Review: SolidWorks 2018 Beta

18 October 2017

With SolidWorks’ next major release launched this month, its user community will be keen to learn what’s coming. Michael Lord gives us a guide of what to expect from the recently completed Beta version

Product SolidWorks 2018 Beta
Company name Dassault Systemes
Price on application

There has been a steady growth of unrest among some sections of the SolidWorks community over the past few years with regards to the quality and stability of the SolidWorks product.

Since the code was rewritten for the SolidWorks 2015 release, some have begun to question the traditional yearly release of new features and continuing enhancement of the product.

The new SolidWorks Welcome screen is divided into sections accessing New, Recent Documents, Recent Folders and the Open Folder

Now, it seems, is the time for Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks to question whether it should focus on the quality and stability of the product or continue to introduce new enhancements with each new release.

Earlier this year, at the SolidWorks World user conference, I heard those who have influence in these matters make some very strong commitments to indeed not only address the issues but continue to make enhancement to the overall product.

Even for a corporation the size of SolidWorks, it would appear that resources have to be balanced between fixing what needs to be fixed and introducing new features.

Let’s have a look at a few features from the core components of the product and see how that balance has worked for SolidWorks 2018 Beta.

Over the years of looking at SolidWorks Beta releases, I can’t ever recall the company promoting addressed Software Performance Reports (SPR).

If there is a statement to be made about the seriousness to which SolidWorks has taken to redress the quality issues of the past few years, then it would be the announcement that around 950 SPRs, those confirmed software issues, have been addressed for SolidWorks 2018 Beta.

As for the stability of the product, that’s a far more difficult issue to quantify. It is also a far more difficult issue to address.

Whilst SolidWorks may have invested time and resources in tools to assist with coding quality, the variabilities of the users, their usage, ongoing developing operating systems and an inordinate variety of hardware, must prove challenging.

The time spent over the past few months working in SolidWorks 2018 Beta, has revealed performance improvements such as assembly opening times and has overall proven to be a stable release.

Whether that be the case for all users, only time will tell.

Previously, mouse gestures had far more versatility

User interface

SolidWorks continues with its ongoing development of the user interface (UI).

Impossible to miss is the new Welcome Dialog Box. When opening SolidWorks 2018 Beta you are greeted, in the centre of the screen, with this new box, which is divided into sections for accessing New, Recent Documents, Recent Folders and the Open Folder.

Whilst the functionality of these may not be new, having them all centred is without doubt one of the most sensible additions I’ve seen to any UI.

For many years now, I have customised my own interface and adapted modelling techniques to minimise mouse movement away from the centre of my screen. So this simple addition certainly fits in with my workflow.

Users who will most benefit from the UI are those who use Mouse Gestures. In the past, Mouse Gestures could only be set to either 2 or 8 gestures. With SolidWorks 2018 Beta there is more versatility, with the user now being able to set the number of mouse gestures to 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 or 12.

Assigning commands to mouse gestures has also been greatly improved. Previously, there was the requirement to assign the position via a very small graphic display.

This has now been enhanced with the more conventional drag and drop command into the required assigned position, on the visual Mouse Gesture Guide.

Pen computers rock

Sketching

The past few releases have seen small incremental enhancements with various Sketch tools. For this release there has been an enhancement to the Mirror Entities command, which now adds the ability to mirror 3D sketches.

A 3D sketch can be ‘Mirror about a Plane’ or a ‘Planar Face’. The bonus of this year’s enhancement is that 2D sketches can now also be mirrored using both a plane or planar surface and not just linear entities of lines or edges, as per the past functionality.

I’ve been running SolidWorks 2018 Beta on a new HP Spectre x360. A very non-CAD hybrid convertible laptop/tablet. It’s been interesting, and I’ve found its performance to be quite impressive. Windows 10 Creators Update saw the introduction of Window Ink and its enhanced use for pen and finger for sketching.

Solidworks 2018 Beta has been able to utilise this same functionality and have introduced the Sketch Ink toolbar.

Sketch with Touch allows freehand finger (or pen/stylus) sketching. It can be used in conjunction with Auto Sketch Entities, which enables the rough freehand sketch to be converted into usable Lines, Arcs, Polygons, Circles and Ellipses.

I’m not convinced that it is time, at this stage, to discard the mouse and go into full time freehand sketching.

However, I can envisage doing design reviews, standing around a Microsoft Studio style of computer, deep in discussion and saying, “if we just reshape this corner” whilst sweeping a freehand arc across the model.

This I feel is also generational and whilst I personally see limited use, I am sure we will see greater touch tools being developed, over the coming years and adopted by the next generations.

What I’ve found interesting is how quickly I’ve adapted to using a touch-based device. Although I continue to model in conventional methods, I find myself regularly using the touch capabilities to rotate and zoom around the model.

Parts and features

The ability to create a Bounding Box was previously limited to a cut list item in weldments. SolidWorks 2018 Beta now allows the creation of a Bounding Box around a single body, a multibody part or a sheet metal part.

The Bounding Box encloses the model with a minimum volume. For irregular shaped models, the Bounding Box can be aligned with a reference plane or a planar surface.

The functionality has been further enhanced with the dimensions and volume of the Bounding Box added automatically to the Configuration Specific of the Properties Summary Information.

Components or sub-assemblies can be switched to lightweight and back again on the fly

Assemblies

A couple of areas that SolidWorks has targeted for multiyear development are Large Assemblies and Graphic Performance. The two go hand in hand when it comes to dealing with Large Assemblies.

The start of this is SolidWorks 2018 Beta and the Assembly mode of Large Design Review. Introduced back in SolidWorks 2012, Large Design Review allows assemblies to be opened quickly with the components loading only as graphics.

Components could be reset to Lightweight or Resolved to be worked on, but it was a one-way street. Once set to Lightweight or Resolved there was no going back.

SolidWorks 2018 Beta sees all that change with Large Design Review.

Components or sub-assemblies can now be set to Lightweight or Resolved then after working on those components they can then be reverted to Graphic only. This can be done individually per component or all components can be reverted to Graphic from the top-level assembly.

This alone is quite significant news but then add to this the ability to ‘Creates Mates’ between graphics only components and components that are either lightweight or resolved. In short, this means that Large Design Review is no longer just a review tool but should now become the default when working with Large Assemblies.

If this is the start for what is to be an ongoing development, then it is a very good one. It should be interesting to see what this leads to in future releases.

Misaligned Concentric Mates allows the mating of a pair of holes from two separate components to be mated concentrically, even if they don’t match precisely

Misaligned concentric mates

After a false start in last year’s release Misaligned Concentric Mates has made a reappearance in SolidWorks 2018 Beta. If you missed it, Misaligned Concentric Mates allows the mating of a pair of holes from two separate components to be mated, even if they don’t match up precisely.

You know they’ll fit, but the precision of the CAD system wouldn’t traditionally allow them to line up. In part, this helps when working with imported data from suppliers, especially where there’s a mix of metric and imperial designed components.

The background is that this operation was in the 2017 Beta, but didn’t make the release as it received a great deal of negative feedback — focussed on the simple fact that the functionality appears to not be fully thought out.

Personally, I was unsure of the usefulness of the operation, but a year on I have a better understanding of why this has been developed. More importantly, it is not just the same feature reintroduced.

The process of adding the misalignment is far more in line with other, more traditional, standard Mates.

Along with the option of how to treat the misalignment and setting of the maximum deviation, now within the Mates Property Manager, for those so aggrieved with the thought of having concentric mates not so concentric, there is the option to not allow such Mates.

What else?

Last year saw the introduction of SolidWorks 3D Interconnect, which is the ability to insert third party native CAD files directly into a SolidWorks assembly, without converting them into a SolidWorks file. 3D Interconnect has added support for JT files (Version 8.x and 9.x) along with neutral formats of STEP, IGES and ACIS files.

It has also added the ability to read custom properties, meta data or user defined attributes for all the formats that it supports. It can then add them into the Custom Properties of SolidWorks.

This year’s bonus with all versions of SolidWorks 2018 is the inclusion of SolidWorks CAM Standard

SolidWorks CAM

This year’s bonus with all versions of SolidWorks 2018 will be the inclusion of SolidWorks CAM Standard, the CAMWorks 2.5axis machining product from Geometric (now known as HCL Technologies). And, it is not just a rebranded version of the product.

Although at this stage there has not been a great deal of work done (the main change is the database interaction being moved from Microsoft Access to SQL). I’m sure this will follow a similar path as SolidWorks Visualize has, with more developments over the following years to more closely align it with the SolidWorks interface.

Solidworks CAM Professional will be offered as a separate purchase product for those who require more than just 2.5axis machining.

In conclusion

SolidWorks 2018 Beta has a little for everyone. I’ve highlighted just a few features from the core components of the product. As with previous releases, the enhancements cover the whole gamut of SolidWorks’ products.

Although every product in the range receives some additional enhancement, personally I like the direction the software is heading especially in regards to addressing performance with Large Assemblies. Overall, the product continues to offer increased capabilities and to improve its existing tools and features.

In general, the number of enhancements for SolidWorks 2018 Beta is down compared to the past couple of releases.

This, you would think, is in direct relation to the resources required to address past issues around the quality and stability of the product.

The final question must be, has Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks done enough with Solidworks 2018 to appease its critics? I’m not sure that is a question I can answer at this point in time. However, I am sure the answer is within the product itself!


SolidWorks at DEVELOP3D LIVE Boston

Find out more about the capabilities of SolidWorks 2018 and even further into the future at DEVELOP3D LIVE Boston, on October 23-24, from Kishore Boyalakuntla, SolidWorks VP Product Portfolio Management and brand UX leader.

Tickets available here.

Biography

Michael Lord works as a design/engineer and is currently the manager at Trakka Pty Ltd, an Australian manufacturer of motorhomes and special purpose vehicles.

He has 40 years experience of manufacturing under his belt, 10 years of which he’s been a SolidWorks user. He covers how he uses SolidWorks on his blog: michaellord.me

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