Another Broad-Ranging Set of Enhancements Keeps SolidWorks at the Top
Colin Mathews looks at the latest incarnation and refers back to his first review, 18 years ago.
With the established CAD applications more than adequately addressing the essentials, it could be thought that little scope remains for improvements. Undeterred, developers’ current attention is on efficiency, making users lives easier through logical workflows, innovative interfaces and performance improvements, and broadening the ecosystem, often through additional cost modules to include integrated analysis approaching virtual design verification, manufacturing intelligence and broader design communication. SolidWorks, for many years now part of the Dassault Systèmes group, has always been an innovator – with each release since 1995 packed with a colossal number of changes and enhancements. The 2014 What’s New manual stretches to 198 pages on its own, so there is little sign of the development effort reducing.
Most users will recognise the frustration of having quickly sketched out a profile only for it to badly distort when a dimension is applied to scale it appropriately to suit the application. The default behaviour is now for all entities to automatically scale uniformly when the first dimension is applied so the design intent is retained. In a similar vein, for workflows including sketching over bitmap images, a scaling tool enable the image to be easily positioned and scaled appropriately.
However, there is probably no greater frustration than having a model rebuild fail because geometry created early in the design process needs to change. The Replace Sketch Entity command allows one sketch entity such as a simple arc used to rough out a design to be replaced with a sophisticated spline when more design fidelity needs to be introduced, without breaking downstream references and whilst maintaining relevant sketch dimensions and relations. An advanced option in the confirm delete dialog provides control over which absorbed and child features should be kept or deleted. Although errors may well occur and need to be addressed manually, this feature has been long awaited and allows greater flexibility and less constraints for rapidly changing conceptual models.
The path length of a chain of sketch entities can be set as a driving dimension and can be referenced in configurations and equations – great for flexible elements such as belts or chains and routing. Usability of splines is enhanced with the ability to similarly fix the length of the spline however the shape is manipulated. The Style Spline option in 2D and 3D sketches (above) enables them to be fully defined to achieve and maintain smooth and robust surfaces avoiding unexpected results during edits. Control includes degree and continuity of the curve, tangency and curvature by snapping points to inference lines or using the alt key modifier plus constraining and dimensioning of control points. Mirroring support facilitates straightforward symmetry.
The addition of Lasso Selection provides greater flexibility for selecting entities in sketches, parts, assemblies and drawings. As is customary, clockwise definition selects only items entirely within the loop whereas counter clockwise selection, in drawings and sketches only, also selects items crossing the lasso. Of particular use in a shared model design team environment, a History folder in the FeatureManager enables a user defined number of the most recently created or edited features to be listed.
Significantly for the simple creation of smooth form transitions avoiding harsh highlights, in addition to the conic sketch entity in 2013 the fillet tool now includes symmetrical conics for parts assemblies and surfaces (below), driven by radius and Rho value that determines whether the curve is elliptical, parabolic, or hyperbolic. The Hole Wizard has an additional specification for length to create counterbored, countersunk and straight slots. For sheet metal fabrications requiring a loft between two parallel profiles, a Bent Loft feature models bends and approximated flat pattern bend lines suitable for press brake forming. The interface for sheet metal gussets greatly simplifies creation and selection of multiple options. Gussets are automatically ignored when the part is flattened.
Standard assembly mates can be quickly applied by ctrl-selecting entities to mate which displays a context sensitive toolbar containing only the appropriate mates and highlighting the default. A number of new mates will minimise the need for multiple mates and workarounds. Bolts and slots or slots and slots can be mated using axes, cylindrical faces or slot features. Options can for instance allow a bolt to move freely in the slot, centre it or place it a fixed distance or percentage along the slot. Spherical bodies and surfaces can also be mated tangential to nonlinear edges and sketches and non-planar surfaces. In addition to simple two entity mates in previous versions, mirrored components now support a far wider range of mate types including cam, hinge and path mates and concentric mates now include an option to prevent rotation. Mate schema can be more readily interrogated and understood through the view mates listing of mates associated with selected reference geometry. For greater clarity, small components can be hidden by selecting as a percentage of assembly size.
In previous versions, pattern or mirror features that split single bodies would randomly select the bodies to keep but control is now available to select which resulting bodies to retain. Components can be patterned in assemblies driven by curves, sketches or very usefully an underlying component pattern. Parts previously mirrored about their centre of mass but as asymmetric components could cause unpredictable results the bounding box for the selected component can now be used instead. Flexibility and usefulness of exploded views is significantly enhanced with the addition of rotations. Single explode steps can include both linear translation and rotation, great for lifelike animations of opening panels, screws etc. These exploded views are supported in the 2014 version of eDrawings
Section views can be rapidly generated by setting them as graphics only. Complex and highly informative section views can be set-up with the ability to specify which multi body parts or assembly components are sectioned or not, ideal for removing external covers whilst leaving internal components un-sectioned.
Time and location realism for natural light rendering
A new Sunlight light source enables time and location realism for natural light rendering based on specified latitude, longitude, time and date. Models including motion studies can be exported to the Luxology .lxo format. This enables them to be imported into Modo, but importantly, as an internal conversion, can also significantly improve animation rendering performance in PhotoView 360. In previous versions, the SolidWorks MotionManager would save the model for each frame, which would in turn be opened by PhotoView 360 and rendered. Now SolidWorks saves the model once in .lxo format, and PhotoView 360 only loads the file once to render all the frames.
To accelerate render times further, Subscription Service customers can share PhotoView 360 rendering tasks across multiple computers. Set up requires client machines running the PhotoView 360 Net Render Client but not SolidWorks and a coordinator machine running SolidWorks Professional 2013 or later with the PhotoView 360 add-in turned on. From the Net Render Client, rendering is initiated on the coordinator machine which in turn uses the processing power of available client machines. A schedule can be set on the client to make the machine available for rendering on specific days and times. Some testing is required to identify suitable network rendering jobs; situations where the rendering would take less than five minutes on the coordinator machine, client machines are significantly less powerful than the coordinator machine or the pre-processing portion of the rendering takes a third or more of the total render time e.g. including lots of lights and reflections, are all unlikely to benefit from network rendering.
In the drawing environment, enhancements include the ability to create angular running dimensions (below). Each dimension is initially positioned automatically aligned as a chain but this can be overridden including options to jog the radial leader line, show as an inspection dimension or run bi-directionally from the zero degree datum. Once significant annotation is added to a drawing view it is possible to now change the file references between parts, between assemblies and between parts and assemblies with the drawing remaining open. On complex drawings small modifications can be added to out-of-date views as they are no longer obscured. An option allows section views to include surface bodies. In order to gracefully accommodate changes or edits to tables and BOMs, splits can be specified after a maximum number of rows to place subsequent table segments below or to the right. Annotation includes a toggle to set ‘all uppercase’ irrespective of the case in the note edit field. Strings that should not be automatically capitalised such as mm can be user defined. Drawing templates can now include different sheet formats so for example specify the first sheet to be different from subsequent sheets by default.
More flexibility is available in the built-in costing module, for instance allowing the default options for sheet metal and machining operations to be overridden. A simplified cost estimate can be readily produced based on volumes of removed material, including multibody part volumes for post-machining operations and approximated finishing rather than a detailed set of template parameters. Given the criticality and potential sensitivity of costing information a new feature allows the costing template to control user access to specific data.
Enterprise PDM continues to try to strike the right balance between control of a complex interrelated data set and ease of use. Of particular relevance to large corporate implementations are additional administrator options to manage local data caches during log in or out and improved user management for filtering recipients of dynamic notifications. There is also an updated interface to aid navigation around large and complex tree structures and the ability to customise the columns displayed in dialogs to suit specific workflows. One useful new column displays reference version data to quickly highlight any assemblies referencing files that are not the latest version.
The virtual design validation add-on SolidWorks simulation, available in various levels of capability up to and including Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), has various enhancements. Toolbox fasteners used in the modelling environment can be automatically converted to Simulation bolt connectors, retaining location, geometric and material properties. Visualisation of contact points is improved with a colour coded plot indicating various contact types including where there is simple contact but no penetration. Also of use is the ability to compare up to four result plots from different configurations of the same model and can be exported in a single eDrawings file. CircuitWorks and SolidWorks flow integration is improved including component mapping which aids interaction and facilitates simpler thermal analysis. SolidWorks Electrical continues to develop with a switch from Access to SQLlite, report templates for common calculations such as maximum amp capacity or voltage drop and ability to combine line and schematic tools in single drawings. The SolidWorks plastics module has been updated with wizard interfaces including stepping through mesh creation, material selection and a wide range of process parameters plus a mould layout wizard addressing runners and gates. Terminology has also changed to reflect industry standards such as edge gate.
So yet another huge release from SolidWorks with enhancements for most users. Over the last few releases evidenced by eDrawings for example extending its capabilities and broadening supported platforms to include iPad with added augmented reality (above) to enable models to be viewed in a live environment there is ample ongoing scope for innovation. As we said back in 1996, “If you want to be working in 3D, take a look at SolidWorks, as there is tremendous potential for this product.”