Mechanical design software for modeling

Dec. 8, 2005
SolidWorks 3D mechanical-engineering software lets users quickly build solid models with familiar drag-and-drop, pointand-click, and cut-and-paste functions.

Appearance callouts in the feature tree provide intuitive access to the model's properties.

The Vent feature lets users take a geometry and create functional features in a few simple steps.

The view selector in the lower lefthand corner of the SolidWorks 2006 graphics window is available at all times. This eliminates having to find or remember how to change views.

Instead of a cryptic message that states something is wrong, SolidWorks 2006 helps resolve conflicts by organizing possible fixes for an overconstrained or conflicting sketch into groups of solution sets.

You can easily create 3D models from existing 2D CAD data. The program also lets you easily handle design changes. After a change, associated parts, assemblies, molds, and drawings update. In fact, only a well-developed modeling system can efficiently handle designing parts with complex surfaces or large assemblies with thousands of components.

SolidWorks 2006 includes many user requests. There are several improvements to the interface, and the sketcher is better. Other additions include appearance-callout, snap-hook features, and a spell checker in drafting.

A welcome interface improvement is the command-bar display. SolidWorks 2005 had grouped command bars and put them under common-function icons that ran across the top of the screen. I wasn't used to this. I run software as "out of the box" as I can and usually stick with the overall default mode. So I'm glad the default again has the icons arranged down the side of the screen, where I'm more comfortable seeing them. A nice addition is the view selector in the lower-left corner of the graphics window. Users previously had to find and then click an icon or press the space bar to bring up the standard-views menu. Having it always onscreen saves time.

Other welcome interface changes allow showing shaded and wire-frame parts at the same time in the same component. This is good when you must look at a part hidden behind other parts and want to see how they are used. And the mouse wheel now zooms and scrolls.

Using multiple viewports was once the predominate way of working. It has its merits. But often I would zoom or pan-in on a view and lose my bearings in other views. To solve this, Solid-Works 2006 lets you link viewports so the computer updates other viewpoints as you move in one. However, it only works with zooms and pans. For instance, rotating a view unlinks it.

An Invert Selection feature works well when you have many items to exclude from a command. For example, you pick items and invert the selection. The software deselects what you picked and selects the remaining ones.

Sketching improvements also trim time. Sketching gets frustrating when a little change causes the sketch to fail. In the past, the software would cryptically explain the general problem. A usual solution was to undo what you'd done and figure out what caused the problem, and how to solve it. This involved time-consuming trial and error.

In contrast, SolidWorks 2006 organizes possible fixes for an overconstrained or conflicting sketch into groups of solution sets. Read them and decide what to do. If the fix won't fit your design intent, eliminate it from the list and go on to the next. If none work, you can undo and start again.

Another sketcher function allows offsetting ellipses and parabolas. This was long overdue. You can also edit sketches as you create a loft. When making changes, you need not stop what you're doing and lose the selections already made. The software allows creating a tangency constraint between a sketch curve and a face, as well as creating "blocks" of sketch entities and even exporting them, just as in AutoCAD.

Another function, Appearance Callouts, works like a property manager in the feature tree. It allows controlling the color and texture of a face, feature, body, or part, and editing them without having to select the item in the graphics window. A new snap-hook feature also works well. Select where you want the center of the snap hook and the direction it is to run, and the software drops it in, pretty as you please.

Also recent is a mounting-boss feature that allows placing a boss onto a face with radiating ribs for strength, all in one command. And a new Vent feature lets you create a sketch defining ribs and spars of a vent. The software then cuts the vent. The feature allows generating some pretty imaginative vent configurations.

Good news to those of us terrified of spelling bees is the spell checker in drafting, which uses the Microsoft Word dictionary. Spell Check is a great addition. It was also overdue. But beware: it suffers the same limitations as it does in Word. When your spelling is technically correct but not the word intended, the checker won't flag it for correction. It's the old "to, too, or two" problem. The rule of thumb remains: always proofread your work carefully. However, you can add technical words to the dictionary. For example, it's fairly common for drawings to use the word "thru" instead of "through." It's technical shorthand and a holdover from the drawing-board days.

Text boxes are better, too. Create one and the text wraps to fit the box. No longer do words get cut off when text runs longer than the box.

Almost from the first release, SolidWorks allowed creating design and BOM tables. But sometimes you just want to put information on a drawing. The new release lets you do this with general tables. And, have you ever had trouble detailing a view because you just couldn't seem to select the right edge? The 2006 version has 3D drawing views, which allows rotating views on the drawing to get a better view of the part.

Other enhancements include a new foreshortened radius dimension, design checker, drag and drop (and edit) decals that work like water-slide decals, and face transparency.

SolidWorks 2006 comes from SolidWorks Corp., 300 Baker Ave., Concord, MA 01742 • (800) 693-9000.

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