In August 2003, SolidWorks Corporation plans to deliver the 12th major release of its popular CAD software. The new product has more than 250 new features and improvements.
The first things most customers will notice are the changes to the SolidWorks user interface. A separate panel called the “command manager” enables users to select the appropriate menus for each task instead of having them displayed all at once. Located at the top left corner of the display, the command manager is smart enough to hide toolbars that don’t make sense in a particular context. For example, when editing an assembly, the command manager hides the feature-creation toolbar, because part features can’t be edited until a part file is opened. The command manager can be customized to include the SolidWorks toolbars that each user wants to see. Experienced SolidWorks users who prefer the old style button bars can turn them on, suppressing the command manager.
A second big improvement is the integration of colors and materials. SolidWorks 2004 enables users to select the desired material of a part from a list that includes metals, plastics, wood, rubber, and glass. Autodesk Inventor has had this capability since release six, but SolidWorks takes it a step further. Selecting a part material applies not only the appropriate hues, but also physical properties such as density, elastic modulus, Poisson’s ratio, and yield strength to the part properties file. These physical properties can be read by analysis applications, such as CosmosWorks, so that analysts need not re-enter information in order to calculate stresses and deflections. The materials library does not include thermal properties, such as conductivity or specific heat.
Designers specify physical properties by selecting a new item in the SolidWorks feature-manager tree called “material” and pressing the right mouse button. A property panel opens to enable designers to choose or change a particular material. In the current prerelease version of SolidWorks, the available materials are limited. Engineers can add their own material specifications to the library.
Throughout SolidWorks, the property panels introduced with SolidWorks 2001 have been reorganized in subtle ways to make them clearer. The SolidWorks 2004 user interface also includes Microsoft’s large, cartoon-like tool tips, but users can turn them off if they can’t stand them.
As described in the January 2003 article “Real materials on display,” SolidWorks 2004 is the first mechanical CAD system to support the dynamic shading capabilities of Nvidia’s FX graphics processors. SolidWorks calls this function real view and it’s activated from a button with a shiny round ball on it.
Real view makes glossy products appear more realistic and will certainly help engineers impress bosses, clients, and customers. However, when actually designing products, reflected highlights are distracting.
SolidWorks 2004 doesn’t take advantage of all the capabilities of Nvidia’s dynamic shading. For instance, Nvidia representatives give a demonstration that turns a shiny Chevy truck into a rusted hulk simply by manipulating how light is reflected from its surface. SolidWorks 2004 doesn’t employ this capability, so it isn’t able to make part textures appear rough, dirty, or corroded. Consequently, materials such as structural steel or cast metal look too polished when displayed with real view.