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By Chris McAndrew, January 17, 2013
Learning a new software system can be intimidating, and so when I was asked to compare my many years of SolidWorks experience to Solid Edge ST5, I did not expect to want to switch. I’ve been exposed to SolidWorks for seven years now in a variety of capacities: as university student, new employee, administrator, and as a hobbyist writing tutorials and articles for my blog at http://www.3dengr.com. Add it all up and these are a lot of hours spent learning one specific CAD system.
But I have always been curious about what else is out there. Given a chance to review Solid Edge, I jumped on it.
As part of my review, I was to get trained by part of the Solid Edge development team at a Siemens office in Waltham Mass. I had already kicked the tires with a demo version of Solid Edge. Siemens PLM Software has a 45-day trial version of Solid Edge downloadable from www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en_us/products/velocity/solidedge/free-solid-edge.shtml?stc=usiia421070. The 2GB download can take some time, but this is better than waiting for a disc to show up in the mail.
Once downloaded, I started to install the software, and found it was a breeze. All I had to do was click the items I wanted from the list of options (see figure 1).
|Figure 1: Solid Edge installation options|
But then I ran into a problem. When I tried loading the demo for the first time, it could not read the license file correctly. My contact at Siemens PLM said the problem was likely due to my use of Windows 8, which is not supported for ST5. Windows 8 has write restrictions on the "Program Files" folder, which is where software is installed by default. This means that a lot of the tutorial files (themselves a great asset in learning a new system), libraries, and system options end up in folders made inaccessible to Solid Edge by Windows 8. The solution was for me to uninstall the software, and then reinstall it to a different folder.
Though "ST5 is unsupported on Windows 8" is the official line for now, I found no other issues from running on this brand-new operating system. Soon, this will not be a problem, however, because Solid Edge ST6 slated for release in June, 2013 will fully support Windows 8. I would expect a similar result when running Solid Edge on other unsupported systems, such as Mac OS X through Boot Camp. As long as the hardware and the drivers are not significantly outdated, it seems everything is stable enough to run Solid Edge.
The quality of support, documentation, and resources for a high-end program should not be overlooked. After installing the software these were the first things I looked at, because I feel that every piece of software should be self-explanatory through included help files. A quality program typically has everything well-documented and shows examples.
Solid Edge does OK in this regard. The reason I rate the help "OK" is because everything is clearly written for technical engineers. If you’re looking to teach design principles to middle school students who need more help at the basic level, then there is better software out there. But for seasoned CAD users, the level of Solid Edge help is nothing new. Additional resources are available online; for instance, YouTube has a handful of useful videos.
Included in the basic installation is a help system that opens in a window to the side of the design area (see figure 2). It features step-by-step tutorials that work through a number of examples.
|Figure 2: Solid Edge help files adjacent to the design window|
One of the handy tools to which the Solid Edge trainer tipped me is the Prompt Bar (see figure 3). It provides in-context help and instructions. Depending on the function selected, the Prompt Bar displays an explanation of the tool, or detailed instructions on what to click (or select) to get the function working.
|Figure 3: Solid Edge Prompt Bar provides real-time help|
Beyond the Prompt Bar, the rest of the design window is straight forward, at least for experienced SolidWorks users. Indeed, at first glance I barely saw any difference in the tool bars as many of the icons are standard in the industry.
The backend of Solid Edge is built on the same Parasolid kernel as SolidWorks, and so performance was good for the brief time I played with. There were just one or two instances of some lag, but otherwise drawings, parts, and assemblies all opened quickly. The display was crisp, rotating a part was straight forward, and I have yet to crash the system entirely.
To give some context, here are the specifications of the computer on which I ran Solid Edge:
Functionally, everything about Solid Edge worked well for me. Managing the installation and getting up to speed on the basics was easy enough that it made me think that switching from one system to the other was for me entirely plausible.
Once I dug into more of it, however, it became obvious that Solid Edge has capabilities that are unique, such as the much touted Synchronous Technology. These differences will take me some getting used to, because in some instances Solid Edge requires a shift in thinking by SolidWorks users about design methods. I will cover this in the coming articles.
When it comes to installation, initial training, and performance, Solid Edge ST5 performs at the standard expected of a large established corporation like Siemens PLM Systems.
|Christopher McAndrew develops and markets toys and children's products. He has a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Tulane University. Chris writes the 3 Dimensional Engineer blog. More...|