Perhaps having “it’s your fault” in the title of the series wasn’t the way to go. I’ve, apparently, rubbed some people the wrong way. The point I was trying to make was that every crash or slowdown isn’t SolidWorks’ fault. There are numerous system or environmental variables that can also cause problems. Throughout the years, I’ve heard people piss and moan about their install not working properly only to find out it was a wrong driver, or a hardware conflict, or they were using a Commodore 64. People are quick to blame, less quick to take ownership of said blame.

I am not trying to say that SolidWorks is perfect; it’s not. And they (SolidWorks Corp) know it. By pure chance and luck, I have friends on the “inside” and talk to them about various issues whether they be mine or ones I come across in the various fora out there. These friends know that I prefer straight talk to bs and, I believe, tell it to me like it is. They are working on stability issues, but they can’t just focus on them. Like it or not, they need to stay ahead of, or at least even with, their competition when it comes to functionality. What I believe SolidWorks is trying to do is balance stability of existing functionality while adding additional functionality. Yes, they’ve dropped the ball in some areas, letting known bugs persist version after version. I know, I know, stability is key for many out there. I get it. I’ve had my share of stability issues. Look through my older posts and you’ll see I was having all sorts of problems with PDMWorks killing SolidWorks last year. Believe me, after 11 years as a user, I’ve seen my share of problems.

Look, all I’m trying to say is this: If you’re having problems with your install, don’t immediately assume that SolidWorks has a bug or glitch. A Windows automatic update, or some software that IT pushed out, could be the culprit. If you end up calling your VAR, don’t jump all over the AE. S/he just, in most cases, wants to help you out. To do so effectively, they’ll need as much info as possible. If you took your car to get repaired, telling your mechanic it goes “clunka-clunka-clunka” isn’t going to cut it; he’s going to need more info. The same holds true for the AE.

Once again I find myself ready to take off on a full-speed rant, but I’m going to rein it in. I’ll leave you with this last thought: People are imperfect and so is what they create.

CADFind, created by Applied Search Technology Ltd, is a recent addition to the SolidWorks’ Solution Partner family and a winner of Desktop Engineering’s 2009 Reader’s Choice Award. What makes CADFind so cool is that it not only will search through your 3D data, but your 2D data as well.

Let’s say you need model of a widget, and you know that Larry (the jerk who is presently vacationing in the Bahamas) already modeled one up, but you can’t find it because Larry just can’t seem to conform to the company’s naming convention. You can either remodel it (which, given Larry’s modeling abilities might not be a bad idea) or you can wait for Larry to return from vacation. Or, you can use CADFind. Just create a simple model, or sketch, that represents the general shape of Larry’s long-lost widget, click a button, and CADFind will find all the models and drawings that are similar to it. No need to know the name or part number, just the part’s general shape.

How does CADFind do it you ask? It codes the geometric properties of your models, assemblies and drawings (AST defines it as pre-processing) and creates a database of the information. Then, when you find yourself wishing all sorts of pain on Larry, you can create your sketch or model and let CADFind do the searching for you. Naturally, there is some front end work that would have to be done for all this magic to happen. This is where I started scratching my head. While the copy I got came with its own catalog of parts, I wanted to test with my own. I could easily upload a part, but not multiple parts. After digging around, I finally emailed CADFind so they could point me in the right direction. Turns out that the right direction is to send them your your parts/assemblies/drawings and they’ll create the catalog for you. I know, I was a bit taken back by this so I sent off another email to find out why a customer, with thousands of files, would have to undertake such a tedious process. Here is the response I received:

You are correct that uploading or forwarding thousands of part files to us can be a tedious process but it is always the case that setting up the system properly will take effort and organisation.  Of course it is possible for us to create the catalogues on a company’s own computers if they prefer – we can do it either in person or using remote access.  If we manage this process then it allows the company to contract for a fully operational system rather than just purchase an item of software.   As part of that process we normally run a series of performance acceptance tests, optimise/tailor the code to the company’s product range and suggest a suitable catalogue structure.  Once these initial catalogues are setup the company then adds new or modified parts as their designers create them and we have no further direct involvement.

If someone was keen to create their own initial catalogues then we could supply a version of the system that does allow batch coding (as is standard for the 2D and GT versions) but we do warn people that our experience is that SolidWorks may hang periodically and unpredictably – the interval varies but the range lies between 400-2000 parts.  We have not been able to identify any obvious cause for this and the issue has been evident in all the versions since we began experimenting with the system in 2004.   This problem does not occur with our stand alone or 2D versions of CADFind when long runs of over 40,000 parts have been completed without difficulty.  We have also tested the catalogue capacity to over 200,000 parts when the system performs normally, albeit with rather slower searches.

Even with that one (major) drawback, CADFind could prove invaluable to a company that is laden with decades of legacy data. After CADFind has processed and catalogued all those files, being able to find what you’re looking for won’t end up as a hair-loss situation. New employees would benefit greatly where their product knowledge would be lacking.

Personally, I actually liked it. While the searches seemed to occasionally bring up random parts, along with the pertinent ones, overall it’s pretty impressive. Had I had it back when I was with HySecurity, my life would have been much easier during the whole “2D to 3D conversion” phase we went through. Being able to search for a shape, versus what someone thought the part number was, would have been oh so much faster.

The actual title is SolidWorks Surfacing and Complex Shape Modeling Bible, but that was just too much to put in the title.  Written by Matt Lombard, this book is part of the “Bible” series published by Wiley. Matt also wrote the SolidWorks 2007 Bible and is about to release the SolidWorks 2009 Bible.

On top of being a published author, Matt is also an accomplished engineer and a friend of mine (not that being a friend of mine is worth anything). That will have no affect on this review though. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t pull punches. However, anyone who knows Matt knows he’s good at what he does and he doesn’t do things half-assed. The Surfacing Bible is no exception. Matt takes the time to not only explain the “how”, but the “why” as well. For someone like me, who has limited surfacing experience, this info in invaluable. As with his other books, this one is for intermediate to advanced users. You do need to have a pretty good understanding of SolidWorks, and its related terminology, to be able to adequately use the book.

The book takes you from laying the groundwork to specialized techniques. There’s a great section that explains what surfaces are that then seques into when to use them versus solids. There’s a whole chapter on surfacing tools and how to use them, too. Throughout the book there are cross-reference links so you can easily find associated content. Matt also includes some excellent information on splines and 3D sketching.

One of the best features of the book, aside from the learning, is how Matt talks about limitations with the software and how to deal with said limitations. Bear in mind, this isn’t done maliciously but to help. It goes a long way to making your job easier to know what to expect, and not to expect, from the software.

The actual “lesson” chapters are clear, organized and easy to understand. Matt takes the time to not only show you how, but tells you why and mentions other ways this or that could have been accomplished. The illustrations are easy to understand, as is each step. There’s a chapter on evaluation geometry that covers all the various tools available to check your model (the check tool, curvature combs, etc).

As I’ve come to expect from Matt, this book is extremely thorough, even diving into post-processing (PhotoWorks, eDrawings). While I would have preferred a CD with the model files on it, a decision was made for a “Companion Website”. I suppose, though, that by doing it that way it allows for changes/fixes to be made to any files that may need it. I could actually write more about this book, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Matt’s knowledge of surfacing is well-known and he, seemingly, has put it all into the SolidWorks Surfacing and Complex Shape Modeling Bible. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly suggest you buy one today.

This week, let’s talk about your PC. There are things you can do, and should do, to help keep your PC running smoothly. Hopefully, a lot of this will be old news for many of you.

Keep your hard drive clean. Clean out your temp directories and defrag monthly. I like to use ccleaner to take care of my temp directories. It’ll get rid of all those unneeded files as well as  clearing out unused registry files, cookies and other memory fluff. I know that there are other products out there, so feel free to add your favorite in the comments section.

Speaking of hard drives, don’t skimp on size; not that that is easy to do these days. As with so many things PC-related, bigger is better. Even with that super-mega-sized hard drive, be sure to not let it get too full. The more free space the better. The more crap that’s on there is the more crap that has to be gone through to find what you’re looking for. That equals slowdown.

I know that I’m as guilty as the next for repeating this but, don’t go cheap on RAM! SolidWorks still says that the bare minimum required is 512MB, unless you’re using ’09. Not. RAM is cheap, people, so don’t go cheap! You can get 4GB of RAM for ~$60 on newegg. There’s no excuse for not doing it, unless your PC just can’t take that much which brings up a whole new set of questions. For those of you using 32-bit machines, you can still benefit from 4GB of RAM by enabling the /3GB switch. This involves editing your boot.ini file. Google “3GB switch”, you’ll find plenty of info out there. I’d rather not disseminate the instructions. The last thing I need is to mistype something and have someone email death threats because they can’t get their computer to boot up.

Be nice to your computer. Turn it off when you’re not using it; it saves energy and releases memory. Make sure you keep all your drivers up-to-date, both for hardware and software. Stay away from “semi-professional” software. They can overwrite or delete files you need as well as cause driver conflicts.

Just a short post this week. Have a great weekend and GO SOX!

When 3DConnexions’s SpacePilot PRO came out, I, like so many others, jumped on the bandwagon and regurgitated the info from 3DConnexion’s marketing people. I then received a physical specimen to try out and ended up writing an open letter to SolidWorks and 3DConnexion because the drivers were messed up. My settings weren’t being saved, preset buttons weren’t working. Calls to tech support were useless. Were it not for the fact that there were others having the same issues, I’d have figured it was just me. I was extremely disappointed in 3DConnexion, and I’ve been a fan for years.

Well, that’s all in the past now. 3DConnexion updated their drivers and not only fixed the issues, but they made improvements, too. Previously, the LCD screen would just show a list of commands by number. This wasn’t very helpful, especially while getting used to the new set-up. With 10 different commands available via the five buttons, you had to know that the function assigned to #6 was the secondary function under button 1 (1/6, 2/7, 3/8, 4/9, 5/10). For me, it wasn’t overly intuitive. That, though, could just be a mental limitation on my part…
Back to my point. The new driver changed the visual to this:

spacepilotpro

As you can easily see, the interface is much more intuitive. Props to the folks at 3DConnexion for hitting the nail on the head there. I believe I mentioned that I was having the same sort of settings issues with my SpacePilot. While I haven’t had a chance to check it, I suspect this latest driver version would fix them, too. Both the SpacePilot and the SpacePilot PRO use the same driver.

I like the look and feel of the SpacePilot PRO. I always had issues with the 6 buttons that run across the top of the SpacePilot. I just didn’t like the layout. This didn’t stop me from using them, but I found myself stumbling once in a while. With the positioning of the buttons on the SpacePilot PRO, this doesn’t happen. Once I was able to remember what function I’d programmed to what button, I was able to find the button with my pinky quite quickly. The same holds true for the view buttons. By having my ‘S’ key macro mapped to the SpacePilot PRO, and having the shortcut bar set up the way I want it, my hand hardly ever has to leave the SpacePilot PRO.

Aside from stumbling out of the gate with the bad drivers I’d say 3DConnexion has another success story on their hands, especially with how quickly they fixed the driver. Granted, at US$499, it’ll be out of reach for some, but if you can swing the cost I’d recommend it. Look around, you can sometimes get a demo device to give it a test drive.

Free SolidWorks Essentials Training

Posted on May 8th, 2009. Posted In SolidWorks Community

Yup, you read it right. Free Essentials training. Of course there are strings involved. In this case, you need to be a Washington state resident. More specifically, an out-of-work Washington state resident.

Tom Welch, account manager at Next Level Engineering Services, a SolidWorks VAR, wanted to do what he could to help out, ala Fisher/Unitech. Where Next Level is a newer VAR, something along the scale of No Engineer Left Behind wasn’t a possibility, so Tom contacted the state to see what could be done. Through his diligence, Next Level is an approved training center by the state of Washington. What does this mean to you? The state will pay for your Essentials training.

Here’s what you need to do. Go to www.careerbridge.wa.gov and type in SolidWorks in the ‘keyword’ box under ‘Quick Training search’. Next Level will be the only provider that pops up. Between the Essentials training, as well as the SolidWorks Stimulus Package, you’ll be well on your way to earning your CSWA and improving your resume.

Sal Lama, of SolidWorks, put up a post on the SolidWorks forums regarding backwards compatibility. Naturally, this is going to get people buzzing. I took the survey, though I think it’s like beating a dead horse. Customers have been asking for this functionality for years.

Why am I writing this post? Because the survey aggravated me. The first question asks why do I want the functionality? Frankly, this question is dumb. Many customers of SolidWorks have been asking for this for years. The ‘why’ isn’t important, the ‘want’ is. We want it. If it’s doable, then do it. Just having the survey implies that it is a possibility. Rather than spending time creating surveys to get info you should already know, how about determining once and for all if it is something that can be done? If so, then do it. Another question that was asked in the survey had to do with editing; something along the lines of “do you want to be able to edit the new version?” Duh. Everyone already knows you can export/import neutral file formats, Sal. Then jump through the hoop(s) that is FeatureWorks. There were other questions asking for input on why and how. Seriously? One would think you guys have heard it all by now.

If you can make it so I can save my 201x part as -08, -09, etc. please do it. If you can’t, then tell us and explain, succinctly, why. Just do us all a favor, ok? Quit teasing us.

I’m typing this up with, what may be, a broken thumb. As it turns out, it’s the thumb I use most on my spacebar, so it’s wreaking havoc not being able to use it. You never understand how much you depend on something until you can’t use it. I digress, again, though.

Today, we’re going to discuss installing SolidWorks. I was tempted to skip over it as it’s been discussed innumerable times in the forums, but what the hell. Nothing like a refresher course, right? There aren’t too many things to remember when it comes to installing SolidWorks, especially if it’s a  brand new, stand alone install. For those, it’s pretty much throw in the DVD and follow the prompts. You may want to change a default location here or there or, perhaps, not install something that’s included, but that’s about it. Ok, that may be over-simplifying it. There are still occurrences of Anti-virus software screwing things up, as well as other glitches, but those are all few and far between.

If it’s a networked seat, you’ll want to be sure that you know the name of the license server. You should also know the network location of Toolbox, because, if you’re using Toolbox in a multi-user environment, you have put it on the network, right? Right? Ideally, your CAD Administrator or IT department has set up an admin image and you won’t have to worry about any of this. If they haven’t, get them to do it. It’ll make life easier for everyone.

The fun stuff, now. You’ve got the newest version in your sweaty palms and you want to install it. Now. Do you need to keep the old version? If the answer is yes, you’ll want to set up a separate destination folder on your hard drive (C:\SolidWorks 20xx). You don’t want to be installing the newer version of Toolbox over the old one. It’ll cause you pain and agony, the likes of which you’ve never seen. (Could I be any more melodramatic today?) Many people run 2, 3 or even 4 versions of SolidWorks on their machines. More often than not, it’s to accomodate customer’s needs. Don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done. There will be the occasional hiccup running multiple versions, but you’ll be fine most of the time.

If you’re going to just be working with the newest version, there’s some recommended steps you’ll want to take. First, go to Start->All Programs->SolidWorks->SolidWorks 20xx->SolidWorks Tools->Copy Settings Wizard and run it. This will create a reg file of your settings so you don’t have to recreate the environment you’re used to. Do the usual add/remove program thing and get rid of SolidWorks. Open up Windows Explorer and do a search for SolidWorks. Be sure to include hidden files and folders. When SolidWorks installs, it dumps some stuff into C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Application Data, which is, generally, a hidden folder. You’ll want to delete any SolidWorks folders on your hard drive, except for ones you created to hold models/assemblies/drawings. Still with me? Good. Now, this next step is not for the faint of heart. If you’re uncomfortable messing around in your registry files, skip down to the next paragraph. Go to Start->Run and type in regedit then hit  ‘ok’. This will open up the registry editor. Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software and delete the any SolidWorks related folders. This may include eDrawings, Dassault Systemes, COSMOS, etc. Do the same in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE. You can also download a cleaning utility, such as ccleaner, to further check the registry and remove dangling .dlls. At this point, you can follow one of two paths. You can reboot or not reboot. I’ve heard various theories on both. Personally, I don’t reboot. More to the point, I tend to forget to reboot. Nonetheless, I haven’t had any issues by not rebooting. Go ahead and install SolidWorks.

If you created a registry file, run the copy settings wizard and select ‘Restore settings’. You should be all set now with a perfect, no issue install of SolidWorks. I’ll pause while you laugh…

The above info is, to the best of my knowledge, the best way to do a clean install of SolidWorks. Individual results may vary. Side effects may include swearing, keyboard hammering, pulsating forehead viens, burst blood vessels or heavy drinking.

Learning SolidWorks

Posted on May 1st, 2009. Posted In SolidWorks Community

I received an email today from someone wanting to know what I thought was the best SolidWorks training for your dollar; VAR training or something like SolidProfessor? He wanted to know, too, how I learned SolidWorks. I explained to him that I learned, in the beginning, through trial and error. Not a way I’d recommend.

His question got me to really thinking about what I thought was the best training for your money. When I started using SolidWorks, the company I was working for at the time wouldn’t pony up the money for “real” training. It wasn’t until a number of years later that I went to a VAR for some training. By that time, however, I didn’t get too much out of it. Since then, I’ve had the opportunities to experience a bit more VAR training (both as a student and teacher) as well as trying out myigetit.com and SolidProfessor. Here’s my take on things:

VAR training: It can be intense, especially for newbies. You’re in a room with a bunch of other users, all with varying abilities. The class has to move along at a certain pace so that all the material can be covered within the allotted time. For some it can be too slow, for others it can be (way) too fast. Prices can range from around $400 for a 1-2 day class to upwards of $1500 for a 4 day class.

Upside: You do have a live person to be able to ask questions of, which is nice. You also have your fellow students to lean on should you get stuck. You get to keep the manual and you get a certificate suitable for framing.

Downside: Being stuck in a training room for hours on end, trying to absorb a ton of info can be extremely trying. Brain overload isn’t uncommon. There were a few classes I taught where the students would come in Monday all jazzed to learn but by Thursday, were pounding the coffee and looking like they’d partied all night long. Once the class is over, you have a certificate and your manual, but no visual on how, exactly, the instructor created that widget in chapter 4.

Online/Video training: SolidProfessor and myigetit are the two most well known. Another up and comer that I’ve heard of is Inspirtech. I’ve tried out both SolidProfessor and myigetit, and liked them both, though it’s been a few years since I’ve seen what myigetit has to offer. SolidProfessor, however, has a rock-solid setup. Their interface is excellent and easy to navigate. (You can search for either on my blog to read my full reviews of them.) I haven’t had the opportunity to use Inspirtech. Prices can range from a low of $50 to about $850 per training package. Total cost depends on what package(s) you choose.

Upside: It’s self-paced. Take your time on stuff you don’t fully get, blaze through what you already know. You also get to keep revisiting your lessons (videos). Courses tend to be broken out a bit more than the VAR-offered courses.

Downside: If you have a question, the video won’t respond. However, there are plenty of online resources (blogs, forums, Twitter) from which to get the answer. There is something to be said for having a live instructor though.

Do-It-Yourself training: I wouldn’t recommend this. Sure, you can go through the tutorials and YouTube videos, but you’re bound to develop some bad habits and practices. At the very least, if you insist on going this route, buy a book or two. “SolidWorks for Dummies” is a real book, though I’m not sure when it was last updated. There’s the training books by the Planchard’s, Matt Lombard’s Bible series and Alex Ruiz’s upcoming book. Devon Sowell has a new PDM Book out, and Rob Rodriguez has his PhotoWorks training manuals. Prices will vary depending on what the DIY’er chooses to do.

My overall recommendation? Online/Video training(No, not YouTube). I think you get a lot more for your money. Which company to go with? That’s up to you. They all should have samples so you can decide for yourselves which format works for you.

My apologies to any VARs reading this. Some of you really rock, some…not so much.

Thanks to Andrew Paulson for prompting this post.

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