A Few of My Favorite Things from SOLIDWORKS 2016 (Part 1)

SOLIDWORKS does major releases every year, and SOLIDWORKS 2016 (to be released later this year) has more than 300 enhancements. Here are a few productivity enhancements that caught my eye at the recent SOLIDWORKS 2016 launch press event.

Breadcrumb Menu UI Icons Reduce Mouse Movements

Remember the trail of breadcrumbs left by Hansel and Gretel to find their way out of the Black Forest? That is sort of what software designers were trying to duplicate when they created navigation structures that look like this:

All products>> Mechanical>> Fasteners>> Metric>> Steel>> Screws

Breadcrumb menus in a part (left) and in an assembly (right).

The idea is that you can find your way back, either through the forest or through your command structure. SOLIDWORKS has chosen to create its version of a breadcrumb trail and have applied it to menus.

The breadcumb menus are coupled with a heads-up display that passes information that is relevant and necessary to where you are already looking, and if it works well for fighter pilots, then it works well for software, too.

Many menus now work in a breadcrumb approach. Rather than displaying all options, breadcrumb menus show only the selections that are appropriate, so they can reduce the clutter of conventional UI menu and icon systems. Plus they show very linearly a command progression, allowing the user to back up to a previous command.

With SOLIDWORKS 2016, users can press the D key (D for default) to get the breadcrumb menus to appear at the cursor — which will save you not only a lot of mouse travel but also a lot of eye travel as well. A little time saved will add up over the day, and more importantly allow you to interact with SOLIDWORKS closer to the speed of your thoughts.

For example, if a face is selected, you will get access to information on that face, its feature (like a loft) and its part. You will also see the commands for what you might do to the face.

The D key not only works with breadcrumb menus. Press D when a confirmation is required and the confirmation box scoots toward the cursor, saving you from having to mouse all the way to the corner of the screen. With 4K monitors (if you are lucky enough to have one), that is a lot of pixels you will have to traverse.

Here is an example from SOLIDWORKS of how the breadcrumb menus work in conjunction with the control D key.

Courtesy of SOLIDWORKS, users will appreciate that the confirmation of commands is now handier than ever. Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.
SOLIDWORKS 2015 mouse tracking (left) shows many forays into the menu and icon areas of the interface, which are reduced to almost none with SOLIDWORKS 2016 with the use of the D key.

Use of the heads-up display was no doubt a major contributor in SOLIDWORKS’s claim that 2016 reduces mouse travel significantly (20 percent across the board and by about half in the example shown above).

Is That SOLIDWORKS Part Made of Glass? Didn’t Think So

An interesting new feature in SOLIDWORKS 2016 is that when you pick a part, it turns transparent as if it was made of glass. This lets you see what that part might be obscuring in an assembly. Additionally, your mouse clicks can go right through “the glass” to any part behind it. This makes selection in complex assemblies ever so much easier.

This works particularly well when you are selecting mating parts. Pick the first part to mate and it turns transparent. You can see every part around it and you can pick right through the first part as if wasn’t there.

An Easy Tool to Add Threads to a Model? You’re Twisting My Arm

The thread definition tool lets you specify all parameters, including standard threads.
Threads, long the bane of solid models, can now be made easily in the software.

Finally, after all these years of faking threads with a call out, we can show threads as they appear in real life.

With SOLIDWORKS 2016, you can invoke a thread command, pick the proper parameters (size, pitch and length) and the thread is automatically generated. You can now put real threads easily on a part that will be 3D printed — something that cannot be done with a call out.

Here’s what the thread feature can do:

• Create several standard size threads, English or metric
• Create custom threads with the following parameters that can be stored in a library for future use

Start location
End conditions
Rotation angle
Left hand or right hand

And so ends 20 years of connivance, users faking helical threads with circular threads, users trying to sweep tooth profiles along helical paths, users generating routines or buying add-ons, users following lengthy video tutorials, and software vendors convincing us that you don’t really need to show the real thread. We’ll give you a call out. Now it’s in the software.

But pardon me for asking for more. Would it be too much trouble to have SOLIDWORKS make thread suggestions that were size appropriate for a part? For example, if you are putting threads on a 0.25-inch diameter shaft, shouldn’t it suggest a ¼ UNC-20 or ¼ UNF 28 thread?

An Improved Two-Step Sweep Function

Sweep created easily by selecting a path specifying a diameter.

Old way

1. Create a 3D curve profile
2. Create a plane on one end of it
3. Create a sketch of a circle and give it a diameter
4. Sweep the circle

New way

1. Create a 3D curve
2. Define the diameter
3. Done.

Howdy, My Quick-Draw Mate

SOLIDWORKS 2016 has promoted the profile center mate to the quick mates toolbar. In his demo, SOLIDWORKS’s Mark Schneider stated the promotion of the profile center mate to be the biggest productivity enhancement of all. The profile center mate also works beautifully to put screws and shafts in holes.

With it, the center of a profile, either rectangular or circular, can be rapidly aligned with another. One click and it’s all over. This may have taken several mates previously.
Additionally, you have the option of flipping the parts in 90-degree increments if SOLIDWORKS does not get it right from the start.

Another welcome improvement with mates is that they now stay with assemblies as they are copied or moved. Also, SOLIDWORKS 2016 allows more than one part to be copied at a time. Just use the Control key as you pick or drag the mouse.

In the past, users would discover that after the parts were moved individually, the mates would have to be reapplied. Now, you can move multiple parts at a time and the mates in between move with the parts. The copied assembly still moves like it should from the old mate definitions.

Component Preview Window

While picking a part and making it transparent can help in a cluttered assembly, SOLIDWORKS 2016 offers yet another convenient way to see a part. You can pick a part and have it displayed in a separate window, where it can be zoomed in, rotated and more. The thing is, the part stays in place in the assembly.

It’s what you wish you could do in real life — effortlessly picking out a cylinder from an engine for an inspection or some modification and then plopping it back in.

There’s Plenty More Coming in SOLIDWORKS 2016

We’ve only scratched the surface, or I should say, the solid, with these few enhancements. Stay tuned as we cover even more in an ongoing series of the world’s most popular professional mechanical design software. If there are enhancements you’d like us to explain, please make a suggestion below.

About the Author


Roopinder Tara has been into CAD, CAM and CAE for his entire professional life, as an engineer, CAD manager, professor and publisher. He has written numerous publications on CAD, design and engineering. He has a bachelors in mechanical engineering, masters in engineering science and is a certified professional engineer.

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