Each year in the fall, SolidWorks comes out with a new version of its 3D mechanical CAD software. And each year many of us sit on the edge of our seats in anticipation. A program as complex as SolidWorks makes it a real possibility that the developer might have messed things up. You know how it goes — solve one problem and create two or three new ones. However, this is far from true with SolidWorks 2011. The new version sports many enhancements, such as better memory usage, which makes designing go faster, without problems. And there are plenty of other improvements that boost productivity.

For example, a new De-feature tool provides a slick new way to work with models. Have you ever wanted to send out a model without divulging its proprietary details? De-feature lets you send only the model features you have selected. The really nice part is it also works on assemblies. Just select the component, and let ‘er rip! A surprising capability: For assemblies with moving parts, De-feature preserves all the mates and restraints necessary for the assembly to still function — even though all of the interior details might be gone. As you might imagine, file sizes are reduced, too.

Additionally, routing has been enhanced in 2011. I have always liked the capability to create complex pipe layouts or electrical harnesses in SolidWorks, but new enhancements make this easier and faster. You can now create routes that are a user-specified distance from faces or planes. And a new Autosize function matches the scale of an inserted component to the related piece. A “triad” in the graphics window lets users move or rotate a component about the route.

2011 also improves the tool for specifying weld beads. They work a lot like fillets: Just pick the edges and click OK. In the new version, weld beads are more graphically accurate, but there is also an option to show them in a simplified way. Weld beads can even fill in gaps between parts. Beads have properties that propagate to the drawing (when you use a weld table). SolidWorks 2011 creates two weldment configurations: As Machined, which shows the main structure plus additional components; and As Welded, which only shows the welded structure. It’s a handy “before and after” that lets users quickly move backwards and forwards in a design.

Additionally, a new 2D Planar tool simplifies analysis tasks. Just select the model, choose a plane to section it with, and then perform the analysis. SolidWorks uses the only that section to make computations. Users can also generate animations of deformations. The 2D Planar tool is a big improvement over the previously more-complicated methods, with more-reliable results.

Another nifty addition: A new HVAC module, part of the Flow module, lets users analyze how warm air flows through a design, or how a cooling system will keep electronics from overheating. Included are material properties for assigning to models that increase accuracy.

SolidWorks has worked hard to improve the program’s drafting capabilities the last few years and this is evident in the new version. Users can now detail drawings practically in the blink of an eye. And a new Auto Arrange tool aligns, staggers, and centers dimensions. There is even a built-in overlap-prevention mechanism to keep everything straight. Version 2011 adds pretty neat justification capabilities that can be applied across multiple dimensions.

One of the biggest changes — no more PhotoWorks. “But I need that for my pretty pictures, you say?” Don’t worry. It’s been replaced with PhotoView 360, a rendering program that makes it easy to render your models in all their incredibly lifelike and realistic glory. PhotoView 360 also lets users create animations. For instance, a feature called Walk-through lets users create a guided tour of a model as if they were holding it in their hand. It’s great for showing colleagues and customers the ins and outs of a design.

In addition, a new, separate program called 3DVIA Composer works with SolidWorks, letting users generate digital documents containing interactive, rotatable, and explodable 3D models. It can also be used to create documents such as owner’s manuals or handbooks. Simple drag-and-drop functions let users easily capture and insert views from models, or storyboard an entire document. A nice feature is the magnet line: Just draw a line on the page and then drag it about. The views placed on the page automatically attach themselves to the line, lining up with the rest of the views. It’s pretty slick. 3DVIA also lets users link to the text so readers can just click on the link, and up pops 3D information as current as the latest model revision. What a great way to communicate!

The software comes from Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks, 300 Baker Ave., Concord, Mass. 01742. Call (800) 693-9000 or visit www.solidworks.com. Edited by Leslie Gordon.

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