Surfacing isn’t as scary as I thought

Posted on July 23rd, 2012. Posted In SolidWorks Community

For years I shied away from surfacing. It was organic. It was an uncontrollable animal that I had no idea of how to use. Frankly, it scared me. On top of it’s alien-like qualities I felt it possessed, it also seemed to require an infinite amount of patience to actually create something. Tons of splines and points that FLOAT IN THE AIR! I mean they aren’t even on a plane.Over the past couple of years, however, I’ve been forced to face my fears and learn to use surfacing. Y’know what? It ain’t that bad. While pro surfacers (Mssrs. Lombard and Perez come to mind) would probably giggle like schoolgirls at my work flow, I’m happy to say that I can now create useable, and identifiable, surface models.

What I’m enjoying more, though, is being able to repair surface models. There was a time where I’d see a feature tree like this and give up before starting:


“But, Jeff, how did you do it?” you might ask. Perseverance, my friends, as well as the want to know how. One of the things I’ve always liked about SolidWorks is how user friendly it is. Add to that the plethora of independent users sharing their knowledge of various facets of the software, and you have an environment ripe for learning. (Good God, I sound like I’m working for a marketing company) You have to add in a lot of trial and error, too. The trial and error may be the most powerful learning too out of all of them. By paying attention to the results you get while trying to fix that stupid, tiny, completely annoying, dammit-how-did-that-happen hole, you’ll learn a ton of what not to do’s. It’s one thing to read how to/how not to in a book or watch it in a video, it’s completely different to feel the joy of winning, or the agony of defeat, yourself.

While I’m not ready just yet to design the next super car, I am comfortable enough to try. What are some of your memories from when you started surfacing?

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.

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 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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