Quick ‘Heads Up’ to Shapeways users

Posted on March 23rd, 2009. Posted In Software Review

Shapeways, the first online consumer co-creation community is proud to announce a great opportunity for all its community members as well as to anyone that is interested in doing 3D printing. One of the most important promises that Shapeways made when they first launched last year was to make 3D printing affordable to everyone. They’ve followed on their promise, offering all their different kinds of materials at unprecedented prices. Today Shapeways is proud to announce today that their most popular material, White, Strong and Flexible is now 10% cheaper. This is not a temporary discount but a permanent discount!

By lowering the price of it’s best selling material, Shapeways is delivering on its promise to make next-gen products available to everyone and allowing anyone to experience how unique personalized production is. As demand for materials increase, Shapeways will continue to bring the highest quality and the lowest prices to consumers.


When was the last time you meandered over to 3D ContentCentral®? Have you ever been there? Whenever people jump onto one of the forums looking for a model, 3D ContentCentral is where they’re inevitably sent. Why? Because there’s over 500,000 CAD users registered. If each of them has contributed just 2 models, that’s a million models to choose from. Granted, not everyone contributes. But there are prolific posters, as well. Per Nielson has contributed a total of 306 parts since he joined. It goes beyond individual users though. The list of supplier created content is quite impressive as well. Did I mention that there are 2D blocks and macros available as well?

One of the best things about 3DContentCentral is that it’s not just for us SolidWorks users. The models are available in all major 2D and 3D CAD formats, including  Autodesk Inventor and AutoCAD®. This allows for sharing across industries and, in some cases, companies. Dassault Systèmes has also added self-publishing to the site making it easier for suppliers to upload their parts and assemblies without the use of third-party applications. This means even more content for you!

With the popularity of social networks (Facebook, Twitter), Dassault has added social networking to 3D ContentCentral as well. You can build communities to share experiences and knowledge. Some of the key features, as described by Dassault, are:

  • “My Updates”: Automatically keeps users up to date on everyone in their community of contacts. For example, it notifies a user when a contact uploads a new 3D model, or contributes a comment to an online discussion.
  • Favorites: Lets users track specified users and parts catalogs without inviting them to become a contact.
  • Rate and Comment: Enables users to collaboratively evaluate model quality and share their experiences with one another.
  • Requesting: Gives users a direct channel to suppliers so they can ask for modifications and new designs.
  • Maps to Suppliers: Google Maps integration in the search options helps users find the nearest component suppliers and OEMs.
  • Advanced Search Tools: Helps users find content more efficiently using guided navigation.

Even with all the new features that Dassault has implemented, the best part about it is you don’t have to rebuild the wheel, as it were. If it’s an off-the-shelf item, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to find it at 3D ContentCentral.

Like talking to yourself? Try Xpresso

Posted on March 17th, 2009. Posted In Software Review


Do you enjoy talking to yourself? Are you like me and find that it’s the only way to have an intelligent conversation? On top of all of that, do you use SolidWorks? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, Xpresso may just be your cup of tea. Xpresso…cup of tea. Ok, c’mon, that was a little funny, right? Xpresso is voice recognition software for SolidWorks. That’s right, now you have a good excuse to annoy your cubicle-mate. You’ll actually be working while talking!

Voice recognition has been in development for 30 years by various groups and, honestly, it’s still in need of some work. After installing Xpresso, you need to activate the add-in and then set up a profile. As simple as it sounds, it was a daunting task for me. I suspect it was a combination of my less than excellent microphone, coupled with my slight accent. Whatever the case may be, it took me 20 minutes to get through the profile setup. You simply read the phrases and as you do, the words highlight so you know the software is recognizing what you’re saying. (A side note: I’d love to see Ricky or Brian use this with their southern drawls. Their hard drives would probably freeze up.) While it’s a necessary step to being able to use Xpresso, it goes to prove that voice recognition still needs some work.

Here’s where the fun begins. Assuming you’ve plugged in your microphone and done the profile set-up, simply saying “start listening” nudges Xpresso into action. You now have a slew of commands to work with. Like SolidWorks, only the commands that are available during any process will be active. All told, there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 commands total. Everything from ‘sketch’ (which creates a new sketch) to ‘Angstroms’ (changes the units to Angstroms). You can open up any of your active add-ins, save what you’re working on or any other command you’d normally click on. You can see the complete list of available commands here.

You can change the commands lines as well. Instead of “start listening”, maybe you want to say “wake up”. You can edit the command text to do just that.  Remember, it’s voice recognition. Make Xpresso your own.

Here’s the fly in the ointment, for me at least. Unless you have a really good microphone, aren’t self-conscious, or just don’t give a damn, you’re going to end up feeling foolish talking to yourself. Granted, if you work alone it wouldn’t be a big deal and you’ll see a modest increase in productivity. However, if you’re in a room full of other people, someone is going to end up shooting paperclips at you.

I think Xpresso is pretty cool technology. I’m just not overly convinced of its usefulness in a room full of people.

The SolidWorks World 2009 Proceedings site is now up and running. You can see pics of SWW, videos of SWW, download podcasts and (drum roll, please) you can even download videos of the breakout sessions! Kind of like being there without all the walking.

The site is easy to navigate and chock full of great information. While it doesn’t fully replace actually attending (I mean nothing compares to getting your geek on with 4000+ other geeks), it will at least let you see what you missed. Plus, for those of you that did attend, you can now check out those sessions that you missed. Just click here and get your geek on!

Windsave – Helping Homeowners Go Green

Posted on March 11th, 2009. Posted In SolidWorks Community

But not with envy.

Windsave®­, a Scottish company founded in 2002, is helping homeowners and small business in the U.K. cut their energy costs by up to 30%. Their micro-wind turbine systems are designed with SolidWorks and SolidWorks Simulation Professional.

An exerpt from a SolidWorks press release (found here):

  • Founded in 2002 in Glasgow, Windsave is the largest micro wind turbine installer in the U.K and at the forefront of a movement to bring green energy choices to consumers.
  • The micro wind turbine stands just over three meters (nearly 10 feet) tall with a bladespan of 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) and is attached to a building.
  • As wind spins the blades, the turbine generates electricity that supplements the incoming electricity from the grid, reducing the amount the customer has to pay for, and decreasing overall carbon emissions.
  • Windsave has reduced the number of prototypes to test new products or features from four to one, saving up to £3,000 ($4,400), using SolidWorks and SolidWorks Simulation.
  • The company has also reduced the prototype production and testing process from eight weeks to two.
  • As the company expands sales internationally in 2009, Lumsdaine and his team will explore the possibility of mounting smaller versions of the micro turbines on street lights so municipalities can cut energy costs.
  • The Global Wind Energy Council predicts that the global wind market will grow by over 155 percent to reach 240 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity by 2012.
  • The amount of wind energy produced globally will represent nearly three percent of global electricity consumption by 2012, according to a Global Wind Energy Council report.
  • More than one third of European Union electricity must come from renewable resources by 2020, according to the recently signed Renewable Energy Directive. Wind power will account for most of that renewable energy.

I’d like to see these things popping up on this side of the pond…

At SolidWorks World 2009, Jeff Ray talked about an Engineering Stimulus Plan. Naturally, with the economy tanking, there were quite a few people interested in what it was about. Through bribes, torture and blackmail, I was able to find out some of the pertinent points.

The idea is to help displaced engineers and designers sharpen their skills in order to make them more employable. How is this going to be done? The plan is three phased.

First, free downloads of SolidWorks 2009 standard. (Yes, it’s the Student Design Kit.) For the time being, it will only the English version and only available in the U.S. and Canada. Details are still being worked out on overseas plans. The downloads are expected to start in April 2009 and will have a 90-day life.

Two, currently it will be mostly self training via the tutorials and more video content. SolidWorks is asking their VARs to step up and help in this area (think Fisher/Unitech’s ‘No Engineer Left Behind’). While 1/2 day hands-on test drives are more than likely, SolidWorks would like to see their VARs offer unemployed engineers empty seats in essentials classes. It will be interesting to see how many of them actually step up and do it. Most state governments, as well as the Feds, offer re-training grants, so hopefully that will help to motivate the VARs.

The third phase involves offering discounted CSWA exams, and by discounted I hope they mean free, as well as a job portal.

As I understand it, this will all be triggered by a survey due out in mid-March. As soon as I know, I’ll pass on the information.

Most of this information will be available at SolidWorks’ website in a short amount of time. There are lingering questions, though. How will they determine if someone is actually unemployed is the first thing that comes to mind. When will our overseas brethren see the program? How many VARs will actually step up to the plate? What can we, as a community, do to help this succeed?

While I think that this is a great idea, its success will lie in the motivation of the individual to learn and the willingness of VARs to help out. Now would be a good time for them to truly put meaning behind Value Added Reseller.

SolidWorks in your Bathroom

Posted on March 9th, 2009. Posted In SolidWorks Community

DECOLAV® is working to change the landscape of your bathroom via SolidWorks. Based out of Deerfield Beach, Florida, DECOLAV uses SolidWorks and PDMWorks Enterprise to bring their unique designs to the marketplace. Whether it is for residential, or the hospitality industry, they’re coming up with some pretty cool looking designs.

You can check out the press release here, or go here to check out DECOLAV’s collections.

SolidWorks Help Files

Posted on March 4th, 2009. Posted In SolidWorks Community

More often than not, I don’t dog SolidWorks. It’s my bread and butter. Honestly, were it not for SolidWorks, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But, ugh, the help files. This is a sore subject for many SolidWorks users, and for good reason. Truth be told, the help files are lacking in many areas. It looks pretty complete, doesn’t it? Lots of areas are, apparently, covered.


Take a closer look, though:


Maybe it’s just me, but the FAQ section looks pretty sparse. Only mates and sketch relations? Seriously? What about settings information? This is a question I see on the forums all the time. I’m sure that something could be worked out with Ben and the FAQ section on solidmentor.com.

Skipping down, let’s look at the help section on templates.


Here’s the problem: It only skims the surface. It tells you the very basics of creating a template, but doesn’t mention anything about setting your system options so that the templates you create are the ones that SolidWorks uses. The blurb about drawing templates doesn’t even mention saving your sheet format. It is, as Mr. Lombard would say, half-baked. There are sections that are pretty complete, but then others that seem to have been dropped between the washer and dryer and forgotten about. I’d have to say, too, that if it’s an add-in it should get a mention in the help section (i.e. DriveWorksXpress).

I think my biggest problem with the help files is all the hyperlinks. Let’s say you want to find out about sub-assemblies, so you use the index and bring up the sub-assembly section. As you’re reading, you see a link to ‘insert a new, empty sub-assembly’. Then, while reading that you see a link to ‘virtual components’. Then you see…well, you get the idea.

Here’s the thing, how do you solve it? What can SolidWorks do to make the help files more helpful? This, my dear reader, is the $25,000 question. I don’t know that you can get away from the rat-hole that is hyperlinks. It needs to be easily updateable. Do you make it an online/wikipedia thing? Something that is ever changing? How would you go about protecting it?

This is one of those conversations that I could go on and on having. Most everyone agrees that the help files need help, including some at SolidWorks. Does this mean we’ll see a change in the help files? One can only hope.

Once again, I’ve stumbled across something that caused me to come to a screeching halt and write a quick post.

Check this out. This, in my opinion, is friggin’ cool:


Do you see that? SolidProfessor right there in your Task Pane. Don’t know how to create an extruded cut? Type it into the search field and, voila!, you have a video right there to watch. I went digging around on SolidProfessors website, looking for the info regarding this gem. All I found was a little blurb under “Key Features” on this page. It seems to me that this is something that those guys should be shouting from the rooftops. At the very least, it should be displayed more prominently. This is going to make training for surfaces so much easier for me!

Yes, you have to have purchased SolidProfessor. As I’ve said before, though, I think SolidProfessor is worth the money. This nifty feature only underlines that sentiment.

I know, I know, I’m easily amused. I still think this is friggin’ cool though.

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