Please Note: You may be looking for our review of the most recent version of SolidWorks, which can be found here
The quest for innovation shows no sign of slowing
Solidworks 2005 from SolidWorks Corporation
It seems unbelievable that market upstart SolidWorks Corporation has passed its tenth birthday.
And, despite having spent more than half its life under Dassault ownership, its strong, innovative culture thrives.
As the market has matured the primary focus has shifted from satisfying disenchanted users of legacy 3D systems to migrators from 2D.
A recent SolidWorks survey of data received from manufacturing contractors (machining, sheet metal, moulding, prototyping, design shops) indicated the percentage of 3D data being received having increased from 38% in 2003 to 51% in 04.
It would seem design is increasingly 3D to remain competitive with the predominant remaining use of 2D for machine design.
Software updates can create a stressful time, for users to grasp the new functionality, deal with data format compatibility and contend with any new bugs, and for vendors to be able to innovate without disenchanting existing users.
Even if it is temporarily uncomfortable, SolidWorks have always taken an aggressive stance on the need to innovate to avoid the kind of stagnation experienced by the AutoCAD interface for many releases,.
This approach appears to be endorsed by the eager SolidWorks subscription customers who have wholeheartedly embraced the Beta programme.
This has grown from 300 for the 2003 release to 3,000 in 2004 and a reported 3,000 downloads in first 23 hours for the 2005 beta.
Innovation is immediately apparent, while other less obvious enhancements are no less important.
To complement SolidWorks success at introducing a lite version of FEA in Cosmos Express to check ‘will it break’, 2005 introduces Moldflow Express to ask ‘will it fill’.
Of course capabilities are limited compared to full Moldflow packages; parts only, single injection points and limited materials database.
However, the wizard based approach with lots of helpful expert based advice does allow a good first pass analysis during the design phase.
It is aimed principally at thin, relatively uniform wall parts such as may typically be achieved using a shell command with the intelligence to flag if too much thickness variation is encountered.
Assembly exploded views have been integrated into the Property Manager pane and have an autospace option to speed up the positioning of multiple parts.
While modelling in an assembly, there is also a toggle to prevent the creation of external references when creating a new component or referencing geometry of other components.
A new Flexible sub-assembly option in the properties dialog enables components with fully defined sub-assemblies to be dynamically dragged and is indicated by an alternative icon in the feature manager.
Interference detection has been greatly enhanced.
The dialog now displays the volume of interference and the display properties of non-interfering components can usefully be set to transparent, hidden or wireframe.
Other toggles include treating coincidence as interference, ignoring some interferences and controlling their appearance, treating sub-assemblies as a single component ignoring its own part interferences and including multibody part interferences.
Since many interferences involve fastenings, fastener parts can be labelled as such in their properties so that any intreferences can be automatically grouped in a fastener folder in the interference detection.
The help files do helpfully point out however that these interferences should still be checked as there may also be unintentional interefences.
This fastener property also enables them to be excluded from drawing section views.
One of the great new drawing tools is the ability to compare two revisions of a drawing from the file system or PDMWorks vault, with a third pane indicating additions and deletions with colour coding to help identify even movement of views or annotations.
This could save hours poring over drawings, and the output can be printed or saved to form part of a revision control process.
Also high on the user wish list will have been the capability to generate detail views of an existing detail or cropped view, while section lines can now be multiple line segments at an angle.
Drag and drop creation of orthographic views has been extended to isometrics and drawings can be auto dimensioned just as in sketches.
Alignment of annotations has been improved to align the text rather than bounding box for each item.
Annotation located over hatching now has a halo blanking any lines crossed in order to aid legibility and by using rich text format, notes can now contain multiple font formats.
To overcome potential user confusion over view status, colour coding has been introduced to differentiate between being selected and having focus locked for the addition of entities.
This is a huge update to SolidWorks with many enhancements that will immediately appeal to users.
With the extended functionality of the SolidWorks Office and Office Pro versions now representing 50% of sales, updates of the add-ons such as Photoworks, Animator and PDMWorks should also ensure there is something for everyone.
SolidWorks attention to detail and quest for innovation shows no sign of slowing and this release will delight their increasing and loyal user base.
One obvious new feature is the task pane, typically docked to the right of the screen area giving immediate access to SolidWorks resources ranging from creating new documents to discussion forums.
A second tab offers design library content and the third a file explorer listing currently open files and a full windows style file explorer.
Hovering over a file pops out a Tooltip balloon with property information and for SolidWorks files also a preview.
Current files are shown bold if they have been modified since they were last saved and orange if read-only.
Referenced files that are not currently open can also be listed if required, identified by the file icon being transparent.
Write access is now managed better in a shared environment with tooltips indicating the name of the user who currently has write permission for the document.
When attempting to make changes to a read-only document a warning message pops-up.
Checking for availability or changes can be manual or at a scheduled interval and status can be altered using ‘Getwrite access’ or ‘Make read-only’ commands from the file menu.
The Reload dialog indicates write status, the name of the user with write access, whether edits need to be saved or if there is a newer version on disk.
As an additional safety measure, colour coding indicates if edits will be lost if the file is reloaded.
Associated design documents can also be managed from within SolidWorks files.
A design binder entry in the feature manager enables other files such as Word or Excel documents to be embedded or linked to the current model document.
By default a blank design journal item only is listed.
This does not add to the file size until it is activated by double click opening to inserting content such as model image grabs from the clipboard.
The template can be customised to include custom properties.
Post-it style text or voice comments can be added and time stamped on any feature manager items to annotate design intent.
Theses can be accessed from the right click menu on the relevant feature or in a Comments folder at the top of the history tree where all comments are collected together.
As the range of functions continues to expand, there is a risk that SolidWorks’ recognised ease of use is compromised by the sheer number of commands.
The interface can now be customised to provide industry specific subsets of functionality, hiding menus that are not generally used in the selected industry.
This workflow customisation is currently grouped as consumer product design including surfacing, machine design with sheet metal and weldments and mould design that includes surface and mould commands.
An ‘Interactive what’s new’ mode is available to annotate all new menu items with an icon to help identify new functionality.
Overall the interface looks more contemporary with XP style icons and more information is provided with icons superimposed on entities for sketch relations.
By selecting a relation such as mirror, the corresponding elements are also highlighted aiding rapid understanding of the construction constraints.
The What’s wrong dialog has been revamped to provide more detailed information on any errors.
The graphical feel of the interface has been enhanced in a number of other ways.
Trim options now appear in the Property Manger and include a ‘Power trim’ mode that with a Ctrl drag trims anything the trail passes through offering a very quick way of tidying complex geometry.
Other trim options include corner, inside, outside and nearest.
When offsetting sketch entities in both directions, the ends can be automatically capped to rapidly create enclosed slots.
The ‘Select Other’ mode for selecting hidden geometry now sports an excellent right click behaviour to progressively peel away obscuring surfaces until the required detail has been exposed.
Shift right clicking toggles the visibility of faces.
There is also a bottom right to top left crossing window selection mode that will be familiar to AuoCAD users as will quick snaps such as quadrants that are similar to OSnaps and construction lines of infinite length.
The continuing drive to aid 2D migrators is also evident with the provision of a stand alone DWGEditor application complete with model and paperspace, aimed primarily at the ‘tidying up and manipulation’ of existing drawings although new ones can be created if required.
Although ARX data needs to be exploded, pretty much everything else will be immediately familiar to AutoCAD users, ideal for a transition period or access to legacy AutoCAD data.
Bear in mind this is not a route to additional CAD licenses as DWGEditor ties up the SolidWorks license when in use.
In order to underline capabilities in consumer product design, there is considerable additional control over splines.
Of great significance is the option for setting a start or end curvature constraint so that for instance a curvature constraint between a spline and an arc will ensure that the curvature at the transition between the two entities is equal.
Relations can be added between spline points, between spline handles, and between spline handles and external sketch entities.
Splines can also be sketched directly onto existing surfaces, with the ability to drag points along the surface.
This enables complex sweeps to be created with curves bounded to a surface and facilitates better parting lines for mould tools.
Splines can also now be offset.
A ‘Smart selection’ mode aids the specification of lofts and sweeps.
The chain mode groups together existing edges or curves and prevents non-contiguous entities from being selected.
When using smart selection of edges for a surface loft for instance, the end handles can be interactively dragged to trim the resultant surface.
Other new model and feature manipulation tools include the triad callout that allows translation or rotation about axes or translation along planes by dragging the areas between the axes.
Applications of the triad include moving and copying bodies and in the ‘Push deform’ tool that deforms a target body by pushing a standard polygonal, spherical or custom tool body into it.
This gives a sense of interactive freeform model manipulation whilst maintaining considerable control.
Tool bodies are similarly used for the new indent feature that creates a cut or deformation with a clearance between the indent and the tool body, great for nesting products.
A wall thickness can be specified where deformation occurs.
A Flex feature enables bodies to be bent and twisted while specifying trim planes to limit the zone of influence so that other areas of the part can remain as geometrically defined.
Again the triad is used, in this instance locating the centre of the flex effect.
Functionality of many standard features has also been enhanced.
For extrusions, the start point no longer needs to be the sketch plane and can be an offset distance.
In lofts, C2 curvature continuity can be achieved using a new Curvature to face start and end constraint.
A draft angle can be specified for a guide curve to control the resultant surface wherever along the length geometry allows.
Greater control is also available with guide curve influence options To next guide, sharp or edge.
This specifies the portion of the profile to which a guide curve applies and helps minimise the number of guide curves required in order to simplify the construction.
Where start or end constraints are applied, handle arrows can be dragged to control the degree of influence of the constraint to subtly adjust the overall form.
Although previews aid visualisation of lofts during creation, a mesh option is also now available for non analytical surfaces to better understand the form.
The bane of lofts has historically been the degree of control over how points on each profile relate to each other.
Additional control is now available for interaction with connectors including undo last edits and delete options.
The ‘Add connector function’ has been modified to literally add a new connector, attached where the profile is selected, as opposed to the previous behaviour of displaying the closest existing one which is now achieved by a separate function.
Significantly, edited connector points retain their positions if new profiles are added to the loftrather than returning to the default positions.
To aid visualisation, all of the handles on an active connector highlight.
Enhancements to sweeps include the option to twist along its path, specifying the angle of rotation or number of turns.
A curve to curve option in the Deform command enables an existing edge to be transplanted to a new sketch so that the part is correspondingly reshaped.
This command also supports curve and surface tangency options.
There is a useful constant width option for face fillets to avoid the variation that occurs in many situations by default.
As with constraints, more symbols are used to indicate equation driven and linked dimensions, with an improved equation editor also available.
The status bar indicates properties of selected entities such as diameter and co-ordinates, or when two entities are selected useful information like ‘Distance between circle centres ’ When the measure command is invoked the information dialog is displayed with the addition of axis colour coded lines and callouts overlayed on the model for principal dimensions.
Additional dialog options include centre to centre, minimum and maximum conditions for arc and diameter distances, selection of reporting units, the coordinate system to be used and projection for measurement including custom defined face or plane.
Mass properties can be assigned to parts or assemblies such as simplified components or bought in parts so that the mass and centre of gravity of the whole model can be correct.
An interesting move is the ability to make both tolerances and materials driven by configurations.
Use of multibody parts is aided by the use of folders within the Solid Bodies folder so that bodies can be logically grouped and manipulated simultaneously with commands such as hide or appearance to change colour etc.
This also has the benefit of not changing name when new features are added to the body as happens with the body name.
A Show Feature History option within the Solid Bodies folder also enables the constituent features to be displayed under each solid body.
Emphasising the drive towards consumer product design, the mould tool design capabilities have been enhanced.
A new Core command creates a separate core solid by using geometry from a prepared tool solid.
Enhancements allow much more flexible working with parting lines and shut-off surfaces including the ability to split faces from a draft analysis as is frequently required for complex forms.
Some tools, although grouped within the mould family, can be more widely used.
These include Move Face allowing faces to be offset, translated or rotated even if no construction history exists, and Heal Edges to deal with imported geometry that often contains multiple short edges.