3D CAD software has come a long way over the past few years, and the technology is only getting more accessible. Not too long ago, I had to lug a desktop computer around to perform demos, but now I can run SOLIDWORKS on a 15” laptop and still have more horsepower than my old desktop. But there seems to be a lot of conjecture about the eventual demise of the laptop to their cousin mobile devices and touch screens. As people are becoming more and more enamored with the ease of use and power of tablets (Apple iPad, Lenovo, Microsoft, Samsung, etc) and smartphones, it’s easy to see where they could potentially fit in to the daily design work of an engineer.
You’ve probably seen that eDrawings is available on mobile devices, and that you can interact with design concepts on a touch screen (video)
. You may have even seen the awesome augmented reality running on an iPad (video)
where you can view the 3D model as if you’re watching it in person (if you haven’t seen it, check out that video
). In terms of real applications, these may be a great way to get the point across to people in the field, and to communicate your designs and possibly even work instructions to someone who wouldn’t need to have a whole printout or be reliant on getting access from a computer.
You may have also seen the new SOLIDWORKS Mechanical Conceptual software, introducing social interaction to designers and engineers regardless of platform - mobile devices, tablets, laptops or just a normal web browser on a desktop (video here). It doesn’t seem very far-fetched that before long we’ll see 3D CAD and mechanical design in general available to any device anytime. At the very least, for the short term, Mechanical Conceptual is a great way to collaborate with other people who might not necessarily be in charge of designing, but who want to communicate their ideas in real time without having to rely on meetings or email chains to get things done.
Personally, I'm even more excited about the Microsoft Surface Pro, where you can actually install a full license of SOLIDWORKS and drive the software from a tablet even when you’re on the go. Granted, the horsepower might not be there for doing any serious modeling. I haven’t tried it out yet as I’m still saving up for the Surface Pro 3, so we can’t officially recommend it. However, SOLIDWORKS has actually come up with a few things that might make it easier to run on a tablet, like the option to make icons much larger and to turn on mouse gestures for quick access to commonly used tools.
So that’s where we are at – you can leverage your 3D information downstream easily with things like the eDrawings app for iOS and Android (download it here) and you can collaborate your ideas with social interaction tools inside SW Mechanical Conceptual. You can even run the full design software on a tablet if you’re so inclined. Even though Moore’s Law may have seen its day, it might not be long before we see programs like SOLIDWORKS and others running 3D design on tablets and smartphones. This could be a great idea for people on the go who just want to capture a quick idea or a snapshot of a design and then refine it later. It’s a cool concept, and I’m excited to see what the future brings.
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The big product announcement at SolidWorks World 2014 was SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual. This is a collaborative tool to create any sort of mechanism designs at the conceptual phase in a much faster and easier manner than most people are doing it today. Currently, most companies create pen and paper sketches to create a mechanical concept, but this is very difficult to share and evolve the design from pen and paper. SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual allows you to very easily create the conceptual designs and share the design with your customers, while allowing very powerful collaborative tools to design concurrently with other engineers.
So here are my first thoughts about SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual:
|SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual updates modified components live in your session, ensuring that you're always working with the latest data.
The interface is the most intuitive that I've ever seen. A lot of times when I see how something is done in SWMC, I'm shocked that it can be done so easily. For instance, if you want to dimension a line, you click on the line, and the dimension is already there, you just type in what you want to give it a true driving dimension. Simple! All of the tools you would expect to use pop up when you're working, and all you need to do is click on the object you want to modify. There's so many cool concepts about the way the software handles the interface that I'm really impressed. There were a few times that the adaptability and the ease of the interface actually blew my mind - i.e.: the fact that you can just toss a fillet on a whole bunch of bodies and it puts the feature where it needs to be in the feature tree without having to
think about it. It just makes sense, it's simple and easy.
|Connect instantly to collaborate with other SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual users through chat, screen capture, and on-screen annotation.
The community aspect is also very exciting - the ability to pass files back and forth with ease, but also to get live feedback and allow customers to view and provide feedback on projects was essential to a lot of the lighthouse customers. The seamless way that users can work on the same project at the same time is very impressive. Users can both work on the same design and can add and change geometry live while the other one is working. You can even preview a new change live in the 3D before accepting the change! This adds a ton of adaptability to the design process. Project structuring seems very simple - every project can be focused on a single design, or a series of designs, and you can add collaborative users to each project as needed. Also, the way that the software handles searching for files is easy and everything is searchable in seconds.
The motion analysis is very cool, the fact that you can see the motion path of any object without having to calculate a motion study, and even see the 3D space that the object will take up is very useful for any mechanical design. I'm also very impressed by the SIMULIA aspects - all of the designs can be simulated and verified to ensure that they'll work correctly when under stress or thermal loads. The interface was very intuitive and setup was simple - but the solver was what really impressed me. It's using the Abacus solver behind the scenes, and the speed in which that calculated analysis was stellar.
From what I heard talking with other attendees, there's a lot of buzz about the product and it seems like it will be replacing a very costly and manual process of the conceptual and planning stage of products for a lot of customers. There were some great customer testimonials from what they've termed the "lighthouse" customers - early beta testers who were able to work with the product and collaborate their designs before the products release. Some of the time savings that these lighthouse customers were saying were astronomical - some were able to push the product through the initial concept phase weeks faster than before.
Learn more about SOLIDWORKS Mechanical Conceptual on our website.
I’ve visited a few customers lately that have legacy 2D CAD data. The question always comes up “we want to migrate into a single source provider for our CAD software, do we need to keep a seat of “that other program” around if we ever have to view or edit this legacy data?”
Call me a bit biased but I tell them there is no need as we have multiple solutions to address that concern. Of course we have eDrawings and Solidworks where we can view and edit 2D files as required but everyone knows that. What I’m going to talk about is a different program Dassault provides called Draftsight.
When you open the program you will get an interface that you are already accustomed to:
This gets better, when drawing or editing within Draftsight no special training is required (drawing is done in the same manner as the “other guy”). For example, “L” opens the line command, “C” opens Circle, etc.
If you are like most (myself included) we all “grew up” with that familiar command “array”. The good news is that command also works inside of Draftsight but if we are still thinking in a Solidworks state of mind we enter “pattern” on the command line instead. Guess what, both work inside of Draftsight which means we don’t have to remember which one goes into which program…
Just for giggles, I went ahead and opened up one of the first 2D CAD files I created (for those that want a trip into the past, this was created with a DOS version on a 386 & CGA graphics - take a look at the date stamp). By the way, did I mention Draftsight has native .DWG & .DXF format support?
Yes, I know this is a very complicated part but hey, this was almost 20 years ago. The point is my legacy file opened without any compatibility or corruption issues (even after 20 years in storage).
So by now you are thinking this will be a huge benefit but in the end how much will this cost? Will the program cost as much as a seat of SolidWorks, Composer, Electrical, etc.? I hate to be the bearer of bad news but no PO’s will be filled out as Draftsight is a FREE product. Yes, I did say free, well almost free. You do have to provide an email address to register the program but that is all (for the record, I’ve yet to receive an unsolicited email from Draftsight).
Of course as with all things in life we have an option to upgrade (for a fee) to the Professional or Enterprise pack of Draftsight. I won’t get into details here but I encourage you to check out our website or give us a call for more details as you get a lot of bang for your buck with these two upgrades.