Every craftsman has his favorite tools and, aside from the fact that I’m no craftsman, I have mine.

First up is my SpacePilot Pro from 3DConnexion. I absolutely love how little I have to use my mouse and the amount of control I have when moving my model around. The there’s the ability to map commands to the buttons at my fingertips, the view buttons that provide me with all 8 standard view quickly and just how cool it looks next to my keyboard. If you have one, you know what I mean. If you don’t, you should look into getting one. If you don’t know what one is, click on the link. 

Next is the ‘Width’ mate. Located under the Advanced Mates drop down, the width mate is my favorite one.  There’s just something so simple about it. What some don’t know: without activating the mate tool, ctrl+select the four faces you need then select mate from the heads up display. The width mate is automatically applied.

The hole wizard is next on my list. I like that I don’t have to figure out drill sizes for tapped holes. I like that I can create multiple holes with just sketch points. I like that I can then use the hole callout tool in drawings and all the info needed pops right in.

Next comes the newest tool in my tool kit, the heads up mate tool. It just makes mating easier (insert childish giggle here).

These are my favorites, what are yours?


April 8, 2014 · Posted in Software Review, SolidWorks Community  

I’ve often heard people ask about SolidWorks training and what the best path is: VAR, self-learning, technical school, online or on-the-job. They all have their pros and cons, but I’m not going to debate them here, again. I’ve said many times that I think online training is the way to go, and I firmly believe that. However, should you want to hire me to provide you with some customized training…

Anyway, I’ve spoken with the folks over at Infinite Skills a few times about my doing some training videos for them, but it’s never quite worked out, usually do to my schedule. That being said, they did ask me to check out their offerings and weigh in with my opinion, which is the ultimate reason for this post. I’ve spent a few hours this morning looking around and watching some of their videos to get a feel for how things are. For their newer SolidWorks videos, Infinite Skills recruited a couple of CSWEs, Matthew Perez and Dean Kerste, to create them. Matt Lombard and Alex Ruiz worked on earlier videos. One can’t really argue with the credentials of any of these authors, so let’s talk about the meat of the videos.

Infinite Skills has over 23,000 videos covering everything from Microsoft Office to 3D to programming and everything in between. For those wanting to learn about SolidWorks, they have 11 video series for a total of 723 lessons. A fairly impressive amount, dating back to SolidWorks 2011, including videos on advanced topics like surfacing and weldments. Each video is broken down into chapters, which are then broken down into easy to digest bites. They’re laid out logically, and the authors take their time and provide a lot of detail with each step.

Overall, Infinite Skills just reinforces my opinion that online training is the way to go. You can spend $25/month for unlimited access to their complete library, or jump in and pay $250 for a one-year subscription. Somehow, I think the ROI is easily justifiable to the bean-counters and check-writers. Just my simple opinion.

As I’ve said many times before, I wish all these training resources were available when I started out. Things would have been so much easier.

January 3, 2014 · Posted in Software Review  

No, that’s not a typo, it’s a term that I heard someone at SolidWorks use a couple of years ago and I decided to use it because I think it’s the perfect descriptor for the things I’m going to be talking about in this post. My favorite ‘delighters’, the things in SolidWorks 2014 that make me smile wide.

First, I want to acknowledge Tom Spine and his team for their work in making this version of SolidWorks more friendly towards those of us who happen to be color blind. Just a bit of proof that they do listen, as I’ve been bitching about color signals for a few years now. Sadly, I just don’t know what Jeremy and I are going to banter about now. Though depending on the outcome of the ALCS, we might not ever speak again…I digress.

Next up, the simple little change they made to the ‘Width’ mate. In the past, with the Width mate activated, you’d have to choose two faces of the first part, move your cursor over to the second selection box to activate it, then back out to the second part to select its faces. Not anymore, my friend, not anymore! Now, after selecting your first two face, the second selection box is automatically activated. This one is so awesome. Now I just need to break the habit of moving my cursor to select the second box…

(This part may be a bit NSFW…) Let’s talk about mating, shall we? SolidWorks has had the context toolbar for a few years now, which has been especially great in the part and sketch environment. Now, you can use that same magical toolbar to apply standard mates when in an assembly. Can you say time saver? They also added slot mates. You can now mate pins and slots, shafts and slots or even slot and slot. Hell, you can mate slot-to-slot-to-slot for you “adventurous” types.

While they made a bunch of changes in the drawing environment, my favorite is the ability to automatically find virtual sharps. So rather than having to remember to selecting two lines that intersect, and then click on the sketch point tool, all you need to do is right-click the sketch entity, select ‘Find Intersection’ then complete the dimension. Quite nice, no?

So there’s a ton more changes that are in SolidWorks 2014, but these are my favorite changes and this is my blog. If you want to get more, in-depth, info, cruise on over to Dan Herzberg’s blog. He’s got a multi-part series going on a whole slew of the changes.

I’m already leaning on the powers-that-be at work to get 2014 installed at work ASAP. I’ve been messing with it at home a bit, but not to the extent that I will be now.




October 17, 2013 · Posted in Software Review  

3DSync, based on Siemens’ synchronous technology, is touted to increase one’s productivity while working with imported data by a factor of ten. Basically, they’ve spun off a bit of their synchronous technology that they’ve had since 2008 and made it available to the CAD masses for US$1995.

It would appear that Siemens believes 3DSync has cross-platform functionality allowing other CAD software users to bring in non-native models via 3DSync which, in turn, will lessen model rework time. According to Siemens, 3DSync’s target market is ‘Any non-Solid Edge customer that has a regular need to redesign/edit nonnative CAD models. We do realize that other products  have direct editing capabilities. Solid Edge introduced these same capabilities many years ago in our traditional ordered modeling environment. However, we feel strongly that Synchronous Technology far exceeds the basic technology previously available.’

This is all fine and well but, if you’re not a Solid Edge user, once you’re done doing whatever editing it is you need to do, you still end up with a non-native file that you have to import into your native CAD system. As I discovered soon enough, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

When I started playing with 3DSync, I tried to forget that I’ve been using other systems for the past 14 years as I wanted to give 3DSync a fair shake. I perused the help section and looked at some of the videos available on Siemens’ website. If you have experience in other systems (which is likely as a D3D reader), there are things that you take for granted, there’s muscle-memory, certain actions that follow/lead into others and 3DSync doesn’t do those things the same way. Couple that with different terminology, and I found myself floundering a little bit.

I feel like I did when I first started using SolidWorks all those years ago: awestruck by this totally cool toy that I haven’t figured out how to play with yet. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to become as familiar with 3DSync. However, that shall not prevent me from doing my utmost to provide you with an unbiased opinion of 3DSync and its capabilities.

I began to wonder what the upside of 3DSync is versus the import/edit abilities of the system I’m most used to (SolidWorks). I wanted to know if Siemens’ $2,000 price tag was worth it. To that end, I used a simple bearing rest.

Data import: Using a history based system

To conduct an experiment I first opened the part data in SolidWorks. After asking me which template was to be applied, the system asked me if I wished to run ‘Import Diagnostics’. Nothing out of the ordinary there, however, upon clicking ‘Yes’, I was confronted with a faulty face. I didn’t know why it was faulty, it looked perfectly fine to me. The ‘Heal All’ option did the trick and I was on to the next dialog box: Do you want to proceed with feature recognition? Why yes, I do.

At this point, SolidWorks sprinkles some magic fairy dust and determines the various features that make up the model. It then recreates the model as a separate part. So, instead of just having ‘Imported1’ in the Feature Manager, you end up with a fully featured part ready for editing. If your plan is to just add or subtract material from the original imported part, there’s no need to go through the two previous steps. You can add or subtract material to the imported part as it comes in, you just won’t be able to edit the existing geometry.

Data import: using 3DSync

With 3DSync, you just open the part rather than ‘import’ it. While you are prompted to select a template, that’s the only “extra” step you need. From this point, you can start pushing and pulling faces or making whatever edits you want.

Because 3DSync checks for symmetry about the base model’s planes, you’ll see faces moving in unison if they’re detected as symmetrical. This works best when the model’s origin lines up with 3DSync’s origin. If not, it’s a few simple clicks of the mouse to get the model into a more acceptable orientation and you’re off and running. 3DSync doesn’t provide you with any high-end tools, just simple mechanical CAD tools: extrudes, cuts, holes, etc. No drawings or surfacing or anything.

So what can you do?

It’s 3DSync’s ability to recognize design intent that sets it apart. As I played with it, I came to realize just how much more powerful it was, how much more streamlined. Granted, I can only compare it with my experience using SolidWorks, so that’s a rather small data-set, but you get my point. By being able to recognize design intent automatically, it means you don’t have to be as conscious of it as you’re making edits. It takes away the need to remember to make sure you’ve updated both sides, or both holes, or both thinga-ma-jigs. It should be noted, too, that you can also edit multiple faces at once by using box select, speeding things up even more. But what if part of what you want to change is the very symmetry built into the part? Not to worry, simply turn off the ‘Live Rules’ and move features to your heart’s content.

Then there’s 3DSync’s ability to rotate features, faces or whole pieces of geometry. As I played and learned, I became more impressed. I began to see, too, the potential power of non-history based modeling. One doesn’t have to be as concerned with changing a feature created at the beginning of the design process as you would in a history-based model. This allows for quicker edits, and you can easily see, as you’re dragging things around, what’s going to happen. Honestly, there’s a whole other article on my thoughts regarding non-history versus history based modeling, so let me leave it at this: there are definitely pro’s to non-history based modeling in general, and 3DSync specifically.

The biggest flaw I see is, as mentioned earlier, you still need to still import a non-native file into your CAD system. But, how big is that flaw in reality? If your CAD system is incapable of editing imported data, it’s not a flaw at all; it’s a gift from the CAD gods. If it is capable, how capable is it? How much time will you save being able to use 3DSync’s ability to recognize inherent design intent? How much editing will you have to do in your software to reach your end goal?

Frankly, I think Siemens may be on to something here. I was initially incredulous, knowing full well the power of a history-based system’s capabilities when importing non-native files. It’s the editing aspect that is swaying me. With all the steps you have to do before you can start editing, then going in and editing sketches or features while having to remember to update any symmetric geometry, larger companies could justify the cost of a seat or two of 3DSync to complement their existing CAD system. Being able to import a fully edited file would certainly save hassle, time and as ever, that has a financial value in these harsh economic times.

October 14, 2013 · Posted in Software Review  


Where this was my first user convention that had nothing to do with SolidWorks, I was unsure of what to expect. Would it be as big as SWW? Would it be as fun? Would I end up with foot-in-mouth disease? The answers came slowly.

SolidEdge University is a small affair, with about 250 attendees mostly from the US. There were some international travelers, the farthest coming from Australia. They seemed upbeat and happy to be here, but there didn’t seem to be the same level of excitement that one gets at SWW.

There is a general session on the first day where the typical company rhetoric is espoused, followed by keynote speakers and then the “what’s new” segment. I have to apologize here. I had to leave after the first hour. Having been attacked by insomnia the night before, I was in danger of sliding off my seat so I left to go sleep. Definitely not one of the highlights of my burgeoning journalism career. A side note – I don’t know how some of the journalists here do it; up all night drinking and then back in the trenches the next morning. Guess I need to find my inner frat boy and get with the program.

Attendees have 70 different sessions to choose from, covering all aspects of SolidEdge and presented by users and employees, spread out over a day and a half.
The only presentation I went to was the one given by Matt Lombard, SolidEdge’s newest employee. His presentation was about combining history based modeling with synchronous. While there were a couple of good points, much of it was just stating the obvious to me. However, I can’t speak for everyone in attendance.
Having never really looked at SolidEdge, I did swing by their area to get a demo. I have to admit, I found it intriguing. Enough so that I’ll be doing a review of it in the not too distant future. More of a comparison, actually. I know you’ll all be waiting with bated breath.

I did meet some great people, chatted with some I’d only known through Twitter and reconnected with some old friends. Matt is now SolidEdge’s community manager and Christine Longwell works for them as well.

The answers to the questions? No, no and, thankfully, no.


June 25, 2013 · Posted in Software Review  

My takeaway from this morning, sad though it may be, is that SolidEdge is obsessed with SolidWorks. Specifically, SolidWorks’ customers. I heard no other SolidEdge competitor named. That’s just my perception, however, and it may be a bit biased (though I don’t think so). I can understand it, SolidWorks is a huge target, but one would think Inventor would be in the crosshairs as well.
At lunch, there was a Q & A session for the press with all the muckety-mucks. It was here that I was introduced to Karsten Newbury, SVP and GM of SolidEdge. I was tempted to ask him what the deal was regarding SolidWorks, but he mentioned he’d like to chat later, so I put off asking him, for now.
I did pose the question to another SE employee, who shall remain anonymous, and their response was “wouldn’t you go after number one?” (I paraphrased, but that was the gist.) yes, I would, but singling them out in your presentation seems trite. Again, maybe it’s just me.
I’ll be asking Karsten the question tonight, when we go to the aquarium. I’ll also be doing my best from stopping a certain journalist from kicking penguins.

June 25, 2013 · Posted in Software Review  

It’s 7:15 and, due to avisit from Ms. Insomnia, I’ve been up most of the night. I think I got about 2 hours of sleep, which should make things interesting today. Hopefully, I can catch a fewz’s during one of the keynote speeches. I’m mostly kidding. The opening general session is two hours long…
Thus far, my interactions with the natives have been good. No derisive comments, no snobbery, no “neener, neener, neener!” I don’t get the feeling of excitement that one gets at SWW, but that may be due to the fact that I’m not a SolidEdge user. I am interested to hear Adam Stelzer’s keynote. He was the Lead Landing Engineer of the Mars Rover.
I’ve run into some people I know and been able to meet some that I only know through Twitter, including Mr. Burhop, which is always cool.
It’s getting close to general session time, so I’ll sign off for now.

June 25, 2013 · Posted in Software Review  

Once again I find myself flying to a user conference, but it’s not for SolidWorks as had been the norm for the past 8 years is so. No, this time I’m flying to Cincinnati to attend Solid Edge University.
I have to admit to a bit of apprehension; why would Siemens invite me, a lowly blogger who focuses mainly on SolidWorks, to attend their conference? If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d guess they were going to woo me to their side with promises of fame and fortune. Matt Lombard would be the middleman, telling me all about the treasure that would be mine. Thankfully, I’m not. I’m quite sure the reasons are much more innocent than that. I suspect it has something to do with the article a wrote for Develop3d Magazine about 3DSync. I am interested to see how SEU compares to SWW. Honestly, I don’t have a clue about SEU. Yes, I realize I could have investigated it, but where’s the fun in that? I’m making this into an adventure, my own personal safari in the wilds of Cincinnati. Though, had I looked into it a bit, I might have noticed the blurb about “business casual” earlier than when I was at the airport. I hope jeans and t-shirts count as business casual.
I’ll be tweeting and writing about SEU over the next few days while watching out for Lombard bearing gifts.

June 24, 2013 · Posted in Personal, Software Review  


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Just to keep you all interested, here’s what’s coming up in the next few posts on Jeff’s Tool Shed:
Boxx is sending me one of their computers so that I can kick the tires and test it out. The cool thing is that I had an Xi at work; had being the operative word there, and I’m getting an HP to replace it. While it won’t quite be a 1:1 comparison, it’ll be close.
I have an interview with Aaron Kelly from Draftsight that I need to transcribe as well as one from Mark Lyons (see, Mark, I didn’t forget!)
Just downloaded Delcam that I’m going to test out.

February 17, 2013 · Posted in Software Review  

When I started in my new position I found it odd that they were using ePDM. As far as I was concerned ePDM was for large design groups, not 1-2 designers. In the back of my mind I started thinking about how we’d cleanly transition from ePDM to PDMWorks when the subscription was up. I’d be saving the company ~$1000 per year, or would I?

When I first began using it, I found ePDM to be a bit cumbersome and not very user friendly. While this may have had something to do with being a PDMWorks for years and having zero exposure to ePDM, I still think it could be a bit more inviting. That being said, I’m starting to warm up to it. Unlike PDMWorks, ePDM lets you check files in and out without bumping the revision, which is awesome (yes, I know about “working copy”). I like how it keeps track of each iteration, even allowing you to put in notes so you can keep track of what you were doing. In the fluid environment in which I work, this is a HUGE plus, especially where I suffer from CRS. When I check in whatever I was working on, I type in a few notes to remind me of where I was when I last left off. If only my predecessors had used this feature…

More upsides that I’ve sort of seen are the ability to easily export to different file formats. While all of our suppliers are good with PDF’s, most can’t handle native SolidWorks files. From what I’ve seen, I can simply set up tasks to export different file types right from ePDM. What I don’t know, but will find out, is can I decide where to save files to? What sort of parameters can I set? It’s the answers to these questions, along with a couple of other bits, that will ultimately help me decide whether to keep ePDM when our subscription is up. That will have to wait for another post.

If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

October 27, 2012 · Posted in Software Review, SolidWorks Community  

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