Cadalyst Labs Review: SolidWorks 200631 Aug, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe
Analyzing and validating mechanical designs on the fly
Two distinct but related evolutions have occurred with mechanical CAD products in the past few years. First is development of the products themselves, but a close second are the workflows for using them. One of the most significant factors affecting workflow has been the employment of analysis, specifically FEA (finite-element analysis), earlier in the product development process.
SolidWorks, through its relationship with and ultimate acquisition of SRAC, was in the forefront of bringing FEA into the picture for analyzing and validating mechanical designs as they progress toward production. Today, in SolidWorks 2006, FEA is available in a couple of forms—COSMOSXpress and COSMOSWorks. SolidWorks 2006 can be purchased in one of three configurations:
- 1. SolidWorks 2006 contains COSMOSXpress.
- 2. SolidWorks 2006 Office Professional contains COSMOSXpress, PDMWorks, eDrawings Professional, SolidWorks Animator, PhotoWorks, 3D Instant Website, SolidWorks Toolbox, FeatureWorks, SolidWorks Design Checker and SolidWorks Utilities.
- 3. SolidWorks 2006 Office Premium contains everything in SolidWorks Office Professional, plus COSMOSWorks Designer and SolidWorks Routing.
Making Design Life Easier
SolidWorks 2006 includes several general enhancements that will make things easier for just about all users. Sketch blocks, for example, let users grab multiple sketch entities and treat them like a single block. Instance sketch blocks to create complex assemblies while in sketch mode—even create an assembly from a 2D layout sketch. Users can also import DWG and DXF entities from other CAD packages into sketch blocks.
Figure 1. Tabor uses SolidWorks to design machinery and instrumentation for trains, including structural skeletons, engine repair parts, gears, electric instrumentation and cab structures. Image courtesy of Lukasz Walkiewicz, Tabor.
Display enhancements include linked multiple viewport views (what you do in one automatically affects and adjusts the others—see figure 2); ability to mix display states, such as wire-frame and rendered; and new camera functionality for different views and perspectives. SolidWorks 2006 hooks in to SolidWorks Animator and PhotoWorks. The new camera functions allow users to do a number of interesting things with models, including flythroughs and walkarounds. Coupled with SolidWorks Animator, the camera tools produce some pretty convincing demonstrations or proof-of-concept presentations. With the area fill pattern feature, a user first selects an area defined by coplanar faces or a sketch that lies on coplanar faces. The command fills the defined region with either a geometric pattern of features or a predefined cut shape. This is a real time-saver because you can specify perforations or predefined cut shapes and arrange them in square, circular or polygonal patterns (figure 3).
Figure 2. Users can now split the SolidWorks window into two or four viewports that are linked for panning, zooming and dragging of their designs.
Users who deal with a lot of drawings and need to spot and fix potential errors before releasing designs will find the SolidWorks Design Checker (primarily for drawings) very useful. It automatically identifies elements that may be inconsistent with your company's design standards. Based on predefined rules and checks, it performs up to 34 checks on drawings for things such as:
- 1. Title blocks
- 2. Custom properties
- 3. Layers
- 4. Annotation and dimension fonts
- 5. Standard units
- 6. Materials
- 7. Overridden dimensions
Figure 3. Area fill pattern feature fills the defined region with a geometric pattern of features or a predefined cut shape.
In addition to its relationship with Alias products, including Studio Tools Direct Connect, SolidWorks itself is getting more into the consumer product design arena. The new 3D Sketcher provides new entity types (rectangles, circles and arcs) and relationships, adds 3D planes to 2D sketches and maintains design intent with dynamic preview (figure 4).
Figure 4. Users can create planes while editing a 3D sketch, and then add relations and dimensions to the 3D sketch plane to locate the plane itself or to relate geometry to the plane. Planes can also be left undefined and dragged around a model.
SolidWorks 2006 also provides functional features for plastic parts, such as ribs, mounting bosses, snap hooks (figure 5) and snap grooves. Decals can be projected to single or multiple surfaces, or wrapped to surfaces. There are also major enhancements to sketch offsets (parabola and ellipse), splines (control handles), 3D curve-driven patterns and interactive lofts. Overall, lofts are improved because you can add loft sections with greater accuracy and fewer control points
Figure 5. SolidWorks 2006 provides a new feature for creating a snap hook to fasten plastic parts together. A corresponding groove can then be added as a dependent feature to the snap hook.
Long one of the strengths of SolidWorks, machine design received some significant new features and capabilities.
Smart Components, which are actually an extension of Smart Fasteners, let users 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.
SolidWorks 2006 now has 3D annotation views for organizing annotations for drawings, an important capability for machine design. Sheet-metal capabilities in SolidWorks 2006 include functional improvements that bring it on par with some of the competition. SolidWorks 2006 can now close nonperpendicular corners and create closed corners on flanges whose bends do not equal 90°. The overlap/ underlap ratio and gap dimensions can be changed. Users can now perform sheet-metal rips using sketch entities. Finally, several options help make sheet-metal flat patterns easier to read and understand for production.
The Perpetual Push for Performance
It seems that parts, assemblies and drawings can never generate fast enough; hence the perpetual push for higher (faster) levels of performance. What was considered fast last year is considered mediocre, or even slow, this year.
SolidWorks says it improved performance in SolidWorks 2006 by optimizing file structure, creating a lightweight assembly architecture, minimizing computationally intensive background processes and exploiting the graphics architecture. These claims looked impressive in demonstrations and on paper, but I wanted to confirm them myself. I tested my own parts, assemblies, and drawings to verify SolidWorks' performance claims.
Overall, performance has improved, although with a wide range of results—from marginal to outstanding. Still, there is truth in the advertising.
The new Large Assembly Mode in SolidWorks 2006 is a collection of system settings that improves the performance of assembly generation. Users can turn on Large Assembly Mode at any time, or set a threshold for the number of components and have Large Assembly Mode turn on automatically when that threshold is reached. This new mode is pretty easy to use and quite effective.
There is interesting news regarding eDrawings, SolidWorks' free viewing and publishing application for sharing and archiving 2D and 3D design data. eDrawings is now supported on the Macintosh platform. The Mac version opens DXF/DWG, SolidWorks and eDrawings files. Though there is no eDrawings Professional for the Mac, eDrawings contains most of the functionality of the Windows version, including the most commonly used functions—animation, measure and print.
On top of all that, the company says SolidWorks 2006 will support the Windows XP Professional x64 Edition with an upcoming service pack. Expect to see a native 64-bit version of SolidWorks 2006 later this year. It will be interesting to see the extent of performance gains with this new operating system.
SolidWorks has much more often than not provided a high degree of value in new releases of its flagship product. SolidWorks 2006 is testimony to this value proposition: it should please most subscription customers and anyone considering a 3D mechanical CAD application.
FOR AUTOCAD USERS
As part of a continuing effort to persuade AutoCAD users to come over to 3D, probably its largest continuing source of new customers, SolidWorks provides a number of items to make the transition more attractive:
Figure 5. The Open dialog in DWGgateway is simple and efficient. The only options are DWG and DXF file types. Users don't need to know which version is being opened, because DWGgateway takes care of this. A file preview is included in the Open dialog box.
- 1. Several additions in SolidWorks are nearly analogous to features found in AutoCAD, such as a standards design checker, annotations (mtext for creating text in a bounding box) and spell checker.
- 2. DWGEditor is an embedded native DWG editor licensed from IntelliCAD that lets users cut and paste from SolidWorks. This first appeared in SolidWorks 2005 and provides three licenses of DWGEditor for each license of SolidWorks.
- 3. DWGviewer is for viewing and publishing drawings.
- 4. DWGgateway lets users read from and write to any version of the DWG format (figure 5).
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