SWW09: Skeletons and Modelling Horizontally (live, nearly)

I’m rudely blogging live from a breakout session.  Of all people, it’s Matt Lombard I’m doing this to.  He will appreciate the ironic nature of this activity.  Will he hate me for it when he finds out?  No, unless my typing annoys him right now.

OK, I’m far enough back in the room where this doesn’t seem to be an issue, though there may be people around me that might be annoyed.  Again, no one seems to care.  (If the person next to me is trying to hint to me to stop by clearing your throat, let me apologize now.  Anyways, here we go!)

Matt says people are error phobic.  They worry if they have errors in a model.  This may cause unnecessary worry about finding errors in models.

Horizontal modelling is taking things to the extreme to protect your modelling data to avoid errors in the model.  Someone interested in this type of modelling approach is interested in trying to solve a problem they are experiencing.  The two methods to address such problems are to 1) ignore them when they crop up, or 2) presumptively stop daisy chaining references.  Link to objects that don’t break, such as sketches and planes.  Don’t link to solid faces, edges and vertices.

He compares a model created through regular practice with the same part modelled with horizontal modeling.  The relationships between features are all over the place with the regular methods, compared with clean results from horizontal modeling.  In the HM model, origin planes form the foundation, when are linked to reference places, then linked to reference sketch, with independent features that are all linked back to the reference sketch; at the end are the fillets.

Design intent is described by the edges.  HM allows one to lay out design intent with a set of sketches.  Features created from this will not fail if they are re-ordered (except for fillets).  Matt then demonstrate that HM doesn’t work quite by accident, so we continue the demonstration “theoretically”.  I think the failure to achieve the desired results shows just how hard it is to implement HM effectively.  Thank god watching Matt is entertaining because this type of issue in any other session would result in very boring dead time.  Matt actively engages the audience, which is now trying to address why SolidWorks created unintended relationships in his demonstration model.  Going through this process is interesting, but distracting.

In a question from Matt about who is using HM, the audience answers.  One person states they use HM for multiple configuration components, but would not bother in a simple single configuration part.  Another individual states it is also useful in in-context model assemblies.  HM may also be useful in 2D drawings.  Of course, now the audience is trying to discuss the demonstration model.  There doesn’t really seem to be a consensus; again pointing back to issues with trying to employ HM.  Of course, maybe that just means there are more than one way to achieve stable HM.

HM models are modelled to live forever through changes.  Concept modelling may not be able to employ HM techniques since the part may not be fully understood at the time when modelling is started.

In an almost conclusionary lament, Matt states that everything in SolidWorks is like a balance between stability versus speed of use.  Using HM modelling techniques is a tool to use at the appropriate situation, such as well understood production items where the design is complete before modelling begins.

OK, just for the record (Matt), the only reason I’m live blogging is because I really do not have the time to get all the articles done that I want to this day.  I promise I will not do this in the future.  Thank you for your presentation.

SolidWorks World 2009, Pre-day and the pre-preday

There are officially four days for SolidWorks World 2009, Sunday through Monday; though, sometimes Sunday is sort of considered a pre-day even though its called “Day 1“.   However, activity begins even before Sunday.  I guess Saturday can be called the pre-preday.

Saturday fun

My Saturday was mostly spent flying from San Jose, CA to Orlando, FL, with a layover.  I met up with Alex the SolidWorks Geek in our Houston stop.   This is his first, and my second SolidWorks World.  We made it to the Swan & Dolphin resort in Orlando just in time to catch the tail-end of a secret meeting.  After that, many of us Twitters converged at the lobby bar for some drinks for a tweetup.  It was great meeting up with a lot of the bloggers and consummate SolidWorks users from around the country.

Sunday so far

So, Saturday was indeed a very long day.  Though I prolly should have a hang-over right now, I don’t (never really get those).  My Sunday started bright and early with attendance to some focus groups for SolidWorks sheet metal functionality at 8:30AM and drawings at 10:00AM.   These are sessions where SolidWorks users from various industries meet up with SolidWorks employees in face to face open discussions.  The fact that these sessions happen is a sure sign that (despite the appearance otherwise sometimes) SolidWorks does put forth significant effort to improve their software based on customer input.  These focus groups are good because users give first hand accounts about how they are using the software, including their likes, like-to-haves, frustrations and such.  I may go into specific details about these focus groups later.

It’s lunch time now. I hunger.

Assembly mates and rebuild times

A recent discussion I had with Chris MacCormack was about how mates within an assembly affect rebuilt times.  He posed a question to me.  Do I fully contrain screws after I insert them?  My answer was basically “yes, as time allows.”  He then stated that he actually promotes the notion of not fully contraining screws.  He went so far as to suggest it would be better to suppress the mates altogether and fixing all components. 

His reason for this policy is that a higher number of mates will slow down rebuild times because SolidWorks has to caculate each mate on every rebuild.  My primary thought is that I prefer my model assemblies to be stable and predictable, which full mate constraint methodology delivers.  Secondarily, on instinct, I was working under the idea that having everything fully constrained helps SolidWorks work out all the details so it doesn’t have to spend so much time figuring everything during a rebuild.  (I was aware that particular kinds of mates do slow down rebuild times.) 

So, I decided to put this to a test.  I created the model assembly shown here.  Though these are not real world parts, they are created and assemblied using real world techniques, with details I would normally use, even to the degree of adding material to each component.

Test subject

I created a series of configurations of this assembly in various states of mating, both with patterned components and with all instances of hardware individually inserted.  I then used handleman’s latest macro, Rebuildtimes.swp (which he recently provided on eng-tipsc.om as a response to a request by another user).  This macro was used several times on each configuration.  Here are the best times for each.

Condition:  First rebuild time (s)
Patterned Fully Constrained:  0.3438
Patterned Partially Constrained:  0.3125
Patterned Not Constrained:  0.2812
Patterned Fixed:  0.2656
All Instances Inserted Fully Constrained:  1.125
All Instances Inserted Partially Constrained:  0.5938
All Instances Inserted Not Constrained:  0.2656
All Instances Inserted Fixed:  0.2656

The test results show a clear pattern.  Chris’ assessment is correct.  With each additional mate, SolidWorks takes more time to rebuilt the assembly.  Even in this small example, there is a significant difference between fully constrained hardware and hardware that was just inserted via smart mates (partially constrained); 1.12 seconds verses .59.  The rebuild time was literally doubled just by adding parallel mates to fully constrain the smart mated hardware.

Even in light of this realization, I do not advocate suppressing all mates and fixing components.  In my experience, this isn’t practical for the real world.  However, this is going to make me reconsider just how I will be handling mating schemes.  There needs to be a balance between the speed of the software and the functionality of the model assembly.  Where is that balancing point?

SolidWorks Drawings ER Blitz – SW Drawing Forum

There’s something going on over at the SolidWorks Drawings Discussion Forum.  There has been an on-going project consisting of users working together to form a list of requests to improve SolidWorks’ drawing functionality.  It all started out with a posted message that was simple, yet poignant by user RYAN W.

When is solidworks ever going to focus on drawings for a new release? Of all the parts in SW I think it needs the most improvement. When ever I find a bug or have a problem in SW it usually is in drawings. I think it would be great to have a new release focus on this area.

From there, the discussion evolved.  Users started going into what they would like to see added to SolidWorks’ drawing functionality.  Others brought up bugs they found.  Somewhere in the discussion, Dwight Livingston took the baton.  He compiled list of eighteen improvements from everyone’s comments.  It included requests such “Create option to attach the ASME symbol for ALL AROUND to the bend of a leader”, “Change SW tables to have basic spreadsheet functions, without MS Excel”, “Create option to add a new centermark to an existing centermark group”, and “Create feature to embed custom symbols in drawing files”, just to name a few. 

This list has received considerable enthusiasm and has taken on a life of its own; it grew in scope and size in a second thread titled What Drawing Functionality Does SolidWorks Need to Improve?.  Finally, Mr. Livingston formalized the discussion under the thread SolidWorks Drawings ER Blitz, with the intent to finish compiling the list of requests by Sept 17, 2008.  By now, the list is over 40 individual items in about 15 categories.  Some of the categories are DRAWING EXPORT, DIMENSION, HOLE CALLOUTS, GD&T, and SYMBOLS.

Now, unofficially, I can say that SolidWorks Corp is aware of this list.  It is my impression that it will not be ignored.  That is not to say that every item will be dutifully explored and implemented right away.  There are many factors that go into decisions as to which improvements to work on first and when to implement them.  At the very least, SolidWorks Corp is listening.

Please check out the current list.  If so inclined, please feel free to voice your own thoughts about items on this list and mention any new items that need to be added.  What’s been bugging you?  What bugs need fixing? Where does SolidWorks not allow you to detail something per ASME or ISO standards without some heinous workaround?  Where is SolidWorks drawing functionality still lacking?  What functionality can be added to increase efficiency? 

Product Review: Template Wizard (Part 2)

Template Wizard is a relatively new application from SolidWorks Templates by Kevin Van Liere.  He spent about 2 years developing and improving it.  It is designed to work within SolidWorks 2008, though it does have some limited functionality in SolidWorks 2007 SP4.0 or higher. This part of my article is a critique of Template Wizard’s specific functions and workflow.  Ultimately, the most important question will be answered “42”.  How easy is it to make a new Drawing Template with Template Wizard?

General Description and Workflow

This review is based on Template Wizard Version 2.5.3088.23714.  As stated before, Template Wizard allows for the creation of SolidWorks templates.  It is an add-in that runs from within SolidWorks.  When running, its interface occupies the Property Manager in what is commonly referred to as the FeatureManager or Feature Tree Pane, along the left side of the open document.  Settings and features are all selected from within this pane.

Once it is installed, Template Wizard appears as a pull down menu by the same name.  Two options appear in the menu.  “Create/Modify Templates” and “Help”.  This is very simple and to the point.  When selected, the Template Wizard pops up with some options to start a new template or modify an existing template.  These options apply to drawings, parts and assemblies.  However, if one selects anything other than Drawing Template first, the software gently reminds the user that it will work best if a Drawing Template is created first.

Template Wizard takes a step by step approach.  As one goes through the nine general steps for creating a Drawing Template, Template Wizard establishes its settings and allows the user to build what will become the Sheet Format and Drawing Template.  After that, it also flows right into the creation of part and assembly templates.  One minor drawback to this step-by-step approach is that the arrows which take you from step to step (backward and forward) are small and barely noticeable in the upper right corner of the pane.  The size of these arrow is controlled by SolidWorks itself (and not the fault of Template Wizard), but that doesn’t make it any easier to recognize.  However, once one is familiar with the interface, there are no usability issues due to this minor detail.

Creating a Drawing Template

Step 1 is the Template Wizards start-up form itself (where the user is wisely guided to first create a Drawing Template).  Once the choice is made and “Begin” is selected, a blank drawing is opened with Step 2 the Template Wizard appearing in the Program Manager.

Step 2 is very logical.  It requests sheet size, type of projection, unit system (in/mm, etc), dimensioning standard (ISO/ANSI, etc) and other fundamental settings.  As choices are made, they are immediately implemented.

Step 3 creates the border for the Sheet Format.  I’m not sure how much work went in to designing and programming this step (great or slight?), but in my opinion, this one step makes the whole Template Wizard package worth its price tag!  All the user has to do is set the margins, determine the number of zones and zone marker lengths; then click “Create Border”.  This step allows the user to generate a fully defined and complete border in seconds!  Advanced options also exist that establish other several settings.  The border can also be saved as a block for use elsewhere.

Step 4 allows the user to add title block elements to their template.  In my opinion, Step 4 is by far the most complex portion of Template Wizard.  It may even be a little scary at first.  There is a large selection of title block elements to choose from.  One must select each element from a drop down list box and place it on the drawing using the element’s insertion point.  It is fairly simply, but not immediately obvious, even with the on-screen description.  Before attempting to use step, I highly recommend reading the Help.  I especially recommend looking up “Pre-Designed Title Blocks” or “ASSY LOGO” in the Help to bring up images of the title block elements.  Once the user has the hang of how to pick and place the title block elements, this step easy and extremely powerful.  Template Wizard functionality does appear to be bumping into limitations of SolidWorks itself in this step.  One example of this is that if the user attempts to directly edit text within the template (instead of using Template Wizard functions to make such edits), SolidWorks will crash.  According to Kevin, this is a flaw in SolidWorks, but it is a flaw that pops up when using his application, so that may be a moot point.  I will say that if Template Wizard is used as intended, such issues should be minimal.

Step 5 directs the user to pick the Revision Table anchor.  Given SolidWorks 2008’s little quirks, I HIGHLY recommend choosing the upper right corner of the border.  It seems for some reason some functionality for creating Revision Tables has been reduced in 2008, making this necessary.  Very poor decision on the part of SolidWorks Corp., but I digress.  Template Wizard does insert the Revision Table once this anchor is selected.

Step 6 is a small step in which the user makes selections regarding fonts, annotations and display of tangent edges.  This step almost feels like an after-thought.  Perhaps these choices could be moved into Step 3 instead, or perhaps expanded to cover more settings that users may be interested in controlling?

Step 7 allows the user to save the drawing template (as it appears on screen) as a Sheet Format.  My only complaint here is that non-standard nomenclature is used.  Instead of referring to this function as “Save Sheet Format”, it has a button to “Save Page Design”.  I asked Kevin about this.  He made the choice to use this terminology because inexperienced users did not understand “Sheet Format” and how it is different from “Drawing Template”.  However, this choice may be confusing for experienced users.  Perhaps a statement in the on-screen help may allow Template Wizard to make this matter clear, especially if new terms are being created.

Step 8 is where the user actually saves their Drawing Template.

Step 9 allows the user to continue on to create templates for parts (models) and assemblies.  Template Wizard can carry over some information from the Drawing Template to these templates, such as unit settings and custom properties.  It also allows the user to control several other settings.  This function uses an intuitive and straightforward step-by-step approach to create those templates similar to how it works for drawings.


Template Wizard is a very well researched and useful product with a very low price tag.  Overall, it is easy to use and very comprehensive.  Kevin states, “I really put my heart into it to make it as good as I could.”  This dedication really shows in the end product.  The software is still a little rough around the edges in some places [as of 2008], though much of this seems to come from limitations or bugs within SolidWorks itself.  Given all factors, Template Wizard is well worth its price.  New and experienced users will benefit from this application.  Really, in my mind, the best customer for this software is anyone who has the responsibility to create templates for a new company or a company that has just started using SolidWorks.  The next best customer is one who wishes to improve already existing Drawing Templates.  I recommend Template Wizard for all such cases.

Product Review: Template Wizard (Part 1)

One of the areas where SolidWorks lacks is in the creation and editing of engineering drawings.  Specifically, there is very poor support for drawing templates.  One person has taken a stab at filling this gap in SolidWorks functionality.  Kevin Van Liere of SolidWorks Templates has created Template Wizard.

The goal for Templates Wizard is to make it easy for the end user to create and edit drawing templates.  According to Kevin, SolidWorks Corp. does not acknowledge that their lack of functionality with drawing templates is a problem.  Also not provided by SolidWorks Corp. is a best practices guide for templates during SolidWorks training.  He developed Template Wizard due to these facts and out of pure frustration.

He says that his target is end users, of course.  In particular, new users will find Template Wizard most helpful, though he does feel existing users will benefit as well.  I am inclined to agree, especially at the current list price of {outdated}.  Due to the low price, he stated that some VARs have contacted him about purchasing seats of Template Wizard to provide it to their clients for free as part of an overall package.  For the price, this is likely one of the most accessible professional SolidWorks Add-ins available.

The Add-in creates templates for drawings, models and model assemblies.  It allows the user to create such templates from scratch. In the case of drawing templates, it also allows the user to create a SolidWorks drawing template based on an AutoCAD template.  Additionally, it will edit existing SolidWorks drawing templates to add fields and functions that might be previously lacking.

The focus is on the actual templates themselves.  For example, Template Wizard intentionally does not go deep in to settings, such as centermark sizes.  It does provide general control by the selection of ANSI, ISO, etc.  However, for the most part, it offers the pure experience of creating the template itself.  I think that task is daunting enough without getting into the numerous individual settings available within SolidWorks.

Part 2 of this article will go into the details of Template Wizard, focusing on its work flow and specific functions.  It will include a (hopefully) thorough critique of the Add-in.

For the record, this review is unsolicited by SolidWorks Templates; I contacted SolidWork Templates.  This review is based on a free short term license that was provided to me by SolidWorks Templates solely for the purpose of this review.  That license is revoked upon completion of this review.  No guarantees by me were granted to SolidWorks Templates regarding the outcome of this review.  I did discuss my negative findings with Kevin regarding specific functions prior to release of this review.  All of my findings (positive and negative) will be openly presented in Part 2.