Late Registration: What’s Recently New to SOLIDWORKS in 2018
Every year, the SOLIDWORKS user community gets amped up over the announcements of hundreds of pages-worth of forthcoming enhancements set to be revealed in the upcoming major release of the software.
For those of you who aren’t major software heads: when I say “major release,” I mean the initial build of the annual release in question. In October 2017, for example, our interests were piqued after hearing about the new features and functionality coming to our PCs via SOLIDWORKS 2018. Its initial build—typically, this is listed as service pack 0.0 of the release—had shipped that very month.
If you’ve used mainstream CAD software for any number of years, you have probably heard of these events. Most SOLIDWORKS partners and resellers hold regional meet ups—typically advertised as “rollouts” or “launch events,” where you can interface with these certified SOLIDWORKS affiliates and hear from these experts about how exactly you can use “what’s new.”
And that’s it, right? After that, you just have to wait until next fall for the latest major release to ship. Until then, subsequent service packs will provide you with some bug fixes here and there. How fun!
Except, that’s not really how it works. During the 2018 release cycle, among the various SOLIDWORKS service pack releases, we did see the usual bug fixes. But we also got some lightly documented true enhancements to how some of the products in the software’s portfolio look and behave.
The features annotated below won’t be found in the “What’s New” documentation for SOLIDWORKS 2018, but you can access them today by using the latest service pack (SP4.0 at time of writing):
- Product: SOLIDWORKS Visualize
- New feature: Denoiser—potential 10x rendering speed improvements
- Available in: 2018 SP3.0 and later
I recently penned an article discussing the various ways one can extract product imagery using SOLIDWORKS products. One of these ways is to use the snipping tool. Spoiler alert: this is the least glamorous way to generate product imagery. However, it’s also surely the quickest, and I’ve admittedly done this before for simple emails here and there.
SOLIDWORKS users leveraging Professional and Premium have access to a seat of SOLIDWORKS Visualize Standard. To make a long story short, this gives you the ability to make killer renderings (minus video capabilities and some other special effects, which can be obtained at the Visualize Professional level). In the world of rendering, applications like Visualize have a reputation for disallowing “long story shorts,” historically speaking.
Specifically, using the Windows Snipping Tool takes seconds. How long would it take you to “render” the same relative vantage point of a given product? The general answer will always be: longer.
But how much better, cleaner, and more professional will it look? Orders of magnitude. Here’s a look at the technology, directly from SOLIDWORKS:
It’s probably true that, if all things were equal, we’d opt for the rendering over the shabby screenshot any day of the week. But all things aren’t equal. How does something called a “denoiser” help us with that?
Essentially, the Denoiser feature in SOLIDWORKS Visualize 2018 SP3.0 and later(see Figure 1) uses machine-learning technology that has been trained to anticipate and remove noise from your images in a fraction of the time it would generally take.
This technology is available using compatible NVIDIA graphics cards. While you don’t need a compatible NVIDIA graphics card to run SOLIDWORKS Visualize, it’s helpful if you have one. Having one enables speed enhancements, the most dramatic of which is the Denoiser functionality.
This blog post by Brian Hillner, product manager for SOLIDWORKS Visualize, elaborates further on this new functionality.
- Product: SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect
- New feature: Support for JT and Autodesk Inventor 2018 files
- Found in: 2018 SP3.0 and SP1.0 and later(respectively)
As part of my day job, I talk to SOLIDWORKS users pretty much all day, every day. Because of the relative newness of SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect, some of them still haven’t heard of this feature.
SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect is a new technology available to all users that embeds within the software. Its goal is to make the experience of using non-native CAD file formats much easier than in the past.
Opening CAD files from other software vendors hasn’t always been pretty. Because each modeling kernel naturally behaves differently, it is entirely likely that you, my dear reader, have experienced occasions when a file you received from another application did not import perfectly.
It’s also possible that you may have experienced times when a change may have been made to an Inventor file, a Creo file, a SolidEdge file, etc., after you’d already brought it into your SOLIDWORKS assemblies. In such cases, you could reimport the file and reconnect mates, but it always seemed like one of those “shouldn’t be” nuisances.
SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect maintains a closer connection to the source CAD files in these cases. Instead of converting the non-native geometry into the SOLIDWORKS modeling space, it opens the file directly in a way that makes updates just a click away. This means that you won’t have to reimport anything or reconnect broken mates if changes were made in non-native platforms.
Like every other SOLIDWORKS product today, it’s also privy to its own enhancements. In more recent builds of 2018, we gained the ability to open JT files and Autodesk Inventor 2018 files. Previous releases of SOLIDWORKS 2018 could handle up to Autodesk Inventor 2017.The ability to open JT files is completely new (see Figure 2).
For those of you who don’t know, the JT file format is known to exist as a relatively lightweight CAD format.
- Product: SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD
- New feature: Vector-based rollback and freeze bars
- Found in: 2018 SP3.0 and later
I’m a bit behind the times when it comes to the latest and greatest in computer monitor equipment. Given the amount of time I spend logged into customer/colleague PCs, however, it’s inescapably apparent that many of us are moving to 4K monitors.
A dirty little secret about the rollback bar in SOLIDWORKS is that it was raster based for many years. This means that it was essentially a JPEG-type image you could hover over and drag upward or downward, depending on your intent.
This looks OK when it’s scaled down, but when it’s scaled up—like any photograph—it starts to look fuzzy. And when you try to grab it, it’s sometimes hard to really hook onto the image. In SP3.0 and later, it (along with the freeze bar) is vector based. This means that it’s more defined by its shape rather than its pixel color assignments (see Figure 3).
- Product: SOLIDWORKS Inspection
- New feature: SOLIDWORKS PDM Integration for stand-alone application
- Found in: 2018 SP3.0 and later
SOLIDWORKS Inspection is first article inspection (FAI) software that downsizes the amount of time it takes for quality control professionals to report on the machined/printed product relative to its specifications.
In a way, you could say that what SOLIDWORKS Inspection does for QC/QA is akin to what SOLIDWORKS PDM (see Figure 4) does for files. Among other things, PDM solutions ensure the “quality” of the versions of the files that you and your company opt to store within them.
SOLIDWORKS Inspection documents worked on within the stand-alone application (as opposed to the SOLIDWORKS add-in) for Inspection have a couple associated files per project. There’s the Inspection project file, the inspected CAD media (i.e., a PDF of a drawing, a non-native 3D CAD file, and a DWG/DXF), and any generated inspection reports (in the form of an Excel file or a PDF).
Keeping these relationships intact with version control is possibly useful if you’re performing multiple inspection reports on the same general project. Seamless access to this version control functionality by virtue of a PDM add-in within the Inspection stand-alone app is a welcome addition for this very reason.
The controls here look very similar to the controls for PDM found in the Microsoft Office products add-in. You can obtain a new tab on the ribbon inside of Inspection if you have both the PDM client and SOLIDWORKS Inspection installed. You can enable this tab within the Inspection options area shown in Figure 5.
- Product: SOLIDWORKS Composer
- New feature: Ability to set import options on SMG Export from 3D CAD
- Found in: 2018 SP0.1 and later
For those of you who are unfamiliar, SOLIDWORKS Composer is a technical publication utility that can be used to make instructional and product demonstration videos, as well as image output befitting catalogs, manuals and websites.
It’s a great way to communicate SOLIDWORKS designs with purpose-built tools made to tell stories rather than design (SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD’s bread and butter). Most times, when you start a project in Composer, you simply do so by exploring to your 3D CAD file via an “Open” dialog.
Whenever I teach SOLIDWORKS Composer to new users, I draw their attention early on to the import options. I do this because they matter. For example, you can specify whether Composer acknowledges surface bodies on import. You can also specify how it handles properties, assembly structure and more, in ways that have real ramifications in your projects.
This enhancement is a nicety, because we now have the ability to specify how these project files are handled before they ever get to Composer. You can skip these specification steps by doing the following in SP0.1 and later:
- Ensure—even if it’s just once on your PC—that your typical “Export” options for SMG files are set as you like them within SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD (see Figure 6).
- Whenever you’d like to save out a file for use in Composer, go to: File>Save As, then select “SMG” as the “Save as type.”
- Launch Composer at your leisure and open the SMG directly. Open times will be quicker, since a direct conversion from hard CAD data to the lightweight SMG format in Composer no longer has to occur during this specific step.
We’re just a few months away from the SOLIDWORKS 2019 launch events. No matter where you are, you’re likely to find an event in your area. Keep a look out for correspondences from your local SOLIDWORKS reseller for more information on when the tour(s) might stop by your neck of the woods this coming fall!