The X-Ray Machine for SOLIDWORKS Assemblies

The Swiss Army Knife of SOLIDWORKS Reporting and Troubleshooting

For users who work with SOLIDWORKS assemblies, which is practically everyone, there is no tool more versatile for interrogating an existing assembly as the Assembly Visualization Tool.

Its functionality is described in detail by SOLIDWORKS Help. This article is not meant to repeat the information from the help file. Instead, we will attempt to demonstrate the tool’s functionality by exploring 10 time saving practical uses:

  1. Increase clarity in graphics by instantly coloring assembly components differently from one other
  2. Quick creation of display states
  3. Visually sort components based on user selected criteria
  4. Edit custom properties values
  5. Select components in bulk
  6. Troubleshoot mating schemes
  7. Generate visual reports in drawings
  8. Diagnostics of assembly slowdowns by identifying components which impact performance
  9. Quickly hide and show groups of components by range
  10. Generate reports in Excel format

1. Differentiate Your Components by Coloring Them

Working in a modern 3D CAD software is similar to being a superhero in a virtual parallel universe, where you can create, modify or destroy almost anything. Most SOLIDWORKS users are very diligent in making their models as similar as possible to their counterparts from our universe. A good example in this regard is the care with which users apply materials to parts.

When a material is applied to a SOLIDWORKS part, by default the material’s appearance is assigned to the part, along with its physical properties. When RealView Graphics, Shadows and Ambient Occlusion is applied, the model looks realistic.

Figure 1. Steel means… a lot of grey on the screen.

While the assembly in Figure 1 looks “nice,” editing it in SOLIDWORKS is not easy, because it’s hard to tell its components apart.

Using Assembly Visualization, it becomes very easy to assign colors to top level components (Figure 2) or to individual parts (Figure 3 and 4).

Figure 2. Colors assigned to top level components.
Figure 3. Colors assigned at the part level.
Figure 4. Colors assigned at the part level (Zonal Section View).

To achieve this goal, follow the following steps:

  1. Activate the Assembly Visualization mode. Usually users take advantage of the Evaluate Tab in the Command Manager.
Figure 5. Activate the tool.

On a fresh installation of SOLIDWORKS 2018 or 2019, the screen will look similar to the one shown in Figure 6:

  • The FeatureManager is replaced with the Assembly Visualization tree
  • By default, three columns are shown listing three properties for individual part components: File Name, Quantity and Mass
Figure 6. Default Style for the Assembly Visualization Pane.

Also, by default, all components are sorted based on the value of their Mass and colors are applied as a gradient following a spectrum from red to blue, where the red are the lightest and blue the heaviest.

  • Select the File Name column header, to sort part components based on their file name.
  • Right Click on the Vertical Bar on the left and select Group Identical (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Apply individual colors to components.

The result is shown in Figure 8:

Figure 8. Individual colors for part components.

There are only 48 colors that can be used, so if you have more components than that, some colors will be applied to multiple components. In general, SOLIDWORKS does a pretty good job in assigning contrasting colors to adjacent components.

To apply colors only to the top-level components of the assembly, follow the next step:

  • Click on the Flat/Nested View button, as per Figure 9. That will toggle the display of the list of components from individual part components to top-level components (parts or assemblies). Clicking a second time would revert the action.
Figure 9. Toggle between the Flat and Nested Views.

Notice how the colors are applied in this case:

Figure 10. Individual colors for top level components.

Note that this colorization is temporary. If you close the Assembly Visualization, the colors will revert to the ones set in the current display state.

The good news is that these colors can be saved in a new Display State.

2. Quick Creation of Display States

To save the new component appearances automatically generated by Assembly Visualization, follow these steps:

  1. Select the right facing arrow on the column header used for sorting. It will open a drop-down menu
  2. Select Add Display State. A new display state called Visualization Display State-1 is created
Figure 11.
  • It is a good practice to activate the Configuration Manager and rename the new display state.

Since the colors were applied to top level components, let’s call the new display state Top Level Colors.

  • Select the Flat/Nested View button, to revert to part components list.
  • Save a new Display State.
  • Rename it Part Components Colors.
  • Save the assembly. From now on, you can use each of the colorful display states during assembly editing, while still preserving the original display state showing realistic appearances.

To ungroup the colors, Right-Click on the vertical bar and select Reset All.

Figure 12.

3. Visually Sort Components Based on User Selected Criteria

The Assembly Visualization tool has access to two types of criteria for grouping and sorting components:

SOLIDWORKS hard coded properties:

15 x Sustainability related properties:

  • Air
  • Build to Last
  • Carbon
  • Duration of Use Quantity
  • Manufacturing Location
  • Manufacturing Process
  • Material-Class
  • Material-Specific
  • Total Air
  • Total Carbon
  • Total Energy
  • Total Water

20 x Model specific properties:

  • SW-Calculated Cost
  • SW-Density
  • SW-Mass
  • SW-Material
  • SW-Open Time
  • SW-Rebuild Time
  • SW-Surface Area
  • SW-Volume
  • Converted to Current Version
  • Excluded from BOM
  • External Reference
  • Face Count
  • Flexible Subassembly
  • Fully Mated
  • Graphics-Triangles
  • Quantity
  • Solid Body Count
  • Surface Body Count
  • Total Graphics Triangles

User input Custom Properties. Examples:

  • Description
  • Revision
  • Source

Let’s order the components in this assembly using Mass as a criterion. If the Mass of two types of components are equal, then use the Surface Area as the next sorting criterion.

For that, follow these steps:

  1. Add a column for the SW-SurfaceArea property. Click on the drop-down arrow and select Add Column.
Figure 13. Add Column.

A new column is added, but the header is not the one we needed.

  • Click on the drop-down arrow of the newly inserted column and select More…
Figure 14.
  • The Custom Column dialog appears. Click on the -Select another property  dropdown, then select SW-SurfaceArea.
Figure 15.
  • Select the Mass column header, to define the Mass as the primary sorting criteria. A sorting widget appears under the Mass column header, indicating the sorting order: ascendant or descendant.
Figure 16. Descendant sort order (Large to Small).
  • Ascendant sorting can be switched to Descendant by clicking again on the column header.
Figure 17. Ascendant sort order (Small to Large) .

Notice how, for identical Mass values, the SW-SurfaceArea values are not sorted yet.

  • To establish the SW-Surface Area as the secondary sorting criterion, Right-Click on the column header and select Add to Sort Hierarchy.

A sorting widget appears under the SW-SurfaceArea column header.

Figure 18. Establish a secondary sorting criterion.

Notice the differences between Figures 18 and 19. The property in the column to the left is the primary criterion. The sorting priority moves from left to right. To change the order, simply drag the column headers to the right or left to change the order of the columns.

Figure 19. The primary criterion is Mass and the secondary one is SW-SurfaceArea.
  • To turn the colorization of the assembly on or off, simply click on the vertical bar. It acts as an ON/OFF switch. In the Figures 20 and 21, the Assembly Visualization uses the Nested Mode, to reduce the length of the list.
Figure 20. Colors OFF.
Figure 21. Colors ON.

At this time, the colors are changing gradually on a spectrum starting from red to blue, with red being the lightest part and blue being the heaviest.

Let’s explore using a different color scheme with solid colors:

  • Red: Mass < 100 g
  • Yellow: 100 g < Mass < 1,000 g
  • Blue: Mass > 1,000 g

Follow these steps:

  • Left-Click to the left of the vertical bar. The Color dialog toolbar appears.
  • Select the color Yellow.
Figure 22 – Add a new color.

Note that at this time, the gradient ranges from red to yellow to blue. We want to have solid colors.

  1. Drag the red slider below the last Mass value smaller than 100.
  2. Drag the blue slider above the first Mass value larger than 1,000.
Figure 23. Red and Blue colors are solid at the top and bottom of the list.

We need to add another yellow slider to establish a yellow range.

  1. Repeat steps 8 and 9.
  2. Drag the top Yellow slider immediately below the lower Red slider.
  3. Drag the bottom Yellow slider immediately above the higher Blue slider.
  4. Optionally save a Display State and rename it Mass Study.
Figure 24. Mass Study.

To clean up these settings in preparation for the next case study:

  1. Right-Click on the Vertical Bar and select Reset All.
  2. Right-Click on the SW-SurfaceArea column header and select Remove from Sort Hierarchy.
  3. Optionally Right-Click on the SW-SurfaceArea column header and select Delete Current.
Figure 25.

4. Edit Custom Properties Values

For this case study, we will modify the value of the Revision custom property. We can add a new column or modify the value in an existing one. In this case, Mass will be replaced with Revision.

  1. Click on the drop-down arrow of the Mass column and select More…
Figure 26.
  • At least one component has a custom property named Revision. That is what appears and is selectable in the list shown in Figure 27.
Figure 27. Set Revision as a criterion.
  • Click on the Revision header, to make it the main sorting criterion.
  • Right-Click on the vertical bar and select Group Identical.

Figures 28 and 29 show the Nested and Flat lists.

Figure 28. Nested list sorted by Revision.
Figure 29. Flat list sorted by Revision.

As per Figure 28, the components with no number in the Revision column do not have the Revision as a custom property in their files, or the value is blank.

Assembly Visualization can also be used for creating new properties in the components or modifying existing ones directly from inside the top-level assembly!

Figure 30. No Revision property exists in this subassembly.

Using the Nested list, let’s assign the value 0 (zero) for Revision to the Con Rod Assy and the Oil Pump.

  • Slow double-click in the Con Rod Assy cell under the Revision column.
  • Input 0.
Figure 31. Inputting a value will add a new Revision property in the component file.
  • Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the Oil Pump.
Figure 32. New Revision values are recorded.

The subassemblies now have a new property Revision with the value 0.

Figure 33.
  • Modify the Cylinder Bank’s Revision value to 1.
  • Modify the Crankshaft’s Revision value to 2.
Figure 34. Revision property of components has been edited directly in the top-level assembly.

5. Select Components in Bulk

The Keeper part is located in multiple subassemblies. I would like to quickly isolate all Keeper parts.

  1. In the filter, type the first letters of the work Keepers.
Figure 35. Isolate using the filter.

What if multiple components need to be isolated? In this case we would like to isolate all the CS Gears. The problem is that CS and Gear are strings that belong to multiple other components, so we cannot use the word filter.

  • Clear the filter.
  • Select the File Name column header, to sort the files alphabetically.
  • Select the CS 1st Gear.
  • Select the rest of the CS Gears. Since in this case they are adjacent to each other, I will use Shift-Select.

At this time, it would be tempting to Right-Click on the graphics area and select Isolate. Unfortunately, the developers forgot to add the Isolate menu item in the Assembly Visualization mode. We need an extra step.

  • Select the FeatureManager. The components will remain selected.
  • Right-Click on the graphics area and select Isolate.
Figure 36. Quick isolation using the Assembly Visualization.
  • Optionally create a Display State and name it CS Gears.
Figure 37. New Display State is created.

6. Troubleshoot Mating Schemes

This is a common task when creating or editing an assembly. With a long FeatureManager Design tree, it is hard to see which components are fully mated and which ones have degrees of freedom left.

Assembly Visualization makes identifying free-moving components a breeze by coloring them.

  1. On any column other than File Name or Quantity (such as the Revision column, in our case) use the dropdown arrow to select More….
  2. From the dropdown list select Fully Mated.
Figure 38.

Notice the result in Figure 39.

Figure 39. Components in red are free to move.

7. Generate Visual Reportsin Drawings

For a Flashlight assembly, let’s create a report for the Purchasing Department showing which components are manufactured and which are purchased. If they are purchased, we need to indicate the vendor.

In all components, there is a property called Source which could have one of the two values:

  • Manufactured
  • Purchased

For the Purchased components, there is also a property called Vendor.

Using steps discussed earlier in this article, I added two columns in the Assembly Visualization, one for each of the two properties.

  1. Sort the list by Source with the setting Group Identical for the vertical bar.
  2. Save a Display State and name it Source.
Figure 40. Create the Source Display State.
  • Sort the list by Vendor with the setting Group Identical for the vertical bar.
  • Save a Display State and name it Vendor
Figure 41. Create the Vendor Display State.
  • Create a drawing for this assembly.
  • Add an ISO model view of the Default Display State.
  • Set the Display Style to Shaded With Edges.
  • Copy and paste that view two times.
  • In the second drawing view, assign the Source Display State.
  • In the third drawing view, assign the Vendor Display State.
  • Auto-balloon the two drawing views, using the Source custom property as a criterion for one and the Vendor for the other.

The final result is shown in Figure 42. The whole procedure took about two minutes.

Figure 42. Quick Report for Purchasing.

8. Diagnostic Assembly Slowdowns by Identifying Components Who Impact Performance

As you learn in the Large Assembly Productivity training course, there could be multiple causes for slowing down the assembly performance. Without going into details, the following criteria can reveal problems, affecting one or more of the following:

  • Opening time
  • Rebuild time
  • Graphics Generation time

While the first symptom appears only once per session, the other two could severely impair operational efficiency.

The Assembly Visualization can quickly provide real-time information by displaying the values for the following:

  • Total Graphics Triangles
  • SW-Open Time
  • Converted to Current Version
  • Solid Body Count
  • Surface Body Count

The last two values are used mostly for troubleshooting large imported geometry models.

Figure 43. The main criteria for troubleshooting large assembly slow-downs using Assembly Visualization.

Note that starting with SOLIDWORKS 2016 there is a button you can access called Performance Analysis, which automatically creates three columns containing:

  • Total Graphics Triangles
  • SW-Open Time
  • SW-Rebuild Time

Be aware that the last criterion, SW-Rebuild Time, has little or no bearing on the assembly performance. It indicates the amount of time needed for a part to fully rebuild in its own window. When loading parts in assemblies, they usually do not rebuild during opening, so this number is meaningless.

Figure 44. Performance Evaluation button (not to be confused with the Performance Evaluation tool).

For users working with large assemblies, it is worth creating the columns from Figure 43 and saving them as a Style.

Figure 45. Save time by saving and loading styles.

When opening another assembly, the saved style can be loaded quickly, and troubleshooting can begin.

Even better, the Assembly Visualization Style can be saved in the Assembly Templates, so no configuring will be needed in any new assembly.

If you need more information about the Large Assembly Performance Service, do not hesitate to ask.

9. Quick Hide and Show Groups of Components by Range

Let’s quickly display the components that affect the graphics generation the most.

Using the assembly from Figure 45:

  1. Sort components ascendingly, using the Total Graphics Triangles as a criterion.
  2. Drag the lower rollback bar under the lowest component with more than 1,000,000 graphics triangles.

All components below the bar will be temporary hidden.

  • Optionally, save a display state named Larger than 1M GT.
Figure 46. Components with more than 1 million graphics triangles.

Let’s single out the components with more than 10 million graphics triangles.

  • Drag the lower rollback bar under the lowest component with more than 10,000,000 graphics triangles.
Figure 47. Nasty surprise: a component downloaded from a supplier’s website has a high image quality setting, generating large number of graphics triangles.

Upon further investigation, the springs were downloaded from the supplier’s website. The image quality setting was set in the red, for the part to look realistic. The supplier wanted to showcase the part the best way possible, without thinking about the huge impact on their customer’s assembly performance.

Figure 48. Large Image Quality Setting.

10. Generate Reports in Excel Format

The information reported by the Assembly Visualization is so valuable that is worth using it for more detailed analysis. Excel is a great tool for such analysis.

To save the data to Excel, follow this procedure:

  1. Using the dropdown arrow, select Save As…
Figure 49.
  • Pay special attention to what data gets exported, seen in Figure 50.
Figure 50. What do you want to export?

Note that the export process could take a few minutes. I suggest using the Task Manager to see when Excel stops showing CPU activity.

  • Optionally, sum up the results in Excel. This assembly has almost 92 million graphics triangles!
Figure 51. This is scary! The users need to take urgent action.


The Assembly Visualization tool really is the Swiss Army Knife of reporting and troubleshooting assemblies.

This article by no means fully covers the whole functionality of this tool, but we hope you were able to find more uses for it.

Please let us know if any of these techniques could be used in your workflows by adding your comment at the bottom of the page.

Figure 52. The Assembly Visualization Tool.

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