Setting up one’s computer for using SolidWorks on a regular basis is a matter of personal preference in the extreme. There is almost literally as many ways to set up a SolidWorks station as there are SolidWorks users. SolidWorks provides many methods for user interface, including toolbars, peripherals, shortcuts keystrokes, menus, command manager and other assorted on-screen functions. The most important element is the human in the real world using SolidWorks in the electronic realm. The following is just some of my thoughts about things that can be done to make interfacing with SolidWorks easier.
For me, I have found that two monitors works well. I set up one monitor as my primary where I run SolidWorks and other high-end software. I use the second monitor for reference and interfacing, to run such programs as Adobe Acrobat (PDF), PLM/ERP software, Internet, MS Office applications, commonly accesses desktop icons for these and other links of various type, etc. I also place less frequently accessed SoildWorks toolbars on the second monitor. Additionally, I place my SolidWorks command manager just on the edge of the second monitor where it is close enough for quick access, but removed from the main screen. This opens up space for my model view pane. It should be noted that I’m currently using SW 2007. Moving the command manager is currently not possible on SW 2008, from what I understand. I would like the ability to move the FeatureManager pane from the primary monitor as well. I hope this is a feature that will be added in SW 2009 or 2010. The goal for me is to have as much space as possible on my primary monitor dedicated to the view pane.
Also, I now recommend new widescreen flat LCD monitors of the 24″ variety or bigger. The prices have fallen drastically, while the quality has improved radically.
I have found that a lot of people are perfectly happy with very low movement settings on their mice. This I cannot understand. It amuses me that people will drag a mouse halfway across their desk surface just to have access to a corner of their Windows desktop. They move their mouse 8″ just to click a toolbar icon, and them move their mouse another 8″ to get back to were they where. This is a bad time waster. It is also horrendous ergonomics, for which they will ultimately pay the price.
A mouse should be set to as sensitive a setting as needed to give the cursor arrow access to all portions of your monitor(s) within a very slight movement. I have my mouse set so that I can access any point on my primary monitor within a 2″ diameter of movement using a medium threshold. The threshold is the speed one moves their mouse to trigger faster movement of the cursor arrow. More detailed local movement of the mouse should also be as sensitive as possible.
This allows the user to control their entire desktop with very little movement. It increases speed of operation. It is also more ergonomic, being better for a person’s long term arm, wrist and hand health.
To reduce the need to move the mouse around even more, use a lot of single stroke shortcut keystrokes. A lot of people may not like shortcuts for various reasons. I believe one of the most common reasons is that they are too hard to remember. However, they are worth remembering. The time savings from using shortcuts verses moving the cursor arrow around is tremendous. With the right sort of shortcuts set up, you can be working on one particular portion of your model and access several functions without having to move your cursor arrow back and forth from the toolbar back to your operating area. You can be in a sketch, switching from line to dimension to circle to trim, all without having to move your cursor arrow off of the view pane. This allows for much greater efficiency.
To make it easier to remember shortcut keystrokes, only add one or two at a time. When familar with those, as a couple more based on what you use the most. This allows you to learn/remember a couple at a time instead of a bunch all at once.
Of course, programming functions into the mouse itself will save even further movement of both your hands. This usually requires setting up shortcut keystrokes in SolidWorks that are then mapped to the peripheral. In this case, use very complex shortcuts such as CTRL-SHFT-F1. It doesn’t matter how complex because it’s still just a push of a button on your peripheral. Save the single stroke shortcut keys for other functions.
Strategy for Good Interfacing
A way of looking at interfacing with CAD software (particularly SolidWorks) is to think of functions in terms of how often you use them. The more often one uses a function, the easier and quicker that function should be accessible. One methodology is to work in the following way. The top 5% of functions used should be accessible with very little movement. If possible, they should be mapped to buttons on your mouse or other peripheral. The next 15% of functions should mapped to single stroke shortcut keystrokes. The next 25% of functions should be accessed through actual clicking of on-screen icons. Any remainder functions should be accessible through the pulldown menu scheme.
Also, if you find yourself using a series of functions routinely, then create a macro that accomplishes those tasks. Map that macro to a single or multistroke shortcut. Always be mindful of repetitive tasks and the ways they can be simplified to save time and improve ergonomics.
Knowing how to implement this strategy doesn’t come over night. It comes from working with SolidWorks over time. As you work with the software and pay attention to your own actions, you will become aware of what can be done to improve your efficiency. For me, if I repeat the same action over and over, I work to reduce the number of the steps it takes to perform that action until I get it to a point where it doesn’t bother me anymore. Use whatever means necessary to this end.