In a bit of a departure from the usual format for reviews of the next release of almost any software, let’s jump straight to the item that usually ends up being mentioned last, and that is file compatibility.
Contrary to previous releases, and contrary to most 3D modelling packages, SolidWorks 2013 files are backwards compatible to 2012. It was also announced that this pattern would be continued; subsequent releases will always be back-compatible one release. This means that vendors, clients and other departments within one company will not all need to upgrade at the same instant.
This reinforces a statement made by CEO Bertrand Sicot in his opening remarks, in which he said that as CEO his priority was to “Respect our core technology.” This same theme was repeated several times by other company people. Although it was never specifically stated through the rest of the session, this would seem to be an allusion to the Parasolid-versus-CATIA modelling engine concerns that have been floating through the SolidWorks community.
As is usual with any new software release there are far too many detail improvements to cover in a brief review, but I’ll hit on a few of them later. This statement is becoming so common that I think I’ll set up a Word macro to insert it automatically.
Again, as is usual there are several big-news, headline-grabbing new items. In SolidWorks 2013 these features are aimed at adjacent markets, and at electrical and plastics designers in particular.
SolidWorks 2013’s electrical capabilities come in three flavors:
SolidWorks Electrical is a stand-alone extra-cost 2D wiring diagram package for electrical designers. It is basically a database-driven schematic tool for generating wire lists, terminal strip lists, BOMs, PLC management, and drawings. It has access to over half a million standard electrical components.
The next flavor, SolidWorks Electrical 3D, works within SolidWorks 2013. It accesses the 2D data from SolidWorks Electrical to handle wire routing and the creation of wiring harnesses.
Finally, SolidWorks Electrical Professional includes the 2D and 3D products in a single install with a single license.
Ah, but here’s the cunning part. Because the 2D product output is basically a database, the 2D and 3D products can work interoperatively on the same design at the same time. Better yet, it allows for multiple concurrent users so several designers can work at the same time on a complex design.
OK, to be perfectly correct, injected-molded plastics capabilities aren’t quite new to SolidWorks 2013. Earlier releases worked closely with a preferred partner third-party vendor, but a major competitor to SolidWorks purchased that company. With the 2013 release, SolidWorks introduces its own native plastics functionality. As with Electrical, it comes in several flavors.
SolidWorks Plastics Professional is intended for the designers of injection-molded plastic parts. It includes animation capabilities to show how the mold will fill, will there be any air traps, how does the temperature of the plastic change as the mold fills, will there likely be any weld lines, and optimum gate locations.
SolidWorks Plastics Premium is intended for the designers of the molds themselves. With it, you can optimize single- and multi-cavity mold layouts, balance the runner systems for family molds, determine maximum injection pressures and machine sizes, and simulate other advanced analyses.
SolidWorks 2013 includes an app that allows you to view eDrawings on your iPad. That’s hardly screaming-headline news these days because almost every CAD vendor now has an iOS viewer app. The real fun part of the media session came when Rick Chin did a demo of a “possible future app.” He turned on the iPad’s internal camera and superimposed a SolidWorks 3D model file. He was then able to walk around the model and view it in real time from different directions as though it was a real object sitting on the table in front of him. Needless to say, that brought a good round of applause from the audience.
As promised earlier, here are a few of the new features that I said I would discuss “later.”
Stress analysis can be a very useful tool when designing, but speed can be an issue. The time required to create the analysis mesh and then to crunch the numbers can run into geologic time frames. If you change anything, then the analysis has to start over again. With SolidWorks 2013, they recognize that usually most of the results are pretty straightforward and well within limits, but there may be small problem areas.
SolidWorks 2013 can now perform an “isolated” analysis. You start with a coarse stress analysis of the complete model and then note the high-stress areas. Next, isolate a problem region. SolidWorks 2013 then analyses it with finer mesh. Loads carry forward, so it doesn’t need to re-analyze entire model. Make detail changes in the area of interest, and repeat as necessary.
Here’s another indication of the kind of subtle improvement that can greatly help your work flow. Everyone knows that solid modellers can do interference checking in assemblies. The problem is that threaded holes are usually modelled on the basis of their tap drill sizes in order to facilitate the translation to CNC G-code, and threaded fasteners are modelled as simple cylinders based on the pitch diameter of the thread. Okay, that’s not quite the real problem. The real problem is that running an interference check on an assembly will produce a hit everywhere that a threaded hole has a corresponding threaded fastener installed, and this can run into government-spending numbers on a large, complex assembly.
Now you have to wade through them all to find the real clashes, if any. SolidWorks 2013 solves this by recognizing threaded holes for what they are and thus ignores interferences with their corresponding fasteners.
The real teaser came at the end of the session when it was announced that there would be much more coming in May to address “conceptual mechanical design needs.” Stay tuned…