For people that frequent the SolidWorks Forums and the SolidWorks area on eng-tips.com, the name Luke Malpass is likely familiar. Malpass is the founder of Angelsix.com and the author of several SolidWorks API books. He developed a powerful, yet simple SolidWorks add-in called BatchProcess. This add-in was recently updated as BatchProcess 2. The new version is fully integrated within the SolidWorks task pane.
What does BatchProcess 2 do? It allows the user to quickly perform and repeat complex tasks on any number of SolidWorks documents with very little set up.
Before I get into more specific details and opinions, let it be known that Luke Malpass has provided me with licenses for BatchProcess 2. The licenses give me full access to the functionality of the software in real world usage. This allows me to write this review as accurately as I am able. No request for content within this review (favorable nor otherwise) was expressed or implied by Luke Malpass. The content of this review is solely my own.
The user interface for BatchProcess 2 is unique in the SolidWorks realm. It seems to be vaguely reminiscent of colorful flowcharts. The interface is attractive and flows well with the workflow of the add-in.
BatchProcess 2 requires that Microsoft’s .Net FrameWork 4.0 and SQL Compact 3.5 are installed. The BatchProcess 2 installer will notify the user if these applications are missing. I have found that tracking down the correct versions of .Net FrameWork and SQL Compact on Microsoft’s website can be a cumbersome task, even when URL’s are provided. I realize that Microsoft controls the distribution of these files. Even still, it would be nice to have the installer be a bit more proactive in acquiring and installing all software required for BatchProcess 2. However, once the pre-installations are complete, [T]he BatchProcess 2 installation is a breeze [and it no longer requires the user to perform any pre-installations as of 6/18/2010]. The installer even activates BatchProcess 2 within the SolidWorks Add-ins list.
As with any batch application, before any batch activity can be started, the user is required to select the documents that are to be affected. In BatchProcess 2, this is done by building a project (a list of documents). Single files, whole folders, open and recently open documents may all be quickly added to the project. This may be accomplished by clicking on the appropriate button in the Import Document into Project List row.
Projects may be saved and loaded for repeated use across multiple sessions.
Project Toolbar Strip
Once a project is built, there are functions in the Project Toolbar Strip that allow the user to add associated documents (assembly components, drawing references) and remove specific documents in the project. Other toolbar tools are also available.
So far, my favorite toolbar tool is the powerful Print button which will automatically print all highlighted documents from the project. Other tools allow the user to open, preview, and check-in/out files in Enterprise PDM.
For more complex tasks, BatchProcess 2 has a multi-layered job building tool. What’s a job? A job is a list of tasks that execute on every document within the open project. Jobs may include tasks for:
- Complex printing options
- Custom properties (add, delete, or modify)
- Exporting models and drawings into dozens of file formats (such as DXF, IGES, STEP, PDF, etc)
- Drawings templates (reload, set, or replace)
- and the execution of API macros
Once a job is created, it may be run. While a job is running, other activities in SolidWorks are generally not possible. This is because a running job makes changes directly to documents within a project. For example, if a job task says “Open”, then each document is visibly opened within SolidWorks.
Once a job is complete, BatchProcess 2 provides a detailed report of the completed tasks for each document in the project.
I’ve noticed that BatchProcess is constantly being improved. New functionality is added regularly. For example, BatchProcess 2 has a new minor release pack that allows the user to send all jobs to any other instance of BatchProcess 2 that is running on the network. With this new feature, a CAD administrator can install one extra copy of BatchProcess 2 on a server and have all other seats send their jobs to that one to do their work.
There is one apparent drawback with BatchProcess 2. There is no access to BatchProcess Help within SolidWorks. Users have to go to the BatchProcess website to view a written tutorial. Malpass has stated there are plans to integrate Help at a later date.
Currently, the only purchase outlet for BatchProcess 2 is on the BatchProcess website. Purchases are made in British Pounds. There are two product options available. Option 1 is a one-time purchase of BatchProcess 2 for 235.00 Pounds (about $345 as of 6/1/2010). Option 2 is 525.50 Pounds (about $775.00 as of 6/1/2010) and includes BatchProcess 2 with one year maintenance. Maintenance includes minor and major updates to BatchProcess for one year, and preferential handling of technical support requests.
With the US Dollar being so strong against the Pound right now, this is a great time for American companies to buy this product. However, I would like to see a North American purchasing outlet for the BatchProcess line.
I found time and labor is saved when using BatchProcess 2 in real world scenarios. The time it takes to set up and run a job on many documents is almost incomparable to the time spent manually completing those same tasks. Particularly, I’ve found the Project Toolbar Strip printing function to be very useful.
One function that I didn’t get to test yet is BatchProcess 2’s execution of API macros. Hopefully I’ll provide a supplemental report on that at a later date.
With BatchProcess 2, a ROI report should very easy to create (even with a currency exchange rate to consider). Simply compare how long a user takes to complete a series of tasks on a batch of documents with how long those same tasks can be completed in BatchProcess 2.
Overall, BatchProcess 2 is a good SolidWorks add-in that has accessible functionality and may provide significant cost savings for many SolidWorks users.