By David Cohn
The mid-range MCAD market resembles a game of leapfrog as companies such as Autodesk, SolidWorks, and UGS continue to improve Inventor, SolidWorks, and Solid Edge, respectively. Users come out as the winners in this battle as the rivals update their software at an impressive rate. Nowhere is this more apparent than in SolidWorks 2001, the latest release of the company's flagship product. And the most significant changes this time around are readily apparent, with a redesigned user interface that makes what was already an easy-to-use program even more intuitive.
SolidWorks has been systematically revising its user interface over the past several releases, and SolidWorks 2001 is the culmination of those efforts. Virtually all dialog boxes have been replaced by an updated Property Manager that contains all design properties and parameters in a panel area adjacent to the model.
The new release also adds context-sensitive callouts that appear within the model or drawing display. These help distinguish between different entities and provide information, such as extrusion depth or fillet radius, that can be changed directly on screen. New handles enable you to click and dynamically move to change parameters.
|SolidWorks 2001 lets users design sheet-metal parts directly, adding bends, tabs, and flanges to a base flange.|
The revised Property Manager provides buttons for confirming or canceling an action. These are repeated in the new Confirmation Corner, a large graphical indicator in the upper-right-hand corner of the drawing window. When a user is sketching, this area changes to an Exit Sketch icon. Little touches such as these make it easier to work in SolidWorks 2001.
In its last major revision, SolidWorks concentrated on improvements to sketching and surfacing. This time, the product offers more powerful part, feature, and assembly modeling capabilities. Users can create sweeps with multiple contours, and a new thin feature option enables the creation of sweeps and lofts with thin walls in a single step. These two capabilities make it easier than ever to create complex tube and pipe shapes.
A new tangency control also enables you to control the tangency magnitude between sketches, faces, or edges on surfaces when lofting. When creating feature patterns, you can now skip pattern instances when building the pattern. In the past, you had to create the feature pattern, then delete pattern instances individually.
For assembly modeling, Solid Works 2001 enables users to mirror components to create new parts and subassemblies based on existing designs, including parts that are derived and linked associatively to other components. When the mirrored part is actually a mirror image of existing geometry, a new component is created. But when the geometry of the new component is identical to the original-such as a spring or bolt-the program simply creates another instance of the part with its new orientation. If any of the original components change, so do the mirrored components. You can also preserve mates between the mirrored components.
In earlier versions, you could only move a sub-assembly as a single, rigid component in the parent assembly. Now you can make sub-assemblies flexible. This allows movement of the individual components of a sub-assembly in the parent assembly. For example, you can move a sub-assembly of a piston within the parent motor assembly.
The program's mating capabilities have also been enhanced. You can switch the mate type when editing the definition of a mate, and mate to ruled spline surfaces, making it possible to mate parts to cam-type profiles and create motion based on these conditions.
Although SolidWorks has always had decent sheet-metal capabilities, it has lagged behind Solid Edge in this area. Sheet metal in Solid Edge is created by adding bends, tabs, flanges, and other features to a base flange. In SolidWorks, sheet metal used to be created by first creating a solid and later converting it into a sheet-metal part. In SolidWorks 2001, you can now create sheet-metal parts directly, using methods similar to those in Solid Edge. Solid Works 2001 also enables you to selectively fold and unfold features, add cuts across bends, and then bend the feature back to its original shape.
Other advances include two-dimensional drafting improvements and a new DWG/ DXF import wizard that imports 2D drawings into SolidWorks. The wizard provides WYSIWYG preview and layer mapping capabilities.
As a mid-range product, SolidWorks lacks some of the capabilities, such as sophisticated sheet-metal forming, of high-end modelers like Catia and Pro/Engineer. More realistic wish list items that are likely to appear in future releases include markup and measuring capabilities for the Viewer and e Drawings, additional filleting and blending enhancements, and more detailing productivity tools. But all in all, SolidWorks 2001 represents yet another excellent release.
David Cohn is a computer consultant and technical writer based in Bellingham, Washington. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 95/98/2000/NT; Pentium-class processor; 64MB of RAM; 300MB of disk space