My Top 15 SOLIDWORKS Tips for Engineering Managers

There are already countless articles, presentations and YouTube videos out there in the SOLIDWORKS Community showcasing SOLIDWORKS tips and tricks that focus on the core modeling aspect of SOLIDWORKS—sketching, parts, assemblies and drawings—that a daily CAD jockey needs to know. My favorite presentation to give is one that showcases my top 60 modeling tips in just 60 minutes; but like most other tip sessions, this focuses on the daily CAD user.

This article is a little different. These are my top tips for the engineering manager, or what I call the sporadic SOLIDWORKS user. Why write a SOLIDWORKS article for an engineering manager, someone who inherently isn’t a daily SOLIDWORKS user? To me, an engineering manager plays a key role in the SOLIDWORKS design process. The engineering manager, like all SOLIDWORKS users, needs to know how to make use of assembly tools and how to open SOLIDWORKS files for planning and review.

These tips can help your business move in the right direction and get designs out the door faster. Trust me, these tips aren’t just for managers, either. Even daily SOLIDWORKS users can benefit from knowing these tips.

1. Filter Top Level Assembly—the easy button for opening files

The filter top-level assembly button was added to SOLIDWORKS in 2013 with the addition of Quick Filters. This has been my low-key personal favorite enhancement over the past decade.

The Quick Filters are the four buttons at the lower-right corner of the open dialog box that allows you to quickly filter for parts, assemblies, drawings and top-level assemblies. When you are searching for a file in a directory, the odds are you are going to want to open the top-level assembly. That’s why I call this the easy button for opening files.

Sure, you could filter for assemblies and then sort by various things like the largest disc size or longest SW Open Time (See tip #2). However, that’s two steps and plus the largest assembly is not guaranteed to be the top-level assembly because of virtual assemblies, simulation, and other information embedded in the file.

With the filter top-level assembly button on, you will see only top-level assemblies and no subassemblies. This is what I use to open a file a client sends me. By using the top-level assembly Quick Filters, I waste no time opening the correct file, so I can get to work right away.

2. Windows/File Explorer—Display key SOLIDWORKS information directly in File Explorer

As you browse through Windows Explorer, which was renamed File Explorer in Windows 10, you can learn key information about your files from the Tool Tip, thumbnail preview and even the details listed about the files. Here are three ways to make this work for you:

Tool Tip:

This one is straight forward—just hover your mouse over the file and you will see information such as custom properties, including Description, Revision, and Status, depending on what is relevant. You will also automatically see Type, Size, Last Saved By, Number of Sheets, Last Open Time, and Last LW Open Time. The Last Open Time indicates how long it took to open the file resolved, while the Last LW Open Time indicates how long it took to open the file in Lightweight mode.

Thumbnail Preview:

In File Explorer you can browse through your files while seeing a thumbnail preview of the file. This is an option that might not be turned on. If it’s turned off, you will see the “LEGO block icons” of SOLIDWORKS files. To turn it on, check the box in the general system options called “Show thumbnail graphics in Windows Explorer.” Then you can see the thumbnail preview of your model displayed in an isometric view, zoomed to fit, with a white background.

File Details:

In just a few steps, you can customize File Explorer to display details about the SOLIDWORKS files as header columns such as SW Open Time and SW Last Saved With in addition to standard Windows things like Name, Type and Size. You can then filter this information or just browse quickly through to understand key information about your files.

To turn this on, right-click on the Windows header and select more. Under details, you will check the box for SW Last saved with and SW Open Time. Now you can gain some valuable information about your files displayed in File Explorer.

3. Recent Files—Your heads-up display for quick access to models

Press the “R” key for quick access to your files. This window can list 100 files for quick access. Files can be pinned to the list to act as “favorites.” You can even list and pin recent folders too. From here, you can open files directly in modes such as Large Design Review or Lightweight, and you can even pick which display state or configuration to open.

This not only saves you time in searching through files but also opens files exactly how you need them. 

4. Open Assemblies Without the Parts—Large Design Review is not just for massive assemblies

When you want to open an assembly, you need to have all the parts as well. A common situation we’ve all experienced before is when someone accidentally sends you an assembly with a few, or even all the parts missing. When you open the assembly, you’re greeted by the message asking you to browse for the missing components.

Instead of being able to view the assembly design, you’re left with a blank screen. But by using Large Design Review, you can open the assembly file and view it and take measurements while you wait to track down the missing components. This is not the intended use of Large Design Review, but it’s a great tip that helps you to avoid costly downtime. To access this option, just pick “Large Design Review” from the open dialog box.

5. Did You Save?—No more uncertainty with the Asterisk

At the top of the SOLIDWORKS interface, in the middle of the screen, you’ll the name of the file. If you see an asterisk next to the file name, it means that there are changes to the design that have not been saved. Use this asterisk to identify whether you’ve saved your work.

6. Automatically Load Lightweight Components—Your option to minimize time and maximize productivity

This is a performance setting that greatly improves the performance of SOLIDWORKS, especially for people who need to open, look at, and review SOLIDWORKS assemblies—it’s perfect for engineering managers. The setting is enabled in the System Options under Performance. Just check the box next to “Automictically load components lightweight.”

This will directly open components in Lightweight mode, instead of fully resolved. Fully resolved is the “heaviest” state of the file, which loads all the file data into memory. Lightweight components are efficient because the full model data of the components is automatically loaded only as required. This means that there is no downside for the engineering manager to use this option. Trust me, this will save you a ton of time when opening and reviewing assemblies.

7. Reload—The “oops” button

The Reload command will automatically close without saving, and then reopen the model. I know we’ve all been there.

You open a file and make a mistake, so you close, hit don’t save, and then reopen the file. To automate this and save time, you can use the Reload command to make that process much faster. SOLIDWORKS will even highlight any files that have been modified so you’re aware of any potential data loss.

8. Force Rebuild—The duct tape of SOLIDWORKS

Have you ever called tech support for something you spent hours trying to fix but to no avail? Only to have tech support fix it in two seconds? Well that’s because of Force Rebuild.

I’m only partly joking. We use this option in tech support to fix a lot of issues.

I call Force Rebuild the duct tape of SOLIDWORKS because it fixes everything, and we use it all the time. Force Rebuild is the command we use to force the regeneration of all the SOLIDWORKS geometry. This is your secret button to fix anything “wonky or strange” in your model. To use Force Rebuild, press Ctrl + Q.

The difference between this option and the regular Rebuild (Ctrl + B) is that Force Rebuild command rebuilds every piece of geometry from start to finish, while standard Rebuild only regenerates items that need to be rebuilt.

9. Status Bar—The quickest way to measure 14 ways in SOLIDWORKS

The status bar is the lower-right corner of the SOLIDWORKS interface and offers information about your model, but the most useful thing it provides is a quick way to take measurements of your model. Using the status bar, you can take measurements of your geometry such as:

  • Coordinates of a Vertex
  • Normal distance between a Vertex and a Line
  • Distance and delta X, Y, Z between two Vertices
  • Length of an Edge
  • Normal distance and total combined length of Two Parallel Edges
  • Angle between Two Non-Parallel Edges
  • Total length of Multiple Edges
  • Radius and center of a Circular Arc Edge
  • Diameter and center of a Circular Edge
  • Normal distance between Two Parallel Planar Faces
  • Angle between Two NonParallel Planar Faces
  • Radius of a Cylindrical Arc Face
  • Diameter of a Cylindrical Face
  • Distance between axes of Two Cylindrical Axes

10. Search Commands—Your lifeline for finding commands

It wouldn’t be a SOLIDWORKS tips blog written by me without this one. This is my all-time favorite SOLIDWORKS tip and I am not shy about sharing it. The Search Commands is the quickest way to find and launch any command you might be looking for. Instead of manually digging through the menus to find something like, for example, “Cosmetic Thread,” you can go to the Search Commands and launch it that way. I use Search Commands daily.

To use Search Commands, just start typing in the upper-right corner of the screen, and SOLIDWORKS will begin to populate a list of commands. Click on the command to launch it or click on the eye icon to have SOLIDWORKS show you where the command resides. If you remember just one tip from this article, make sure it’s this one.

11. Lasso/Window Select—How to make this tool work for you

You can select items in the graphics area by drawing a window or “box selecting” the items. You can toggle between this and the Lasso tool. The Lasso tool is great because it gives you much more control over the shape you draw and ultimately what you select.

But the tip here is not just to tell you that these tools exist, but how to leverage the little-known functionality of them. Depending on the direction you draw the box or Lasso, the selection behavior will be different. The main difference is whether the tool selects anything it touches or if the entities need to be completely within the Box Selection.

Blue: Selects only entities contained within the selection.

  • Box Selection: draw from left to right
  • Lasso: draw clockwise

Green: Selects anything the selection touches.

  • Box Selection: draw from right to left
  • Lasso: draw counter clockwise

12. Advance Move Components—Right-click to rotate components

When you are working on an assembly and want to move components around the space, you can left-click on a component and drag to move it around in space. An extension of this functionality is right-clicking the mouse to rotate the component. This is a quick way to get components oriented just right as you build an assembly. Think of this as a breakdown of the Move Components command shown in the image below.

13. Treehouse—View and create assemblies outside of SOLIDWORKS

SOLIDWORKS Treehouse was an application added to the SOLIDWORKS tool set in 2015. It is a stand-alone application that can be used to not only view the structure of assemblies but also to create the structure of an entire assembly from scratch. The tip here is to take advantage of this stand-alone application. This is the perfect tool for engineering managers to use when planning and reviewing their company’s designs.

14. Online Licensing—A license that works the way you want it to

Online Licensing is a SOLIDWORKS license model that works with SOLIDWORKS 2018 and later. This was introduced as a way to enable users to operate their stand-alone licenses between various machines. You can activate this by simply logging in to the interface with a username and password.

It is extremely easy to set up—just go to the admin portal of to convert your stand-alone license to Online Licensing. If you travel a lot or switch between various machines when using SOLIDWORKS, consider converting your license to Online Licensing. It’s an easy process that you can do through

15. One SOLIDWORKS Icon—Fix that issue once and for all

One of the most frustrating things used to be the multiple SOLIDWORKS icons that appeared on the task bar. This happens when you pin the shortcut to the task bar rather than the actual application.

To remedy this, just launch the application and then pin the active instance of SOLIDWORKS. Now there will be only one icon of SOLIDWORKS on your task bar. This tip is no longer relevant in SOLIDWORKS 2020, but it is so popular that I felt it needed to be included in this blog for SOLIDWORKS versions earlier than 2020.

Those are my top 15 tips for engineering managers. Each one of them is focused on improving the daily work of someone not doing core modeling operations, but who still needs to work with SOLIDWORKS models. With these 15 tips, I hope you can save time and get your design out the door faster than ever before.

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