SolidWorks gets a major upgrade

July 7, 2005
New features in SolidWorks 2005 should make design easier than ever.
The Design Binder lets designers track part-revision history using an embedded Word document.

The Flex feature lets users model a straight part and then bend it to shape a new design.

SolidWorks 2005 can use the mark-up capability of a Tablet PC so, for example, maintenance workers can add notes to models.

PhotoWorks outputs photorealistic images that include transparency and reflections.

SolidWorks lets users move faces when needed.

Users of previous versions who open their first session in the latest one will notice something new right away: A Task Pane at the side. It holds a useful series of tabbed folders and programs that can be expanded or collapsed, docked or undocked, or hidden. The Task Pane contains major functions needed to get started, including tutorials to help if you're new to design, and a whole list of other resources.

The pane is most helpful for new users and it stays quietly out of the way for those more experienced. It's not a new idea in CAD programs, but it's a good one, and it's customizable here. Tabs, for example, locate and manage files. The Design Library, one of the files, comprises everything from what was called User Defined Features all the way to the Toolbox (a huge library of pre-built parts), and an online parts resource called 3D Content Central.

One frustrating thing about mechanical design is keeping track of changes and design rationale. This CAD program addresses the challenge with Design Journal. It's a Word document residing within the Feature Manager. It lets users add notes about what they did, and more importantly, why. You can also include voice comments and snapshots to make things easy to see. The journal can be saved, printed, and even deleted. It is a great idea for those who want to track the rationale behind design changes.

Sketching includes several notable new tricks. You can now offset entities. For instance, draw a line, give the CAD program an offset distance, and it draws a copy of the line at the offset distance. You can have single and double offsets, and the software draws centerlines for construction geometry. The double offset lets users close geometry with a line cap, which just puts a straight line across the ends, or an end cap which draws an arc from one line to the other. This is a great way to sketch slots.

The perimeter circle is a new way to draw circles. Instead of originating from an arc center, a perimeter circle needs only two points on its perimeter. And it can snap to a circle's quadrant points. In fact, there is a whole array of snaps that act much like Osnaps in another CAD program.

Sketching splines is also easier. Handles appear at each spline point with arrows that let you control the vector leaving that point. Technically known as Bezier handles, these little arrows shape the spline. The color of the handles indicates whether there are constraints on the point or not. Also, you can specify tangent conditions on the spline at any point along its length. The software lets you sketch splines on surfaces.

The software can display multiple constraint symbols on entities. It's not new to CAD, but it's a welcome addition. Constrained entities are accompanied by symbols for their constraints. This is handy when sketches cannot be fully constrained.

The process of deforming models is also easier. The feature was first released in a previous version, but its capabilities have been expanded. It's also a lot of fun. First select one of several "solid tools". These are digital tools that affect models in particular ways. Just move the tool into the model using handles and the model will curl, bend, or bump out as dictated by the tool. It's also possible to indent parts using the tool solid. Select one and position it into the model. The CAD software then creates a deformation around it, or cuts and removes material. This is a good way to make pockets that must fit other solids, like a toolbox that has formfitting recesses for each tool.

And how often have you wanted to build a flat model and bend it into its final shape? Or make parts that purposely flex as a normal function? The new flex command bends, twists, and stretches models. Just select the model, pick a type of flex, and input its amount. It's that easy.

Other modeling enhancements include lofting. This allows use of a centerline as a guide curve. You control surface continuity of lofts where they meet other surfaces or faces, and control the vector of the lofting guide curves to maintain constant draft angles or tangencies. Guide curves now control lofts, letting users do more with fewer guides.

A few other enhancements include mirroring individual sheet-metal features. And a twist function in the sweep command specifies the angle a sketch may turn along the length of a sweep. One application on the twist function would be for generating custom threads. A third item lets users specify where extrusions start. Previously, extrusions always started from the sketch plane.

And last, the CAD program lets users choose maximum or minimum dimensions when selecting arcs. For years users had to type in a dimension and go back later and edit it. Now, you can make the decision up front. But the method isn't straightforward. You have to imagine a line going from a selected point to the arc center. And it must be within a 15° window to let the software know you want a minimum or maximum dimension, depending on where you select. The method is clumsy, but it's a step in the right direction.

The developer continue its tradition of high-quality bang for the buck. Those looking for a 3D solid modeler who don't want to pay for a high-cost system, should put this software on a wish list.

SolidWorks 2005 comes from
SolidWorks Corp.
300 Baker Ave.
Concord, MA 01742
(508) 371-2910

— Mike Hudspeth

Mike Hudspeth is a designer based in St. Louis.

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