What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: eDrawings
For more than three million CAD users, it is that time of year again: A time when a market leader in the space, SOLIDWORKS, releases its latest updates and starts talking about all the new bells and whistles. But engineers and CAD drafters are not the only ones who should poke their heads up, as the update also includes new features for the eDrawings viewer. The viewer, which is designed to allow a non-CAD user to manipulate and comment on files without requiring a full CAD package, hasn’t always had the best of times when it comes to updates.
In 2012, the major announcement was support of a mobile eDrawings app, which was the first step for the company into using CAD on the go. Then, in 2014, the addition of a My.Solidworks.com viewer that allowed for eDrawings review directly in a browser further expanded the potential for sharing and collaborating across devices. Since then, the updates have slowed down somewhat. In 2015 the new feature was an update to make the measuring tool use file-specific dimensions rather than just defaulting to millimeters.
In 2017, eDrawings is causing a stir again. The excitement lands somewhere in the middle; it is sure to grab a few headlines thanks to the first mention of a major buzzword in the design and 3D world. Even though other core features will likely get most of the press, the updates to eDrawings for 2017 offer a glimpse into the future with broadened file support and the first use of the words virtual reality (VR)!
An exploded view of an assembly in eDrawings. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
The tagline for eDrawings (“The easiest way to share 3D data across multiple CAD Environments”) rings truer this year. One of the major features is the added support for additional file types. In total, there are now 22 native CAD file formats supported. Another four formats cover the world of 3D printing, including OBJ, STL, AMF and the potential new standard 3MF.
While the professional version of eDrawings still requires a paid license, the support for additional file types makes the free version of the viewer even more powerful. Adding support for CATIA V5 and Autodesk Inventor certainly helps, but also exciting is the support of IGES, OBJ, and 3DXML formats. Now not only will the core SOLIDWORKS package import nearly every CAD file type, even its viewer is becoming agnostic as to where the original design files came from.
Expanding the file types supported also begins to open up the market to new users. The Pro version already allows for mobile app support of augmented reality (AR), where models can be overlaid onto real world objects and moving the mobile device around gives the feeling of physically manipulating a design. Now, though, SOLIDWORKS is introducing its first native support for anything VR.
Looking at an assembly using the mobile app’s VR support. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
This VR support uses the software’s mobile app to break out multiple views. It is unclear whether or not true parallax viewing is enabled, where each view is from a slightly different angle, or if it is the same viewpoint displayed twice. What is also unclear is the exact display rate possible during viewing. Google Cardboard, the easy-to-use viewer for which the new eDrawings is designed, does not put explicit restrictions on quality like headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive do.
Rendering geometry for 3D viewing can be very intensive on a graphics card and one of the major hurdles for an “immersive” VR experience is that a drop in frame rate can ruin the experience. While Oculus and HTC require apps to run at a minimum 90 frames per second, Google Cardboard is reliant on the display rates of mobile phones.
Granted, most of those limitations will be device-specific—but users should expect that super-heavy models and large assemblies will have issues. However, eDrawings files are significantly smaller than their CAD counterparts and the ability to shrink and email a file is one of the key features.
In addition to the improved viewing support, eDrawings includes a number of markup tools, but those have been around for years. For other renderings, other add-ons, including Visualize, are still necessary and the core SOLIDWORKS program can output formats such as 3D PDFs that can be shared.
It’s worth noting that eDrawings still lacks a full workflow that logs comments and versions for a PLM system. This fact causes the feature to function as a useful utility but leaves it squarely in the “nice to have” feature set that can be worked around if necessary. Even so, the professional package includes an API that allows it to be built into custom webpages and optimized for firm-specific design reviews—assuming you have the time and need to go through such troubles.
Overall, the news for eDrawings is a part of the larger announcement of other developments in the electrical package, PCB design and simulation tools. Still, any time a new technology such as VR starts creeping its way into updates, folks should take notice. The new support of a variety of file types is certainly helpful, but it may not be enough to push users over the edge into getting a full license. If SOLIDWORKS starts supporting full designing, dimensions, simulation and collaboration on a full VR headset, though, that could certainly cause things to change. I for one am excited to keep an eye on what is next to come.
About the Author
Chris McAndrew (@CbMcAndrew) is a product development and marketing executive with nearly a decade of experience bringing concepts from the idea stage to market release in a variety of industries. He is a trained mechanical engineer, with a B.S. from Tulane University, and he is completing an MBA program at UCLA Anderson School of Business (’16).