The SolidWorks Task Pane (Solid Thinking SolidWorks Tutorial)

8 May, 2006 By: Richard Doyle

A wealth of resources is just a click (or two) away.

The Task pane is one of the first things you see when you start SolidWorks. Usually docked to the right of the screen, this innocuous dialog box immediately offers a wide array of resources right from your SolidWorks window (figure 1). Venture even further and you might discover some things you didn't even know were there.

Figure 1. The SolidWorks Task pane.

SolidWorks Resources Tab
The first section, Getting Started, was designed with new SolidWorks users in mind. Getting Started has one-click commands to create a new document or open an existing one, as well as a link to three basic tutorials. Experienced users can hide this section by clicking the arrow at the top of the bar. The setting is retained for future SolidWorks sessions. At the bottom of the pane is the Tip of the Day, a collection of worthy tips that changes each time you start a SolidWorks session. You also can cycle through all of the tips by clicking Next Tip.

The Online Resources section of the SolidWorks resources tab opens up a world of online resources right from your SolidWorks window. The GlobalSpec engineering search engine allows you to search the Internet for engineering-related information about products, services, suppliers, standards, patents, etc., and includes options for limiting and refining searches. You can enter keywords to search on or simply click the arrow to go directly to the GlobalSpec Web site. The next four links take you automatically to the SolidWorks Web site, specifically to the sections defined. The SolidWorks discussion forum is a threaded discussion area where you can ask questions, find additional help from fellow SolidWorks users, learn more about specific SolidWorks add-ins and even hear about local user groups in your area. The SolidWorks Subscription Service page is where you will find system requirements information, software downloads, technical tips and best practice guides, as well as the SPR lookup database and enhancement request submission form. Use the Partner Solutions page to search SolidWorks Solution Partner companies for hardware or software you need, and the Manufacturing Network page can help find service companies around the world that can assist you with design and build services. Finally, the Print3D link allows you to contact rapid prototype vendors to request price quotes and place orders for the current part document through a Web portal.

Design Library Tab
The Design Library tab provides a central location for a vast collection of parts, assemblies, library features and even blocks, annotations and DWG/DXF files that you can use directly in your SolidWorks designs. Drag an item from the preview window into a blank SolidWorks window and the part, assembly or DWG file opens automatically. Drag parts or assemblies from the preview window into an open assembly file, and the item is inserted directly into your assembly and launches the Insert Part feature manager dialog box so you can place additional copies of the part or assembly. You can also drag individual features from the Design Library to an open part file. This provides a quick and easy way to reuse common features such as slots, keyways and even pattern features in your everyday designs. Hundreds of standard parts, assemblies, features and forming tools are already provided at installation, but the best part about the Design Library is the ability to add your own items (figure 2).

Figure 2. The Design Library tab.

Working with Design Library Contents
In addition to dragging copies of files into the SolidWorks window, you also can drag certain items into the Design Library. You can drag parts, assemblies, features and even annotations from a SolidWorks window to the Design Library and save them for future use.

Start by clicking the folder in the top pane where you would like to save the item. To save parts or assemblies to the Design Library, select them from the top level of the Feature Manager tree and drag it to the bottom section of the file. You also can save part files into the Design Library by dragging them from the graphics window. Drag the item into the bottom pane of the Design Library window and let go of the mouse button. A Save As dialog box will appear allowing you to select the exact location to save the item. You can select existing folders or create a new one on the fly. Similarly, you can copy annotations and blocks from the graphics window to the Design Library by selecting the item and dragging it while holding down the Shift key. As with parts and assemblies, you decide where to save each item.

The Design Library also contains the SolidWorks ToolBox and 3D ContentCentral folders. The SolidWorks Toolbox includes a library of industry standard parts such as fasteners, bearings, cams and gears, along with PEM inserts and Unistrut components. 3D Content Central is an online repository of millions of standard components in a searchable database. The Supplier Content folder links to supplier Web sites containing certified 3D models. The User Library folder links directly to models submitted by users from around the world. Both areas offer instant access to parts and assemblies that you can drag right into your SolidWorks window. You can share models with other users in the SolidWorks community by right-clicking on the User Library and selecting Share a Model. This launches the ModelShare wizard that will lead you through the entire process.

File Explorer Tab
The File Explorer tab presents a Windows Explorer-type view from your local computer and displays directories for instant access to recent documents, files that are currently open in SolidWorks and other file folders that you specify under Tools/Options. The File Explorer tab provides information about the files that are currently open in SolidWorks by graphically displaying the status of the files. Files shown in bold were modified since they were last saved, files in orange are read-only and files shown with a transparent icon are loaded (referenced) in memory but not open. You can change the display (show or hide) of the referenced documents under Tools/Options/System Options/File Explorer.

Two additional features of the File Explorer are the Preview Window and ToolTips dialog boxes. Hover over a file name in the File Explorer and a small window opens with information about the file -- path, file name, date modified and file size (figure 3). Right-click on a file name and select Preview Window to display the file graphically in a small window (figure 4). You can select the configuration to view (if available) and leave the window open to view other files.

Figure 3. The File Explorer window.

Figure 4. You can also open a separate preview window.

The SolidWorks Task pane provides many options for streamlining your design process and simplifying the gathering of crucial information. Take some time to explore the Task pane and you might find some surprising things. Make saving commonly used parts, assemblies and annotations to the Design Library a routine step in your processes and realize the time-saving benefits of reusing these items across the organization.

About the Author: Richard Doyle

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