SolidWorks 2007 Office Premium (Cadalyst Labs Review)31 Dec, 2006 By: Jeffrey Rowe
The maturing process continues.
Every time a new version of MCAD software is released, most users wonder, "What's in it for me?" With the latest version of SolidWorks, SolidWorks 2007, the company has added new and enhanced features and capabilities, and not just for the sake of adding them. In fact, this version seems more about improving the widely diverse workflows of the current and potential customer base than about tacking on additional raw functionality for specialized types of mechanical design. In my mind, this indicates the maturing of a product because it affects virtually all users, regardless of their design niche and needs, in a positive way.
As has been the case for several releases, SolidWorks 2007 can be purchased in one of the following packages:
- 1. SolidWorks 2007 core stand-alone product;
- 2. SolidWorks Office Professional 2007 with eDrawings Professional, SolidWorks Animator, PhotoWorks, 3D Instant Website, SolidWorks Toolbox, FeatureWorks, SolidWorks Design Checker, PDMWorks Workgroup and SolidWorks Utilities (figure 1); and
- 3. SolidWorks Office Premium 2007 with everything in SolidWorks Office Professional plus COSMOSWorks Designer, COSMOSMotion, ScanTo3D and SolidWorks Routing.
Let's examine some of the more significant enhancements in SolidWorks Office Premium 2007, starting with something new in the user interface.
Figure 1. All PhotoWorks materials (as well as many new materials) have been completely overhauled to provide maximum realism and can be used with little or no adjustment. Also, the library is prioritized based on the most commonly used and relevant materials for machine and consumer product design.
Most CAD users are familiar with the way that Internet search engines such as Google work. This sort of functionality has now been added to the SolidWorks Explorer. It incorporates an indexing search engine that enables you to search records or the Internet to display components used in any drawing and related objects and to display them in a manner similar to Google's.
The SolidWorks Explorer in this version is actually unified with the PDMWorks stand-alone client in a single application. This new application lets users browse and act on local, Web-based and vaulted files (if a PDMWorks license is present) through a single user interface. The search engine also works with SolidWorks' 3D ContentCentral part-finding service.
Sketch blocks were actually introduced in SolidWorks 2006, but this useful feature (if you deal with other 2D design packages) has some enhanced capabilities. With sketch blocks, users can grab multiple sketch entities and treat them like a single block. They can also instance sketch blocks to create complex assemblies while in sketch mode. With this capability, users can create an assembly from a 2D layout sketch. DWG and DXF entities from other 2D packages can be imported into sketch blocks.
Sketch block enhancements are part of the ongoing SolidWorks initiative for using 2D to power 3D design (figure 2). For example, sketch blocks provide the ability to create conceptual models and try them in 2D—in other words, to simulate mechanical processes before converting them to 3D. To explore multiple-part interaction and motion, users can create belts, chains, pulleys and gears, cams and followers, and racks and pinions.
Figure 2. Users can use the same blocks in both drawings and sketches because they now share a common format. Also, when creating a block using existing sketch entities, SolidWorks now orients the block sketch grid to those entities.
A Little Help From SWIFT
Regardless of expertise level, sooner or later everybody needs a little help modeling 3D parts and assemblies, and this is where SWIFT (SolidWorks Intelligent Feature Technology), comes in. The SWIFT capabilities are useful to new and more experienced users because they automate a number of challenging tasks and aid in the design decision-making process.
SolidWorks 2007 Office Premium
SWIFT consists of the following capabilities:
- 1. SketchXpert displays conflicts in sketch dimensions and relationships and then offers solutions for handling and resolving the conflicts.
- 2. FeatureXpert assists with tedious tasks such as filleting and drafting a part. Many CAD products resort to a trial-and-error approach for arriving at the correct grouping and ordering of these features, but in SolidWorks 2007, if you have a problem, the FeatureXpert automatically resolves it.
- 3. MateXpert deals with conflicts in assembly mates by isolating mate problems and visually providing a solution for fixing them in a systematic way (figure 3).
- 4. DimXpert extends automatic dimensioning tools by identifying manufacturing features and adding dimensioning schemes. DimXpert uses SolidWorks' feature recognition to identify manufacturing features such as holes, slots and fillets.
Figure 3. MateXpert provides a heads-up display of problematic mates, and you can fix them directly in the graphics window.
Although you still can't realistically or practically stylize a car with it, SolidWorks put a lot of effort into developing its freeform surfacing capabilities, some of the most mathematically challenging tasks in CAD. These new surfacing capabilities let users create relatively complex 3D curves with full curvature continuity (figure 4). These new capabilities also are part of SolidWorks' ongoing effort to address the practice of industrial design for consumer products, in which the aesthetics of a design are as important as its technical aspects.
Figure 4. A new Boundary surface feature provides a high-quality direction surface that can provide curvature (C2) in one or multiple directions. In addition, connectors can be moved to limit or define the extent of a surface area.
With SolidWorks' new Freeform surfacing tool, users push and pull curves until they achieve the desired shape, using placed control points along the various curves that comprise the shape (figure 5). Although a grid displays the mathematical shape of a curve, the software lets users define exactly where they want to manipulate the curve—all while retaining the correct curvature. Tangency handles can be manipulated in a similar way without losing the ability to complete curves with smooth blends for adjoining surfaces.
Figure 5. A new Freeform feature lets you select a surface or model face and push and pull on it dynamically using control points.
Finally, a new surfacing feature provides the ability to peel off a surface, manipulate the model geometry and reattach the peeled surface to the 3D model for a completely new look. This process can get a little bit complicated, but it's a very useful feature for those who have a good feel for aesthetics and surfacing.
ScanTo3D is an add-in tool integrated into SolidWorks Office Premium 2007 for capturing and manipulating mesh or point-cloud data gathered by digitizing physical objects (with a laser-based or feature-based scanner). The scanned renditions can then be used to build SolidWorks models. ScanTo3D ultimately lets just about any shape be used as a reference to build a solid model in SolidWorks. It can recognize faceted machined parts and freeform shapes, and fit surfaces to scan data.
ScanTo3D provides several functions for handling scanned data that let users sketch to physical points using the sketch and modeling tools in SolidWorks. The scanned data acts as a reference for building parametric solid models within the SolidWorks modeling environment. In addition, new surfacing wizards specific to ScanTo3D guide users through creating parametric surfaces from scanned data. Each wizard method has methods best suited for certain types of shapes, as well as inherent advantages and disadvantages.
ScanTo3D opens scan data in SolidWorks so you can use the data in the following ways:
- 1. Direct mesh referencing lets you model directly against the mesh using 2D and 3D sketch entities.
- 2. Automatic surface creation uses a surface wizard to convert a scan mesh directly into a solid model. This method is better for prismatic, faceted shapes.
- 3. Guided surface creation also uses a surface wizard for fitting faces to a mesh, trimming them and knitting them into a solid model. This method is better for complex, freeform shapes.
Although ScanTo3D is not yet a one-button, fully automatic, complete reverse-engineering tool, it is an affordable alternative to more expensive packages and is well integrated into SolidWorks Office Premium 2007. Keep in mind that the entire reverse-engineering process is relatively new for SolidWorks and its partners, and it will continue to evolve significantly from where it is today. Is it perfect? Not yet, but the process and levels of integration will become much better defined with each release, providing a much more capable toolset for reverse engineering.
Technologies such as SolidWorks' ScanTo3D are what will ultimately produce the convergence of physical and digital design—in other words, a true concept part to digital art to production part methodology and workflow.
Analysis and Optimization
SolidWorks has promoted integrated analysis tools within its CAD environment for several releases now. From the beginning, the company believed that the ability to analyze models earlier on in the design process contributes to better designs. This attitude and direction is an integral part of just about every MCAD package—big or small. SolidWorks 2007 has added optimization capabilities to COSMOSXpress, its integrated FEA package. This optimization capability will probably help users save part materials and ensure products are not overdesigned. It doesn't just prove that a part will work under given stresses—it cycles the analysis until it establishes the minimum thickness of material required to do a given job. This ability is increasingly important as the prices of many raw materials, especially metals, continue to rise.
A new weldment analysis feature is found in COSMOS-Works Designer, which comes with SolidWorks Office Premium 2007. Weldment analysis can be a complex proposition that confounds analysis packages, but SolidWorks 2007 seems to handle it quite well. Because it automatically creates beam elements and joints, it virtually eliminates the need to create a separate beam model. SolidWorks 2007 Premium also includes COSMOSMotion for the kinetic analysis of moving parts and the physical forces they generate. Assembly geometry, mates and drivers from physical simulation are used to run analyses directly in COSMOSMotion to determine reaction forces.
Some Final Goodies
Another feature that was introduced in last year's version but has been enhanced is the Design Checker—a tool and a process that ensures that drawings meet predefined standards. The new features include autocorrection, in which failed items can be selectively autocorrected, and the ability to learn from an existing SolidWorks document. The Design Checker makes it relatively easy to minimize tedious, labor-intensive and expensive drawing revisions.
SolidWorks 2007 lets you save any file in Adobe's new 3D PDF format. What this does is provide support for the two major standards for sharing 3D designs—PDF and SolidWorks' eDrawings collaboration format.
As usual, there's a lot more ground than can be covered here, but suffice it to say that SolidWorks 2007 is as much about your design process as it is about designing your product. Highly Recommended.
Jeffrey Rowe is an independent mechanical design and technical communications consultant. With offices in Colorado and Michigan, he can be reached at 719.539.8549 or firstname.lastname@example.org.