CAD Shoot-outFeature

Shoot-out Between Inventor and SolidWorks

by Elise Moss, President, Silicon Valley AutoCAD Power Users

August 2002

The gunslinger for Inventor was Kevin Schneider, an Autodesk Product Manager. The gunslinger for SolidWorks was Kym Dobson, a SolidWorks user and engineering manager. Kym has been using SolidWorks since 1995 and has trained his engineering department on SolidWorks. He is currently unemployed and looking to start his own consulting practice. Kevin has been using Inventor for about three years and has a mechanical engineering degree. 

The shoot-out was divided into six rounds. Each gunslinger had a laptop. Kevin was on a Dell laptop, with 1.2 Ghz CPU, 512 Mb RAM and an Nvidia graphics card with 32 MB RAM.  Kym was on a Toshiba Satellite laptop, with 1.2 Ghz CPU, 512 Mb, and an on-board graphics chipset.

Each gunslinger had their own projector and screen, so the audience could watch as they completed each round. A third screen showed the audience the round number and the target goal. 

There were approximately 100 people in the audience. About ten of them were Autodesk employees. About six were SolidWorks users who had come to see the shoot-out. The remainder were Autodesk mechanical users (either AutoCAD, MDT, or Inventor). 

Both gunslingers went into the contest “blind” without seeing the files they were going to work on. There was a physical model of the assembly for the gunslingers to examine and digital calipers available for them if they wanted to check a dimension. 

Round 1: Translating an AutoCAD 2D file to 3D geometry

Kevin (Inventor) took the top of the first round. (Whoever started the round, gave an advantage to the person who came next as they could get ideas on what to do for their turn.) Bringing in a 2D file from AutoCAD, he demonstrated how you could select which layers to import. He then added missing dimensions to the sketches (dimensions did not make it through the import process) and then used those dimensions to build up his 3D geometry. He was able to go from 2D to 3D in under 15 minutes.

Kym started by saying that he rarely imports from AutoCAD. He either creates geometry from hard copy or imports from 2D AutoCAD to a SolidWorks 2D drawing and then builds his 3D geometry from the SolidWorks 2D drawing. He admitted that the SolidWorks import dialog does not give users the option to select which layers to import, but it does provide a preview. He was able to go from 2D to 3D in 18 minutes.

Round 2: Creating an in-place component using reference geometry

The first round created the bottom part of a sheet metal package. In Round 2, the users were expected to create the top part using the bottom part’s reference geometry. Kym started Round 2. Instead of working in assembly mode and using in-place component tools, he opted to start out in a part file and window between the top part he was creating and the bottom part. He showed that it is really easy to copy sketches between files. He was unable to complete the part accurately and ended up stopping at an approximation after 20 minutes. 

Kevin started working in assembly mode and used reference geometry to create his top part. He completed the top part with good accuracy in eight minutes.

Round 3: Translate IGES

Kevin brought in the IGES file (a DB-sub connector from AMP) and turned it into a solid model in two minutes. The audience was so impressed; they asked him to repeat it for them three times. In response to an audience question, Kevin brought up the Solid Editing tools and showed how you could make the connector wider, change the size of the mounting holes, and build up parametric geometry from the imported solid model.

Kym was visibly blown away by Inventor’s performance. SolidWorks was able to translate the IGES in under two minutes.  While SolidWorks did not have the solid editing tools Inventor has, Kym showed how you could add parametric geometry and build up from the translated solid model.

Round 4: Assembly & Fasteners

Both gunslingers were provided five components modeled in their software: a PCB, a BNC connector, an RJ45 connector, a bi-level LED, and a DC9 power jack. The models were created based on manufacturer specifications. Several SolidWorks users in the audience commented that the SolidWorks models provided were superior to anything they would do and expressed an interest in being able to download them once they were available on the SVAPU website. The gunslingers were required to assemble the PCB, put it into the sheet metal packaging, and add four 2-56 countersunk screws using the fastener library.

Kym commented that this was an excellent exercise because you were required to use different types of assembly constraints to constrain each component, so it really gave users an opportunity to see the different methods allowed to constrain. He opted to create a single-level assembly from all the components, bringing them in one at a time with a dialog box. (He could have brought all the components in at once using Explorer and dragging and dropping.) SolidWorks had a lot more assembly constraint options, but the real challenge was mounting the DC9 power jack, which has slot tabs into round PCB holes. Kym ended up ignoring the jack’s contacts and relying on parallel and mate constraints between the PCB and the jack to position the jack. He spent twenty minutes and was unable to complete the full assembly.

Kevin set up the PCB and it’s components as a sub-assembly. He surmounted the DC9 slot tab problem by adding an axis at the mid-section of the slot and then aligning the axis to the hole. He was able to assembly the entire model in less than eight minutes.

Round 5: Creating an exploded view and animating

Kevin took the top of the round. He created a basic exploded view in less than five minutes using Inventor’s WYSIWYG interface. He further demonstrated how to group tweaks and re-order them. He then animated the entire process. 

Kym was unable to get the assembly to explode properly. He tried several different methods. SolidWorks is supposed to have a drag feature similar to Inventor’s, but the interface appeared a lot more complicated to use. 

Round 6: Engineering Change Order – Change the packaging.

In Round 6, the designers were asked to re-design the sheet metal parts to plastic parts with a more attractive body styling, using elliptical arcs. They were to build up using the existing geometry and then modify. This was a “speed round” as they had to complete the task in under ten minutes.  As way of introduction, Elise Moss explained how she modified the parts using elliptical arcs, a revolve and a shell, so that the gunslingers would have some direction.

Kym attempted to set up to do a loft, but was unable to create closed profiles using the reference geometry. He was unable to modify even one part completely in the time allotted. 

Kevin updated both parts easily using a revolve. He ran out of time before he could shell the top part, but the audience was easily able to see that the design was resolved. 

The judge was Betty Baugh, President of the Industrial Design Society of America. She said she was impressed with both software packages, and both gunslingers. She felt that Inventor had the better user interface and awarded Inventor the top gun trophy. Her score was Inventor 91, SolidWorks 80.

The audience was also provided tally sheets, so they could keep track of the rounds. One SolidWorks user gave Inventor 113, SolidWorks 83 and another gave Inventor 83, SolidWorks 62. Each round was judged for speed, ease, user interface, and errors.

Audience members felt that the shoot-out was a fair contest with realistic benchmark goals. A few attendees expressed regret that SolidWorks had decided not to participate as they thought it would have made a better shoot-out.

The files for the shoot-out will be posted on SVAPU’s website at, so users can try them out for themselves.

About the Author

Elise Moss has worked for the past twenty years as a mechanical designer in Silicon Valley, primarily creating sheet metal designs. She has written articles for Autodesk’s Toplines magazine and AUGI’s PaperSpace. She is President of Moss Designs, a Registered Autodesk Developer, creating custom applications and designs for corporate clients. She is also President of Silicon Valley AutoCAD Power Users, the largest AutoCAD user’s group in the United States. She has taught CAD classes at DeAnza College, Silicon Valley College, and for Autodesk resellers. She holds a baccalaureate degree from San Jose State.

Books by Elise Moss

  • Autodesk Inventor R4 Fundamentals: Conquering the Rubicon

  • Autodesk Inventor R4 Intermediate Level: Mastering the Rubicon

  • AutoCAD 2000i Mechanical Drafting for Beginners

  • Architectural Desktop R3.3 Fundamentals: Laying a Sound Foundation

Related Articles