MCAD Tech News #113

21 Jan, 2004 By: Joe Greco

SolidWorks World 2004

- Fewer attendees, less time

- SolidWorks 2005 on the horizon

- Stars of the show floor

- Closing thoughts


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 Last week's sixth annual SolidWorks World event was different from past years. For starters, the company's new strategy is to hold four regional events instead of a single worldwide conference. This was the gathering for North America. The structure of the event changed from four days for resellers, users, and press to two days for resellers, followed by two days for users and press. And instead of a warm-weather location - previous spots included Palm Springs, New Orleans, Orlando (twice), and Las Vegas - this year we all met in Boston. In my view, these changes made for a less successful event.


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Splitting one worldwide show into four regional shows meant that fewer users attended this event, even though, according to SolidWorks, it now has more than 75,000 new users since last year's conference as well as a large concentration of users in the Boston area. The lower attendance led to less diversity among users. The sessions I attended this year were still interesting, but I remember one session at last year's event in which a user from North America engaged in an intriguing conversation with a European fellow regarding their different surface modeling techniques. This type of discussion was still possible, of course, but seemed less likely at this more regional event. Some foreign developers, particularly in the areas of analysis and manufacturing, were also absent.

 With separate reseller and user days, the show floor was open for only about 13 hours, as opposed to twice as long at previous conferences. I know I wasn't the only one unable to spend all the time necessary on the exposition floor, which, by the way, was a tight and dreary space, reminiscent of an office building basement. And though I like Boston, the 15-degree temperatures left me longing for the warmer weather typically found in California, Louisiana, Florida, and Nevada.


The highlight of the show was the Wednesday morning presentation of a pre-alpha version of SolidWorks 2005. That's right--2005 is already in the works. In fact, according to Aaron Kelly, director of product management, the code is already done. The time between now and July, the projected release date, is reserved for fixing prerelease bugs. Speaking of which, SolidWorks proudly announced that the aggressive beta testing program for the current 2004 version reduced bugs in the final release by 28%.

The upcoming release seems focused on the more specialized areas in the product. Mold designers will like the inclusion of a side core insert and another way to handle undercut conditions. Design engineers who welcomed the basic CAE capabilities provided by COSMOSXpress, introduced in SolidWorks 2003, will appreciate how the updated wizard produces more results, including deflection analysis. For those designing consumer products, SolidWorks 2005 expands the deformation tools with a new twist feature. SolidWorks Office programs such as PhotoWorks, Animator, and eDrawings Professional will also be enhanced.

SolidWorks 2005 will provide perhaps the best integrated mold and engineering capabilities as well as rapidly advancing freeform tools, but in other areas it's still catching up to its competitors. Though one of the most improved areas in SolidWorks 2005 is drafting, most of the improvements have been available in competing programs like Inventor and Solid Edge for some time. Consider that in SolidWorks 2005, after placing the original base orthographic views, you can immediately drag out associated isometric views. Inventor has had this capability for a while, I believe since version 1. SolidWorks 2005 creates other views, such as sections and details from an existing detail view, an ability that other products have offered for years.

SolidWorks 2005 finally improves text-handling capabilities to match those found in your basic $39 drafting applications. For example, text frames will soon support varied typeface styles and colors, and a spell checker has been added. (In fairness, not many MCAD programs offer spell checking, but it does appear in most low-cost 2D drafting packages.)

The upcoming program is more flexible in how sketches can be incorporated into a design. For instance, Kelly demonstrated how 2D sketches inserted from a library (or from a DWG file) can be dragged into place and automatically mated, thus making conceptual 2D kinematic sketches easier to create. In addition, you can incorporate the same 2D sketches alongside 3D components in an assembly. Dynamically dragging the embedded sketches moves the corresponding 3D parts. Though this is a helpful addition, Inventor users have enjoyed it for several years.


Though my time on the show floor was limited, I did see a number of interesting new products and upgrades. KBE (knowledge-based engineering) systems appear to be gaining in popularity. DriveWorks had a new release, which unfortunately I didn't get a chance to see. RuleStream Corp. showed a brand-new product, also called RuleStream. One of its most interesting features is the ability to create new knowledge-driven assemblies based on engineering calculations, a capability I found very similar to the MechSoft product from the company with the same name. MechSoft wasn't at SolidWorks World - just one example of an absent foreign developer, even though they have a U.S. office in Austin, Texas. Engineering Intent displayed its IntentWorks KBE products, and representatives noted that it works with many CAD applications, unlike DriveWorks and RuleStream.

Another interesting product is DezignWorks, used for importing scanned data from 3D digitizers and 3D laser scanners. With 3D digitizers, the software reads in points as the stylus is dragged over the surface of a physical model. It then quickly generates the appropriate curves, which you can then loft into a surface, completely inside SolidWorks.

SolidCAM Ltd. of Israel previewed a new version of its SolidCAM software, which it expects to release in February. Already one of only two Gold partner CAM vendors, SolidCAM adds 5-axis machining to its upcoming v9. This is only a $5,000 addition to the base program, bringing the total package into the $11,000 range, a reasonable amount for 5-axis capabilities. Version 9 also features automatic hole recognition technology and improved hole sorting and management tools.

Capvidia's FormatWorks is the first interoperability product completely integrated with SolidWorks. After importing an IGES file that could not be sewn together using SolidWorks' tools, the Capvidia representative demonstrated how Capvidia's healing tools could create the appropriate surface. Also important is that when the model is opened, tolerances are maintained so any automatic healing done doesn't deform the model. You can then manually heal areas that aren't repaired using a number of FormatWorks tools or SolidWorks surfacing tools. Results can then be analyzed to ensure that no new problems were introduced.


One of the most amusing happenings at SolidWorks World was Autodesk's placement of a full-page ad in Tuesday's Boston Globe. It read: "What they won't tell you at SolidWorks World: The world's #1 selling 3D design software is Autodesk Inventor Series." Who knows what it cost, but the newspaper distributed at the conference hotel was USA Today! (Albeit, the same ad did make it into USA Today on Wednesday.) And did Autodesk think the few hundred SolidWorks users who may have seen this ad would say to themselves, "Hmmm, I must switch tomorrow." SolidWorks CEO John McEleney thanked Autodesk for the free publicity, and I have to say that Autodesk would have been better off spending the money improving its software, which despite some advantages noted here, will probably fall further behind SolidWorks once 2005 is released.

Though I found past SolidWorks World shows to be more productive, just about any SolidWorks user or potential user would benefit from the event. It's still the best way to meet SolidWorks employees, resellers, and users, although next year let's hope such conversations are in the shadows of palm trees.