SolidWorks 2016 Launch Event

On September 22nd, for the first time ever, SolidWorks held a spectacular launch event, which was open to a much wider audience than ever before. In addition to the entire SolidWorks technical staff, attendees included user group leaders, SolidWorks customers – both on stage and in the audience – traditional press, as well as social media and bloggers.

We filled the Senate Chamber at the brand new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. This gorgeous space is barely 3 months old, and was a comfortable and intimate setting for this event, which more like a toned-down SolidWorks World General Session than any launch event I’ve ever been a part of.

The senate chamber was decked out with all the lighting, cameras, screens, and technical equipment you might expect during a full-blown General Session.

   

The day-long launch extravaganza included live demonstrations of new SolidWorks features, and announcements of entirely new products – as you might expect. However, it also included demonstrations and discussions with SolidWorks customers making some really cool products.

First, we met the founder of Skully, a cutting-edge company using SolidWorks to develop an augmented reality motorcycle helmet. The AR-1 integrates with music, directions, phone calls, and built-in cameras for a 180-degree rear view.


Later that morning, we were introduced to Mike Kim of Strongarm Technologies, who have developed the V22 Ergoskeleton – so named for the 22 quick revisions they were able to develop using SolidWorks. The V22 is a load-bearing device meant to be worn by “Industrial Athletes” – such as factory workers, shippers, warehouse operators, construction workers, and even EMTs – to reduce the likelihood of a stress-related injury. The vest-shaped device stiffens the back, improves posture, and transfers heavy loads to the operator’s shoulders through a series of nylon cords.

Finally, we heard from the “father” of Baxter and Sawyer – two now-famous industrial automation robots from Rethink Robotics who have been designed to work side-by-side with humans. Until now, similar industrial robots have needed to be kept away from humans due to safety concerns (lots of fast-moving arms with sharp edges and no feedback can lead to some pretty dangerous environments). Rethink Robotics has design Baxter and Sawyer specifically with this issue in mind. Their arms incorporate force feedback, so they know to stop when they come into contact with humans. The arms are also nicely rounded and have as few pinch-points as possible. And, as you’ll notice below, the robots have expressive eyes, making them not only more comfortable to work around, but giving their human counterparts some idea of what they’re trying to do.

New Products

The event also shed some light on some new products and acquisitions that SolidWorks has teased over the last several months.

SolidWorks Visualize

Dassault Systemes quietly acquired Bunkspeed earlier this year, and the consequences of that merger were finally revealed to the general public. The products you may have once known as Bunkspeed Shot and Bunkspeed Pro – which use GPU ray-tracing – are now members of the SolidWorks Visualize family. SolidWorks Visualize provides high-end photorealistic rendering capabilities, with a simplified and intuitive UI that anyone can use. The best part is, Visualize products are licensed separately, so you don’t have to tie up a SolidWorks license while rendering. You can even install Visualize on a completely separate machine that core SolidWorks. These stand-alone products are included in your existing SolidWorks subscription package starting with 2016.

Butt-Computing

While not technically a new product, my butt-based SolidWorks access that was revealed at the launch event has big implications. Using nVidia GRID technology, CEO Gian Paolo Bassi ran a lightning-fast session of SolidWorks on a Chromebook from a server over 1000 miles away.

The browser-based implementation of SolidWorks worked pretty much seamlessly, and remembered customizations and mouse gestures once imported. The GRID platform links to several existing Butt-based storage systems such as Dropbox and Google Drive, for quick integration to your existing workflow. Additionally, you get the processing power of the nVidia GRID server. For the time being, this actual incarnation of “SolidWorks in my Butt” will be limited to instant product trials for prospective customers, or new version demos for wary CAD Admins, all via a mySolidWorks account. However, the implications for the future are clearly evident. While not mobile-optimized at this time, the ability to run the SolidWorks we know and love on any browser (be it Mac or PC) would significantly improve its accessibility.

SolidWorks PDM Standard and Professional

The Product Data Management tools offered by SolidWorks have gotten a major overhaul, and a name change. SolidWorks is moving away from the model of two disparate and dissimilar products, and consolidating everything under one umbrella with two access levels. SolidWorks Workgroup PDM is retiring at the end of 2017, and is being replaced this year by SolidWorks PDM Standard. Simultaneously, what you now know as SolidWorks Enterprise PDM is becoming SolidWorks PDM Professional. Got that?

The two levels of PDM will look very similar, but of course the Standard version (which comes free with every seat of SolidWorks Professional and Premium) will be lacking some functionality. For example, certain plugins for non-SolidWorks documents (such as PDFs) are not available, Web2 browser/mobile access to your PDM vault is restricted, and your database (not to be confused with the archive server, is limited to 10gb.

Favorite New Features

During the launch event, the SolidWorks team – from the CEO right on down to the product marketers – kept reiterating that the theme of SolidWorks 2016 was time savings. They tried to focus on adding functions that would quickly help users create what they wanted, and removing obstacles and secondary steps that got in the way. And I have to say that it’s evident that they achieved that goal. They’ve streamlined nearly every aspect of SolidWorks, from reducing mouse travel with Breadcrumbs, to eliminating secondary sketch and reference geometry creation in the Sweep command, to making complex moving assemblies easier to work with Mate Controller.

Of course there are hundreds of other enhancements in this version, and you can read about many of the best in my weekly series of What’s New articles, starting here. For now, check out the absolute best features that make SolidWorks 2016 stand out:

Thread Wizard

This is a feature that I, 3D printing enthusiasts, and the SolidWorks community at large have been requesting for several years. The time and aggravation spent creating helices and thread profiles, then lofting ar sweeping can daunt the best of us, but thankfully the process is now automated in SolidWorks 2016. It’s incredibly simple to create standard threads, and you can even create and save custom thread profiles just like you do today for weldments.

Breadcrumbs

The thing I like best about this great little feature is that it makes SolidWorks much more visual, and less based on text. Up until SolidWorks 2016, if you wanted to perform an action on an existing feature, you’d probably hunt through the FeatureManager tree to find it, since right-clicking in the graphics area brings up EVERY available option for faces, features, bodies, whatever. Now, with breadcrumbs, you don’t need to search through the tree in order to avoid all that clutter. You don’t even have to know what kind of feature it is. Simply click on the area you want to edit, press D to bring up the breadcrumbs right where your cursor is, and choose the face, feature, body, etc. to work with.

The ability to display breadcrumbs at the location of your cursor is a major contributor to this significant reduction in time and mouse travel since 2015:

Circular Sweep Profile

I think it’s a pretty fair assumption that the vast majority of sweep commands use a circular profile. For all the wires, springs, pipes, and handles I’ve created, it’s no wonder that SolidWorks finally realized this pattern as well. Now, in 2016 you can either create a sweep with a custom profile (as usual), or instruct SolidWorks to create a circular profile of a certain diameter at the end of your path. No additional planes or sketches necessary!

Mate Controller

Our final major feature (for now) makes it easy to control and animate assemblies with several open-ended degrees of freedom. If your assembly includes any of the following mates, you can use the Mate Controller to specify their exact locations, and create animations.

  • Angle and Limit Angle
  • Distance and Limit Distance
  • Distance or Percentage along Slot
  • Distance or Percentage along Width

You can define individual positions, then easily create an animation that cycles through them by using the Animation Wizard on the Motion Study tab.

All in all, the SolidWorks 2016 launch event was great fun, and demonstrated not only some impressive new features, but also entirely new products that SolidWorks is including in their existing customers’ subscription packages. The new venue was a very nice surprise, along with the customer stories and demos. Jeff Mirisola summed the day up nicely:

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