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

Beta Testing Via Virtual Machine

Every year I participate in the SolidWorks Beta program so I can feed the need to find, try, test and break all that is new in the coming major release. Starting last year, SolidWorks offered an easier way for those of us wanting to test out the next version of SolidWorks Enterprise PDM by hosting beta vaults on their own servers.

Last year I detailed out the steps to get enrolled in the hosted vault offered by SolidWorks and when I heard that they would be extending this service to beta testers this year, I was thrilled!

Typically testing a new version of EPDM requires you to build another parallel environment, since two versions of EPDM cannot exist on the same server or client.  This makes testing quite the undertaking, especially if you want to test it on a copy of the production vault (which typically cannot be upgraded once moved to an beta build).  SolidWorks' offering removes the need to hassle with the server side, allowing you to install the beta client and test with either your own data or a dummy dataset.

I typically resort to installing the client in a virtual machine so I don't need to remove or replace the current client version.  Unless, of course,  I am testing the CAD Editor license and SolidWorks Add-in, in which I just uninstall the client and reinstall the beta client for testing (low impact to overall setup). 

Being a big fan of VM technology, I have used quite a number of solutions over the years (Virtual PC, VMWare, Sun VirtualBox) but since Windows 7 comes with XP Mode, I thought I would give that a shot.  I prefer VMWare but this is a free solution that doesn't require any extra licensing so I ventured down this route. 

Since the goal of XP Mode is to extend a simple solution to users who might run into compatibility issues with legacy applications, the install, by default, will map all your system's drives into your virtual machine's Windows Explorer for easy accessability.  This type of mapping can be detected as a Remote Desktop Connection, in the even you attempt to run an installer, such as Enterprise PDM, through this mapped drive.  To avoid the above error message, simply use a Universal Naming Convention (UNC) path to your installation on your local machine. (i.e. \\local_system_name\shared_folder\).  This will trick the installer into thinking you are executing the installer from a network drive and will continue with your install.

Now that the secluded test environment has your EPDM beta client build installed, you can connect to the hosted vault on SolidWorks' servers and resume testing the new bells and whistles without disrupting your local production environment. ~Lou

Beta Testing PDM: SOLVED!

When it comes to beta testing, it takes a certain user to willingly dig into a known buggy software product in order to determine the new features that will warrant an upgrade. Beta testing software that runs on a single sysytem can have it own challenges but this is only magnified when the software in question is distributed among various clients and server machines.

SolidWorks Enterprise PDM can be a solution that falls in the latter category, making testing for larger installs difficult, since it typically requires you to upgrade not only the clients but also the archives, databases and replicated servers as well. Seems like a lot of hard work to create a test environment or take a chance on moving a production system to bata-based backbone.

This past week, SolidWorks is offering an easier way to those who want to take part in the SolidWorks 2010 Beta program, to test the coming release of Enterprise PDM without all the headache. To do this, SolidWorks is hosting the archive and database servers on their infastructure in order to provide a hosted vault, requiring only the end user to install a beta client on their local system. This eliminates the hassle of locating an additional system, installing all the server-side components and simply allows customers to test out what 2010 EPDM will bring to the table.

In order to take advantage of this offering you must email "" with the subject line "EPDM BETA SIGN UP". The retuned email will contain instructions to get started with your hosted testing environment. Currently, there are two options for beta testing via the "SolidWorks EPDM cloud":

1) Connect to an existing vault using the server name (IP address) and Username provided in your invitation email and connecting the the "Betatest" vault that has been created.

2) Create your own vault on the hosted server, allowing an import of your current vault settings and essentially replicating your production setup. This option requires a bit of host file configuration but overall the process is standard operating procedure (SOP) for most who have setup any multi-site server configuration.

For many, this will lower the barrior of entry to beta testing Enterprise PDM 2010 and hopefully allow the evalution procedure to upgrade to be started much earlier than it would otherwise. ~Lou

The 5 Prongs of SolidWorks 2010

This week SolidWorks' 2010 beta program moved into it's third round (Beta 3) of testing and with this usually follows two waves of pre-releases and finally FCS (first customer ship). Beta testing is somewhat of a cult at SolidWorks, pulling in dedicated users in droves to play, test and bug squash everything in sight. Many of us testing SolidWorks' newest creation are looking at as many of the hundreds of enhancements and trying to determine which ones will actually play a role in "enhancing" our use of SolidWorks on a daily basis! Since SolidWorks 1999, I have watched the new releases roll out of Concord with "Over X hundred New Enhancements", however each release has a handful of highlights that leave their mark.

SolidWorks 2010 follows suit, bringing hundreds of new enhancements, all of which bring different levels of impact and importance to the variety of users in the community. This year there are 5 that mark SolidWorks 2010 as a release to pay attention to.

Assembly Visualization:assemblyvis1

This new capability was first debuted at SolidWorks World 2009 and expands the ability to filter

components either by their display or order based on a number of customizable properties. This sorting capability can display components either in a nested view (indented sub-assemblies) or in a flat view (parts-only) driven by a single property. Included as "default" sort criteria are the usual suspects: mass, density and volume, however the tool go to another level of effectiveness when you begin to customizing.

Properties driving the filter can be either numeric or non-numeric and once sorted, the graphical display can be customized with colors to give visual clarity to the assembly. By right clicking on the color gradient on the left you can add sliders to change the scope of that color spectrum. This color control can also be coupled with component visibility by using the horizontal drag bars located at the top and bottom of the list. Similar to the Rollback Bar in the SolidWorks FeatureManager, these bars allow the user to focus in on the components of interest.

The filtering properties also can include equations (i.e. multiplying the quantity by a numeric property) as well as allowing the user to change property values, i.e material selection. These criteria lists can also be saved out to a separate file (text or Excel) for outside manipulation.

Configuration Publisher:
SolidWorks 2009 brought the Property Tab Builder, streamlining the way users add file properties (metadata) to their parts, assemblies and drawings by providing a graphical form building application. In SolidWorks 2010, a similar interface has been integrated into SolidWorks configurations. In addition to the previous capabilities, Configuration Builder gives the user the freedom to build configuration options without having to explicitly specify every possible combination. This makes SolidWorks do the work on the fly, modifying your part or assembly and generating new configurations as they are built.

This capability also seems to fill the gap between using SolidWorks configurations and DriveWorksXpress. SolidWorks configurations add variation to existing documents however many users want a way to add additional configurations to those files without creating new documents (DriveWorksXpress). Now using Configuration Builder, the user has the ability to create configs on the fly and then use them in design automation with DriveWorksXpress.

Not only can you use this with parts that have existing design tables but as an added bonus, this new interface give a streamlined conduit to submit your generated models up to the web-based model sharing site, 3D Content Central.

Sheet Metal Enhancements:

Hands down, this release has more sheet metal enhancements than any other since maybe SolidWorks 2001Plus. SolidWorks 2010 finally extends the multi-body environment to sheet metal that was given to parts back in 2003's version. This gives users more flexibility to design sheet metal similarly to the way the actual design has to be manufactured. A great example of this would be using the edge flange in a "bridging" maneuver to join two parallel, same thickness sheet metal bodies into one. These bodies could be created individually or mirrored then joined and even welded to complete the finished design.

I remember back when SolidWorks 2003 shippe and how the impact was not just only that it now supported multi-body parts, but how that brought about a whole line of features that could harness the multi-body environment. In this case many of the common part, multi-body tools are also utilized like mirror, split, and even insert body.

In addition to multi-body support, 2010 also brings improvements to an area that lends itself to challenge, closing corners. Closed corners now can support cuts across flanges, large radius bends, closes on parts created from the Insert Bends commnad or the 2009 tool Convert to Sheet Metal as well as faces of large cornered parts. Hems have also been improved to handle a number of complexities and flat patterns bring additional clairity to self-intersection and inner/outer faces.

A big enhancement for sheet metal is flat patten output. Typically manufacturing requires DXF/DWG files of the flat pattern and this process used to require the SolidWorks user to create a drawing for DXF/DWG export. SolidWorks 2010 adds this as a right-click menu from the Flat Pattern feature, removing the drawing step completely and replacing it with a DXF/DWG Cleanup preview window. This dialog allows for common view manipulation and the ability to remove any superfluous entities without leaving the part mode.

Event Based Motion Analysis: (Simulation Professional)
Hints of this were also debuted at SolidWorks World 2009 but it wasn't until I tried this new capability that I started to think about the impact this could have with some creative 3rd party applications. Being a robotics and automation engineer in my previous life, this new capability intregued me. Many dynamic simulation tools on the market follow the same approach as many animation tools; the Timeline. Timelines are great for making something look good but when it comes to tuning an automation system, timing registers are not reliable and that is why sensors are a key to today's automation. SolidWorks 2010 ups the intelligence of Motion Simulation with event based motion analysis, creating motion triggers with interference, proximity and dimensional sensors as well as completion or start/finish times of previous tasks.

Complimenting these real-world triggers that are incorporated into the motion, drivers like constant speed & servo motors, forces and torques can start, stop or be changed on the fly based on other triggers in the analysis. This complexity mimics that of real automation systems thus allowing users to "tune" tasks to increase things like thruput.

What further interests me is the integration of SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Aquisition) programming tools like LABView and Rockwell Software's RSView. This would extend the ability to virtually test a PLC program with a virutal model inside of SolidWorks without having to hook it up the actual automation system for testing.

Simulation Design Studies: (Simulation Professional)
The goal of virutal testing is to come out with an optimized design that fits the scope of the product. Bringing clairity to this goal is key to using a simulation tool like SolidWorks Simulation. For the past few years, Simulation (formly COSMOSWorks) has had a few nice tools for optimizing deisgns, one of which was Design Scenerios. Design Studies in 2010 combines that of Design Scenerios and Optimization (shape optimization) into a single interface. This new interface integrates nicely into the now standard lower-tabbed area where Motion and Simulation studies already reside and give access to both design scenerios and optimization studies alike. The new interface also has three distinct views: Variable View (above), Table View and the Results View.

Optimization studies add parameters that contain a range of values, descrete values or a range of values with a step. This enhancement gives the user much more flexibilty since the previous version only allowed range, which doesn't lend itself well to stock sizes. Design Scenerios works similar to previous releases except that 2010 does add real-time previewing of geometric changes (i.e. scenerios involving dimentional change).

Overall the most power part is the result viewing, which has been completly redesigned to not only show graphical feedback for the scenerios and optimized designs but a tabularized resultant area containing a visual pass/fail (green/red respectivly) of each itteration.

These are just 5 of the enhancements that are coming in SolidWorks' lineup in 2010 and there is no shortage of goodies. I am thrilled to see that Spilt Line will now allow multiple entities to be split in one command and that Simulation brings back the ability to select faces as shell elements without having to do a number of surfacing commands as it did back in 2008.

Overall the release looks strong and promised to be more efficient with common tasks and to boost performance as it does in every relase. In premininary testing, SolidWorks 2010 seems to run fine on existing hardware and does not require any major upgrades to hardware from what I can see. The 2010 beta program is still going on and Beta 3 has just started so if you want to test this fucntionality for yourself, go sign up! ~Lou

Performance Gains For SolidWorks 2009

With SolidWorks 2009 just around the corner, many users are wondering about the true performance gains that have been touted . Every year SolidWorks releases a new major release with 250 enhancements but what really makes users believe the release is worthy to upgrade to is mostly based on performance. Looking back through the years we used to purposely leave out details in our designs that were "unnecessary" or were just details that were not needed for production drawings. Today we not only place fasteners in our assemblies but want them to have threads and all the elaborate details that make an exact replica. These trends are why we as users push the envelope of performance every release and expect more in the future.

Performance has always been a theme for the SolidWorks R&D team, but this year the performance gains seem to be what are most noticeable in SolidWorks 2009. What SolidWorks has termed "Raw Performance Improvements" targeted assemblies ranging from 5,000 to 100,000 parts while performing various common tasks on these large data sets. Obviously advancements in 64 bit computing, mainly addressing larger quantities of RAM, have opened the doors for working with these data sets on a PC. Beyond hardware and operating systems there are still many ways software manufacturers can re-code how certain processes handle memory hungry procedures and make them more efficient. So let's take a look at the numbers for SolidWorks 2009:

  • Assemblies - 2.6X faster than SolidWorks 2008
  • Drawings - 6.2X faster than SolidWorks 2008
  • Frequent Commands - 8X faster than SolidWorks 2008

"Frequent Commands" refers to common operations like editing the assembly and switching to a drawing, creating views with dimensions, saving and panning, etc. Overall most users will see approximately a 65% increase in performance with SolidWorks 2009 which is pretty significant.

Technology advancements like SpeedPak, simplified representations of an assembly, allow SolidWorks to reference critical interfaces without being required to load all the components into memory. This performance boost is then handed off from assemblies to drawings allowing many of the critical aspects like dimensions and views to be created without having to resolve any of the suppressed or "SpeedPaked" components. This reorganization of how SolidWorks utilizes the computer's resources has paid off in the performance department.

Consolidation of steps is also an area of focus for SolidWorks 2009 with the introduction of features like slot sketch, solid to sheet metal and weldment grouping, which allows a users to place multiple weldment profiles within a single command. None of these advancements allow SolidWorks 2009 to create anything unique compared to it's predecessor, however these capabilities remove the tedious steps in order to create these features. Along this same efficiency theme, Instant3D now reaches over to assemblies, allowing the user to modify parts utilizing the all familiar "drag to size" functionality introduced in the 2008 release.

Finally a very important area of focus is multi-threading. SolidWorks has been multi-threaded for years but not in the areas that have the greatest impact. Background processes like HLR, view rotation and even PhotoWorks, which renders as a threaded process have been around for at least of few releases. SolidWorks 2009 has put the focus on some of the most intense processes like running an analysis in SolidWorks Simulation and threaded that process so you can continue to work with SolidWorks while the study or studies are being solved. This alone can bring dramatic performance gains especially since most systems ship with dual or even quad core processors. Utilizing these extra processors is the future to performance gain in SolidWorks.

Overall, SoildWorks 2009 seems to have put it's money where it's mouth is with respect to performance and I hope this focus continues to future releases. Growing complexity in design is inevatable, which is why we will push SolidWork 2009 to the edge and 2010 will need to push the performance envelope once again. In talking with many beta testers, performance is reason many are thinking of upgrading to SolidWorks 2009 at SP0 instead of waiting till SP2 or later. ~Lou

SolidWorks 2009 Beta Live!

On Monday, June 11 both SolidWorks Corporation and Apple Corporation were working hard launching some new technologies to excite their customers.  Apple with the iPhone 3G and SolidWorks with SolidWorks 2009 Beta 1. SolidWorks 2009 Beta 1 was made available immediately after the webcast, as opposed to Apple who baited the excitement with the announcement only to inform everyone they would need to wait a month (July 11, 2008) for the iPhone3G.  None the less, Monday was a good day for us in the tech world!

This year SolidWorks decided to change the "beta rules of engagement" and move the entire beta program inside the SolidWorks Customer Portal, which requires current SolidWorks maintenance to get in. Once in, you will be able to download, view service requests, view bugs submitted and get involved in the beta discussion forums! The beta home page will also give you visibility to current beta news, hot issues and the list of the top beta tester.

The other exciting part of beta testing for SolidWorks, besides getting to drive the latest and greatest version, is the prizes you can win.  Beta points are given to the users to find the most bugs and fill out the surveys so get downloading! It is important to note that this is beta, which means that you are installing this for testing purposes and not for production. During installation make sure you pick a different installation location for your SolidWorks Data and Toolbox.

In past beta releases, SolidWorks always advised to install beta on another computer or a "non-production" machine, however in the FAQ's for 2009 beta, SolidWorks is taking a different tone.  When asked "Should I install this on a machine running SolidWorks 2008?" they answer "Yes" and go on to explain the installing of different file locations for your Common Files and Toolbox.  I have done this with my install and it seems that they have worked on making the beta install not effect your existing SolidWorks installation.  This even seems to work for eDrawings which has been known to be a problem area for multiple installations in the past.

I encourage you to get into SolidWorks 2009 beta, but remember the first rule about beta is we don't talk about beta....well except in the Beta Forum! Many of us bloggers have to make sure not to lose control and accidentially splatter beta features across our blogs but I will talk more about how to get signed up and getting started in this Sunday's Episode of SolidWorks:Heard! ~Lou