Modeler packs in 250 improvements

May 8, 2003
Reviewing SolidWorks in 1998 was a little disappointing because users could only have one solid model in a file. High-end 3D modelers could easily place assemblies of many parts in one, so it seemed a serious limitation.

To speed processing, SolidWorks 2003 now allows creating sweeps without merging resultant faces.

Fillet preview in SolidWorks 2003 shows what it will produce before users accept the feature. Full Round is another useful blend function. Users pick faces instead of edges. The modeler then calculates a full radius for the selected face set. It eliminates that little sliver of a face between two almost full blends.

The LOFT feature lets users join two pieces with a third.

The workaround involved tracking a lot of files that contained the assembly. Those days are finally behind us, thanks to SolidWorks 2003. In addition to handling multiple models per file, the developer has included more than 250 enhancements. If users expected sweeping changes to the user interface, they might be disappointed. For the most part, the developer left everything there untouched. The software includes more tutorials and animations with over 20 lessons on various capabilities and add-ins.

In a test of the software, I opened a new file, created two sketches that did not intersect, and swept solids from them. It worked well. Then I edited one sketch to overlap the other. Unfortunately, the solids automatically joined. The What's-New manual, however, showed that a checkbox on the extrude menu defaults to Merge Results. Once I deselected it, the two solids dutifully unmerged. Another advantage of this capability is that users can save assemblies as multibody part files for export to vendors.

Handles are another of the more interesting additions. These span the entire length of extruded geometry and help judge the needed length of an extrusion. They also don't rubber band all over the place. In previous versions, after positioning the cursor in the graphics window, SolidWorks thought users were telling it the length of the extrude. The extrude length would follow the cursor wherever it went. It could be quite disconcerting.

Extrusions now wait for users to click and drag them to where needed. In the modeler, only changed faces regenerate, so regeneration times shorten. When opening files, the modeler shows thumbnail images of their contents. Thumbnails also appear of any configuration in the file. Double-clicking on a configuration opens the file.

The triad, an X-Y-Z-axis indicator, tells the orientation to the global coordinate system. That is, it tells which way is up.

For years, users have been able to edit and name features in the Feature Manager tree. They can now describe each feature as well. Longer descriptions are useful to anyone who, for example, named an extrusion on the spur of a moment and later forgot what kind of feature they started with. The design tree can now read, for example, Boss-Extrude - Handlebar, to remind that the extrusion forms a bicycle handlebar. Users can describe components and configurations in addition to features. And, they can create folders in the design tree to organize related features. This little addition is a big improvement. It works with parts, assemblies, and drawing files.The sketcher has also been reworked. For example, it can now use contours to sweep solids. This means if two shapes are linked by curves producing multiple enclosed regions, selecting any region for a sweep produces a solid that ignores the rest of the sketch. Users can also sweep multiple solids from a common sketch.

The modeler now lets users create repeating patterns. For example, users can build a part, mirror it, and mirror the result again. And, they can dimension directly to silhouette vertices. Users need not constrain only to sketches anymore.

Auto-dimension completes sketches after users place a few required dimensions on them. New commands work with the modeler's multibody capabilities. Pay close attention to them, particularly the Combine function. It joins two unconnected bodies into one. Its menu has choices for "add," "subtract," and "common." (Users will have to add Combine to the Feature bar because it's turned off by default.) And the Bridge tool works almost like the Loft feature. It lets users design two pieces of a model and create a new piece to join them. For example, think of two ends of a wrench and the bridge is the middle.

Other new capabilities drive patterns from sketches, import geometry (a sketch, surface, or solid), and even move and copy bodies. That last one deserves an explanation. Other 3D CAD programs let users copy bodies in a file, but they seem to always lose intelligence. In SolidWorks 2003, however, copies are complete duplicates in every respect. That means they retain the parameters users have spent time creating. It will save a lot of sketching time.

The modeler now untrims surfaces. This allows importing surfaces from other CAD systems, expanding edges, and filling in holes.

Another capability comes in a feature that interrupts design regenerations. It's for all who have hit the regeneration button only to discover a mistake and had to wait for the modeler to finish. Now the modeler finishes the feature it is working on and rolls the tree back to that point. Users can make changes and continue the regeneration when ready. Feature Statistics, another time saver, analyzes models to see which features take longest to regenerate. Those regeneration hogs can be suppressed for quicker modifications.

The modeler ships with CosmosXpress, a new analysis tool. It is a subset of a more comprehensive analysis program, and as such, won't replace in-depth finite-element analyses. However, it does give fairly accurate ballpark estimates of how models will perform.

Drafting improvements are also included in the new mix. For instance, the modeler lets users define standard views on drawings. Anything can be set up as a template of sorts. That way, when users drag a model onto a drawing, the modeler populates it with requested views. A few other new drafting features include selecting silhouettes for dimensioning, justifying dimension text vertically, and hatching sections or areas with solid fills. The modeler has also finally joined the rest of the drafting world and calls witness lines what they really are, extension lines.

There is one area in dual dimensioning that still falls short of the norm. The modeler places the secondary value on top and the primary one below. The development team says they are following industry standards, but I disagree. The problem could easily be addressed in a point release.

I've just scratched the surface of SolidWorks 2003. Despite my minor gripe, the software and its intuitive, graphically oriented approach deserve a good look. Prices start at $3,995 for the basic package, $4,995 for SolidWorks Office (which includes just about everything), and $5,995 for SolidWorks Office Professional, which is Office with PDMWorks. -- Michael Hudspeth

Mike Hudspeth ([email protected]) is an industrial designer, 3D modeling consultant, and software reviewer in St. Louis.

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