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Importing Files Into SolidWorks


Post By John Hall


This is the second in a 2-part series.  In case you missed it, here's the first installment -Importing Files Into SolidWorks


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Now that we know the basics of all the different file types, let's talk about importing. When you're importing files into SolidWorks, it's always a good idea to see if you can obtain a Parasolid. These have the most success with translation and will usually have great results when importing into SolidWorks. Not all software can export a Parasolid, and not all software runs on Parasolid, so sometimes the export isn't perfect, but Parasolid is in use and licensed by over 20 different CAD/CAM packages, so that's usually a good place to start. If you get bad geometry or have an issue with a parasolid, you can then move on to a different file type.

Parasolid is formatted in .x_t or .x_b file type. The .x_t is most commonly used, the .x_b is binary and only a few CAD software packages have this as a required Parasolid format. Parasolid supports assemblies and multi-body files, but does not support configurations, so you'll need to export each configuration individually. As of this writing, SolidWorks 2014 supports opening and exporting up to version 24.0 natively.

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IGES is another file translation path that people will use.  This is a very old file translator that was developed based on punch-card data. The IGES files actually contain all of the points of the file. IGES was first developed in 1980 by the U.S. National Bureau of Standards, and the last published standard was Version 5.3, released in 1996. It's not an actively developed standard, but it does see a lot of use.  It supports assemblies and multi-body files, but does not support configurations. One thing I've experienced is that IGES does not tend to deal well with very complex shapes, and if you're opening up anything with a smooth surface or a non-prismatic shape, I wouldn't attempt using IGES as an import method. One feature that IGES has that others don't is that it generates .rpt report files to show any errors that may have occurred during the import.

STEP is a translator that is fairly common as well. STEP files are typically a .stp or .step file. STEP was developped by ISO, and is also known as "ISO 10303”. There are two versions of STEP, AP203 and AP214 - both are very similar, but AP203 was developped for the aerospace industry and AP214 was developed for the automotive industry. There has been development of AP242, which is soon to be released, and will replace and update the STEP translator to merge AP203 and AP214. The STEP translator works much better than IGES with surfaces and complex shapes, and if you can't request a Parasolid of a complex model, I would ask for a STEP if possible.

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The last translation method for importing 3D Solids is ACIS which is sometimes also known as the SAT translator. The file format for ACIS is .sat files. ACIS was developed by Spatial (owned by Dassault Systemes) and it's actually a mathematical modelling kernel, similar to Parasolid. ACIS stands for “Alan, Charles, Ian's System” which is the first names of the developers! Because it is a kernel, it is being developed actively and used in the background by quite a few CAD systems. It currently on version 24.0, but the version SolidWorks 2014 can save to and open is version 22.0. Like the other translators, it supports assemblies and multi-bodies. One other interesting thing is that ACIS is a great way to import 3D solids into older versions of AutoCAD, but AutoCAD does not import versions 8.0 and above, so you'll need to export the file as version 7.0 or earlier when working with AutoCAD 3D.

So hopefully this helps people that have been dealing with translation issues and having difficulty deciding which file format to use. If you skipped this entire article and scrolled all the way to the bottom, I'll sum up the entire article here: Use Parasolid first! This is your best route to success and usually provides the smoothest import for SolidWorks. If Parasolid doesn't work, try one of the other 4 solid translators.

Importing Files Into SolidWorks


Post By John Hall

This is a presentation I've been giving for a few years, including this year at SolidWorks World, and I finally decided to write it down so that I can share it with others. I hope that everyone finds it useful.

Many people deal with importing models and translating data back and forth between SolidWorks and other software on a daily basis. When importing 3D models from another software, requesting the proper file format can be daunting, and can be prone to errors if you're not sure what you're looking for. When you're importing a file, you can access a full list of file formats that SolidWorks can open up from the File Type pull down menu:

Import File Types

However, some formats have more functionality than others, and some work better as a translation path than others. So before we get into how to get solids to and from SolidWorks, I want to explain all of the different file formats that SolidWorks can open up, and what each file does.

Here's a full list of file types that SolidWorks can import:

  • DXF
  • DWG
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Parasolid
  • STEP
  • ACIS
  • IGES
  • VDAFS (.vda)
  • VRML (.wrl)
  • STL (.stl)
  • CATIA Graphics (.cgr)
  • Pro/E Part (.prt)
  • Pro/E Assembly (.asm)
  • Unigraphics (.prt)
  • IFC (Industry Foundation Classes)
  • Inventor Part (.ipt)
  • Inventor Assembly (.iam)
  • Solid Edge Part (.psm)
  • Solid Edge Assembly (.asm)
  • CADKEY (.prt, .ckd)
  • Add-Ins (.dll)
  • IDF (.emn, .brd, .bdf, .ibd)
  • Rhino (.3dm)

So as you can see, knowing what file format to request and what works best can be a bit tricky.

Here's a guide to help. I've broken the files out into a few different groups to help organize and understand the different file formats and the differences between them.

2D Paths:

Adobe Illustrator (.ai)

The first is a group I'll call "2D Paths". These consist of files that only contain 2D information. This can be opened in SolidWorks and edited as a sketch, or inserted directly on a drawing. These are:

3D Mesh:


The next group I call "3D Mesh". These are wireframe geometry made from a series of polygons (triangular shapes). They are typically used in visual software or for rapid prototyping. There is a lot less mathematical accuracy to these files, and they do not typically import well into SolidWorks due to the geometry. They usually have to be changed into a solid using the ScanTo3D add-in for SolidWorks (in SW Premium) or using a 3rd party software to clean this geometry up. Most people use wireframe files merely as a reference to create geometry around.

3D Solids:

Parasolid (.x_t)
IGES (.igs)
STEP (.stp)
ACIS (.sat)

3D Solids are the best way to translate solid geometry to and from SolidWorks. These four formats are the typical import/export method for bringing files into and out of SolidWorks successfully. The geometry contained is "dummy" geometry, so it will not contain history, but it will have mathematically accurate solid geometry on import. The order of preference is exactly as shown - I would always try to import Parasolid first, then try IGES, then STEP then ACIS. SolidWorks actually runs on the Parasolid kernel - this is the mathematical backbone of SolidWorks, therefore Parasolid is always going to be a preferred method of translation.

CAD Files:

Solid Edge

SolidWorks can import these directly from the native CAD format. This can have varying degrees of success, depending on the complexity of the source. Some of these formats will allow you to import full history and some will not. For example, Pro/E files will import and give you the choice of wether or not you want to try to rebuild the model so it will have an intelligent feature history, or import just a dummy solid. In order to import Inventor files, Inventor requires you to have the Inventor viewer or a license of Inventor installed on the same machine to convert the geometry properly.

Special Files:

VDAFS (.vda)
CATIA Graphics
Point Cloud

So these are all the formats that didn't fit nicely into the other groups.  VDAFS is a 3D solid translator, but it is not really in use today. It was a German automotive data translation standard that stands for “Vereinung Deutsche Automobilindustrie Flächen Schnittstelle” which translates to “organization of the automotive industry - surface translation format”. It became DIN standard in 1986, but it was replaced by STEP format in the 90s. Today, this is a very rare file format.

CATIA Graphics are purely graphical information. It's not a format you see in use often. If you need to import CATIA files into SolidWorks, you can use ACIS as a translation method, but you lose a lot of accuracy and there are room for feature errors doing this. There is a CATIA v5 translator for SolidWorks that you can get as an add-in which will allow translation between the two, and it does a nice job of importing CATIA files directly.

Rhino files are surface models, and SolidWorks imports the surface geometry nicely from Rhino.

IDF, EMN, and BRD are all circuit board files from electrical engineering software. These can be imported as a block with SolidWorks and used to see the size of a circuit board. If you want to bring in a much more complex circuit board, you can use CircuitWorks (included with SolidWorks Premium), and this will import an entire board and propagate all of the components on the board.

Working with Point Cloud files requires ScanTo3D, and this will allow you to import all of your typical point cloud formats like .xyz, .txt, .asc, and also mesh files like .nzip, .nxm, .scn, etc.

You can also import IFC files, which are files used to communicate with BIM software. You can save files out for programs like Revit or other architectural CAD, and also set options like OmniClass.

Now that we know the basics of all the different file types, we'll discuss importing in the next post.

Installing SolidWorks Electrical 2014 via Admin Image


Post By Tim Pulaski

The release of Solidworks 2014 saw the addition of two previously separate software packages to the Solidworks installation disk – SolidWorks Composer and SolidWorks Electrical. This is a much welcomed improvement over the 2013 release, allowing you to access your “tools of the trade” from one toolbox rather than from many. This also allows savvy administrators the option of installing these products to their clients via Admin Image. The question is: Now that I can, how do I install SolidWorks Electrical via Admin Image?

To understand how to accomplish this, we must first understand how SolidWorks Electrical works. SolidWorks Electrical operates from a SQL server database which allows for the management of your electrical projects, as well as serving as the central hub for your multi-user environment. This database is typically shared amongst users, meaning there need only be one.

SolidWorks Electrical has two groups of installation components – client software (SW Electrical interface) and server software (SQL server & collaborative server). Only the client software may be installed via Admin Image, which will also include where to look for the server software components. The server components must be installed before pushing out your image, otherwise it will fail to find the server and thus fail to install Electrical! So how do we do this?

Install Solidworks electrical

Pop your installation disk (or downloaded media) into the machine you will designate as your Electrical Server. (Your users must be able to communicate with this machine via network) On the first window of the installation manager, select “Server Products” to expose the option to install the SolidWorks Electrical server software (called “share data”). It is recommended that your Electrical Options be left to the defaults, only making modifications if necessary. Once the server software installation completes, just ensure your admin image is set to point the clients to the right machine and the installation should then complete without a hitch!

Why Companies Migrate to Enterprise PDM from Workgroup PDM?



Posted by Gabe Enright

Now that I spend a lot of time talking with companies about how they will manage their SolidWorks Product Data I am often asked questions about the PDM solutions offered by SolidWorks.  People often want to start with Workgroup PDM and figure they will grow into EPDM later.  I personally feel the EPDM is the way to go for any company that wants to manage their CAD data and share a few points about Workgroup that gets them thinking.  These are the main five points I share.  There are many more.

 5 Reasons Companies Migrate away from Workgroup PDM  

1. NO Enhancements    

While Workgroup continues to be updated to be compatible with each release of SolidWorks, it has had little functionality added.  The last release that had significant enhancement was SolidWorks 2007.  That's 8 years ago!  There has been one true enhancement since then and it was added in SolidWorks 2008.   

When reading the shortcomings in the next four points recall the words of a revered (or reviled depending on your location) New England sports figure, It is what it is”

2. Unique Names

Every file in a Workgroup vault must have a unique name.  You can't have two parts called Bracket or two Assemblies called "Initial Concept" even if they are in different folders.  In theory this is a good practice, however users find it restrictive and will work outside the system to get around it. 

Taking this a step further, folder names also must be unique.  If you have folders for projects and like to organize  them with subfolders, like "Artwork", "Customer Requirements“ or "Schematics" you have to make those names unique as well.  This is cumbersome and often times even more restrictive than file names.  

3. Not good for managing non-SolidWorks files

 Workgroup was designed to manage SolidWorks files (Parts, Assemblies, and Drawings.)  Any other file that a user would like to manage must be done with SolidWorks Explorer.  You can either Drag and Drop those files into the vault, One at a time Only, or add them in a process that is a lot more like uploading a file to a website.  Getting them out and changing them is similarly tedious.  

4. Every change makes a Revision 

Every time you check in a file to the vault, Workgroup is going to file it as a new Revision.  There are workarounds but in the end most avoid checking in their work until they absolutely have to, which is dangerous.

5. Limited Workflow capability

Workgroup has the ability to set up ONE limited Workflow.  This presents two key limitations

•First because it only has one lifecycle, all files must follow the same set of rules.  Many companies have different rules for different departments.  Manufacturing and Tooling will have more freedom than the Product Development groups.  Everyone using a Workgroup Vault has to follow the same rules and those rules apply to all file types.
•Second the Workflow capability is limited and not robust.  Companies have to adapt their procedures to the Workgroup limitations.

Because of these two limitations most companies never even turn on the Lifecycle module in Workgroup.

If you'd like to learn more about PDM we are running a series of webinars in February.  

 Follow thelink to register for one or all three.  Click HERE

Rebuild Solidworks Workgroup Vault


Hopefully you haven’t noticed this because you made the move to SolidWorks Enterprise PDM.  But, recently a change from last year was brought to mind.  In Workgroup 2013, the Rebuid Vault button was moved.  This button moved to the Vault Management tab – a brand new tab.

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But why even rebuild a Workgroup vault?  To quote SolidWorks, “… (the) tool lets you rebuild vault metadata from key base files.”  In case you’re like me and find that answer less than helpful, let me continue.    Once the metadata is rebuilt, that may improve the startup time of the vault and may also improve general performance.

rebuild2 resized 600

That’s good, but that’s not generally why we ask Customers to rebuild.  The rebuild is used to repair metadata errors that may have occurred since rebuilding will recreate the base files. Sometimes, Workgroup "loses its mind" and a rebuild settles things down.  So, maybe add this process to your regular system maintenance and rebuild occasionally.

Of course, before rebuilding a vault, always create a backup.

Sketch Picture Scaling: New in SolidWorks 2014


Post By Wayne White

New in 2014

SolidWorks Sketch Picture; A nice and convenient new feature coming your way is sketch picture scaling. Relative to other geometry, in this case the overall length of the body, we can instantly resize the sketch picture, a nice and welcome addition.


SolidWorks Split Line


Post By Wayne White

Understanding SPLIT FACE in SolidWorks 2014 can unlock a lot of potential within the software that you never knew existed. In this example, I downloaded a beautiful butterfly from GRABCAD. In this example, we want to use split line to afford us the opportunity to better control the rendering.

SolidWorks Split Line

I cannot overstress the importance of becoming familiar with websites like GrabCad and 3DContent Central. These sites have free and elaborate models. Why waste the time to model that pneumatic cylinder or office background for that nice Photoview rendering?

Recommendations aside, this quick example shows the wing area as 2 unique colors. How was this done?


The author created a 2d sketch, like this on the face of the wing. I want to be clear- this is not necessary. Why? You can split faces (non-planar or planar) at the virtual intersections of the sketch and the face. If you imagine taking the sketch and extruding it as a surface to infinity in both directions, wherever that surface intersects with the surface of your selection is what you’re left with for split.

Here we see the command. For the selections, use the 2d sketch and the face for it to split.


For this example, rendering capabilities become clear.  But, split line is great for many things.  Mold makers can use it to create split line for molds.  Split lines can be used to control simulation studies.  Split lines are useful for consumer product design to control continuity between interfacing surfaces and get those smooth, ergonomic surfaces we want in our products.  The examples go on and on.

Become familiar with SPLIT LINE- it’s powerful.

SolidWorks Decals


Post by Wayne White

As promised, we're addressing the top 10 list of Customer support requests.  First up is decals.


In this example, we want to put the TIDE logo on the front of the bottle. The first thing I do is grab an out of the box decal; this is a placeholder.


I choose the appropriate JPG or BMP, etc. This file came in at 27 kilobytes. This is SMALL. And, this is why it’s a great example. The file size can dictate what can be done with the file. Our expectations should not be terribly high here. Typically, I would like to see a few hundred kilobytes at least. No different here from the common expression…you get what you pay for. I mean that in relation to file size.


You can then save the decal as its own extension so it can be applied “at will” without going through this conversion process.


The masking is what we need to obviously change here- 4 options as detailed in the image. Most basic is NO MASK.


Below we see if we choose selective color mask- assign white as the mask or the area we want to see through. Obviously the price of the 27 kilobyte file…not very good masking.


Where to go from here?  Well, you may pay for image editing software, of course.  But GIMP is free…just saying - there’s no reason your decals should look bad!


SolidWorks Top 10 Support Requests


topten3 resized 600We received a request from a Customer via a comment on one of these blog posts (we're listening - give us a shout!) to present a list of our most frequent support requests and the solutions.  So, we're working on that.  So far we have 13 in our Top 10 (exceeding expectations!).

We're working on the posts and will present them in the upcoming weeks.  Stay tuned!

Here's the list in no particular order:describe the image

  1. Why are my dimensions gray (in a drawing)?
  2. Configuration Options (e.g.: suppress new features).
  3. * in a balloon.
  4. The wrong part is in the assembly.
  5. SolidWorks installation issues.
  6. SolidWorks activation issues.
  7. How to install and configure the SNL server.
  8. Supported versions/Operating systems/Hardware requirements.
  9. Change units.
  10. Sheet format vs drawing template.
  11. How to model a spring.
  12. How to apply a decal.
  13. How to use the split face command.
I'll admit, I'm a little hurt by number 10 - it's already a blog post -

Drawing Sheet Blog Post

Missing Sheet Format

 - which means this blog isn't nearly as popular as I imagine it!
So now we're down to 12 on our top 10 list.  Check back Tuesday.

Replace Model in SolidWorks Drawings


Post By John Hall

Probably one of my favorite new features in SolidWorks 2014 is the Replace Model feature in SolidWorks Drawings. While you could replace the references of a drawing in previous releases, you didn't have a lot of control over this, and it wasn't an easy automated process.

replace model 3 resized 600

In SolidWorks 2014, you can now easily swap out any view (or views) of a model inside a drawing. This is a really great new tool, because you can easily swap out a drawing's model reference, and watch the entire drawing update with the new model. You can swap out parts and assemblies on the fly, and the software will actually reattach dimensions, sections, and detail views to the new referenced model, so long as the dimensions are to the same entities.

describe the imageTo use it, simply click the Replace Model button, then pick what view or views that you want to swap the referenced model from. Then, just browse to the file that you're replacing it with. Just like that, the drawing updates to match the new reference.

describe the image

This should make a  lot of drawing creation much easier, because just a quick replace of the views will allow you to swap in or out any model that you want.

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