SolidWorks 2009 (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Nov, 2008 By: Bill Fane

New release has hundreds of changes; most offer speed.

Many SolidWorks users were less than thrilled when SolidWorks 2008 introduced a new ribbon-style interface that mimicked Microsoft Office 2007. At that time, it made sense to incorporate an interface that was consistent with other new products from many companies. But Microsoft's ribbon implementation was a disaster, because it locked to the top of the screen and consumed a lot of screen real estate.

SolidWorks 2009 corrects the ribbon menu blunder in a big way. You can undock the Command Manager and the Property Manager and park them anywhere. And anywhere really means anywhere — docked at any of the four sides of the screen or floated in the location of your choice. Anywhere also includes outside the application window if you are running SolidWorks 2009 in less than full-screen mode or even on another monitor in a dual-monitor configuration. If you opt to turn on the traditional toolbars, they also have this capability.

SolidWorks 2009 3D MCAD Software
SolidWorks 2009 3D MCAD Software

Eye Spy

The new magnifying glass feature is another significant improvement to the SolidWorks interface (figure 1). It literally works just like a magnifying glass. You can zoom and pan to a small region of your model, yet still see the rest of the model in context. This function is particularly useful when you are trying to select a small object in a large, cluttered model.

Often the small things don't grab the headlines, yet they can be significant. An example in SolidWorks 2009 is improved command response consistency. Now your options are the same whether you are responding to prompts from the Property Manager or any command, error message, or dialog box that displays both OK and Cancel: Press Enter to accept or Esc to cancel the operation. If the only option is Cancel, pressing Enter or Esc will do the job.

As with previous releases, SolidWorks 2009 ships with a copy of DWGeditor, the AutoCAD-compatible 2D drafting software.

Figure 1. The SolidWorks 2009 Command Manager can be docked anywhere, and the magnifying glass function simplifies selecting and viewing fine details.
Figure 1. The SolidWorks 2009 Command Manager can be docked anywhere, and the magnifying glass function simplifies selecting
and viewing fine details.


Faster! Faster!

When the parametric modeler first came to PCs in the form of SolidWorks 95, many people labeled it an entry-level system, compared with the high-end mainframe or engineering workstation products of the day. Hardware and software advanced, however, and most of today's parametric modelers are more powerful than the high-end products of just a few years ago.

A common issue that persists with just about any parametric modeling product at any version level is that users are always pushing ever-larger assemblies into them. In the early days, an assembly of just a few hundred components could easily slow system response to a geological time frame, but developers have responded with ever-more-innovative solutions so that assemblies with tens of thousands of components are viable.

Let's assume that you have created a large subassembly, such as the engine of a car. It contains hundreds of components, even thousands, if you count every nut, bolt, washer, and so on. You now want to pass the design to the team members working on the final assembly of the car, but they don't need to see all those minor internal components that slow things down. Traditional workarounds include manually or automatically suppressing some components, using level-of-detail configurations, or using lightweight components.

SolidWorks 2009 adds its new SpeedPak functionality to this list. As the creator of the engine assembly file, you can convert it to a SpeedPak file that holds the graphical information for the suppressed parts and features and not the technical data, so it is much smaller. Even so, SpeedPak doesn't lose restraint references as would be the case if you simply suppressed some components.

By default, a SpeedPak suppresses everything within an assembly. You can then turn on specific components or even just specified faces within them. In figure 2, for example, everything is suppressed except for the face of the cylindrical feature of the blue part. Interestingly, suppressed items in a SpeedPak are not like vampires — they are still visible in a mirrored surface.

Figure 2. Suppressed parts and faces in a new SpeedPak file can be seen but not touched.
Figure 2. Suppressed parts and faces in a new SpeedPak file can be seen but not touched.

The suppressed items in a SpeedPak aren't available to downstream users. They cannot edit, measure, or select any suppressed items in a SpeedPak, but they can see them. In my example engine, I could suppress everything except the bolt holes in the motor mounts, bell housing mounting face, the exhaust manifold flange, and the coolant connections so the final-assembly team could constrain to them.

Downstream users can create 2D working drawings from SpeedPak files, but Dassault Systemes (DS) SolidWorks admits that cross-sections can have problems.


But Wait! There's Less!

A powerful feature of SpeedPak is that it doesn't need access to the part files for any suppressed components. If you suppress everything, you can send a SpeedPak of a subassembly to a customer or supplier as a single file without any of the referenced files. In the real world, you would probably want to unsuppress one or two items so downstream users could properly constrain your subassembly into their product.

Anyone can revise what is or isn't suppressed in a SpeedPak as long as he or she has access to the individual component part files. To avoid problems in the real world, you'll probably want to store those files in a location that is inaccessible to downstream users.

Here's a bit of a cheat for you: You can create an assembly consisting of a single part, then turn it into a fully suppressed SpeedPak, which you can send to clients, customers, or suppliers without having to supply the underlying model file.


Growing Possibilities

SolidWorks 2009 removes a previous limitation on assemblies measuring more than 1 kilometer wide. This could be meaningful if you design conveyor systems, for example.


SolidWorks by Any Other Name

Of the several hundred changes to SolidWorks 2009, one will have little direct effect on users for another release or three.

DS SolidWorks is owned by the French company Dassault Systemes, whose other holdings include high-end design and PLM products such as CATIA. But SolidWorks had always functioned as an independent division, to the extent that people in both communities didn't realize the connection.

This relationship has changed, however. With the introduction of SolidWorks 2009, SolidWorks Corp. is officially Dassault Systemes SolidWorks Corp.

A historic event in this regard happened at the recent DS SolidWorks media gathering in Barcelona, Spain, where Dassault Systemes CEO Bernard Charles spoke at a DS SolidWorks gathering for the first time. He and DS SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray emphasized that this change will allow for more technical collaboration between the two organizations.

This realignment implies that future releases of SolidWorks will have access to more of the high-power, high-end functionality of CATIA and other Dassault Systemes products. Given the recent change in ownership of a third-party supplier to SolidWorks, I would guess that mold design functionality will be high on the list.


Two Surprises

The What's New list for the latest release of almost any software usually contains roughly 200 items. "Okay, Fred, the What's New list has hit 200. Time to ship!" The headline grabbers in SolidWorks 2009 were easy to find, but it took a bit of digging to find two minor but interesting items.

First, it is now possible to define a sketch element by using an equation in the form of y = f(x), such as ax2 + bx + c. You simply enter the equation plus the initial and final x values in a dialog box, and SolidWorks does the rest. If you are a gear tooth designer, for example, you can define the involute profile as an exact mathematical formula instead of using Grant's odontograph to approximate it as a few arc segments.

Finally, although it is obviously true that the SolidWorks people are great programmers, they are not so good at theoretical physics. In SolidWorks 2009 it is now possible to offset an infinite line. Don't they know that Albert Einstein said that space is curved and that parallel lines would eventually meet? Highly Recommended.

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