A Potential Game Changer: No More Pain Detailing Large Drawings!
This is a story about the struggles that software companies go through in implementing and perfecting new enhancements.
The best companies are actively listening to their end-users’ feedback, identifying specific needs and developing new modes, tools and techniques for addressing those needs. This is a much more complex process than it seems. It is exciting and frustrating at the same time for both developers and users.
Many times, though, other users will attempt to repurpose the tool for solving their own problems, which could be outside the original scope of the enhancement.
When Product Definition decides that an enhancement requested by a user has merit, the resulted new tool will most likely satisfy the original request. Many times, though, other users will attempt to repurpose the tool for solving their own problems, which could be outside the original scope of the enhancement. It is exciting, because this is the best way for the software to evolve organically; it is frustrating because most of the times the tool has significant limitations when is being used outside of its original scope.
Some of the most promising SOLIDWORKS tools have been implemented to only 95 percent of their potential. Of course, they serve very well the specific request of the enhancement’s originator, but leave the rest of the users unsatisfied. The missing five percent in functionality is what makes so many users try such a tool once and then abandon it forever. It is understandable: they are very busy meeting deadlines, and have no time to experiment or submit enhancement requests to their VAR and, ultimately, to the developer.
Only the most passionate ones, who can foresee a huge increase in productivity, if the tool were to be improved, take extra steps to convince all stakeholders that it is worth allocating the time and resources for further enhancing the functionality.
The new detailing mode for large drawings, a major enhancement just announced at SOLIDWORKS World 2019 in Dallas, is such a tool. This is its unofficial story.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that there are no guarantees that a functionality shown in a New Release Preview presentation, or even included in the Beta versions, will remain available in SOLIDWORKS 2020 SP0.
In order to produce a section view, a copy of the model is generated in RAM, a physical cut is made on this copy and the resulted edges are displayed in the drawing.
The struggle for detailing large drawings
The computational process for generating 2D drawing views from 3D models is intense, especially for section and broken-out section views. In order to produce a section view, a copy of the model is generated in RAM, a physical cut is made on this copy and the resulted edges are displayed in the drawing. This is a time-consuming process. If you have 40 section views, there are 41 models loaded in a RAM at the same time. Imagine how painful that could become if the model is a large assembly.
The symptoms, experienced by an end-user working with large drawings, could be grouped into three categories:
- Long opening times
- Long drawing update times
- Slow operational speed when detailing the opened drawing
At the end of the day, such a user will be fully productive for only 30 minutes, the rest is spent waiting for control to be returned to the user.
While the first two symptoms are mentioned the most by users, the third one is the most painful. If a drawing takes 20 minutes to open or update, the user can do something else in meantime. But if, after opening, every click of the mouse is followed by a 5- to 20-second lag, there is nothing to be done during these small breaks. It is not only the wasting of time that is worrying, but also the frustration and distraction that affects the user. Imagine working like that for four hours or more! At the end of the day, these users would be fully productive for only 30 minutes; the rest is spent waiting for control to be returned to them.
Due to the nature of my work as a process improvement consultant, I have the opportunity to see these symptoms daily, when partnering with my customers to find solutions to increase their efficiency.
A great example of a company working with extremely large drawings is Feature Walters, with which I have had the privilege to partner since 2016.
Feature Walters is a company within Walters Group, a network of companies that provides construction engineering, detailing, fabrication, finishing, delivery, and construction. Feature Walters specializes in unique elements that define the best in architectural design, some of the most eye-catching and memorable structures. Based in southern Ontario, Feature Walters takes on projects ranging from public art to floating staircases to building facades.
It’s a one-stop shop, including manufacturing facilities, a large architectural detailing department, and installation services.
The design team works very closely with clients, architects and installers, all of which could request design changes at any time during the life of a project. Many times, what some would consider a minor detail change could cause days of work, mostly spent waiting for the drawing to update, or for the blue wheel to stop spinning between simple detailing operations. Since such requests are quite frequent, the loss of productivity could be significant.
I spent several days with Grant Mattis—the company’s lead designer and a SOLIDWORKS power-user— and his team, working on improving the performance of the large assemblies, the modeling methodology and, ultimately, the drawing performance.
When we started our collaboration, the operational speed for simple dimensioning operations was extremely slow, as shown in this video:
The Temporary Solution for Feature Walters: Detached Drawings
After streamlining the methodology and the firm’s assembly environment, Grant and I tried various tools for reducing the amount of computations needed in the drawing environment. In the end, we found success with the use of Detached Drawings.
As the name says, a detached drawing offers the user the option to load a drawing along with its model or alone. In order to be able to operate independently from its model, the drawing file has to contain all of the information about the edges of the model, as shown in its drawing views. The benefits are huge:
- Quick opening times without the model loaded
- Quicker opening times even with the model loaded, compared to a regular drawing
- Fast operational speed when detailing without the model loaded
- Faster operational speeds when detailing with the model loaded, compared to a regular drawing
- The user can load the model(s) during opening, or at any time after the drawing is open
Watch this video to see the operational speed increased by tens of time compared to the preview video:
Among the tools I mentioned earlier as being implemented with 95 percent functionality is the Detached Drawing tool. The 95 percent implementation refers to all the huge benefits mentioned above. The missing five percent represents all of the dangers and problems a user will face when using these tools.
A Short History of Detached Drawings
The large drawing problem is not new, and SOLIDWORKS attempted to find a solution as early as SOLIDWORKS 2000.
In that version, a new drawing format was introduced, called RapidDraft Drawing. A new drawing could be started as a RapidDraft, or a regular drawing be converted to one.
In essence, a RapidDraft drawing had all of the benefits of what we call now a Detached Drawing, minus one: it could never be converted back to a regular drawing.
The promise of RapidDraft Drawings was huge. Not only did it have the potential to reduce the opening times of a drawing by 100 times, but detailing operations would not be affected by any lag. It was as fast as working on a 2D Drawing in DRAFTSIGHT or AutoCAD.
Moreover, for the first time, it offered another way to collaborate between designers and detailers. Detailers would simply receive RapidDraft drawings, with pre-created drawing views, without model files. They would add dimensions, annotations, balloons, then return the drawing to the designer. At this point, the designer would simply open the drawing along with its model to ensure everything was updated, then release it to production.
Notwithstanding existing bugs, the RapidDraft Drawings were not adopted by companies using SOLIDWORKS because they were very dangerous when used by untrained users. The main problem was that, once a drawing was converted to RapidDraft, there was no way to convert it back. When untrained users opened such a drawing at a later date, they were not aware that this was a special type of drawing, and would miss opening the model at the same time. As a result the danger of manufacturing products with errors was significant.
SOLIDWORKS recognized the danger and, in 2004, made two significant changes to RapidDraft Drawings:
- Renamed RapidDraft Drawings to “Detached Drawings” in order to make users more aware of the behavior of the tool
- Allowed the saving of Detached Drawings as regular drawings.
The effects were immediate:
- Power-users would save a regular drawing as detached, then use it for detailing. When the drawing was released for production, they would save it back as a regular drawing. Anyone opening the released drawing in resolved or lightweight modes would have the model opened automatically.
- The rest of the users started to avoid using these strange “detached drawings”. The name itself was scary enough.
In the File Open dialog, a detached drawing would offer the option to load the model.
This ambiguity forced companies like Feature Walters to decide that all their drawings would always be detached, and all users trained on how to securely work with such drawings.
“With that, we turned a 20-minute wait into only 30 seconds. We used to click on a line in a drawing and watch the cursor spin. Today, it reacts in a fraction of a second. Those time savings add up over a day, a week, or a year.”
Grant Mattis – Feature Walters
The Solution Proposed by Grant Mattis
Grant recognized that the use of Detached Drawings might work for his team, but would never be accepted by the majority of companies using SOLIDWORKS. It was simply too complicated and dangerous.
His proposed solution was very simple: unify the regular drawings and detached drawings under one category. When opening any SOLIDWORKS drawing the users should have the ability to decide if the model will be loaded or not. Also, they should be able to load the model even after the drawing is open. In effect, expand the detached drawing functionality to all drawings.
As an extra security check, there should be a system option that would force the loading of the models for all drawings. Such option should be lockable by the CAD Admin in any company.
Harnessing the Power of the SOLIDWORKS Community
Knowing that, if implemented, his proposed solution would provide huge savings to the whole SOLIDWORKS Community, Grant started to actively engage the other end-users via the SOLIDWORKS Forum.
In parallel with that, we performed multiple benchmarks, studying the effect of:
- Display States
- Drawing view type: model, projected, section, detail, cropped
- High Quality versus Draft Quality Views
- Standard versus Detached
- Drawing opening time
- Drawing update time
- File size
Grant and I presented these findings at SOLIDWORKS World 2018 to an audience containing end-users, VAR employees and SOLIDWORKS employees.
The presentation caught the attention of Mark Johnson, the Technical Support Guru from SOLIDWORKS. For many of us, Mark Johnson is SOLIDWORKS!
With more than 15 years of experience working daily with end-users, CAD Admins and managers in quickly solving the most complex problems they encounter, Mark knows SOLIDWORKS inside-out.
When he saw the presentation he was intrigued and, typical to his approach to solving problems, acted immediately.
“Like any engineer or designer, I take great pride and find joy in seeing something new or improved come together. Working with customers, prioritizing issues and helping to draft new specs or improved functions is my favorite part of this job!”
Mark Johnson, Expert Technical Support Engineer, SOLIDWORKS Escalation Manager, Americas
Mark arranged for the presentation to be delivered again at SOLIDWORKS Headquarters in Waltham, in front of applications engineers from VARs and SOLIDWORKS employees. During the presentation we received multiple questions from R&D specialists from the Drawings Development team. They seemed intrigued. too.
After the presentation, Grant, Mark and the R&D team continued to exchange information about the current large drawings experience for Feature Walters designers and brainstorm concrete ideas for significantly improving it.
Top Ten Ideas List for SOLIDWORKS World 2019
The next step was proving that the User Community was interested in Grant’s solution.
For that, an idea describing this functionality was submitted in the Top Ten Ideas Contest for SOLIDWORKS World 2019.
The idea proved popular, and, at SOLIDWORKS World in Dallas, was listed at #7 on the Top Ten list.
Good News: New Detailing Mode for Standard Drawings
In the second and third days of SOLIDWORKS World 2019, the R&D team provided an exciting preview of the new functionality they are working on for the 2020 version.
The highlight of the presentation was the new Detailing Mode for standard drawings, which showcased the exact solution Grant proposed!
This was Grant’s reaction after watching the video:
“Collaborating with Alin Vargatu and Mark Johnson to determine a more efficient process for detailing large-assembly drawings using existing methods and then presenting those ideas together at SOLIDWORKS World 2018 have been real highlights for me.
My immediate reaction when watching the SW2020 new features announcement was: ‘Wow!! That’s exactly how we were hoping our suggestions would translate in SOLIDWORKS.’
The impact on our team’s ability to efficiently edit drawings as a result of SOLIDWORKS’ new Detailing Mode is nothing short of tremendous; this new feature has the potential to save many SOLIDWORKS users an enormous amount of time.”
If this functionality passes Quality Control testing, in both Alpha and Beta phases, once implemented in SOLIDWORKS 2020 it will have the potential to change the way users experience detailing large drawings. We estimate that the savings will not be quantified in hours or days, but in weeks and months of savings for some companies.
Next Steps: Critical Action Items
As mention earlier, there are never full guarantees that new software functions currently in the works by the R&D team will make it in the final release.
To maximize the chances that the new Detailing Mode for Drawing will survive the testing it is imperative for us, the end-users, to test this functionality intensively during the BETA Testing program for SOLIDWORKS 2020, which will start in June this year.
This story shows how well the collaboration between all stakeholders (end-users, managers, VARs, Community and SOLIDWORKS) could work.
It also shows the importance of being active in broadcasting your problems and solutions, using all available channels. Software companies like SOLIDWORKS are very keen in hearing from their users and engaging their R&D departments in providing meaningful solutions.
About the Author
As an Elite AE and Process Improvement Consultant, working for Javelin Technologies, Alin Vargatu is a Problem Hunter and Solver, and an avid contributor to the SOLIDWORKS Community. He has presented 22 times at SOLIDWORKS World and tens of times at SWUG meetings organized by four different user groups in Canada and one in the United States. Alin is also very active on SOLIDWORKS forums, especially on the Surfacing, Mold Design, Sheet Metal, Assembly Modeling and Weldments sub-fora. His blog and YouTube channel are well known in the SOLIDWORKS Community.