SolidWorks Solidly Works

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Another year begets another version of CAD software, right?

One expects that these days, especially in solids modeling/computer-aided design (CAD), and especially in Microsoft Windows-based CAD software that new products roll out regularly. Which brings us to SolidWorks 2006 from SolidWorks Corporation (Concord, MA; www.solidworks.com). This latest version, which sells for $3,995, is especially optimized for large assemblies and large assembly drawings through tweaks in SolidWorks's "lightweight technology."


"Lightweight technology"?

Not everything in a drawing needs to be displayed. For instance, mating and moving parts and determining mechanical interferences mostly require geometric and visual information. All other data about the parts—sketches, reference geometry, and part feature and configuration information—are unnecessary for the job at hand and they don't need to be loaded into memory. SolidWorks's lightweight technology mode automatically determines what data to display. The resulting performance boost from not displaying data makes the software more interactive: after the user clicks on a command, the system is immediately ready for the next command. Lightweight technology is applied to commands such as dimensioning, mating, components insertion, interference detection, and sectional views. 


Anything specifically for automotive designers?

Lots: Smart Components, Lofting, capabilities to resolve sketch conflicts, and Gauge Tables, to name a few. Plus, this release lets users mix display states. So, for instance, a designer can see an engine block as a wire-frame display with all the cams and pistons shaded for better visibility.


What's so smart about "Smart Components"?

Smart Components, an extension of Smart Fasteners, lets users capture reusable designs, drag-and-drop them into whatever design the user is working on, and then the software automatically orients and sizes those components and, if desired and required, adds the appropriate mounting holes and fasteners (including bolts, washers, and nuts, even snap hooks). All in a single operation.


Lofting? Do people really design entire car bodies with SolidWorks?

No (and even SolidWorks admits to that). However, the company did beef up the software's surfacing capabilities. Users can interactively drag, manipulate, and otherwise modify curves while defining loft. Plus, loft now has a new default start/end condition. Previous versions of SolidWorks only applied zero curvature to the start/end conditions of new lofts. Moreover, users can now pick a single contour or join multiple contours in a single 3D sketch for loft features (as well as for sweep and fill features).


How does SolidWorks resolve sketches?

First of all, remember that SolidWorks is a sketch-based modeler. Users start with a sketch, and then extrude it, loft it, and so on. Along the way, the user can add design intent into those sketches, such as dimensions, as well as perpendicular relationships and parallel relationships. It's possible to over-define a sketch, creating design conflicts. SolidWorks will identify those conflicts, point out where too many dimensions or too many relationships exist, and let the user choose which items to keep. Also, the 3D Sketcher now includes rectangle, circle, and arc entity types and relationships. It also lets designers add 3D planes to 2D sketches, and the entire 2D drawing can be dynamically viewed as a 3D model (pan, rotate, and zoom).


What does this release have to help automotive production?

For sheet metal designers, Gauge Tables lets users set up sheet metal properties in an Excel spreadsheet, which will automatically apply those properties to designs. These properties include sheet metal thickness, standard blank sizes, bend radius, and k-factor. Also, to show design intent, color can be applied to selected elements, such as bend lines and formed features in flat pattern drawings. For creating form tools, user can now specify a stopping face as well as faces to remove. Base sketches are no longer needed.

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