Upgrading SolidWorks – How, When, and Why?

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SolidWorks 2013 came out about 9 months ago. The 2013 Beta period began about 3 months before that. And well before that, in February of 2012, we were given our first sneak peek into the new features of SolidWorks 2013. Why is it then, that my company – and countless others – are waiting until mid way through the year to even consider upgrading?

The new features are inarguably useful, and would likely increase any user’s productivity. So what are the Powers That BE afraid of? What is it about a new Version of software that keeps them up at night?

The upgrade process seems to be different for every company. Some have an internal testing process, while others trust SolidWorks and their tireless Beta testers to deliver a quality product. Some companies wait until later Service Packs due to fears of instability in early releases, while some jump at the chance to be early adopters.

My question to you all is, what’s your preference? Will any internal testing plan find bugs that months of Beta testing missed? (Our internal test involved 6 people making a few very simple parts. It didn’t involve any new functionality, or large assembly demands. I’ve come to the conclusion that this was to appease those risk management-minded individuals who don’t actually know how software validation works in general, never mind CAD software specifically.)

Do later Service Packs actually behave noticeably better than early ones, or it that just a myth? Is there any real benefit to waiting. Have any of you out there actually encountered a problem in an early Service Pack that would have been resolved in a later update? And if so, would participating in the Beta program have resulted in catching and fixing that bug? How can we make cool new functionality outweigh the apprehension of the scary unknown?

Bottom line: When is the best time to upgrade and why? And how can your fellow SolidWorks users convince their admins to upgrade at that ideal time?

Cutting Down the FeatureTree with a Skyrim Axe – Direct vs Parametric Modeling in SolidWorks 2013

A friend of mine recently emailed me, asking for my opinion of his modeling practices for an ornate Skyrim axe he was creating in his spare time.

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For reasons that are hopefully obvious to all, this is a surface model. “The Art of the Swoopy Part,” as some like to call it. He had tried modeling it over and over again – 5 times before he finally emailed me – and each time was concerned with the incredible length of his FeatureTree. There has to be an easier way!

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“I think it is a pretty good representation of the axe,” He told me, “but I feel like it is held together by a thread. Any change to the tree will likely cascade into an apple tree of error flags. I’m going to build it a few more times and see if things like parametric features and design intent can find their way into the model to make it better.”

“What are your thoughts on SolidWorks, surface models and design intent? Can something like the axe be made with an intelligent editable design, or is it normal to kludge things together and make a model that looks right but is pretty much an editing nightmare?” This is the most common question I’ve heard on the subject of surface modeling, and possibly the most common in all of CAD design. Is there an easy way to make a complex surface model ‘smart’? Or should we just accept that surfaces are too organic and uncontrollable to be able to make changes high up the tree?  I shared my humble opinion, as seen below.

“First of all, that axe looks gorgeous, thanks for sharing. I’ve always been of the mindset that surface models are best for “direct editing.” I generally ignore the FeatureTree entirely, and rely on the Surfacing and Direct Editing toolbars. If a surface has a wrinkle or other error, I always find it easier to trim and patch that surface than to figure out how to fix the parent feature. For example, in my work making form-fitting silicone skins for one of my clients, I generally start with an offset surface. Depending on the quality of the original model, the offset may look awful, and has to be patched up over and over again. As long as it looks good in the end. So you have to balance the length of the feature tree against your willingness to fight with cascading errors.

However, I think we’ve reached a turning point with the introduction of the Intersect tool in 2013. After enough practice and exposure, I think not only can you cut down that feature tree significantly, but many solid modelers can become more comfortable with surfacing. I also think the Intersect tool might make history-based editing at least a little easier, since you only have to control the feature boundaries, not the feature itself (if that makes any sense).”

So, are we really at a turning point? Can the Intersect tool – half solid and half surface – save surface modelers from endless feature trees, while bringing “normal” modelers into the fold? I certainly think it has the potential, but SolidWorks has to make sure it gets a lot of training and information out into the world about it, before it’s passed over.

What’s New in SolidWorks 2013 – Chapter 4: Administration

Chapter 4: Administration

Enhancements for the bosses.

Honorable Mentions:

Save and Restore User Settings

Sort of like the Copy Settings Wizard, but friendlier.

Winner

SolidWorks CAD Admin Dashboard

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This new tool allows your friendly neighborhood CAD Admin to keep an eye on his kingdom.  The dashboard lets the admin view all the system options for every seat of SolidWorks on the network, and shows if any user’s options differ from the company standards.  The dashboard also collects information about machines on the network, and suggests actions that may improve performance, such as updating drivers, adding more memory, or increasing storage.  

The dashboard can also keep records of every session of SolidWorks launched within your company, and track crashes and terminations that may help detect serious probelms early. 

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The CAD Admin Dashboard can even be used to monitor Virtual Machines on the network.

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The best part is, since this tool is available through the Customer Portal, it’s available from practically anywhere.

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What’s New in SolidWorks 2013 – Chapter 3: SolidWorks Fundamentals

Chapter 3: SolidWorks Fundamentals

A grab-bag of new SolidWorks functionality, from equations to measuring to sounds.

Honorable Mentions:

  • API enhancements, including the addition of APIs to SolidWorks Costing and Sustainability
  • New tutorials and a redesigned tutorial window UI
  • Rotate about scene floor (great for rendering)
  • Searching SolidWorks Options
    • There’s a search box in the top-right of the Options window. Thanks for using my idea!
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  • Point-to-point measurements.
  • Quick-Filter Buttons
    • Choose whether to view only parts, drawings, or assemblies – or any combination of the three – in the Open dialog. Also filter only top-level assemblies.
  • Event-Based Alert Sounds
    • SolidWorks can now play an alert sound when certain events occur, such as FEA mesh completion or failure, render or animation completion, or successful file opening. Generally, these are things that may take a long time, and an alert will let you know when you should pause that YouTube video and get back to work.
  • SolidWorks FastStart
    • SolidWorks begins loading components in the background as soon as you start your computer, even before you launch SolidWorks.  I’ll have to use this for a while before I can form an opinion, but assuming it doesn’t kill the performance of your computer, this could be the answer to extreme opening times.

Winners

  • Direct Input of Equations into most PropertyManager fields

In SolidWorks 2012, the equation system was overhauled, but direct equations were only available in sketches. SolidWorks has closed the circle and added direct equation input into most PropertyManager fields, such as extrusion depth, draft angle, and offset distance. Users can also toggle between the equation and the output value in FeatureManager fields.

  • Orientation Dialog Box and View Selector
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     The Orientation dialog box (activated by pressing spacebar) is now much more robust that its predecessor. In addition to displaying the standard views in a more understandable way, it also allows users to save custom views globally, so they can be used in any SolidWorks model.  This is great if you need to render multiple parts in exactly the same orientation.  Users can also more easily update the standard views by simply right-clicking in the graphics area and clicking “Set Current View As…” and selecting a standard view.
     The most noticeable addition, however, is the View Selector. Whenever you press Space, the model will rotate to an isometric view, and display a view box around the model. This box has 22 selectable faces, including Standard (Top, Front, Right, etc), Diagonal, and Isometric from all sides. The View Selector can be activated without the Orientation Dialog Box by pressing CTRL+Space.

What’s New in SolidWorks 2013 – Chapter 2: User Interface

SolidWorks 2013 was officially launched today, after an exciting reveal at SolidWorks World 2012, and a jam-packed day of in-depth exploration at Media Day at Dassault HQ in Waltham. This version of SolidWorks has more enhancements to more aspects of the program than any other release in recent memory.  Every product – from Core SolidWorks to DraftSight to ePDM – has new features, enhancements, and options. There are also three brand-new products that have been released in the past year: SolidWorks Plastics, SolidWorks Electrical, and eDrawings for iPad.

Each week I’ll be posting on my favorite new features from each chapter of the SolidWorks 2013 What’s New documentation.  I’ll choose a few of these features to test and explore in-depth, and share my thoughts and experiences with you.

Chapter 2: User Interface

 Chapter 1 of the What’s New is only an introduction, so we’ll jump right into the new features in chapter 2. This chapter is limited to small but useful changes in the way you access information in SolidWorks 2013.

Honorable Mentions:

 

·         Improvements to customization of shortcut (“S-key”) bars. 

·         SolidWorks Tools (such as SolidWorks Rx and Benchmark Testing) are now available from within SolidWorks

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·         The ability to toggle between a nested and flat FeatureManager tree.

·         Subfolders in the FeatureManager tree.

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Winner:

 

Favorites folder in FeatureManager Tree

 

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“Add commonly used features, sketches, and reference geometry to the Favorites folder in the FeatureManager design tree”

This will be very useful for anyone working with complex model and huge design trees, especially in a collaborative environment. If you need your partner to edit sketch 548, just add it to the favorites folder, so he doesn’t have to search through the whole tree. 

It’s also helpful for models that use master sketches or blueprints, so you can edit the overall shape, without scrolling up from the feature you’re working on at the very bottom.

SolidWorks 2013 Beta is Coming Soon

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You can smell it in the air. The chill that makes your hair stand on end. The anticipation. The need.

Brace yourselves.

Beta is coming.

The SolidWorks Beta Team sent out an email yesterday telling us that the 2013 Beta program will launch in June 2012. If you’re not already excited, review my post on What’s Coming in SolidWorks 2013 (that we know of). Go ahead, I’ll wait.  This year, there’s no reason not to jump right in, since this version will feature backwards compatibility with 2012 SP5, so any work you do in 2013 can still be shared with your colleagues using 2012.  Keep in mind, however, that 2013 will NOT install on Window XP computers (although I’m sure the SolidWorks community will hack their way around this pretty quickly).  Also, it’s always best to make a copy of your data whenever using an early software release.

If you haven’t already signed up for the Beta program and notifications, just visit the SolidWorks Beta Site, and they’ll walk you through it.  You can also sign up to attend one of several on-site Beta testing events at the Dassault corporate offices.

Best of luck to Kaamil, Terry, and the rest of the Beta team. May the Beta be with you?

March FredSWUG Meeting Recap

The March 2012 FredSWUG meeting was our best ever! We had a great turnout, a very useful presentation, and a special guest who gave away a unique prize. Thank you to everyone who attended!

 

We started out with a brief recap of SolidWorks World 2012, which was held in San Diego in mid-February. For a more complete recap, check out these General Session videos (MondayTuesdayWednesday), the official SolidWorks Blog recap (MondayTuesday,Wednesday), and my “SolidWorks World According to Twitter” posts (MondayTuesday,Wednesday).

 

We next learned about the new features of SolidWorks 2013 that were revealed on the last day of the conference. There were a lot of positive reactions from the group to many of these upcoming features, especially the promise of previous release interoperability. View the entire list of new features here, or download it in presentation form here.

 

 

Next, Marc Weigand of SpaceController took the floor, and demonstrated their impressive new 3D mouse. After a hands-on demonstration of the device, and its unique new features, Marc raffled off a brand new SpaceController to one very lucky group member. Congratulations James!

 

The main presentation was on working with dumb solids (or imported geometry) in SolidWorks. The presentation was originally given by Lars Christensen at SolidWorks World 2012, and I was lucky enough to be able to present it to the group. The presentation covered best practices for importing, imported file structures, direct editing tools, and Featureworks. You can download the presentation here, and the demo files here.

 

The next FredSWUG meeting will be on May 16th. Stay tuned for more details!

SolidWorks World 2012 – Wednesday General Session (According to Twitter)

The Wednesday General Session is always the most exciting. Everyone is waiting for the big reveals of the next release, and any other little piece of new information about their favorite products.

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, the NAObots…

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First up, Fielder Hiss takes the stage and welcomes everyone to the last General Session of 2012, and welcomes a representative of Platinum Partner, Dell.

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Next, Mark Schnieder revealed the Model Mania contest winners, and walked through the workflow.

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What’s Coming in SolidWorks 2013

The SolidWorks World 2012 “What’s New” skit was as cheesy as ever, and the nerds, geeks, and dorks in the crowd ate it up.  This year the skit starred Marty McFly (Justin Burton), Doc Brown (Ian Hogg), Biff (Jeremy Regnerus), and a cameo by Jon Hirschtick in…

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Feature Set 1

Mostly drawing enhancements in this set, including the first of many cross-product collaboration tools revealed this year, eDrawings Markup Import. There is also the long-awaited ‘Show Hidden’ command in multi-body parts, and an addition to Assembly Visualization that helps determine which parts are bogging down your graphics card.

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Show Hidden Bodies in Parts

Just like ‘Show Hidden Components’ in assemblies

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Assembly Performance Offenders

Ordered list of all components and patterns that slow dow graphics display

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eDrawings Markup Imports

Copy markups directly from eDrawings file to .slddrw file

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Quick Section Views

Create complex section views with on-screen pop-up toolbar

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Revision Clouds

Call out drawing changes with eDrawings-like cloud lines

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