Kick the wads of paper away from your coworker’s head and pick him up off the floor. It’s ok to slap him if he’s still unconsciousness, because he’s about to thank you for showing him a way to go through massive amounts of design iterations with fewer convulsive reactions or concussions.

Last week, we discussed ways to create SolidWorks assembly versions. You have options, but there’s one option that’s quicker. Now we’re going to walk you through the steps and throw some sketchin’ in at the end to mix it all up just right.

Which Way To Go?

When you think of creating product design concepts digitally, you may think of screaming, then laughing, then mixing the two together. After you create one concept, how do you create different version of that concept? or different version of the different version of the concept? If you’re using SolidWorks, do you start with a part, or an assembly?

No worries. There’s an excellent way to go about doing all of this in SolidWorks and best of all it can help you churn out concepts with the added benefit of being able to view them in the lovely 3rd dimension and look wildly good doing it.

Creating a New Concept Assembly in SolidWorks

Here are the steps:

  1. Create and save a new assembly
  2. Create a Version 1 configuration
  3. Insert a part
  4. Model the part
  5. Add part to Version 1 folder
  6. Create a Version 2 configuration
  7. Create a Version 2 folder
  8. Copy and suppress Version 1 part
  9. Make copied part independent
  10. Make updates to copied part


For our example, we’ll create a really ugly concept design for a faucet with a couple versions that are even uglier. If you have SolidWorks 2010 you can download the model here.

green arrow downloadFaucet concept (SolidWorks 2010)

You’ll do weird things with your eyes when you notice there’s only one assembly file. All the parts are saved within the assembly. These are called Virtual Parts and are a key component to creating concept design quickly inside SolidWorks. Here we go with the process step-by-step.

  1. Create and save a new assembly
    Pretty straight-forward. The only thing I’ll note here is that you may want to start creating assembly templates that have planes, camera and lighting set up the way you need. Here’s an assembly template (SolidWorks 2010) I use. (Unzip to where you keep your SolidWorks templates.)
  2. Create a Version 1 configuration
    On the configuration tab in the left column, create a new configuration (right-click, Add Configuration…) and name it Version 1 or V1. (You can also rename the Default configuration.)

  3. Insert a part
    Go to Insert, Component, New Part… and click on the screen to insert the new part. Here’s where you see a Virtual Part for the first time. A Virtual Part has brackets around it like so, [Part 3].This part is saved in the assembly instead of external to the assembly, allowing you to model away instead of worring about where the part is saved or if a reference to a part is lost.

  4. Model the part
    Simple right? We could do a whole post on this step. I’ll assume you know how to sketch, add features and wreak modeling havoc. If you want to start with an existing part, we’ll talk about that down below.

  5. Add part to a Version 1 folder
    For the part you want to create a version of, right-click over the part in the FeatureManager and select Add to New Folder. Name the new folder Version 1 or V1 or something along those lines.

  6. Create a Version 2 configuration
    Now to start the process of creating a new version. Create a Version 2 configuration the same way you created a Version 1 configuration.

  7. Create a Version 2 folder
    To create a new folder in the FeatureManager (without having any parts selected) right-click on the Mates icon and select Create New Folder. Rename it as you did with the first folder you created above.

  8. Copy and suppress Version 1 part
    Hold down Ctrl and drag a copy of the part you want to create a version into the folder you just created. Then, select the Version 1 part(s) and suppress them (Edit, Suppress, This Configuration.)

  9. Make copied part Independent
    Right-click on the new Version 2 part and select Make Independent. This removes the link between the copied part and the other, so you’re free to make changes without having to completely recreate the original part.

  10. Make updates to copied part
    Time to get creative. Edit the part and create subtle changes or completely new features. With the ability to copy existing parts, it’s all up to you, or a crazy client, what you want the new parts to look like.

If you can believe it, that’s it. 10 steps…. repeated over and over again till you are numb in the arms. You can take the same process and create sub-folders in your folders to add version of version as well. Always use it in conjunction with Configurations so you’re able to control what’s shown in each version.

Once you decide on the version you’d like to use, you can save the assembly as a new assembly, delete (or suppress) the parts and folders you don’t need and save out all the other parts by right-clicking on them and selecting Save Part(in External File.)

Creating Concepts Using an Existing Assembly

If you would like to start from an existing model and use Virtual Parts to create multiple versions, you can. Open up an existing model and right-click on the part you want to be virtual and select Make Virtual. It will removes the link to the external file, so be absolutely sure you have a copy of the assembly created just in case you decide not to create other versions.

“I’m too artistic for digital concepts”

Oh really? Ok, I know, the look and feel of a digital creation isn’t the same as a sketched concept. It’s also fairly common for clients and managers to think that digital concept means easy change… or free change, since it’s so easy. However, you can use your digital concepts to enhance your sketches and even speed up the sketching process. The assembly template above uses a camera which provides a perspective that pops off the paper. You can then print that camera view and use as an underlayment to create an appearance that’s less distracting than a refined model. Here’s an example.

I’d like to get your take on Virtual Parts too. Have you used this method or something similar?

Author

Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, 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.