Cadalyst MCAD Tech News #146

1 Jun, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Cadalyst MCAD Tech News

SolidWorks 2006: A Preview

New features improve consumer and machine design, performance and 2D-to-3D transition

Today is SolidWorks Launch Day, when SolidWorks Corp. and authorized resellers introduce the 2006 version of the mechanical design software to potential users. For those already sold on SolidWorks, the new version is scheduled to begin shipping in July.

SolidWorks Corp. visited my Colorado office a few weeks ago to present an overview and demonstration of SolidWorks 2006. According to the company, this version of SolidWorks includes more than 200 enhancements. Obviously, that's far too many to cover here, but I will touch on the highlights of SolidWorks 2006 based on what I saw in the presentation.

General Enhancements
SolidWorks 2006 includes a number of general enhancements that will make just about all users' lives easier.

Sketch Blocks. Sketch blocks let you grab multiple sketch entities and treat them like a single block. Instance sketch blocks to build complex assemblies while in sketch mode. This capability lets you create an assembly from a 2D layout sketch. You can also import DWG and DXF entities from a well-known 2D package into sketch blocks.

Display. Display enhancements include linked multiple viewport views (what you do in one reflects automatically in the others); ability to mix display states, such as wire frame and rendered; and a new camera functionality for different views and perspectives and hooks to SolidWorks Animator and PhotoWorks.

Fill Pattern. An area fill pattern feature lets you select an area defined by coplanar faces or a sketch that lies on coplanar faces. This command fills the defined region with either a geometric pattern of features or a predefined cut shape.

Standards Checking. The SolidWorks Design Checker, for drawings only, verifies that company standards have been met. It uses predefined rules to perform as many as 34 checks on drawings, such as completeness, materials, fonts, properties and layers.

Consumer Product Design
Early this year, Alias announced its new DirectConnect for SolidWorks, which allows Alias ImageStudio rendering software to transform SolidWorks 3D data into photorealistic images for design evaluation and presentation. In another move that takes SolidWorks further into the consumer-product design arena, SolidWorks Corp. has added several new tools to version 2006.

3D Sketching. The new 3D Sketcher provides new entity types (rectangles, circles and arcs) and relationships. It lets you add 3D planes to 2D sketches and helps you maintain design intent with dynamic preview.

Plastic Parts Design and More. SolidWorks 2006 provides functional features for plastic parts, such as ribs, mounting bosses, snap hooks and snap grooves. Decals can be projected to single or multiple surfaces, or wrapped to surfaces. Major enhancements are made to sketch offsets (parabola and ellipse), splines (control handles), 3D curve-driven patterns and interactive lofts.

Machine Design
Long one of the fortes of SolidWorks, machine design capabilities have received some significant upgrades.

Smart Components. Smart Components, which are actually an extension of Smart Fasteners, let you automatically size and place components from a library in assemblies, within predefined limits, while maintaining positional relationships. Smart Components are created from frequently used components that require associated components or features, such as fasteners and mounting holes. When you insert a Smart Component into an assembly, you can choose whether or not to insert the associated components and features.

Views. SolidWorks 2006 now has 3D annotation views for organizing annotations for drawings, an important capability for machine design. Another important capability, broken views — which are not new, but are improved in this version — allow breaks in multiple directions for optimizing views for complex areas of machines.

It seems that parts, assemblies and drawings can never generate fast enough — creating the perpetual push for faster performance. Technologies that were considered analogous to "broadband" last year will be considered "dial-up" this year if their performance doesn't continually improve.

The company says SolidWorks 2006 performance has improved thanks to optimized file structure, a lightweight assembly architecture, minimized computationally intensive background processes and an exploited graphics architecture. These claims look impressive in demonstrations and on paper, but I'll have to prove them for myself as I work with beta and shipping versions of the application.

Courting DWG Converts
As part of a continuing effort to persuade AutoCAD users to come over to 3D, probably its largest source of new customers, SolidWorks provides a number of things to make the transition more attractive:

  • Several new additions to SolidWorks are nearly analogous to features found in AutoCAD, such as the Design Checker, annotations (mtext — for creating text in a bounding box to control notes), spell checker and more.

  • DWGeditor embeds a native DWG file editor licensed from IntelliCAD that lets users edit and create native DWG files in SolidWorks. This was introduced with SolidWorks 2005; three licenses of DWGeditor are included with each license of SolidWorks.

  • Capabilities originally found in eDrawings for SolidWorks are now available in what SolidWorks is calling DWGviewer, which includes tools for viewing and publishing DWG drawings.

  • DWGgateway lets users read from and write to any version of DWG.
On top of all that, the company said SolidWorks 2006 will support the Windows XP Professional x64 Edition with a service pack. Expect a native 64-bit version of SolidWorks 2006 later this year. It will be interesting to see the degree or extent of performance gains with this new operating system.

Based on this preliminary demonstration, I'd say SolidWorks 2006 looks like another good release that should please most subscription customers.

Author's Note: I will be conducting a much more detailed, hands-on review of the final shipping version of SolidWorks 2006 later this year in Cadalyst magazine. This review will allow me to discuss some features that space would not allow here, such as sheet-metal design, drawings and design validation using COSMOSXpress and COSMOS Designer.