SolidWorks 2003—Parts power

1 Apr, 2003 By: Jeffrey Rowe Cadalyst

Parts and analysis take center stage in the latest version of 3D modeler.

SolidWorks 2003 is proof positive that CAD products can work out of the box as advertised. After setting the standard for midrange CAD in 1995, SolidWorks, now in its 11th release, continues to raise the bar and keep the competition hopping. Three packages are available in the SolidWorks 2003 family: SolidWorks 2003 is the core modeling software. SolidWorks 2003 Office (the subject of this review) contains the modeler, plus eDrawings Professional for e-mail-enabled design communication; 3D Instant Website for publishing on the Web; PhotoWorks for photorealistic rendering; SolidWorks Animator for animating models; SolidWorks Toolbox, a library of standard components; FeatureWorks, a tool for recognizing features; and SolidWorks Utilities, tools for enhancing productivity.

SolidWorks 2003 Office Professional provides all the offerings in Office, plus PDMWorks, a product data management tool.

Rugged handheld computer or “all-terrain” mobile computer is designed for collecting data in harsh conditions. Model shown is the Tablet CE8640, designed by DAP Technologies of Canada.
Although this review focuses on SolidWorks 2003 Office, my conclusion discusses which of the three packages might be best for you.

SolidWorks 2003 Office has too many new and enhanced capabilities to detail in this review, so I'll concentrate on its most innovative aspects.

While most vendors (including SolidWorks) concentrated on assemblies and attendant performance in the past several releases, SolidWorks 2003 gives a lot of attention to parts. I like this because the design approach I take, called bottom-up design, is very parts oriented: Once I have a completed design in my mind's eye, I create and mate individual parts into subassemblies and assemblies.

You can reuse geometry from one part to help create geometry in new ones, and the parts are fully associative with changes made to the inserted part.
SolidWorks 2003's two major enhancements to part design-the ability to handle multibody parts and the FeatureManager design tree-complement each other. Multibody parts are simply parts that contain multiple solid bodies. The bodies can be joined or not joined, but they behave as one entity. When you create multiple solid bodies in a single part, the FeatureManager design tree displays a folder named Solid Bodies, which indicates the number of bodies it contains. Support for multibody parts includes bridging, which lets you create portions of design that you know about, just to get something down, and then add connecting geometry later. Bridging is especially useful when you know specifics about parts of a design but not necessarily how they are connected. For instance, if you are
3D ContentCentral is a useful online resource for viewing and downloading models from suppliers’ catalogs. You can also upload models to share with the SolidWorks user community.
designing a spoked wheel for a luggage cart and know the parameters for the wheel rim and hub, but not for the stylized spokes, you can first design the wheel rim and hub, and then use bridging to create the spokes to connect the first two parts.

Multibody parts are not replacements for assemblies. The general rule is that one part, whether it is multibody or not, should represent one part number in a BOM (bill of materials). And though assemblies are useful for motion studies, multibody parts are not because the multiple solid bodies are not dynamic.

The FeatureManager design tree is handy for creating and managing multibody parts, and it lets you define your own folders. But also important is the FeatureManager's new Rollback feature. With it, you can temporarily revert your model to an earlier phase of development as you suppress more recently added features. When your model is in the rolled-back state, you can edit existing features and add new ones. To roll your model forward again and reinstate changes made before you used Rollback, right-click on a feature and select what you want to do from a context menu.

Many standard components-some of which may be included in your own design assembly-are ready made and accessible from within SolidWorks through 3D ContentCentral (, a repository of specifications and CAD models for parts from about 20 suppliers.

With the Fillet command, you can now apply a round that covers a full face, for example on a rib or fan blade. For full round fillets, you select three adjacent face sets (a face set includes one or more tangent faces), and apply a fillet that is tangent to them all.
The number of suppliers represented is sure to increase, but companies are required to pay an annual fee for their presence on the site.

Through 3D ContentCentral you can browse, search for, and download parts from suppliers' online catalogs. Available products include bearings, electronic connectors, tooling, workholders, and power transmission. You can also download selections from a library of parts submitted by SolidWorks users. Some are pretty obscure, but if you find what you need, it saves you time. Once ContentCentral displays a model, you can pan, zoom, and rotate it.

As good a concept as 3D ContentCentral is, there is room for improvement with regard to standards and consistency. First, no two suppliers present their content in the same way or degree of detail. These differences may put some users off. I'm all for individualism, but a format like this begs for consistency in look, feel, and behavior.

Bidirectional design tables now let you change parameters without editing the design table. Changes made to a model propagate back to the design table. Previously, you had to update a model from the design table.
Second, content offered by the various suppliers ranges from feature-based models to plain solids. Some are ready to mate with your model and some aren't, and you can't predict what you'll get until you navigate to a supplier's page and use them. More standardization will make future versions of 3D ContentCentral more useful.

It had to happen someday. A vendor, realizing that analysis could and should be performed early in the design process and not as an afterthought, would tie CAD to stress analysis. Well, SolidWorks has done exactly that by integrating COSMOSXpress into its core product. Think of COSMOSXpress as sort of a COSMOSWorks Lite-mechanical analysis for the common folk.

For an FEA (finite-element analysis) tool, COSMOSXpress is quite easy to use. A user-friendly wizard-like tool walks you through the analysis process step by step. With a part in the graphics window, COSMOSXpress helps you designate a material, define restraints and loads, and run the analysis. If you don't like the results, you can change the material, restraints, loads, and geometry (or any combination) and rerun the analysis until you get a satisfactory part. Once you get it down, this process doesn't take long-typically it took me less than a minute to run and display results.

Physical simulation lets you view the effects of motors, springs, and gravity on your assemblies. It helps you understand and test how components interact when in linear or circular motion conditions. Using mates and physical dynamics, you can move components around your assembly.
Although COSMOSXpress is relatively easy to learn and use, FEA neophytes will find it challenging to know where to best apply a load and how much to apply. But with practice you get the hang of it. Though you can apply COSMOSXpress only to parts in linear situations, I doubt that this limitation will disappoint new users. Those who need more advanced FEA-such as nonlinear conditions, heat transfer, and impact effects-are candidates for COSMOSXpress' big brother, COSMOSWorks.

Coupled with SolidWorks' physical dynamics simulation capabilities, COSMOSXpress helps you design parts correctly the first time, without so many time-consuming and costly reworks. It's a long-overdue introduction to FEA for those who thought it was beyond them.

Whether you work in 2D and wonder when to move to 3D, or currently use 3D modeling (SolidWorks or otherwise), there are compelling reasons to buy SolidWorks 2003.

An intangible, but vital, part of the overall package is its active user community, which receives substantial support from SolidWorks and its resellers. I've posed some tough questions and problems at various SolidWorks user group meetings around the country and have almost always come away with an answer. I think anyone new to SolidWorks will have a similar experience and quickly feel a part of the user community.

Previously, you needed several different translator add-ins to import the various Autodesk file types. Now, a wizard in SolidWorks 2003 enables import of DXF, DWG, and 3D DXF, as well as Mechanical Desktop DWG and DXF files with embedded ACIS data. The wizard automatically determines if a DWG file contains Mechanical Desktop data.
While each release of SolidWorks enhances the capabilities of the core product and integrated add-ins, just as important are the third-party vendors who develop complementary products that let you accomplish just about anything in mechanical design, engineering, and manufacturing.

With SolidWorks and the right third-party products, you can tackle tough problems in plastic mold-making, sheet-metal fabrication, even robotics. SolidWorks is well suited to part and assembly design, machine design, and-as its surfacing capabilities get more sophisticated-industrial design, where styling and complex shape description are major issues.

Determining which of the three packages-SolidWorks 2003, Office, or Office Pro-is right for you depends on your experience and future needs.

Those new to 3D are well served by the core product alone, but many may soon outgrow it and wish they had opted for one of the more comprehensive packages.

Office provides a number of productivity and communication tools for not much more money.

Office Professional costs a bit more still, but provides a medium-duty tool for maintaining version control and managing design data in workgroups. This functionality is not universally needed, but as workgroups and design complexities grow, most users will come to appreciate and rely on a good product data management tool.

Whichever flavor of SolidWorks 2003 you choose, you can be confident that it will work out of the box. Highly recommended.



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