By Joe Greco
It’s almost impossible for a software company to be innovative while also providing the day-to-day tools customers ask for, yet the SolidWorks Corporation has managed to achieve this. Version 2005 is now out, and while it has one feature I consider truly innovative, the ideas for many other enhancements originate in other products. So the question is: does SolidWorks 2005 lack innovation or has it successfully built upon its competitors’ innovations to provide its users with an MCAD application that is world-class in almost every aspect?
User Interface Updates
As with version 2004, upon opening SolidWorks 2005 there are some obvious user interface changes. On the right-hand side is a new Task Pane, which houses three icons. The first is called SolidWorks Resources, and it is used to provide links to websites such as the SolidWorks Manufacturing Network and SolidWorks Solution Partners, as well as quick access to help or tutorials and user group discussion forums. The next icon is the Design Library, which houses links to suppliers that have 3D Content Central part catalogs while also co-locating components from the user’s library and parts from the SolidWorks Toolbox. The File Explorer icon provides access to the Windows Explorer, thus users can locate files and drag them into the modeling area.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because PTC introduced the idea in Wildfire with its Navigator and, while there are some similarities, there are also some differences. For example, while the Wildfire Navigator can be used to view and edit a Word document while still inside of Wildfire, in 2005 it is displayed in its own window. However, when the same Word document is dragged into SolidWorks 2005, you can use Word commands to view, search, and edit the document’s contents while in the context of the modeling environment (see Figure 1, above). On the other hand, when accessing certain part catalogs, Wildfire has the ability to drag various configured models directly into its 3D workspace, something I didn’t see in SolidWorks 2005.
Nice Sketching Enhancements Not Entirely New
Geometry relationships in SolidWorks are now automatically displayed and the icons used here are functional—that is, they can be single-clicked on and deleted or double-clicked on to see what other geometrical elements they relate to. Another nice sketching enhancement in version 2005 is the ability to dynamically trim entities by dragging. However, it should be pointed out that Solid Edge has had both these features for years.
Consumer Product Design
Designers will also enjoy some new freeform modeling capabilities in SolidWorks 2005. For starters, there is a new tool called Flex, and its options—Bend, Twist, Taper, and Stretch— represent another area of the program that reminds me of Wildfire. Both programs are similar in that the process of selecting the portion of the model to be affected by the edit was not thought out very well. Programs like thinkdesign from think3 (Cincinnati, OH; think3.com) make a task such as bending a lot easier, for instance. In addition, unlike Wildfire, SolidWorks 2005 does not have a nested undo within the Flex command so if you make a few changes, it’s not possible to undo the last operation. Also, SolidWorks doesn’t allow the combining of Flex operations in the same command as does Wildfire. So to Bend and Twist a shape, you have to complete two operations.
Several years ago a new product premiered from a company called ImpactXoft (San Jose, CA; impactxoft.com). Called IX SPeeD, it featured many innovative tools specifically designed for creating plastic parts, such as the ability to use a 3D solid to, say, represent a battery with which to automatically form a battery housing. Finally some of the mainstream products are catching on, and in SolidWorks 2005 there’s now a tool called Indent. As seen in Figure 2 (below), Indent can be used to automatically create a battery housing; however, the command requires a little more planning and the results aren’t as automatic as in IX SPeeD.
For example, to get the results in Figure 2 by using SolidWorks you have to know: 1) not to merge the two components when creating the battery component; 2) to select the bottom face of the battery component; and 3) to hide the battery component to complete the effect. However, for a first attempt, the Indent tool works fairly well, and still saves a lot of steps compared to the same operation in previous versions of the program.
The key innovation in SolidWorks 2005 is a new command called MoldflowXpress. This is not to say that the other 2005 enhancements—such as associative library parts, improvements in drawings and mold tools, or the new DWG Editor—are not useful. But this tool, based on technology from Moldflow Corp., lets designers perform upfront analysis of how well molten plastic will flow through a mold. With this information, designers can hand off better engineered models to the analysis department, resulting in fewer design iterations; which, of course, means reduced time to market.
MoldflowXpress, like the innovative COSMOSXpress introduced in SolidWorks 2003, uses a step-by-step wizard to make it easy to input the necessary data to perform the analysis, such as the location of the injector pin(s), the type of plastic material, and the desired temperature conditions. After the results are run (see Figure 3, above), MoldflowXpress indicates if the mold will not fill and, if it will be successfully filled, how long it will take. The designer can then use the Advice button to get recommendations on how to fix any problems. Changes to the inputs—whether that entails picking a different material with better viscosity or changing the actual geometry—can then be made and the analysis immediately re-run. The analysis results can be animated, and the results can also exported to an eDrawing.
Not New, Just Better
So while MoldflowXpress is an important innovation, a lot of the other key enhancements in SolidWorks 2005 have their origins somewhere else. However, while these tools are not new to the industry, they will be welcome additions to the SolidWorks user. So what if some of SolidWorks’s best ideas for sketching tools come from Solid Edge? The result is, these enhancements, along with its powerful existing tools, now give SolidWorks one of the best sketchers on the market. In short, the ability of the developers to recognize what works in its competitors’ programs provides SolidWorks users with a world-class product in almost every area vital to a modern MCAD application.
Joe Greco is a Desktop Engineering contributing editor. You can send Joe your thoughts on this article c/o DE Feedback.
PTC – Parametric Technologies Corp.
UGS Corp. – Solid Edge