Here’s where it happens. Where the surly bonds of history-based design slip off into a miry pool of sketch-driven constraints. Ker-plunk. Yes, watch them sink… down, down, down.

It pains one who has built models feature-upon-feature to see the control, the order, give its last fleeting breath. As it happens though, Siemens hasn’t quite let the process of history-based modeling slip down into the dark undertow. Instead, they’re pulling it right to safety, giving it a proper chest whack and spitting a good amount of lung juice on the face of iterative design. They’ve passed this… ability on to the users of Solid Edge ST3. You have a choice, features with history, features with no history. All in the same interface. Here’s a breakdown of what’s important and first thoughts on the program as we explore Solid Edge ST3.

This post is largely void images for two reasons. First, I wanted to get the thoughts about ST3 down as fast as they were happening. Second, I wanted to focus on a single screenshot that captures the simplicity/complexity of Solid Edge ST3 which also gives a hint on what you should focus on as a new user. Here’s that image.

The ST3 interface showing direct editing of a Protrusion feature. The UI combines ways to model using both history and direct features in a single environment. (Click to Enlarge)
The ST3 interface showing direct editing of a Protrusion feature. The UI combines ways to model using both history and direct features in a single environment. (Click to Enlarge)

History-based features are called Ordered features. History-free features are called Synchronous features

This is the most basic concept to understand with Solid Edge ST3. There are two ways to model. With history (Ordered features) and without history (Synchronous features). By default, you start out in Synchronous mode. (This can be change in the options.) These features are split up in the Feature list sidebar, the PathFinder.

Solid Edge ST3 (direct modeling) interface is smooth

Starting in Synchronous mode might seem odd, but you wouldn’t know it as you start creating a part. Sketches are drawn, solids are extruded, a list of features is created. Parts can be built feature upon feature upon feature without even know that you’re doing it without a direct parent-child relationship between each. All of this, including modification of features is a very smooth, very intuitive process.

You can still dimension features

Sketches can be dimensioned. Dimensions are automatically created when you create features and all the dimensions control the actual geometry, not the sketch. In fact, you can add dimensions to the features, control the geometry with them, then hide or show dimensions in the sidebar via the PathFinder. Here, you no longer need to concern yourself with sketches as entities that control a feature.

Switching from Ordered to Synchronous rolls back ordered features

Working between each isn’t seemless though. If you are working between Ordered features and Synchronous features, the Ordered features roll back (become inaccessible) in Synchronous mode. this isn’t always ideal, especially if you want to reference Synchronous features with Ordered features . In this case, you would move the Ordered feature into Synchronous feature. In doing this, however, you can not move those features back into the Ordered features.

ST3 doesn’t compare to other direct modeling approaches

Many are taking on ways to create and edit models directly. SpaceClaim, KeyCreator and IronCAD have led the pack in this, but Solid Edge ST3 certainly brings some great options by being to use both methodologies. In this regard, the others don’t quite compare. Where it does compare is in the ease of being able to create and edit features. Both SpaceClaim and Solid Edge ST3 make the process extremely intuitive.

The Steering Wheel is Magical

The Steering wheel is the triad (arrow and rotation axis) that you use to manipulate geometry. It appears when you select Synchronous geometry. You can locate it on faces and edges to push, pull and rotate that geometry. Faces change depending on what kind of relationships they have with each other. These relationships are set up through LiveRules.

LiveRules are wonderful, but can be frustrating

LiveRules are how you control the geometry. Like the Steering Wheel, they appear when you select any Synchronous feature at the bottom middle of the screen. (see screenshot above.) Certain combination of rules (or relations) yield how the geometry will change. Solid Edge ST3 creates most of the rules when a feature is created. Getting familiar with these is on of the most important aspects of learning to model with Synchronous features. Color codes used to show selection of LiveRules and the various icons can be frustrating at first, so it’s crucial to learn how these work.

Partial Move not allowed for pre-V5 parts

If you’re coming from Solid Edge V5 and bringing over some parts, you may be distraught when attempting to work with them in Synchronous mode. If you want to bring over any feature, all of them will need to go along for the ride. It’s basically like importing a part from another modeling system. Be prepared and have a back-up of the parts.

Update: Some clarification on this… V4 was 1997 (thanks Dan!), so anything before V5 was created on the ACIS modeling kernel. Therefore if you want to bring them into Solid Edge ST3 (V23), they need to be converted to the parasolid kernel format. Then they act like any other SE file today so you can pick and choose which ones you would like to bring over to the Sync mode.

Parent and Child relationships still exist in Ordered/Synchronous modes

When moving some Ordered features to Synchronous, other features will need to follow. I’m not certain why this is, there are simply some features that can’t exist synchronously while their parent is Ordered.

Things to remember

Know how you want to start off
Ordered or Synchronous. Once you’ve started with Synchronous, there’s no turning back in this version.
Get familiar with the LiveRules
Save yourself some headache. Get familiar with how geometric relations work in Solid Edge ST3.
Take time to look
It’s easy to blaze through features and options to get to the modeling. Go through a bit slower to get the idea of the workflow. There’s lots of similarity among feature and the modeling process.
Accept the Ribbon Bar
It’s just about everywhere now. I still am not convinced it helps workflow. However, Solid Edge ST3 is laid out well enough there is not a lot of switching between tabs.
Use the Prompt Bar for direction
Not sure what you should be doing? Look down at the bottom edge of the screen. The Prompt bar will guide you to do what’s next.
Set your Mouse button to “automatically move pointer to default button”
This can be a reminder for what to do next as well. A lot of features have multiple steps with multiple options. The mouse set to jump to the default button will show you there’s a step to complete.

Breaking it down

Having the ability to edit parts synchronously may not matter so much if you have the information (dims, relations, sketches, etc.) to make the changes. That, in a sense, is another kind of direct editing. But, you’ve got to have all of that already set up, you’ve got too know how to set it up. Does Synchronous Technology make that easier? Yes and No. In the same way as modeling with history of sketches, features, dimensions and relations, you’ve also got to learn to model with sketches, apply relationships to features, dimension geometry and move it all with a group of arrows. The learning is still there. What Solid Edge ST3 does is give you the option to use and mix either type of learning.

A final note on what you may notice with Solid Edge ST3. The workflow is very fluid. The direct modeling is smooth and easy to work in (even starting off.) Much of it is click-click create – no holding the mouse down. It certainly makes sense how this could be translated to touch screen usage. The cursor, the interface, the steering wheel, the LiveRules display and even the command pop-up display on the screen in a way that makes a transition touch feasible, even a touch interface off of a flat screen.

I’ll be covering more on ST3 in the future. If there’s anything specific you’re wondering about, hit the comments and if you’ve used it, what do you think about how the interface is laid out for design?


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.