SolidWorks 2011: The Practical Release?

Today DS SolidWorks lifted the SolidWorks 2011 Beta NDA and is allowing anyone to talk about what is in the next product to ship.  Having used SolidWorks for well over a decade now, I am finding myself more focused on how new functionality will be used practically instead of just in awe that a software tool can perform a task. Sometimes the fine tuning is more impressive to "Joe User" than a shiny capability that might be used a few times a year.

Like previous releases, I am planning on doing an audio version of the What's New PDF on the podcast but I wanted to highlight the features that I feel are going to be used by many users across the board.  SolidWorks 2011 is less flashy, in my opinion, than the previous few and seems to be focused on closing some long lasting SPRs tagged to the software.  All forensics aside, it seems that many of my reported SPRs had been showing a closed status, although my primary job is not support so I could be an outlier in that respect. 

5 Enhancements That Matter:

Search...No Really...Search:

I am the first one to admit that the current SolidWorks Search in the upper right of the software has been used ... is not used as much as it should.  I think many of us just got sick of the waiting and hoping it would return exactly what we were looking for.  When setup correctly, the model and file search does work but nobody uses it.

★ 2011 SolidWorks Search can search places we all search for answers like the HELP! (finally!), the SolidWorks Knowledge Base and the newly updated SolidWorks Community Forums. This is, of course, in addition to the model and file search that existed previously.  This is when I do searches for SolidWorks, not as much for finding models (enter PDM) but for information on solving problems.  The help, knowledge base and forums are all great resources and now searching them is right inside of SolidWorks.

Note: During Beta the Web Help is not available and has seemed to be moved out of the search box.  I am assuming this will be back in the search once Beta is over.  Search terms in Help, Knowledge Base and Forums will launch the embedded browser and pass the search terms to those sites' search boxes.

Assembly & Weld Feature Expansion:

Assembly features have a few added benefits in the 2011 release.  Other than simple cuts and holes, fillets and chamfers have expanded the features that can be added in content of an assembly.  This feature is especially useful for those who design weldments and need to prep intersecting members for welding.

Weldments, since their introduction, have been a great feature but when it comes to the welding of these members, the current implementation has been very limited for complex joints.  Since a majority of users want to have welds for detail purposes only, SolidWorks 2011 redesigned the weld bead functionality to be simplified and have no impact on the performance since all welds are now lightweight.

★ Not only has the interface been brought to parity for Parts and Assemblies but the weld feature now adds a graphical representation of a weld (as opposed to a physical solid body) and can apply it to gapped members.  This was a common support inquiry from users with weldments. Welds also have an updated interface inside the PropertyManager to select weld paths, override the weld symbols, and specify weld properties like material, process, mass per unit length, etc.

Note: Now that the welds are graphical, they do not add mass to the overall structure like they did in the past.  Legacy welds will be supported and editable but new welds will take on the new graphical form.

Equations...No Hear Me Out:

Equations are one of those areas of SolidWorks that everyone is aware of but really doesn't use to much frequency. Adding intelligence to models can be done with equations but 2011 adds a few features that redefine this capability.  

The first is the addition to controll suppression states of features and parts, utilizing Visual Basic's IIF function.  Now equations can be written as an expression and have a TRUE/FALSE response that is now evaluated.  Previously this would be done in a design table using Excel's equation functionality but now is wrapped up right inside of the SolidWorks equation editor.

★ The second is one of my favorites and could possibly feed my need for further "global" automation when it comes to SolidWorks.  I am referring to the new Global Variable feature for equations. Equations and variables can now be exported from an existing model and saved as a *.TXT file.  This file can also be created from scratch and then referenced by other models globally.  Once imported, the model can "link" to this exported text file and now changes in the text file will propagate to any model that references it!

★ To push this even further, global variables can also be configured by a Design Table as well so the power of Excel is still there.  Changes to these global variables via Design Tables are within the part only and will not be pushed to all that reference this external list.  I can imagine placing this on a DropBox or shared network drive, for an entire design team to reference.

Note: In testing this feature I noticed that performing a Pack and Go does in fact grab this referenced text file and includes it as part of the reference tree.

Fast 2D Simulation:

Image courtesy of SolidWorks What's New 2011I know this is not considered a core tool but testing during design is definitely trending up and making simulation studies take less time is always a plus if, in fact, the accuracy is still in play.

SolidWorks Simulation was again a serious focus for the 2011 release, adding a number of updates including changes to mesh, boundary conditions and UI. The most prominent change was the addition of a new study option type called 2D Simulation Study (within SolidWorks Simulation Professional).

★ This new study option applies to static, thermal and nonlinear studies giving a boost to run times and performance.  The option is typically used in applications that are calculating plane strain/stress as well as extruded and axisymmetric profiles. 

The example to the left is one that is axisymmetric and would typically be sectioned into a percentage of the cross-section (1/4 or more) to reduce the number of elements needed to be used in the analysis. Now this "sectioning" approach can be taken a step further, using just a 2D representation of the cut, allowing very complex scenarios to be solved in a fraction of the time.

2D studies like this are not new in the industry, but new to SolidWorks Simulation 2011 and the fact they can be applied to the everyday static study as well as the time consuming non-linear studies, more people will opt to using it.  

Note: Another added benefit of this study type is the results can be displayed in 2D as well as 3D or can be configured to display a section of the solid as pictured above.

Install & Administration:

The installation of SolidWorks has changed dramatically over the past 10 years and with it came much scrutiny especially with the SolidWorks Installation Manager (SWIM).  Although it was an attempt to make the growing complexity of installing SolidWorks easier, there were a number of factors that caused problems for a number of users.

SolidWorks 2010 improved things by reducing the download size of service packs by around 75% which previously were always over 1GB. I am assuming this will continue with 2011 but cannot verify that since beta is always a full download and install, not a patch.

On the activation front, SolidWorks 2011 supports multi-license activation/transfer and for those who have removed SolidWorks, forgetting to transfer your license back, only to install it again to transfer will be happy.  SolidWorks now will have a standalone download of the SW Activation Wizard that will be available from the Customer Portal to avoid this hassle.

★ Administrators responsible for deployment to many users will also be happy that images of SolidWorks can be built in a selected language (save size) and can build both 32 and 64 bit images on either operating system (previously building a 64 bit image required a 64 bit OS).  Not only building the images is operating system bit ignostic but managing the options via Options Editor is also supported.


If you have survived this far down and made it through all the other posts on SolidWorks 2011, I am curious to what features you feel are important and useful (please leave a comment).  Many of us around the SolidWorks community get excited about new features, well because they are new, however the measure of a good release is stability and practical enhancements.  I hope see more releases like this in the future where SolidWorks fills the gaps and make the product as solid as possible.  In the end, SolidWorks is a tool and anything that gets in between the engineer and a tool = a replaced tool! ~Lou