SolidWorks 2005-Improved Mold Making, Upgraded Interface Top Enhancements14 Sep, 2004 By: Jeffrey Rowe
It's hard to believe that SolidWorks 2005 is the product's thirteenth major release since it was introduced in 1995. From the beginning, it set and maintained a high standard as an affordable and manageable CAD application for mechanical design. Each release has made the core application more comprehensive with an ever-increasing set of new features and enhancements.
Figure 1. COMPASS Product Design designed the SOMAport Subscriber Terminal using SolidWorks software.
Since 2003, three packages have been available in the SolidWorks family:
- 1. SolidWorks, the fundamental modeling product.
- 2. SolidWorks Office, which includes the core modeler and eDrawings Professional for design communication via e-mail; 3D Instant Website for publishing on the Web; PhotoWorks for photorealistic rendering (figure 1); SolidWorks Animator for animating models; SolidWorks Toolbox, which contains a library of standard components; FeatureWorks, which recognizes model features during file import; and SolidWorks Utilities for enhancing productivity. Since its introduction, SolidWorks Office has been the most popular of the three packages in the SolidWorks product family.
- 3. SolidWorks Office Professional, the Office package plus PDMWorks, a product data management tool.
Because of space constraints, we'll concentrate on the core modeling capabilities of SolidWorks 2005 this time around.
SolidWorks System EnhancementsSome of the most significant improvements to SolidWorks 2005 are found in the way you interact with it, and vice versa.
Figure 2. SolidWorks Rx is both a diagnostic tool and an efficient way to capture and report problems that the diagnostic tool was unable to resolve.
The three-tabbed Task Pane is a good place to start because it's so noticeable on the SolidWorks desktop when you start SolidWorks 2005. You can make it visible or hidden, and you can move, collapse, and expand it. The SolidWorks Resource tab displays groups of commands to get you started, online resources, and special information and topics for specific workflows. We'll talk more about workflows a little later. The Design Library tab displays folders of reusable parts, assemblies, and other library elements, including Library Features. Included here also are the SolidWorks Toolbox and 3D Content Central, which contains vendor-supplied content from a variety of mechanical and electrical part manufacturers. You can drag and drop and download this content into 3D as a part or assembly or into 2D as a drawing. The third tab is File Explorer, a duplicate of Windows Explorer that also includes recent documents and what you currently have open in SolidWorks. All of these tabs can save time for both new and experienced users.
To help you better understand how your current hardware setup and operating system will likely respond to the application, the new SolidWorks Rx tool checks your system and compares various aspects of it against known SolidWorks requirements (figure 2). If SolidWorks Rx finds deficiencies in your system, it offers recommendations for improving or optimizing the situation. When a system problem is encountered, you can use SolidWorks Rx to try and diagnose it. If SolidWorks Rx fails to remedy the problem, its problem capture/recording capability lets you report problems directly to the company for resolution.
Different Design Roles and WorkflowsIn SolidWorks 2005, you can now customize the interface for three specific areas of design: machine, mold, and consumer product design (figure 3). The workflow-specific user interface displays the toolbars and menus that SolidWorks determines you are most likely to need. For the most part, they get it right. You can always customize the user interface further to better suit your specific needs.
Machine design. Probably the most popular use of SolidWorks is in this design role. When you choose this interface option, a window with hundreds of predesigned parts and features appears. You can drag and drop these into machine designs. In weldments, you can now automatically generate a weldment cut list and specify when to update it. In SolidWorks 2005, a custom property is now automatically created for documenting the angles at the ends of weldment structural members that have angled or mitered cuts. Previously, weldment layouts were limited to straight line segments, but now they can contain arc segments.
Figure 3. If you happen to be involved with machine design, mold design, or consumer product design, you can choose one of these workflows to display the toolbars and menus that you are most likely to use for your design work.
Mold design. SolidWorks has handled mold design with straight pulls for some time now, but this version implements a side core feature for automating complex mold designs. This feature uses a sketch profile to extract geometry for side cores, lifters, ejection pins, and electrodes. This feature also lets you draft the core for extraction. For more complex parts, the shut-off surface feature is improved to support telescopic part openings. You can use parting lines as loops for a shut-off. The undercut detection tool now handles any parting lines. You can define a parting line that more efficiently splits the mold before performing an undercut detection operation. By using a parting line that you designed, this tool provides more accurate results based on design intent.
Consumer-product design. Like some of its competitors, SolidWorks continues its foray into the industrial design market where complex curves are critically important. To better visualize how a curve affects a design, you can now sketch a spline directly on any surface (figure 4). You can then use these curves as split lines, guide curves, lofts, and trims.
FOR AUTOCAD USERS
SolidWorks 2005 has a new Curvature Continuous Loft start and end condition that provides C2 continuity between loft geometry and adjacent model faces. You can control the distance of the curvature matching for each end to create smoother surfaces. For top-down and thin-wall part design, the Indent feature lets you add geometry or form a recess based on a tool body (figure 5). That body can be another component in an assembly or a solid body in the same part file. You can also specify part wall thickness or clearance offset. The Move Face feature lets you translate, offset, and move faces directly on a solid or surface model. The Move Face feature is useful for editing geometry that's imported or doen't follow original design intent. Finally, for making dramatic changes to geometry, the Flex feature lets you bend, stretch, twist, and taper solid bodies. There are controls for the region to flex, as well as direction and numerical input. You can show parts in different states of flex.
Analysis, Validation, and OptimizationCOSMOSXpress has been an integral part of SolidWorks since 2003 and has proven to be useful for many mainstream users, not just analysts and specialists. For mold and plastic part designers, SolidWorks 2005 introduces MoldflowXpress, a tool that performs simple fill analyses that provide a preliminary indication of the manufacturability of plastic injection-molded parts—a design check, if you will. A simple wizard walks through the steps. With a part displayed, you specify the injection location(s), choose one of 20 materials, specify mold conditions, and run the analysis.
Figure 4. SolidWorks 2005 lets you sketch a spline (curve) directly on any surface so you can better visualize how the curve will appear on a model.
For complex parts, the actual analysis can take several minutes to run. Once the analysis is completed, you're presented with an animated plot of the time it takes to fill the mold. This information lets you verify that the mold will fill in a reasonable time, assess the probable quality of the resulting part, and optimize the locations of the injection gates. MoldflowXpress seems to be suited more for the part designer than the tool designer. This upfront analysis could reduce manufacturing errors.
As clean and stable as this version of SolidWorks is, I did encounter a couple of glitches. First, I had a little difficulty importing, converting, and using some parts from SolidWorks 2003, although this problem seemed to resolve itself for some reason. Working with a colleague on this review, with me using SolidWorks 2005, we discovered that there is no backward compatibility with previous versions of SolidWorks. If I saved a part, assembly, or drawing, he couldn't open them.
Figure 5. The Indent feature automates thin-wall part design and lets you add geometry or form a recess based on a tool body.
SolidWorks claims that this release contains more than 250 customer-requested features and enhancements. On the surface, this may seem like a good thing as customers "get their money's worth." However, an increasing number of customers I'm in contact with would like to see new product features and enhancements take a back seat to product quality and stability. In other words, they want fewer bugs and workarounds. Put another way, mechanical CAD software is analogous to electronic gadgets and Microsoft Office—a ton of features, but you might use only 20% of them. The rest make the product overly complicated and more fragile. SolidWorks as a company, however, seems to be addressing these growing customer concerns, so we'll keep a close eye on the stability issue in this and subsequent releases.
Figure 6. The SolidWorks DWGEditor lets you edit DWG files in their native format with an AutoCAD-like user interface. No format change is necessary, and all changes are saved in the native DWG format.
All in all, the thirteenth edition of SolidWorks is a good release. It stacks up well against most, but not all, previous releases in terms of new design functionality. It delivers major strides and enhancements in the user interface, interoperability, analysis, plastic part validation, and the ability to deal with more complex freeform shapes.