SolidWorks Rolls Out 200+ New Features for 2011

Contributing Analyst Steve Wolfe sorts through the list and takes a close look at the most important features in the latest release of SolidWorks.

By L. Stephen Wolfe, P.E.
Contributing Analyst

As is customary in the late summer, Dassault Systèmes’ SolidWorks division invited writers and analysts to headquarters to view the forthcoming release of its popular SolidWorks 3D CAD software without the non-disclosure agreements required of alpha and beta testers.

SolidWorks 2011 has more than 200 improvements, according to Fielder Hiss, SolidWorks’ vice president of product marketing. This number is far more than could be demonstrated in the two hours allotted to demonstrations. So SolidWorks showed what it believes are the most important new capabilities in the current release:

  • A new method of applying weld beads and symbols

  • New tools for protecting intellectual property

  • New realistic rendering tools

  • Walk-through display

  • New techniques for partially revolving sketches

  • The ability to perform finite-element analysis on thin sections of models

  • Fluid-analysis capabilities for electronics enclosures and building air conditioning

  • More accurate sheet-metal bending

  • Better motion simulation

and of course

  • More drafting improvements

SolidWorks introduced multi-body welded structures in 2004. At the time, welds were just another solid feature and welded structures were stored as single solid parts. Even a relatively simple frame can have hundreds of welds. As customers applied SolidWorks to increasingly complex structures, the numbers of features grew into the thousands, and rebuilding took too long.

Unless an engineer is obsessive, there is no reason to model every weld as a solid. So SolidWorks devised a simple method for displaying welds in 3D models and on drawings that look like solids but don’t need to be rebuilt with every other feature. Moreover, the new weld types can be applied to assembly models as well as multi-body parts.

Even though the new welds aren’t solids, engineers can include them in mass and center-of-mass calculations for the whole structure. Engineers must enter the mass per unit length of each weld type. However, welds are not automatically applied to finite-element analysis (FEA) models. Engineers must specify weld features again in analytical models.

Existing models that use solid weld beads will continue to work in SolidWorks 2011, and designers can continue to employ solid welds in new designs if they choose. However the performance increase and flexibility offered by the new weld types should make learning to use them worthwhile. Ricky Jordan has additional description of the new welds on his blog.

Example of a fillet weld in SolidWorks 2011.

IP Protection
Manufacturers of sophisticated components such as gear boxes, pumps, motors, and electronic controllers want to (and are often required to) supply 3D CAD models to their customers to be incorporated into larger mechanical systems such as vehicles, material-handling equipment, and production machinery. But makers of sophisticated components don’t want to give all their product details to customers for fear the customers will give them to other lower-cost fabricators who didn’t have to bear the cost of developing and testing them. What’s needed is a way to simplify engineering models to incorporate only those features necessary to describe the functional characteristics of the component.

Various attempts to simplify assemblies have been made since PTC first introduced what it called “shrink-wrapping” to Pro/Engineer in 1999. With the 2011 release, SolidWorks has brought a higher level of sophistication to the simplification process than previous releases.

The new Defeature tool enables customers to selectively suppress both form features and parts within assemblies, while retaining those relationships that might be important to the customer. For example, a customer might want to have the input and output shafts of a gear box turn according to the gear ratio. This behavior can be retained while suppressing other internal details such as ribs, fasteners, and seals.

Example of a Defeatured SolidWorks assembly model (right)

Defeatured assemblies are stored as single files. No relationships are maintained between the defeatured part and the complete assembly. Rather, information about the suppressed features is stored in the original feature-manager trees of each part or assembly that has been simplified. If changes are made to the original assembly, designers can regenerate a defeatured version whenever they wish.

It’s too early to tell whether the Defeature tool will work as well in practice as it does in demonstrations. Josh Mings wrote in his SolidSmack blog, Defeature is “a very useful tool… when it works. Some parts work better than others…. Since it’s highly automated, you don’t have a lot of selection options, and if you have a part with a lot of complicated detail you want to remove, you’ll spend a long time selecting or end up with more detail removed than you want.”

New Rendering System

SolidWorks 2011 replaced the aging PhotoWorks rendering add-in based on Mental Images Mental Ray software with new tools from Luxology. Dubbed PhotoView 360, the new software (which previewed as a distinct application in SolidWorks 2010) is easier to use and faster than PhotoWorks. It gives SolidWorks customers more control over the appearance of materials with slider bars that change properties such as reflectivity and transparency.

PhotoView also provides a preview window that employs successive refinement of ray-traced images instead of displaying a patchwork of square tiles like PhotoWorks. The new approach enables designers to quickly see if the settings, materials, and scenes in the rendering are okay. If they’re not, the process can be stopped and changed without waiting for the preview window to be completely rendered.

The preview window of PhotoView 360 enables designers to check rendering setup quickly before processing a high-resolution image.

There’s more than meets the eye in this technology swap; quite the feud is brewing between Luxology and Mental Images. For details, see “SolidWorks Decision Highlights Competitive Angst Between Luxology and Mental Images.

Simulated Walk-Through
A new walk-through display in SolidWorks 2011 enables designers to simulate the appearance of touring a complex industrial plant or machine. The Walkthrough function enables users to steer a simulated camera through any SolidWorks assembly using the mouse and arrow keys. At any point, designers can stop to look at pieces of equipment or turn to look in any direction.

Walkthrough users have the option of confining camera movements to a fixed plane or 3D path through the model. The camera path also can be recorded for later playback. The walk-through isn’t limited to large structures but can be used to view the internals of smaller products such as electronic packages, control panels, or assembly machines if one imagines the walker is only a few inches tall.

The walk-through capability of SolidWorks 2011 enables designers to display the internals of complex plants or machinery.

Revolved Features
For years, SolidWorks customers have been able to terminate extruded features at vertices, surfaces, or a specified offset from an existing surface. These capabilities have been extended to the revolve features in the 2011 version.

A SolidWorks 2011 feature revolved up to a surface.

Analysis of Thin Sections
Back in the days when computers were relatively slow, it was common for finite-element analysts to estimate stresses or temperatures with two-dimensional models that represent cross sections of 3D objects. The FEA software in SolidWorks Premium 2011 enables engineers to select a thin section of a 3D model, apply a triangular mesh, and solve for various boundary conditions. Meshes for 2D simulations can be generated in seconds, and solutions are almost instantaneous.

An axi-symmetric 2D analysis of a pipe flange runs in a fraction of the time required to mesh and analyze the whole assembly.

Fluid Analysis Capabilities
SolidWorks has added two new optional extensions for simulating air flow in electronics enclosures or architectural buildings to FlowWorks (which is, itself, an extra-cost option). The new extensions include libraries of flow components, materials, and boundary conditions appropriate to building air conditioning or electronics packages.

New library components include fans, heat pipes, so-called two-resistor component models for integrated circuits, and integrated circuit packages. New material types include concrete, glass, and printed-circuit substrate. New loading conditions include solar and electric lighting, ambient temperature, and Joule heating. Controls for animating all types of FlowWorks simulations also have been made more efficient.

Example of an air-conditioned space simulated with FlowWorks.

More Accurate Sheet-Metal Bending
The calculations for computing the dimensions of a sheet-metal flat pattern vary with the bend angle. Applying a uniform k-factor to all bends in a model may not give accurate results. Previous releases of SolidWorks allowed sheet-metal manufacturers to key values for bend allowances and deductions into a spreadsheet, but customers had to fill in values for each material thickness, bend size, and angle. SolidWorks 2011 also allows users to describe the unfolding characteristics of sheet metal with equations.

The equations may vary with bend angles. For instance, the German DIN standard specifies different calculations for bend angles of 0-90 degrees, 90-165 degrees, and 165-180 degrees. The new bend-calculation table allows flat-pattern dimensions to be calculated more accurately for each class of bend angle. SolidWorks 2011 also automatically produces a sheet-metal blank that can be exported for drawing production or to order material.

SolidWorks 2011 allows designers to mirror sheet-metal features such as these flanges.

Motion Simulation Improvements
In conveyor-, chain-, belt-, or pulley-drive assemblies, each driven component’s velocity, displacement, or acceleration depends upon where it is on the conveyor’s path. Until now, modeling such behavior with SolidWorks motion simulation has been difficult.

A new path-mate “motor” in SolidWorks 2011 enables engineers to specify the motion of an object along a path such as a conveyor belt or chain drive. The new tool also enables designers to simulate effects such as rolling friction. A new “function builder” lets engineers employ arbitrary motion functions including sets of data points or analytical expressions.

The path-mate Motor of SolidWorks 2011 enables engineers to simulate the rolling of this barrel as it moves along a conveyor. The “motor” is attached to each of the black paddles pushing the barrel.

More Drafting Improvements
With every SolidWorks release, there are improvements to drafting capabilities. Among many drafting refinements, SolidWorks 2011 incorporates:

  • yet another scheme for automatically arranging dimensions
  • the ability to automatically renumber holes in a hole-table
  • weld tables
  • automated insertion of center marks in assembly drawings
  • the ability to rotate a 3D object to any orientation after placing it in a drawing view.
The heads-up control for automatically arranging dimensions in SolidWorks 2011.

Stability and Reliability
SolidWorks continues to work on making its software more stable and reliable. Memory leaks have been reduced with measurable improvements in reliability. Whether customers will notice these improvements is hard to say right now.

Blogger Matt Lombard observes that defects in user controls he reported in SolidWorks 2008 remain in the beta version of 2010. If SolidWorks is to open a meaningful reliability gap between itself and its competitors, it must develop new processes for designing and writing software that are inherently more reliable.

First customer shipments of SolidWorks 2011 are expected in October 2010. Dealers will begin demonstrations of the new software at customer meetings beginning September 20.

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