Every year, software companies introduce new versions, promising new features and exciting improvements. SolidWorks 2013 upholds this tradition. In addition, you may have heard rumblings about features that users have been wanting for years. At least Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp., the company that makes SolidWorks, is listening.

For example, it’s a no-brainer for big companies to keep up with constant software updates, even though this is an expensive proposition. But for small businesses, it’s a different story. So what do they do? They don’t upgrade every version. But then these small shops get files they can’t open or they get dumb solids through a translator.

To address this issue, users have begged SolidWorks to act more like Microsoft Word, which has a downloadable compatibility package that opens newer versions.

Until now, SolidWorks has steadfastly refused to provide this capability. But SolidWorks 2013 at least works with previous releases. This means that from this release on, if you have Service Pack 5 of a release, you will be able to read the very next version’s files, though you won’t be able to do much with them. (You can add to them and subtract from them, but you won’t be able to directly access the feature tree.)

It’s a nod to what users want and better than nothing.

That said, other improvements to the software make modeling easier. You’ve been able to save user-defined views for a long time by right-clicking in the graphics area and selecting the telescope icon. But you had to rotate or otherwise orient the model, an inaccurate process. You have an isometric view, but how about getting a reverse isometric view? The new version lets users orient models quickly and easily. The nice part is that you can save views to use in other documents. You can also add more than one exploded view to a configuration. And you can copy and paste exploded views.

In another example, building an assembly could get pretty tedious in previous versions of SolidWorks. If users didn’t pin the dialog, they would have to restart the Insert Component command each and every time they wanted to insert something. Even when users pinned the dialog, they could only insert one component at a time. SolidWorks 2013 lets users select multiple components and insert them all at once. Users can even select multiple components and place them sequentially. These capabilities are great timesavers.

And a nice enhancement is the center-of-mass (COM) point. It is reference geometry that tells you at a glance where your assembly’s balance point will be. And it’s live. It updates with any changes to the model. That’s good for people making devices that must be balanced like swords, guidance systems, and even tennis racquets. Users can even mate to the COM of a component in an assembly (but, interestingly, not to the COM of the assembly itself ).

Another enhancement: The Replace Component command lets users replace a component with another of the same name and type from another folder. SolidWorks hasn’t previously let users do that. This will be well received by designers who have had to update models from, say, outside vendors. Unfortunately, the capability to replace a component with a different type of component is not yet available.

Why would users want to do that? There are times when a subassembly must be replaced with a single part or vice versa. SolidWorks lets you go through all of the steps to select and confirm a replacement but then it tells you, “You can’t do that.” The new version does lets users create swept cut features in assemblies and then propagate them to the component part files.

In addition, users can now control models’ materials via a design table. You’ve been able to configure dimensions and color but not materials until now. Say you’re a bullet manufacturer, for example, with special clientele. Each customer wants 45 bullets, but one wants them in lead, one wants steel, and one wants silver. Now you can do that.

Other helpful new features: SolidWorks 2013 lets users add new dimensions to an existing set of baseline dimensions. Previously, users had to add a new set. Now they can right-click an existing set and pick Add To Baseline. When the cursor changes, users select any new items they want dimensioned. It couldn’t be much easier.

Another new feature I like is the ability to import and link tolerance and precision data from the model onto the drawing. So when users change the value in a model, the drawing updates. Users can even specify that they want to import only dimensions that have tolerances. Slick!

Last, when Autodesk purchased MoldFlow, injection-molding analysis ceased to be part of SolidWorks. That has been an annoyingly large gap in the software. Third-party applications attempt to fill the need, but nothing works in SolidWorks. Fortunately, Version 2013 fills the gap with SolidWorks Plastics. I am told there will likely be a pared down “Plastics Xpress” included for free in future versions.

Edited by Leslie Gordon.

© 2012 Penton Media, Inc.