SolidWorks 20041 Jan, 2004 By: Jeffrey Rowe
Strong CAD program offers features that help you switch to 3D.
SolidWorks 2004, the twelfth release of this 3D solid modeling product, implements new features that should appeal to a whole new group of potential users who have been on the fence about moving to 3D. It also caters to those with specialized design needs-for example, those who design organically shaped forms, plastic molds, stamping dies, and structural weldments.
Because I was traveling for an extended period, I completed this review on a Sony Vaio laptop computer with a 1.2GHz Pentium processor and 256MB of RAM. Though this is hardly a power-user setup, I was able to perform most of the things I'd normally do on my much more powerful workstation. Along with a mouse, I used a SpaceTraveler from 3D Connexion (www.3dconnexion.com) as a supplemental motion-control device to rotate and zoom in and out of the parts and assembly models I created with SolidWorks 2004. If you haven't tried the SpaceTraveler, this small, portable device can be a real timesaver, making it fast and easy to scrutinize your models as you go.
New InterfaceNormally, I'm not overly excited about an application's user interface, but a number of significant improvements merit discussion.
First, the new CommandManager replaces the toolbars previously found in SolidWorks, although the old-style toolbars are still available if you want to use them. The CommandManager saves some real estate in your graphics area, and you can dock it vertically or horizontally. The CommandManager is context sensitive based on the type of toolbar you want to access. By default, the embedded toolbars within it are based on the document type you're working on. It took me about 5–10 minutes to get used to it, and I found it a big improvement over the old toolbars.
Quick Tips are a fairly comprehensive set of pop-up messages that display as you create SolidWorks objects. These messages provide hints and options based on the mode you are in. Most of the messages have hyperlinks that display additional information. Even ordinary tooltips are more useful because they show you not only the name of the tool as you hover over it, but also a brief description of its functionality. The new interface may be something you love or hate, at least initially. Once you set it up to best suit your needs, I think you'll appreciate it. The new interface makes SolidWorks 2004 easier to learn, especially for those new to SolidWorks or new to 3D CAD.
Assembly PerformanceNow that SolidWorks 2004 accommodates as much as 3GB of memory and manages memory better, it performs faster when working with large assemblies of 10,000 or more parts. If you often edit large assemblies during your workday, a new feature called lightweight subassemblies-an extension of lightweight parts in earlier versions of SolidWorks-saves a lot of time. When you open an assembly using lightweight subassemblies, only the subassemblies that you are working on are fully resolved. Spatial and visualization design data is available at all times, but B-rep data that eats up memory loads only when needed. Together, improved memory management and lightweight subassemblies can really accelerate large assembly design generation several times faster than previous versions of SolidWorks.
Figure 1. SolidWorks 2004 consolidates various types of mates into one Mate command. From the new Mate dialog box, you use drag-and-drop SmartMate techniques and Mate References. You can use mates to position components in an assembly while retaining the flexibility of not having them constrained.
Industrial and Mold DesignNot all products (actually, not many at all anymore) are designed as rectilinear forms. Increasingly, most are complex freeforms with compound curves-the basic tenets of industrial design, as well as plastic part and mold design.
A new Deform feature in SolidWorks 2004 lets you perform simple industrial design. You can turn boxy shapes into organic ones by pushing and pulling on any point or by deforming the shape to an existing curve, while still maintaining the original engineering intent. A handy complement to the deform tool is Section View. While it used to take several seconds to generate a single cutaway view in a complex freeform model, you can now view them just about instantly by dynamically scrolling and rotating a plane forward and backward through an object.
The Loft Connector lets you create complex 3D shapes by interpolating multiple 2D cross-sections of varying size without nasty, undesirable twisting. Loft Connectors define how model profiles align. An example of a lofted shape is an airplane wing, where you start off with a large section at the fuselage and generate smaller and smaller sections toward the wing tip. The new Loft Connector joins each of those sections together to create a stylized solid. If, for example, you're going from a four-sided to an eight-sided object, the loft connector interprets the connection points and connects the loft. There are no limits to how many sections you can loft and connect.
For design visualization and presentation, SolidWorks 2004's RealView real-time rendering tool shows how a design will look when produced in the physical world. Realistic shaders and materials add lifelike qualities to designs, and environment maps provide realistic reflections without leaving the design mode. To get the most from RealView, you must use an NVIDIA graphics card from the Quadro FX series or newer.
Figure 2. When you work with large assemblies, you can keep all subassemblies lightweight. SolidWorks 2004 lets you work without having to load all assembly components into memory, as was required in previous versions.
You can add embossing across cylinders and spheres with a wrap feature that puts text onto curved contours. New surfacing capabilities provide a range of preconfigured trim options that automate draft and fillet creation.
Once a freeform plastic product is designed, you still need a mold for production. Even with all the design tools available today, mold design is still by and large a complicated proposition. SolidWorks 2004, however, has a set of integrated tools that steps you through the process.
First, several analysis tools check parts to make sure they can be molded. A thickness checker points out thin regions that might fill improperly or warp in a finished product. An undercut analysis tool looks for areas of negative draft-areas that require expensive special tooling features to release them from a mold. Another tool sets the parting line-the area where the part will split-and checks draft angles at the parting line to ensure that the part will slip out of its mold. Once parting lines are set, another tool shuts off any holes in the part to prevent material from leaking. The Core/Cavity command uses a parting surface to split the mold and creates a flash well around the part. Finally, another tool creates a cavity and core block-a mold's two main parts. If all this sounds like a lot, it is, but for those with plastic part and mold design experience, these tools handle a good portion of this detail work.
Structural WeldmentsSolidWorks 2004 contains a weldment environment that simulates how weldments are designed and fabricated. Previous versions of SolidWorks treated weldments as assemblies-you had to sketch each structural member as an individual part and then mate the parts together in an artificial assembly. You can now design structures by sketching them in a part document instead of creating an assembly. SolidWorks 2004 treats structural or plate weldments as a single part, making them easier to create and edit. Also, SolidWorks 2004 comes with predefined structural weldment members such as fillets, weld beads, gussets, end caps, and cut lists. You don't have to configure each weldment from scratch. Instead of drafting a gusset by hand, you select two faces on a weld, input the size of the gusset, and apply the feature.
Figure 3. The Core/Cavity command automates creation of a mold core and cavity - you only need specify the size of the block. You also can automate the creation of a parting line curve, with options to control the surface perpendicular to pull, normal to the model, or tangent to the model.
From the OutsideSolidWorks 2004 features the fruit of several partnerships with third-party developers. Bluebeam Software functionality lets you save and send 2D drawings in PDF format. A new Print3D command links directly to online rapid prototying service providers that offer technologies such as stereolithography, fused deposition modeling, selective laser sintering, and rapid injection molding. Print3D sends your order and SolidWorks model to the service you select. Service providers include Quickparts, Protomold, and Xpress3D.
What You GetThe basic edition of SolidWorks 2004 includes COSMOS Xpress and eDrawings. SolidWorks 2004 Office ($4,995) adds to the core package eDrawings Professional, 3D Instant Website, PhotoWorks, SolidWorks Animator, SolidWorks Toolbox, FeatureWorks, and SolidWorks Utilities. Office Professional ($5,495) also includes PDMWorks product data management software and Task Scheduler.
Figure 4. The weldments tools provide the ability to design and document structural and plate weldments at the part level without creating multiple documents. The Gusset command is an efficient tool that quickly creates gussets on weldments.
Wide AppealIt's difficult to cover anything but the highlights of SolidWorks 2004. As usual, there's not enough room to touch on many new and improved features. Suffice it to say that this release will appeal to a wider group of users than any previous release. Industrial designers, moldmakers, machine and robotics designers, those involved with assembling and welding structural steel designs-the list goes on and on. SolidWorks is an excellent program, and when you include its add-ons and third-party products, it becomes a formidable tool and suite that continues to raise the bar in 3D mechanical design. Highly Recommended.
In her easy-to-follow, friendly style, long-time Cadalyst contributing editor Lynn Allen guides you through a new feature or time-saving trick in every episode of her popular AutoCAD Video Tips. Subscribe to the free Cadalyst Video Picks newsletter, and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!