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The Lazy Person’s Guide to SOLIDWORKS

CAD PDM

The Lazy Person’s Guide to SOLIDWORKS

Being lazy is hard work. It’s more of a look, anyway; the goal is to make everything look easy. This article delves into a few ideas to take the work out of looking lazy—from little tips to big projects.

The Right Workspace

The first step to true lazy working is to get the right workspace. You have to look comfortable, which means having furniture and peripherals set up in a way that makes even the most stressful situation look like a walk in the park. Of course, you need a 3D controller of some sort. The more auxiliary buttons, the better. Buttons on your 3D controller allow you to invoke commands without moving your hand.

Next, you need an over-the-top mouse. The ultimate lazy mouse is a trackball, because your hand hardly moves. Your mouse also needs to have some buttons for more keyboard shortcuts. Think about the things you do instinctively, and repetitively, such as hitting Back in the browser navigation, ESC to finish commands, Zoom to Fit, or Isometric View. Ideally, you need to invoke these commands without moving your hand from the mouse to the keyboard. Think of getting something like a mouse with a keypad on it. That’s taking lazy to the next level.

Understand the Goal

The key to avoiding doing more work than you really need to is to truly understand the goal that you’re trying to achieve for the project at hand. For example, are you reverse engineering a product, or trying to make improvements on it? Are you helping your coworkers install software, or are you trying to make them as productive as possible?

To understand the goal, you have to look past the immediate task at hand and see the bigger picture. Great managers will help you see this grand plan, so that you make better decisions along the way. Less-than-great managers may need some prodding to provide you with better information.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Do you find yourself constantly changing units? Or adding standard axis features? Or renaming standard planes? Or recreating custom materials?

Laziness entails a lot of avoiding rework, doing tasks only once as often as possible, and reusing existing data instead of keying it in multiple places. Also, if you find yourself deleting a lot features, mates or relations, you might want to examine your dedication to real laziness. Here are some more ideas.

Templates

Create and use templates for any situation you find yourself in more than a couple of times. SOLIDWORKS has standard templates for parts, assemblies and drawings. Part templates can contain a lot of pre-existing information and setup material.

For example, you can have a part template set up for specific gauges of sheet steel or sheet aluminum. If you save a template with a link value called Thickness, this has special application and benefits for sheet metal parts.  You can have custom property information ready to go for machined parts or weldments. You can even store features and geometry in part templates.

You can do the same with plastic parts, and parts that have to be set up for any process, such as casting, machining, 3D printing or weldments.

Assembly templates can allow you to have special setups for subassemblies and top-level assemblies. Drawings offer many opportunities to reuse existing data in the form of annotations, tables and charts. Selecting the correct template to get started will save you a ton of time.

Dimension and annotation favorites, along with blocks, are things you can store in a template and have available to you each time you open a new file.

The key here is again to be looking ahead to what you are going to need beyond the task at hand. Most CAD projects are going to involve 2D drawings, and 2D drawings have title blocks that need to be filled out, and Bills of Materials that can take a lot of information directly from the part or assembly files. Custom Properties can be saved with default values in templates, so the big job is just selecting the correct template with which to start a part. You save yourself all the repetitive data entry, and the looking up of values, to name a couple tasks.

Remember also that drawings have both formats (which are essentially drawing borders which can contain text and live annotations linked to custom properties) and templates (which are general settings files for drawings, and can contain formats). Multiple folders in your templates area will create tabs in the New SOLIDWORKS Document interface, shown in the figure above.

You can customize drawing formats for size, orientation, layout of the drawing border, tolerance block, company logos, colors, line thicknesses and types and a lot more. You can even have a template with multiple page drawings. If you are a contractor and do drawings for multiple organizations, you can have a format set up for each customer, for each size that they use.

Getting drawing templates set up is a huge time saver, and definitely lets you look like you’re slacking. You can have information ready for you when you start the drawing with the correct custom property links, units, tolerances, anchor locations for charts and tables, and all of the Document Property settings in Tools > Options.

Edit – Don’t Delete

Delete is not an editing technique. When you have errors or need to change something, deleting features, sketches or data is just throwing away perfectly good data. You need to learn how to work with existing things without recreating them. Plus, deleting can cause a lot of downstream problems. Deleting a line in a sketch can cause dimensions and relations further down the tree to become detached, features to fail in the same part and mates to fail in the assembly.

There is a function on the right mouse button menu to replace entities in sketches, thich can save you a lot of repair work later on. Those things you delete may also be controlled by a design table, an equation, control multiple configurations, or be used in-context in an assembly or as part of a master model scheme. Deleting seems lazy, but it really just causes more work.

When you know how to edit things, and the troubleshooting that comes with editing, you have a much better understanding of what is happening in your CAD model—and you can be more relaxed when unexpected things happen.

Keyboard Shortcuts

A lot of old school users tend to like keyboard shortcuts. There are a lot of advantages, especially if you have a mouse or a 3D controller with a lot of auxiliary buttons. You should only make as many shortcuts as you can remember, though, so these should be the things that you use most often and which are not easy to reach with the mouse.

To make the most of keyboard shortcuts (also called hotkeys) you should use the grid interface at Tools > Customize > Keyboard. You can export the settings to a .csv file and print it as a reminder (taped to side of monitor is a favorite trick). Make sure you know the default keyboard shortcut settings, so that your custom hotkeys don’t conflict.

TIP: Sometimes hotkey combinations with the ALT key conflict with the “access keys” in menus that you access by first pressing ALT then a key, like ALT F for the File menu.

Sometimes the software supplied with devices that have programmable buttons will enable you to program actions that are useful in CAD, such as Save, Open, Print, Close or other operations. Don’t overlook good device selection when planning out your laziness.

Macros

Macros can be a huge time saver, and can range from simple (sketching a rectangle centered on the origin) to complex (adding 3D printing support structures to a model in CAD). You can write or record them yourself, piece them together from existing macros to make something new or search the internet for libraries of macros. CADForum.net has a growing repository for SOLIDWORKS macros. People on CAD forums are often helpful when it comes to finding, debugging, sharing and writing interesting and time-saving macros.

You can also get a double time-savings by connecting macros to hotkeys. The types of things you can do with macros are limited only by your imagination and the needs of your situation. The person who invented the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” was almost certainly a lazy macro writer.

Best Practice

Best practice recommendations do two things:

  • Help standardize methods when you have a lot of users.
  • Help make sure that even the least skilled individual on your team can still work with your models.

The safe approach is always to adhere to best practice suggestions at your company, and this is exactly what you should do when you are in unfamiliar territory. However, the safe approach usually costs time. You may be able to save time by getting a waiver for certain projects for certain best practice requirements. Don’t rely on this happening, but in a pinch you may be able to save some time on a project with this approach.

It is important to remember that best practice is not the same as drafting standards. Drafting standards are real requirements, which the results of your CAD activities must meet. Best practice is simply a set of suggestions for the lowest common denominator method to get there. Sometimes people get these mixed up, or forget about the standards. Best practice generally applies to the 3D models, while drafting standards typically (but not always) apply to just the 2D drawings.

If you are a power user, you can sometimes skip best practice, but you cannot escape drafting standards. If you skip best practice, however, your coworkers may not be able to work on your models, or your models may not work with other models used in the project. Sometimes the time you save by taking a shortcut is lost again by someone else who may be less skilled trying to unravel what you have done later on. Remember, this might be an option, but there also can be consequences.

More Relations, Fewer Dimensions

SOLIDWORKS itself is built on the concept of laziness. The software allows you to automate change to some degree. The whole Design Intent or Design For Change concept is intended to allow users to use simple changes to drive complex changes. One way to take advantage of this is to use more sketch relations, and fewer dimensions.

For example, make sure you are using the automatic relations and sketch snaps to help you create lines that are vertical, horizontal, tangent, parallel, perpendicular and so on. Allowing the software to automate as much as possible is a definite lazy step that makes it look like you worked hard on that sketch all day.

Use patterns, symmetry and mirroring instead of duplicating your effort. Use the Derived Sketch as a parametric copy of an existing sketch. Remember that you can reuse existing sketches in various ways.

Excel and Equations

When your product has a lot of relationships driven by equations or size changes, SOLIDWORKS configurations are often the way to go. With configurations, you get the built-in capabilities to use equations internal to SOLIDWORKS or to go a step lazier and use Excel to compute sizes and dimensions for you. A little bit of knowledge and ingenuity can go a long way.

Configurator Software

One of the laziest things you can do is to use configurator software. Configurator software allows you to take a standard design for a scalable product and make it into an engineer-to-order product. A sales engineer or even the customer can punch in numbers for requirements, and the system spits out a set of scaled models, drawings and a quote for the delivered and installed system.

In the past, you could piece together a system like this with the help of a big spreadsheet and a couple of programmers. But now, you can use products such as DriveWorks or Rulestream to take your live CAD models and create scalable systems with sizing, options and integration.

For example, maybe your company makes steam-based power plants. You might have 10 different sizes of boilers, with each size driven by certain relationships that can be captured and built into the CAD model. Then the boiler can be connected to a turbine which is selected based on a set of engineering rules and requirements. The turbine is connected to a generator, which itself is made of many smaller components, each of which is driven by requirements of size, power, material, installation conditions and other factors.

Some of the decisions are based on customer input, and some are automatically calculated. From this set of information, the assembly model with all of the parts can be generated directly, and drawings made automatically.

Summary

After you wake up from your nap, try to implement a couple of the smaller ideas mentioned here. Maybe shift around your office to make it all look a little more effortless. Update some of your peripheral devices for a little boost in efficiency. During your nap, you might also dream or plan for some of the bigger ideas like programming your products into an automated configurator. Without laziness, you might never get anything done.