SolidWorks: A Look Back, a Look Ahead

13 Feb, 2008 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Company applies lessons learned from v2008 to improve next release. Here's a sneak peek.

Last month I attended SolidWorks World 2008 in San Diego, California. I came away impressed that some new faces in the executive ranks will carry on the good work that has been a trademark of the company since its inception almost 15 years ago.

As is tradition at SolidWorks World, on the final day of the conference the company unveiled the next release of its core product. SolidWorks 2009 was laid out in general terms.

Before I jump into discussing SolidWorks 2009, I'll to do a recap of SolidWorks 2008 to give some context for the most recent upgrade.

SolidWorks 2008: Where We've Been
Most releases of mechanical CAD (MCAD) software have a general theme. SolidWorks 2008 actually had three themes:

  • focus on design, not CAD
  • reuse existing designs
  • improve designs

Although these themes aren't entirely new or unique in the MCAD world, they do provide a basis for discussing some of the highlights of v2008.

In keeping with the "focus on design, not CAD" theme, the SolidWorks user interface (UI) was overhauled in v2008 in an effort to increase design window space, decrease mouse clicks, and, as the company termed it, "enhance" the Command Manager. (The previous version of the Command Manager had few options and you couldn't undock or redock it, you couldn't join other toolbars with it, and it was difficult to add new toolbars.)

If there was anything controversial about SolidWorks 2008, it had to be the user interface. It has received a lot of attention in blogs and discussion forums for the past few months, the gist being, "Dude, where's my UI?" Some users like it, some users don't like it. My advice is to get used to it, because it's almost assuredly not going to revert back to what it was. The perceived and real problems with it seem to be coming primarily from more experienced users who wish the UI could have remained as it was. I wonder if a toggle could be implemented that would allow the user to choose between the new UI and the classic UI?

In any case, I think that SolidWorks has received a loud and clear message about the SolidWorks 2008 user interface.

UI aside, many other enhancements in SolidWorks 2008 were good ones. For example, SolidWorks' SWIFT technology continued to evolve with Instant3D that lets you create and manipulate models in real time by dragging faces and providing dynamic feedback. This puts editing tools right on the model and lets you see changes as you make them. Also in SWIFT, DimXpert automatically dimensions 3D parts and ensures that they are fully dimensioned. A number of other SWIFT enhancements make a lot of tasks more efficient. Working with large assemblies is easier when you use assembly management tools such as QuickView, with its new selection and filtering features. For example, hidden components are not loaded into memory, but mates are maintained so you can work on an assembly as if the entire assembly were loaded.

SolidWorks 2009: Where We're Going
SolidWorks 2009, slated to ship in the third quarter of this year, builds on the v2008 enhancements. What can we look forward to in the upcoming version?

Like most CAD companies that base many product enhancements on customer requests, SolidWorks is challenged with determining which requests offer the most benefit for the most users. SolidWorks reports that, for the past six years, it has implemented 83% of the enhancements included in the top 10 list of user requests. 

This year the company again provided a preview of the new functionality that will most likely make it into SolidWorks 2009. Demonstrated features included the following:

  • Performance enhancements. The new SpeedPack for large assemblies lets you manually select the parts you want to display through the use of sliders that simplify a design that gets loaded into memory. With SpeedPack, SolidWorks is claiming a fivefold increase in performance. Performance enhancements are also resulting from the company's taking better advantage of multiple core CPUs.

  • Sketch enhancements. Dimensions are added automatically and can be resized. Negative dimensions will be an option. Sketch editing will be faster because some steps have been removed. New tools will let you create linear and radial slots.

  • Solid-to-sheet metal toolset. You can define panels and bends by clicking on the faces and edges of a solid. SolidWorks 2009 will then wrap sheet metal around the solid, forming an enclosure.

  • Plastic lip and groove features. You'll be able to add these to plastic parts automatically.

  • Automated bills of materials. This feature creates BOMs directly from assemblies. Tables can be placed in drawings, and multiple tables can display for different assembly configurations. When changes are made in tables, the changes will propagate back to the individual parts affected.

  • Automatic design feedback. Sensors will automatically monitor design parameters, such as mass properties, load, distance between holes, and so forth. Dynamic visual feedback -- warnings and alarms -- lets you know when you violate design parameters.

  • UI enhancements. New features this time around probably won't cause as much of a stir as the v2008 changes. A magnifier tool will minimize the need to zoom and pan. It follows the mouse cursor around the graphics window for precisely selecting a specific area of interest. The measurement tool will support mixed units, such as inches and centimeters, for all measurements. You'll be able to reposition the Command Manager for better toolbar placement and docking.

  • Improved electrical harnessing. An improved electrical harness tool will let you route ribbon cables with regard to precise location and lengths. It also will create electrical harness drawings automatically.

  • Bolt size validation. Using COSMOS 2009, you will be able to validate bolt size. COSMOS 2009 will visually indicate which fasteners in a design are suitable, based on predefined characteristics: green means good, red means not so good.

  • Detailing tools. You'll be able to reposition drawing details by dragging and dropping. The Title Block Wizard will let you click on a title block and edit any or all fields in it.

Just about every executive and application engineer at SolidWorks World 2008, whether speaking on stage or to me directly, stressed that the primary focus of SolidWorks 2009 will be software stability and reliability, starting with service Pack 0. The company seems determined to get it right from the start for SolidWorks 2009 rather than correcting problems after the software is out the door. This is a very good message from the company -- one that should resonate positively throughout the MCAD industry.

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