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From CAD User Mechanical Magazine Vol 22 No 10 - OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2009
David Chadwick looks at the enhancements that SolidWorks have introduced in their 2010 version to help designers improve the efficiency of their designs
If you want to find out what goodies are in store in SolidWorks 2010 - or 2011 for that matter - before everybody else then your best bet is to visit SolidWorks World, held at the beginning of every year. Then itís merely a matter of biding your time waiting for the new developments previewed to be actually delivered, which usually happens around early autumn. There are plenty of other reasons for visiting SolidWorks World of course - not least the fact that itís the most educational, interesting, enjoyable and entertaining of all the conferences I attend.
The latest 'on the street' version of SolidWorks 2010 is now with us, and the philosophy behind it somewhat mirrors the current economic climate by posing the question 'how can we do what we are already doing - but do it better?'
Before we get onto the meat of the latest release, though, a revisit to Sustainability. This probably exemplifies why a suitable pause is inserted between the treats laid out at SolidWorks World and the subsequent release of the software. I was enthused by SolidWorksí green traffic light solution, where products can be analysed, prior to manufacture, to find out the most environmentally efficient way of producing them, scouring the world for the most
carbon-free method of producing the materials that you would like to use - or suggesting more eco-friendly materials in place of the lead drudged out of the mines of Wales that you intended to use.
And so with the release of SolidWorks 2010 we get a considerably modified, considerably more usable version of the traffic light software. Called SustainabilityXpress, it uses the resources of PE INTERNATIONAL, the largest and oldest network of sustainability experts in the world, and PE Americas, its US division, to analyse components, calculate the potential carbon footprint of your model, and assist you in finding suitable and environmentally friendly alternatives.
The company in question has spent the last twenty years accumulating data about the earth's resources - who is digging it up, who is converting it to usable material, and the energy expended in that conversion so that designers can be sure they have achieved the best possible sustainable solution. It doesn't just cover design and manufacture either, as its Life Cycle Assessment includes an analysis of just how and where the component will be disposed of!
There's a great graphical interface too - a couple of pie charts that gradually turn
from red to green the closer you get to a desired solution. And to drive the message home, you get a big carbon footprint at the end of the analysis.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on performance, reliability and predictability in SolidWorks 2010 - performance as in the speed at which the software will rebuild components, and so on. Improvements have been made in the basic CAD application, simulation, data management, documentation and, of course, environmental impact assessment - all geared towards making the design engineer more productive.
Such improvements always start with the user interface, with a neat new idea that makes the software more responsive to userís input commands. Actually, it's more than merely responsive - the software actually tries to work out what the designer wants to do next and offers some suggestions. It's tied in with Mouse Gestures. You bring the mouse close to a part of the model, and the software displays a number of options that are open to you. We often talk about user interfaces being intuitive - well this relies not just on your intuition but that of the software tool!
SolidWorks 2010 also comes with that favourite device of mine, the SketchBook Pro style wheel, which has started to appear in lots of other applications too even popping up in Google Earth! The end result is quicker access to commands and faster navigational control.
You can add direct modelling to the list of 2010ís new features as well -the direct manipulation of the model without having to worry about the history tree. That includes the ability to select multiple faces - i.e. all faces attached to a specific set of features and move the whole lot around. It doesn't invalidate the history tree, of course, and enables you to go off and do your own thing with a design for a while, then sorts out the changes when you return to the browser.
Talking of which, faces can be selected during SimulationXpress, the integrated FEA capability within SolidWorks. It's a standard feature within mainline simulation products, but now the same flexibility allows SolidWorks engineers to select faces to hold a model and attach forces prior to running a simulation. Not sure what that entails? Then you can use the simulation advisor to guide you through your first few simulations - after all, you're a designer, not an engineer.
You might like to play around with models that move as well, and SimulationXpress includes, for the first time, motion simulation or kinetic analysis, based on the way machines really work.
There have also been improvements to areas of the software which, although perhaps not as exciting as modelling in 3D or simulation, are just as important. Drawing enhancements speed up the production of 2D drawings, and DXF export and previews are faster and more efficient.
Even the placement of dimensions is more efficient, with rapid dimensions - a new and patent pending tool - allowing the software to display new dimension placement alternatives and re-arrange existing dimensions to make room for them!
Publishing models to 3D ContentCentral, the web-based marketplace for parts and assemblies etc, has been made easier. And extracting them is easier too, as it comes with a configurator interface that encourages users to select parts based on type, size, performance and so on, and then re-configure them on the fly. SolidWorks reckon that 75% of people who download designs from sources such as 3D ContentCentral go on to buy that part.
Other enhancements include new reference plane creation methods, improvements to sheet metal functionality, weldment performance, and component mirroring capabilities. And, of course, improvements in the handling of complex assemblies.
Model visualisation has got even better, using Photoview 360 to provide more lifelike renderings - even for novices. The name is appropriate. You set up the software using camera-like features - depth of field and so on - adding a wide variety of light sources and using comprehensive dialogue boxes to assist in the set-up. It even provides a selection of environmental backgrounds in which you can display your model. Photoview comes in SolidWorks Premium CAD but you don't have to buy a licence for each seat, as it can be shared by multiple users.
SW ENTERPRISE PDM
Collaboration is essential today to
maximise productivity, and with 2010, SolidWorks has released SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, which helps users prepare models and drawings for distribution, automatically converting them into neutral formats - PDF, STEP IGES, DXF or TIFF - for producing quotations, collaboration, or for printing. There's also a new toolbox facility, using MS Explorerís capabilities to investigate designs from external sources before they are accepted within users models as validated objects.
One of the most successful elements of SolidWorks is 3DVIA Composer, used to produce technical documentation manuals, brochures, catalogues and so on - using the intelligence built in to the models to create things like exploded views etc, and then to keep it updated throughout the product development and its many changes.
Exploded views are actually old hat. The latest version of 3DVIA lets you create explode lines for multiple exploded views. How neat is that? The software has also been improved to provide scaleable detail views, 3D BOMs and more photorealism, including a shadow caster!
Finally, another new tool that deserves more analysis - a slider bar that lets you look at assemblies and interrogate them along some pretty unconventional lines. Which are the most expensive components, which parts are lighter and which heavier? It lets you revisit the model and source cheaper components or lighter materials. A simple enough idea which leverages the intelligence in the model - but one that has got bags of potential!
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