What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: Component Mating

Mating components is a fundamental skill in any CAD operator’s tool box. Mating components in an assembly is not only useful for showing the spatial orientation and location of parts, but can allow more advanced functions such as animating moving parts, motion studies, simulations and even exploded views.

In the past, SOLIDWORKS has had a fairly comprehensive suite of mating options, allowing for a variety of different solutions including static mates such as distance, angular, concentric, to more dynamic mechanical mate types such as gear, hinge and cam-follower mates.

Magnetic Mates

In previous releases, in order to create mates in SOLIDWORKS, the user would have to load parts into the software’s assembly mode, click on the features that they wished to be mated together and then repeat that process over and over again, which could be tedious for large assemblies. SOLIDWORKS 2017 introduces a new feature called Magnetic Mates, which simplifies the mating process significantly by allowing drag-and-drop mating.

In this example, the purple dots show the connection points. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

In order to use the magnetic mates, the user opens the Magnetic Mates Asset Publisher panel by going to the design tree and right-clicking Published References > Edit Feature. Then, the user defines the ground plane (plus any offset required) for the part to ensure that all subsequent components to be mated are at ground level. Then, after the ground level is defined, the direction of the mate and the connection points are defined. This can be performed at the part level as well as at the assembly level, meaning that once the part has had its magnetic mate points defined, it can simply be opened in the assembly with its mating references intact.

After this, it is a simple case of dragging the part over to the assembly, where it will snap into position relative to the other parts. Connection points appear as little purple dots, allowing the user to quickly identify parts that have predefined connection points and are therefore eligible for magnetic mating. Pressing the Tab key will rotate the part around its X/Y axis while keeping the part on the same ground plane. Parts can be repositioned simply by dragging and unsnapping the part away from the assembly, whereas previously, the mates would have to be suppressed or deleted from the mates’ Reference box.

The Asset Publisher view, showing how to add connection points. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

Additionally, the magnetic mates’ references can be retained in the SpeedPak functionality, so assemblies can be constructed so that they retain their physical appearance while reducing the actual part geometry. This of course aids to reduce rebuild time and keeps RAM clear for other processes. All in all, magnetic mates are the biggest change to the mating process in SOLIDWORKS 2017 and you can see how easy this feature is to use in the following video.

Orientation of Components During Mate Operations

You may also recall that in previous versions of the software, mating in large assemblies with components spaced out over a large area could often result in the part to be mated appearing at the boundary of the assembly, rather than adjacent to the part intended to mate with. I can personally attest to this fact and indeed, it was a headache.

Imagine you are trying to mate an M5 screw into a hole within the geometric center of an assembly that measures 2 m x 2 m x 2 m. Often, the software would indeed align the screw concentrically, but it would be located at some seemingly arbitrary point within that large volume envelope, requiring the user to zoom in and out to locate the screw in order to add another mate to properly locate and fix it at its intended destination.

This is now, happily, a thing of the past, as SOLIDWORKS 2017 will move the part much closer to its desired location in the first instance, keeping both items to be mated within the same view. This small enhancement to the product can reportedly result in greatly improved performance. Every little helps.

References Maintained

Sometimes it is desirable to convert an assembly file into a part file in order to insert that sub-assembly into a bigger assembly. Previously, the feature IDs could become lost during the conversion, resulting in a loss of references which would require the mates to be redefined in the assembly. SOLIDWORKS 2017 does away with this nonsense and now the various face IDs will be retained and will be recognized in the new assembly, allowing the user to focus on design rather than retracing steps that have already been performed.

Using Non-SOLIDWORKS CAD Data Without Converting the File

In older releases, when importing non-native CAD data into SOLIDWORKS, the software would need to convert the non-native data (such as a Pro/ENGINEER, NX or Inventor file) into a SLDPRT file before being fully functional within SOLIDWORKS. This was a time-consuming task and often resulted in a loss of mate references, feature references and ID data.

Now in this most recent update, the new 3D Interconnect capabilities allow the imported CAD files can be imported without the need for conversion, while retaining mate, drawing and feature reference information, which is good news if your company relies on different CAD formats from other vendors.

The Bottom Line

All in all, it seems that SOLIDWORKS has been listening to customer feedback and has made changes to the package that are designed to increase productivity and cut back on repetitive tasks.

SOLIDWORKS 2017 boasts over 250 new improvements in the CAD package alone and 520 new enhancements over the whole range of packages (including simulation, PhotoView 360 and drawings). According to the company, 90 percent of these new improvements are driven entirely by the feedback of users—which would seem to emphasize the old adage that the customer is always right, or at least has the right idea when it comes to necessary improvements.

About the Author

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Phillip Keane is currently studying his PhD at the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His background is in aerospace engineering, and his current studies are focused on the use of 3D-printed components in spaceflight. He previously worked at Rolls-Royce and Airbus Military and served as an intern for Made In Space and the European Southern Observatory.

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