Blow the beet juice out of your mouth. This week SolidWorks 2011 is launched. We could ask the same questions we did last year and we could also bore 1/4-20 screws into our head. We will do neither. What we want to know is one thing, is 2011 better.
Is it better than 2010? Does it have better options? Does it have better performance? We’ll answer that. We’ll take a look at the best new features and smack a “Best New Feature award” on the ones you’re sure to use and spray virtual malice on the stuff that could be better.
The Best of What’s New
What do we have this year? Well, you may have seen the SolidWorks 2011 sneak peak we put up after SolidWorks World 2011. 13 things you will care (or care less) about. Most of them made it into SolidWorks 2011, some of them didn’t. Many of them focus on making design faster, including the syringe of caffeine that shoots into your eye when you’re idle for 3 minutes… just kidding about that. I don’t believe SolidWorks would endorse that.
As usual, there are updates to parts, assemblies, and drawings. This release takes another whack at your workflow by giving you a new way to work with appearances and a new way to collaborate with parts and assemblies. There are updates for Photoview 360 (PV360), with the link between SolidWorks and PV360 becoming even stronger. We’ll discuss performance and see what new and enhanced features are being provided to keep you from being severely beaten while at the same time balancing a platter of flaming 3D geometry over a cushion of baby cats. I don’t even know how you would make a cushion out of baby cats, so let’s get into this.
SolidWorks 2010 User Interface
I don’t care what people say, I like a shiny new icon. I don’t like things being organized in ribbons and I don’t like bad visualization. It’s bad for the digestion. I do especially enjoy when the UI allows you to get around quickly. SolidWorks 2011 adds some quickness and brings realtime rendering closer to the SolidWorks model. Here are the best new features.
- DisplayManager *BEST NEW FEATURE AWARD*
- Better Visualization
- More Scenes and settings
- Photoview360 Integration
Dropping color like it’s hot
The DisplayManager is a new tab in the FeatureManager area (left sidebar) that consolidates appearances, scenes, decals and lighting. Instead of picking all over your model, you can view and change all material or colors applied to the geometry. It makes it easier to apply materials, give you access to scenes with ability to save new scenes and provides direct access to PV360 setting if you have the add-in (SolidWorks Premium and Professional). This is also where you can now create walk throughs of your model environment. If what you see in the DisplayManager tab is confusing at first, switch to “Hierarchy” in the Appearance pull-down sort options.
This sorts by Parts, Assemblies and Features instead of by History. The DisplayManager is wonderful, but it does split the screen between where you select what you want to change (left side FeatureManager) and where you select the materials and scenes (right side Task Pane). For selecting multiple parts to change appearance, it still works best to select them in the FeatureManager and then Edit Appearance. This feature definitely speeds up the whole process of prepping a model for rendering, or simply making the model look better.
By the way, the DisplayManager is there for couple reasons. PhotoWorks is no more. As of 2011, Photoview 360 is the renderer being used with SolidWorks. Photoview 360 is also the second reason. The integration is getting closer, options are available in the DisplayManager, as mentioned, and you can now bring up realtime previews within SolidWorks.
You also get a better visuals from 2010 to 2011. Take a look at the screenshots below comparing 2010 and 2011. Four new scenes for point lights are added to the Scenes and through the DisplayManager you can now modify and save out your own custom scenes. There are a couple things that still haven’t been addressed in the UI space. The pop-up context menu still disappears when you click components in the FeatureManager multiple times and you still need to toggle “shadows on” to get reflection to change orientation on the display.
SolidWorks 2010 Parts and Features
There’s a small, unruly group of new Part and Feature enhancements that are causing all sorts of better ways create and control geometry. The main one to keep your eye on, however, is a a tool that is the antithesis of features. It’s called Defeature and is bringing in a more simple way to collaborate with others. Here it is along with the other best new features in Parts and Features.
- Defeature for parts *BEST NEW FEATURE AWARD*
- Global Equations
- Reuse Curves in different features
- Revolve Up to surface, vertex and offset
- Surface Extrude 2D or 3D face
Defeat the feature
The Defeature Tool (found in Tools, Defeature) can be used to stripe the details and features out of native SolidWorks files or imported part files. It’s a two-step process where you select what to keep then select what to remove. You’ll have the option to save it out as a part, send it up to the 3D Content Central model library. It’s a very useful tool… when it works. Some parts work better than others with this tool. 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. Generally, it’ll work well for most parts. It’s when you get into more complicated plastic parts with surfaces and complex features where Defeature needs more options.
Equation get such a basic, useful option it’s like soaking your parts in a soothing bubble bath of variables. You can control multiple parts with equations from a single text file. Wow. You can link to the text file. Wow. This can work great with top-down design and even simplify it. I’ve yet to seen how it affects stability, loading and rebuilds. I’ve always avoided equations for issues that come up and novice users unfamiliarity. However, it’s a nice new feature.
Now, the feature enhancements are exciting as ever, if you get excited about this kind of stuff. Your revolve tool just received more end conditions – Revolve up to Surface, Up to Vertex and Offset from surface. Surfacing gets easier with the ability to Extrude 2D and 3d faces. What does that mean? Well, take a look at the third image below. You can select a face or group of faces and extrude, not just a single curve. This simplifies the process of forcing surface modeling experts to create complex surface models by taking a few steps out of the process of previous versions.
SolidWorks 2010 Assemblies
Sometimes it helps to have a shovel when working on assemblies. First, it looks stylish. Second, you can use it to launch your computer screen into the next area code when an assembly takes to long to load. We give assemblies a hard time. There’s lots that play into issues with assemblies (another topic for another time), but the few features you get this version go a little further in helping you out. Here’s what ya get.
- Defeature for assemblies *BEST NEW FEATURE AWARD*
- Fillet and Chamfer assembly features
- Simplified representation of weld beads
- Single switch sub-assemblies to SpeedPak option
- Large assembly loading??
Double the Defeature bliss
Not only do parts get Defeature capabilities, assemblies also get it. You’d think it’s the same, but you’d be wrong. Assembly Defeature has a couple more options which make removing detail very quick. The first step (as shown in the first image below) has a check box to instantly remove internal components and an option to remove only the parts of a certain size. You also get an option to allow motion of the parts. My first thoughts are… simplified assemblies. This is set up for sharing though. You can only save it as a part or send it to 3DContentCentral. Best thing they could add here is apply the Defeature to the assembly as a configuration.
You now get more assembly features to weigh down your assembly… hmmm. You can add fillets and chamfers to parts in assemblies. You can also propagate those features to the model. Works great for parts that will be welded or modified in the field. We’ll see how these affect assembly loads, but overall, it’s interesting how the difference of where you add features for parts and assemblies is lessening. Also for assemblies, you can switch all sub-assemblies to SpeedPaks with a single right-click on the assembly in the FeatureManager. Here’s the hanger though, all the active configurations of those sub-assemblies need to have SpeedPaks, so organize your workflow accordingly. Oh, and you also have a new checkbox option to open the SpeedPak when you open an assembly.
Load times. Seems there’s always a desire for better performance in this area. Can I get an “Amen.” Brother and Sistas! Assemblies in 2011 load slightly faster than in 2010! I loaded and times a slew of large assemblies. Some I was able to actually load and switch configurations. I had one instance where I got a “Out of memory, SolidWorks is now terminating” message, but noticed I had quite a few other programs running. Something that is usually unfamiliar to me when opening large assemblies. So, there’s nothing that says they’ve improved anything on the backend, but something has been improved.
SolidWorks 2010 Drawings and Detailing
You know that stuff you have to do after playing around in 3D? I think it’s called ‘making a drawing.’ Most people still have to do it, so SolidWorks has provided some enhancements to the power you have over manufacturing via paper and dimension. There’s more automation and great things for views. Here’s the best of list.
- Align dimension options *BEST NEW FEATURE AWARD*
- Auto arrange dimensions
- Auto-insert center marks
- Hide body in drawing view
- Model colors in drawings
- Save 3D Drawing views
I Kill Trees
We’re getting activist on this… no we’re not, because now, we can auto-arrange our dimensions, print out the drawing to show our friends, throw it away and then print out another copy to show the same friends. The Auto-arrange shows up in the pop-up dimensions pallet (that was updated mid-201o and reduced to a tiny flyout menu when you selet dims.) You have options to stagger, justify and align till you puke yourself in the face. The arrangement functioned well with not too many adjustment to make afterwards. It’s like using the Auto-dimension tool in the model and then using Model items to show those in the drawing. Overall, dimensioning gets you closer to the end of that drawing faster.
You’ll also see mucho options for adding centermarks. These options are in the Document Properties detailing options. A glorious update for those who enjoy hiding bits of their model has been added, so if you use multi-body parts (weldments), you can now hide individual bodies. Another step closer to the same interaction with parts and assemblies. I’m trying to think of how this can be used, but you can now set your views to use the model colors. This applies to all the views in the drawing. Another nice option is being able to create 3D named views from (non-projected) drawing view with the 3D drawing view option. Fun to throw off your nerdy 2D friends and once again speed things up by keeping you from opening the model to create a view.
SolidWorks 2010 General Coolness
Super hardcore SolidWorks users and CAD manager are not left out of this release. You’ll get a mes of API calls and better installation. I could think of nothing better to do with my time that reduce the time spent installing licenses of SolidWorks. You? Check these.
- More API calls*BEST NEW FEATURE AWARD*
- Better Admin Image installation
- Background Downloader
- Search by part number for 3D Content Central
- Import each AutoCAD layer to a new sketch
If you extend SolidWorks and interface with it’s API, you have a lot more options to do this; API calls that have been needed for a long time. There’s a lot that’s been done to enhance overall admin and installation. On top of that SolidWorks Installation via the admin Image has been improved. You no longer need two images to install 32-bit or 64-bit versions. This won’t matter much longer, but while many companies are in the 64-bit transition phase, it’ll come in handy.
I hesitate to mention the Background downloader. We’ll see how this turns out. The idea is that it would function like the background downloader in Mozilla Firefox – hidden, automatic and using very little resources. If this is the beginning of SolidWorks pushing out more frequent updates, without the worry of constant deployment, I think it’s a good idea. The best thing I like about this is that it’s possible for smaller updates to be sent out, instead of one very large, time consuming download. Plus could ease development cycles, so the SolidWorks developers are beaten less as well.
What You Won’t See in SolidWorks 2011
SolidWorks keeps bringing out features and 2011 has some great enhancements to existing tools, but there is some major functionality you may be wondering that continues to evade each release cycle. With SolidWorks 2011 there is still no backwards compatibility and you will still see a warning about converting files to the new version. This continues to be a major request from many users that work with customers on different versions.
You also won’t see import options for CATIA files. Even though SolidWorks and CATIA are under the same Dassault umbrella, you probably won’t see this until the Dassault V6 platform merges with SolidWorks. Yes, even though Autodesk Inventor, SpaceClaim and Adobe Acrobat 3D can import CATIA files. Another highly requested feature shown at SolidWorks World 2010 called Feature-lock, which allows a user to lock feature rebuilds wherever they like, will not make it into this release. Many people would have flipped sideways for this. Let’s hope they get the issues straightened out soon after the released.
SolidWorks 2011 and Windows XP
If you’re a Windows XP users or have 32 bit Vista or Windows 7 system, lend me your earholes. To get the best results out of SolidWorks 2011, you should start looking to upgrade your operating system to Windows7 (64 bit) very soon. There are two big reasons. First, SolidWorks has officially stated that support for Windows XP will end with the release of SolidWorks 2011. (This doesn’t mean it won’t work, it simply means you’ll see no support for graphics card testing and bug reports.) Second, the minimum system requirement recommendation is 6GB of RAM. 32-bit systems run 4GB max. This will only be possible with 64 bit systems.
Now, this doesn’t discount 32 bit Vista or 7. SolidWorks 2011 will run on those and be supported, so you have a little room to breathe. The entire SolidWorks product line is now supported on 64-bit with this release as well, from eDrawing to PhotoView 360 and Enterprise PDM. I beta tested SolidWorks 2011 on an XP machine with 2GB of RAM and an Nvidia Quadro FX1800 with no problems. It does work, just start prepping.
Is it better than 2010?
Once again, if you look back through the BEST NEW FEATURE AWARDS, those are improvements I choose as adding value to existing SolidWorks workflow and engineering processes. From a user perspective there’s not a whole lot of new stuff to mess with learning. If you share a lot of models, use 3DCC a lot the Defeature tool rocks. If you use the revolve tool or work with surfaces a lot the new part features look great. Everyone will get some use out of the dimension tools and there not like the 2010 features that bring up “What the..!?” questions from users.
The 2011 interface has some visual improvements over 2010 and the way they’ve worked in the Appearance setting into the DisplayManager is nothing but WAY BETTER than how you had to go to each part to see what setting it had. The PV360 integration is fab and, if you do a lot of rendering, was one thing that was SO needed with 2010.I personally like to have the ability to open a large assembly while putting up a blog post, streaming music and emailing foreign leaders about ways to combat aging. It’s great. I rarely upgrade at SP 0.0, but I’ll have at least on version installed for the all of the features mentioned above.
Does it have better options?
If it takes away the option of being beat as hard, then yes. The options are better. What it comes down to is if it has the features you would use. It would be good to look through the What’s New to see if it has options and enhancement that concern the models you create. There are updates to weldments, sheetmetal and routing I didn’t mention. Everything about the updates make the process faster, especially for routing routines. The focus on updating existing tools is there again this year. Sure it takes away the excitement of something new and wonky, but it’s nice to see more options in the tools there that you use everyday. Let’s hope that continues.
Is the performance better?
Overall, I’m gonna say yes. They’re not making a big deal of it. I’m pretty sure people are over the “60% more efficient!” marketing, so good on SolidWorks, but it would be nice to know that they are making adjustment to the code to work better on the hardware we all use. Are code tweaks being done for 64-bit? What about multi-core and CUDA/Fermi tech? We’d all love to know the details and in which areas are being concentrated on for better performance.
Stop over by Develop3D where I’ve posted more on SolidWorks 2011. Note the XP and SolidWorks section and start prepping for 64-bit.