I was recently asked by one of the higher-ups a SolidWorks to provide a list of enhancement ideas that I thought of during the course of the last few days. What I’m sure we both expected to be a short bullet list turned into a five-page essay. Here’s my list in it’s entirety:
I actually pitched this idea to Jeff Ray and some of the other SolidWorks executives last summer. However, it was only after that presentation that I discovered that an idea very similar to this had been put into motion by a small CAD start-up, ShapeSpace. The basic idea is this:
You’re browsing some large repository of 3D content (such as 3DContentCentral or your company’s PDM vault) searching for a part that you can picture clearly in your head, but have no idea of what it might be called. After all, 3D CAD is a visual exercise, not a literary one. Wouldn’t it be be much more efficient to search for parts by shape, rather than by name? For example, if you’re looking for a specific type of bracket, you could search for ‘bracket’ on 3DContentCentral – and wade through nearly 2500 parts. OR, you could model a quick and dirty representation of what you’re looking for in SolidWorks. It wouldn’t have to be too exact, and it certainly wouldn’t have to be pretty. You could upload your part to a special 3DCC or PDM search tool, and instantly find all the parts in the library that have similar geometry (within a certain specified tolerance). Then you could sort by price, manufacturer, material, etc. The results could be independent of scale and coordinate system, so you wouldn’t have to worry about measurements, just relative size.
Automatically align blueprint sketches in initial sketch pictures
Currently, to get started on a complex model (like a car) using orthogonal sktch pictures is a complex multi-step process. It involves cropping trimming the images in a 3rd-party program to get the ratios just right, down to the last pixel. Then you must create new reference plans in addition to the three defaults (if, for example, you want to use a rear or bottom view). These planes must also be positioned perfectly, based on the dimensions of the images. Then you have to create between three and six new sketches, add the sketch pictures, and rotate, resize, and edit transparency for each. And then, generally, add all the sketches to a new FeatureManager folder. What if SolidWorks automated most of these steps? I imagine the user would follow this basic path:
- From a UI, browse for desired views (top, front, right, rear, etc)
- Select ONE dimension (length, width, or height) for reference.
- SolidWorks automatically detects the curves in the images, trims images to size (so that the width of the front view is equal to the width of the side view, etc), automatically creates any extra reference planes at the correct distances, and positions images on those planes correctly.
- The user is prompted to select a transparency setting to apply to ALL images. • Optionally, reference axes can be automatically added at plane intersections.
- SolidWorks places all the images and planes in a new FeatureManager folder (can be named by the user or have a default title).
Full-featured Augmented Reality Viewer
The 3DVia Mobile iPhone app is a good start, but Google SketchUp already has a relatively advanced AR plug-in.
SolidWorks could take it one step further by incorporating motion and stress analysis into Augmented Reality models. This technology would enable engineers to visualize their products – anything from handheld devices to furniture to entire buildings – in the real world. It would also be a fantastic addition to the Post3D community, for enabling sales teams to demonstrate their products to distant clients in the most lifelike way possible.
Ability to use unlinked images in the design binder as sketch pictures
Probably the most common use of the design binder is to store orthogonal reference images, to de-clutter the Windows folder. However (as far as I can tell) these images cannot be accessed when choosing an image for a sketch picture. This leads to a designer either a) maintaining two sets of images or b) unfortunately, never using the design binder (more likely, I think).
Add a decal/split line based on the center of gravity
Using the CG from the mass properties of a part or assembly, automatically apply a center-of-gravity symbol decal or split line to specified faces, in the 3 orthogonal directions.
Edit BOM in external excel file.
Parallel draft in Boss/Base extrusion
Similar to how you can edit a design table in an external file, it would be useful to be able to do the same for a BOM, especially when working with large assemblies, it would be more efficient to perform all the data entry outside of SolidWorks.
Add an option to draft all walls of an extrusion towards the center. Take the sectioned cylinder below. A) is a regular extrusion, B) is the same extrusion drafted 5 degrees from the Extrude Boss/Base FeatureManager, C) is my proposal to allow for parallel drafting.
Hide/Show entire folders
We currently have the ability to suppress entire folders, but not to hide and show them. This would involve hiding every bode who’s last feature is present in that folder, along with all sketches and parts (in an assembly). This would be useful for hiding a set of orthogonal reference sketches, or all the fasteners in a large assembly (i.e. blueprints or layout sketches, fasteners/hardware, etc)
Add a “Hide All Types” button in the HUD
It’s available in the View menu, but not in the HUD.
Add appearances to interior of split lines
Save snapshot of part position in assemblies.
I know this one has circulated for a while, but it would be astoundingly useful.
This is one of the good features of Pro/E. You can move parts into a desired position (at the beginning of a motion analysis, for example) and then take a ‘snapshot of those parts. You can than return the parts to that position at any time without suppressing/unsuppresing mates or creating new configurations
Ability to add appearances while in section view.
This is useful when working on a model which will eventually be sectioned (for a publication or scale model).
Automatically show/hide one feature or group of features when another is hidden/shown
For example, automatically hide the front blueprint image when the rear is shown.
Create geometry based on mass/volume
Given a few specified values (such as volume, mass, footprint area, shape, etc) SolidWorks will automatically create a solid which fits those requirements. For example, maybe you need an object weighing one ton which fits in a parallelogram-shaped footprint of no more than 4’ x 6’. The current method is simply to guess-and-check.
Create custom materials by alloying
Use percentages of certain metals to create new alloys, with appropriate material properties.
Make sketch pictures inert in the graphics area
Along the same line, sketch pictures should be completely inert (unselectable) from the graphics area. Once they’ve been created, sketch pictures should only be editable through the FeatureManager tree. They really seem to get in the way after that, especially when using mouse gestures. Many mouse gestures don’t work when performed over a sketch picture. And when using a highly transparent image, it can be difficult to determine where that boundary ends.