What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: 3D Interconnect

Sixteen years ago, I was designing a module tray that supported a gas tank using a CAD tool. In order to avoid any structural damage at common low frequencies, I needed to run a modal frequency response analysis to identify the tray’s first, second and third natural frequencies. Simply put, the higher these frequencies are and the smaller the amplitudes are, the safer the structure is. The result of this analysis was supposed to help me optimize my design. However, here was the problem. The analysis software available to me at that time didn’t read the CAD format. So there I was, stuck in the middle because the tools didn’t talk to each other.

I’m sure the tools have evolved a lot in the past 16 years, but the challenge is still there. Oftentimes in design collaborations and data migrations, CAD formats get in the way of the design. This is the first problem.

What did I try doing to work around this barrier? First, I identified a common subset between the export formats of the CAD tool and the import formats of the analysis software: STEP, IGS, SAT, x_t, x_b… you name it. As a young and naïve engineer, I didn’t know what each format meant. They all looked like black boxes to me, but I didn’t care that much, either, when I was desperately hunting for a common language that both of my tools spoke. Then I tried each and every one of them, exporting from one tool and then importing into another with my fingers crossed.

After being overwhelmed by all kinds of warning sand missing or redundant geometries during hours of exporting and importing, I finally found a neutral format: x_t, a Parasolid file that presented my model seemingly well from the CAD tool into the analysis software. But that was based purely on my visual comparison between them. Who knew what could go wrong under the hood? By that time, I really didn’t have much confidence in the translated model or the analysis results. So here was the second problem. 3D exports and imports lose data fidelity and can compromise an engineer’s confidence.

By the way, the analysis was supposed to guide my design iterations and optimizations. What would happen if I modified the design? I would have to run the exports and imports all over again, which was the third problem. The associativity between the original design and derivatives was broken.

These three problems have been bothering many more common workflows. For example, you design with SOLIDWORKS, but often need to bring components such as a pump in the Creo format by a supplier into the software’s assembly. Or you can run an engineering service firm and will need to read a CATIA V5 engine model to guide your tooling design. Or you will need to reuse one of your legacy Solid Edge models.

SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect in the 2017 release is designed to solve these three problems. 3D Interconnect allows you to read all major 3D proprietary CAD files into the software and use them the same way as native SOLIDWORKS files. It bypasses the entire data translation process, opens 3D CAD files directly and updates the 3D references along with surrounding software’s designs upon external changes. 3D Interconnect assists in collaborations with customers and suppliers regardless of the CAD tools. It also allows you to leverage legacy design data in a wide variety of CAD formats. The specific formats and versions supported are as follows:

  • PTC
    •     PRT and ASM for Pro/ENGINEER 16—Creo 3.0
  • Autodesk Inventor
    •   IPT for V6—2016
    • IAM for V11—2016
  • Siemens Solid Edge
    • PAR, ASM and PSM for V18—ST8
  • Siemens NX
    • PRT for UG 11—NX 10
  • CATIA V5
    • CATPart, CATProduct for V5R8—V5R2016

Now let’s illustrate this new functionality in a practical workflow where we will reuse an Autodesk Inventor battery assembly in SOLIDWORKS as shown in Figure 1.

iim2Figure 1. Reuse an Autodesk Inventor battery assembly in SOLIDWORKS

Now the Insert Component dialog includes all the above proprietary CAD formats as shown in Figure 2.

image003Figure 2. Insert components from third-party proprietary CAD formats.

Then as shown in Figure 3, the Inventor battery assembly was inserted as actual solid models, not just visual representations. Let me just remind you that we didn’t do any format exporting or importing here. So the struggle I experienced with the second problem described earlier was out of the picture.

image004Figure 3. The Autodesk Inventor assembly was inserted and mated in place.

Here I’d like to call your attention to the feature tree as shown in Figure 4. First, please note that the icons all include a green arrow pointing to the left, indicating that they are referencing an external source. The key distinction here is that you are not creating any file copies of the original design. It’s a direct reference, which avoids the file duplications, multiple files or even conflicting files for the same design and data management hassles. Second, the top tree node actually carries over the Inventor assembly file name with the IAM extension. Lastly, the entire assembly structure was respected and presented. Of course, you can mate this assembly into place using its geometries and SOLIDWORKS geometries in a way similar to native components.

image005Figure 4. The feature tree of the inserted Inventor assembly.

Now let’s tackle the third problem noted earlier. What should we do if the design changed in the external source as shown in the revisions in Figure 5? The individual battery is bigger, the housing is thicker and there are now only six batteries needed in the pack rather than eight.

image006Figure 5. Design revisions of the Inventor battery assembly.

To reflect these changes, please rebuild the SOLIDWORKS assembly and notice that a refresh circle has been added to the Inventor assembly icon indicating that a new revision is available. Now you just need to click on the Update Model command in the context menu as shown in Figure 6.

image007Figure 6. Update the model upon a new revision.

The software then automatically updates not only the battery pack subassembly, but also mates with surrounding components such as the battery retainer bracket, countersink holes and rivets as shown in Figure 7,which can be compared to Figure 3.

image008Figure 7. The Inventor subassembly and surrounding mates are updated automatically.

The above quick workflow demonstrates how SOLIDWORKS 2017 3D Interconnect can solve the common problems engineers are facing today as summarized in Table 1. To learn more details about 3D Interconnect, please visit the SOLIDWORKS 2017 launch site.

Table 1. The problems solved by 3D Interconnect.

Problems 3D Interconnect solutions
Third-party CAD formats are not readable and get in the way of the design Read all the major proprietary CAD formats into SOLIDWORKS
3D exports and imports lose the data fidelity and can compromise an engineer’s confidence Bypass data translations and avoid file duplications by directly referencing the external design source
The associativity between the original design and derivativesis broken Update the references and surrounding components automatically upon design revisions

About the Author

Oboe Wu is a SOLIDWORKS MBD product manager with 20 years of experience in engineering and software. He is an advocate of model-based enterprise (MBE) and smart manufacturing.  

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