SpeedPak speeds up assemblies and drawings by selectively removing components from loading while retaining references and display settings.
When SolidWorks 2008 was released (see DE August 2007), the interface changed enough to affect workflow—some considered this an improvement, others absolutely hated it. There were general performance issues and some considered some features to be underdeveloped or lacking options. This is typical stuff you hear about with new versions of programs.
In the interim, users had a simple request: Give us performance. A lot of new features are nice and look brilliant in controlled demos, but a program that can handle hours of computer-cranking CAD will put any number of new features to shame.
SolidWorks was listening, and with its latest version, SolidWorks 2009, the company has seemingly refocused its commitment to level prior concerns and provide the user with a more stable product. It has recently been supported by service pack 3.0.
SolidWorks 2009 includes some interesting new features that build on top of the previous 2008 release—a release that left many wondering what SolidWorks was up to. We thought we’d dig past the marketing spiel and get to the meaty substance that makes up the performance-packing capabilities of SolidWorks 2009. First, let’s look at the space you’ll be working in.
A substantive review of SolidWorks 2009 can’t be completed without first seeing how it addresses concerns about the interface. Some complaints were quelled by improvements in the program, and some complaints were aired before users realized how features introduced in 2008 could be used.
The CommandManager is now dockable in any position, even across multiple monitors. However, many users discovered how to create more screen real estate and consolidate commands using the Shortcut Bar (the S key), a feature introduced in 2008. More than anything, make use of customized Shortcut Bars in your workflow. The time you’ll save with it is phenomenal. Of course, standard viewing commands like double-clicking the middle mouse button for zoom, hitting ESC to cancel any command and Enter to accept any command will be welcome additions for those coming from an AutoCAD environment. These are features that will immediately improve your workflow and help you discover more ways of using SolidWorks to get your modeling done quicker. Now, let’s take a look at some more features sure to help you out.
Sketching and creating parts is enhanced by new tools to create sketches and geometry. Onscreen numeric input allows quick sketch layouts.
The sketch functionality has the greatest number of improvements to aid in initial design. The feature that has the most impact on changing and improving your workflow is the ability to input dimension values as you create rectangles, circles, arcs, and lines. Basically, when you sketch a set of lines, you don’t even need to click the mouse button—just enter a dimension, move, and repeat. This has a substantial impact on moving from sketch creation to solid geometry, and it’s one of the easiest new features to learn.
When you jump over to find improvements added to parts and features, you’re certain to find something for almost any type of modeling. From surfacing and sheet metal to weldments and analysis, there are features that improve on earlier capabilities. Perhaps one of the nicest is the ability to create freeform features on faces with more than four sides. This won’t apply to everyone, but it really helps push the possibilities of product creation. Learning about it and using it will help you think of news ways of modeling. Dual dimension support in the measure command is another new feature that will help most everyone. Both of these are typical of the additional functionality in parts and features, and are crucial to completing designs faster.
Speaking of being faster, designers and engineers concerned with assembly performance and speed are in for a treat with the introduction of SpeedPak. Hands down, the SpeedPak feature is the best part of SolidWorks 2009. It allows you to select bodies and faces that are not important to a subassembly and ghost them, thereby eliminating the ghosted parts from the loading and rebuilding process. However, the references and visibility stay intact. It’s like reaching right through the model and working with only what you need. It’s created as a configuration in assemblies that can then be used in higher assemblies and drawing. This is especially helpful with library components and large assemblies where you don’t need all the internal geometry to load. The SpeedPak setup can initially take time to implement, but once you define your process, it reduces the amount of time you spend waiting for assemblies to load. It’s definitely my No. 1 pick for best overall new feature for SolidWorks 2009.
Assemblies is not the only area to get a performance bump. Working in drawings looks and feels different. You can move quickly across sheets. Loading large assembly drawings still takes some time, but it’s vastly improved; drawings that would have crashed in 2008 due to size will now open. Not everything that makes this happen is clear, but the key is, it’s happening. When switching sheets and zooming around, the views are buffered, i.e., they load after switching and zooming. This, along with easier ways to dimension geometry, makes the whole drawing process smoother and improves the drawing environment.
Part and surface modeling are enhanced to allow more complex features to be created. Multisided freeform shapes are among the best new features.
There are a lot of great things about SolidWorks 2009, so I went looking for anything that wouldn’t help. I was disappointed. The SolidWorks 2009 beta was the most stable I’ve tested. That’s not to say there are no areas for improvement. SpeedPak is wonderful, but it’s not a perfect tool if you have detailed drawing views that need dimensions on items “hidden” by SpeedPak. The eDrawings program does not show Display States as it did in the past, an issue I’m told is being addressed. The speed of drawings is greatly improved, but the buffering that occurs when switching sheets and zooming in and out can cause GPUs like an NVIDIA Quadro FX1400 to interfere with drawing creation by clipping views. These are all issues that can slow progress, but also issues that SolidWorks is working on improving.
Overall, I’m impressed. This version brings performance improvements to the assemblies and drawings that have always been needed, and the ways these issues have been solved are very acceptable. The SpeedPak will change your workflow. It simplifies ways of creating less complicated assemblies while still allowing you to work with the parts you need. As with many of the new features, it allows you to define a precedent for improving the engineering process of your product.
Design, conceptualizing, and manipulating geometry are enhanced with the new sketch tools while the surfacing and part features speed geometry creations and reduce the number of workarounds. In fact, a lot of these new features seem to focus on the elimination of workarounds that SolidWorks users have discussed with SolidWorks development and each other in the community. This version has SolidWorks and MCAD moving in the direction it needs to go: Toward more performance for the user and features that complement the design and engineering process.
Josh Mings has been a SolidWorks user for more than 13 years. He writes about Technology, 3D CAD, and product design at SolidSmack.com and works in the aircraft interior industry.