circular or square pattern or all along the bottom.
Use of Excel for hole, revision and BOM tables has been dropped in favour of built-in functionality.
Entries can be saved out as non-associative txt or csv files.
The revision table enables a symbol and alpha numeric identifier to be selected and placed alongside any revised elements, with the current identifier automatically entered in the drawing title frame.
A task scheduler utility has been added to automate large assembly rebuilds, or to execute tasks such as batch processing of imports and plots.
Many of the existing bundled utilities have also been updated with this release.
eDrawings are enhanced with the ability to customise the animation view order and to send as a zip file so as to mask the executable to be able to get through email firewalls.
Dynamic sections are also now capped rather than displaying a hollow wall shell.
PhotoWorks has been totally reworked and is now based on the Mental Ray rendering engine offering fog lighting controls and depth fading.
Significantly better results can certainly be generated very easily.
2004 is clearly a significant release for SolidWorks, offering valuable enhancements to the interface and functionality.
In the competitive design centric modelling market, SolidWorks keep their heads well above the water.