A professional package intended for commercial application, Solidworks CAD software is definitely geared towards designers in engineering. Tom Hazzard goes through the ins and outs of what makes this software program different than other parametric modeling programs and what type of designers it was created to be used by to make certain types of 3D models for 3D printing.
Before I get started on today’s software package that I’m going to talk about, I do want to just make mention of something regarding the last software review, which was for ZBrush. We had some good comments on social media and I really appreciate all of you that wrote in who were complementary about the episode but also at the same point we’re saying, “Hey, there’s other software like that out there that are maybe less expensive than ZBrush.” Maybe not identical to what ZBrush does but do things in a similar sculpture way. Mudbox was mentioned and I think Blender and some things like that.
We are going to be covering those other softwares. We are getting through them in an order in which, quite honestly, was requested of us by others in the past. Also trying to have a good variety of different kinds of software that we’re exploring and covering as we go forward here. There’s so many softwares. We’re going to be able to, overtime, get to so many of them. Blender I know is coming up in a week or two after this publishes. We will get to Mudbox and some of the others in due course.
Listen to the podcast here:
Solidworks Software Review
Today we’re going to down a little bit more of a serious engineering software package to discuss, and that is Solidworks. This is, if you’re not familiar with Solidworks, it is a completely professional package really intended for commercial application.
I don’t expect a lot of students, at least in a grade school and high school level, would have access to it or even really be aware of it. As for any of you adults out there and especially any of you that are engineers or in engineering studies or fields or planning to start a company in which you’re going to need to use CAD software to do serious engineering product development work, Solidworks is a program that you may seriously want to consider.
It is a completely comprehensive parametric program. Of course, we’ve talked about that in the past. Just to recap, parametric is really about creating 3D models with constraints put on them. What those constraints really mean are rules. Rules that govern what the properties and the dimensions, the relationships of one part to another. It really governs what the model is. It takes little time as you’re generating models to put in constraints. If you’re building a part and you’re putting two holes in it, you can make a constraint that the two holes are to always be the same size.
If you end up changing the dimension of one hole it, at the same time, changes. If you’re saying it will change the diameter from six millimeters to eight millimeters. Well, it will change the dimensions of all of those holes at once just by changing one of them. That’s very convenient obviously, if you’re making changes.
That’s really the point of parametric modeling software, is that you can make changes at any point in the creation of this model, in the very beginning or towards the very end of the process, and it will change and update everything that is related to that change that you made. It used to be in the old days of CAD software, I can actually talk about that. I don’t think I look as old as I am. Actually, before CAD, I actually drew on a drafting board. That’s how I was taught in high school, believe it or not. I had some industrial arts classes in architectural drawing and mechanical drawing. We had classrooms full of 30 plus drafting tables and we all learned how to draft. I went and got a job in an architectural firm in the town I grew up, which was in Rye, New York at the time. There was an architectural firm there.
I just started a getting a job at doing waste baskets but eventually they let me draft on a board and assist with some of the detailed, and I’m sure for the architects, menial tasks of drafting that they didn’t want to be spending a lot of time of the higher paid architects on. Eventually when CAD came to be, two years later, it was AutoCAD. It was only two dimensional, basically taking the place of that drafting board. They trained me in it.
I started with 2D CAD and then eventually AutoCAD started to get into 3D. As I got into college, there were other programs, they were high end, like Alias. It was early in my career, in probably the mid-90s, where I became aware of other programs, like Pro/ENGINEER. That’s a ultra, ultra high end. I’m probably not going to cover Pro/ENGINEER because that’s a quantum leap from CAD software that most people in the desktop 3D printing world would use.
Purchasing Solidworks Software
Solidworks software was created and was a really less expensive alternative to Pro/ENGINEER, which I believe Pro/ENGINEER was at least a five, if not a six figure software package in terms of costs. Now, Solidworks, in terms of all the reviews that we have done here on WTFFF?!, is one of the more expensive software packages that we’ve talked about.
It’s something that you can’t just go to their site and download it. They’re on a little older school method where they have dealers and if you want to buy it, you have to fill out some information on their website at Solidworks.com to get a quotation. What’s really going to happen is a sales rep is going to call you, see about your application and then give you a quote for your needs.
After doing some homework and some research, the cost of Solidworks typically is somewhere around the $4,000 range or just under $4,000 for a seat, a single user seat. They have also a package of about $1,300 which gives you, it’s sort of an annual subscription service that covers technical supports and upgrades for a year. If there’s any upgrades, instead of paying a higher upgrade price, you just get it. You’re essentially paying for it with the subscription service, you’re also paying for tech support.
It’s clearly priced obviously much higher than a lot of the 3D printers that I’m sure most of you have bought and are using. It’s a serious CAD software that’s, like I said, meant for more commercial focus.
They still do have a student version. If you are legitimately a student, then you … They don’t say about educators, but they have qualifications. I would just go to their website, which is Solidworks.com and you can look up about Student Edition. Student Edition is about only $150, so very reasonable. They are making it available to those that are legitimately students that are learning.
I think the downside to that is, if you really get into that and you understand that program so well, once you get out into the professional world, you’re no longer going to be a student and you won’t qualify for an upgrade. You’re going to have to pony up for the larger dollars if you want to keep working with it. Or maybe you’ll work for an employer that will do it, so that’s fine.
Benefits of Using Solidworks Software
In any case, I want to talk about what I think are some of the key benefits and aspects of Solidworks software as compared to other CAD programs, especially the other parametrically based programs. You can download a free trial for commercial use even. You can download a free trial for a short period of time. It’s not going to work for long enough for you to really get proficient at it.
In any case Solidworks software, I think some of the benefits clearly is all of … You build parts. You start with sketches and you build individual parts. It has a really good organized system for having parts and their relationships to other parts. It becomes a whole tree, if you will, of parts or a hierarchy of parts. Which not only are you just creating the physical parts that you would then go and have built, whether you’re 3D printing them or using some other process.
In fact a part of the constraints are not just the physical nature of the parts but the movement of the parts and whether they’re allowed to rotate and rotating about what pivot point and then range of motions that are all assigned.
They give a good example on their website of a hydraulic plier, really which is if you’ve ever seen on the news at night where they’re talking about a fire crew that was at the scene of a car crash. They use the Jaws of Life to open up a car door. After it got crunched in a side impact, the door, they can’t open it. They stick the Jaws of Life into it. It’s just an incredibly strong tool that, with hydraulic pressure and leverage, can separate parts of the car and open it up to get people out of the car that are trapped in there.
They go through that type of a product and making some parts for it. Here’s one of the really powerful aspects of Solidworks software is that it not only helps you create those parts in the right relationships to each other and the terms of the range of motion, but it actually will show you interferences and where you have conflicts in the range of motion of parts. That is just an incredibly valuable tool to be able to use.
When you think about that, you have a part that pivots about another and it’s connected with a slot and you have that slot that is created for a certain distance. What happens if then you actually move it and you rotate this part or you need to rotate it farther than that slot would let it go, the software’s going to show you, “Hey, this range of motion exceeds the actual slot or geometry that’s in the part.” It alerts you that there’s an interference. It has interference and collision detection.
When you’re dealing with tolerances and you’re dealing with range of motion, that is actually a really valuable tool. Before you’ve even made a part, you can see that things are either properly engineered or they’re going to fit together and move in the way you want them to or they’re not.
It allows you to make a change right there. They have like rendered views and other things. You can make change at any point of visualization in this program that you want to. Whether that’s in the 2D drawing that’s been generated from the model or the model itself. If you make the change in the 2D drawing, it goes back through all of the components and the model, 3D model and everything.
It’s quite a powerful tool in terms of how comprehensive it is and how smart it is. Now, when you make a change here it means that all of these other things have to change as well. That’s I think one of its great benefits. Even in terms of generating drawings. I’m a design professional and I create specifications for parts that are manufactured in Asia.
A lot of times those factories will not have a program like Solidworks or a program where they can pull in a 3D model life made, even if it’s what I call a dumb solid and it doesn’t have constraints on it. A lot of times I can give them a model and they can import it and interpret it, but some of them don’t. You actually have to give them old school two dimensional drawings.
Solidworks Software and Constraints
This is one of the things that I like the most about Solidworks software, is that its ability to so easily generate the two dimensional drawings, the different views that you need and representing the three dimensional parts in an old school way, with the two dimensional drawing. It just generates that for you so easily. It automatically dimensions it in the proper way, with all the dimensions that are needed to be able to manufacture a part.
In terms of creating a spec package like that, it makes it very easy to do. I tend to use Rhinoceros a lot, and it doesn’t do that for you in any way. It can generate a 2D drawing but then I’ve got to go in and notate it and add dimensions to it manually and all this sort of stuff. It takes quite a lot of time. Like I’ve said in the past, no CAD software is perfect. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, different benefits.
In Solidworks software quite honestly, some other things I create, like my 3D tie or that angel ornament that we’ve created, I know many of you are very familiar with, I’ve actually showed those to people that work in Solidworks. They just scratched their heads and were like, “I have no idea how I’d even begin to create that in Solidworks software, honestly.” Because It’s a very different thing. It’s a little more artistic and little less engineering and function-based.
When you’re trying to make parts that are following a complex three dimensional path or in any way more organic or are created from surfaces rather than solids. I think most things can be done in Solidworks software but it’s just not really intended to make parts that same way or in those ways. It’s probably not the most efficient way to do it. Constraints tend to drive me crazy when I’m doing products like that. I don’t want to have to deal with constraints so that’s why I like Rhinoceros.
If I’m doing really an engineering projects strictly, like if I’m making some sort of a case or a housing maybe for an exhaust fan, for the top of my 3D printer, if I’m going to use ABS and the machine doesn’t come with one and I want to build it. A tool like Solidworks software for something that’s really purely functional and engineered, would be ideal for that in terms of creating those parts, visualizing it, communicating it to whoever’s going to make the part if you’re having it fabricated out of sheet metal or something. Or obviously if you’re going to 3D print something, it has all the great export capabilities to export something for 3D printing.
CAD Model Pricing in Solidworks Software
Solidworks software is really an incredibly comprehensive engineering based CAD software. They have many different particular features that if you’re producing products for the real world, for the factories to make something, then it’s your best friend because it’ll help you produce. You’re creating this assembly of all these different parts. Not just a single part, all the parts, made of different materials, are rendered as different materials and colors.
It’ll help you produce a bill of material which, for those of you that don’t know, a bill of material is just a very detailed complete list of every part that goes into making that product. What the material is, what it’s made of, what its cost is. A bill of material is how you can start to build out what your product cost is, your actual what I would call raw product cost. Nothing’s built into it for over head of employees at the company and some of those things that are the more your G&A type cost. This is just within a product itself. What is that cost of goods? It has pretty much all the information in there.
It won’t have maybe your shipping to go over to, once it leaves the factory to ship it to the US or to ship even if it’s within the US. It probably won’t have other carrying costs and logistics cost and things like that. For the product itself, it’ll automatically generate a bill of material for you, but of course you have to put in all the information. Here comes, again, the constraints as to what each of those parts is.
It’ll also, if you know you’re making a part that’s going to be injection molded, they have a portion of Solidworks that’s specifically for plastics design. Plastic parts that are designed for injection molding have to have certain kinds of drafting angles and certain kinds of physical properties and limitations that the software understands those limitations and helps you do it.
Solidworks Software vs Onshape Software
It’s a very comprehensive program that is really very widely adopted in the commercial world. I read a stat that there’s over 1.8 million users of Solidworks software at this time. At least that’s the latest data that I could find on it. That’s a lot of users. It’s a pretty universal standard in a way, I think in the manufacturing product world.
Is it appropriate for 3D printing? Well, I think for a lot of things, it is absolutely appropriate for 3D printing. You don’t even need probably at that point to take advantage of the plastics part design aspects. They have other things about parts that get welded together. But you don’t need a lot of that for 3D printing. You’re creating parts that are just going to be exported from the CAD and printed. It certainly works very well for that.
Parametric features are great, as long as you don’t mind adding those constraints. I think the tolerance features, that interference and collision detection, is really an incredibly useful thing especially when you’re doing a multi-part assembly. I think if the cost is not a barrier to you, and you’re mostly doing engineering parts, it’s a great program.
Although I have to say, we also did a review a month ago, maybe six weeks ago, Solidworks software which is a rather new CAD software player on the scene. That is also a parametric modeler that has most of the features that this one does. You can actually use it for free up to a certain point, I think. You can have up to ten projects in their cloud system at once. If you go beyond ten, you have to pay. But it’s fully functional. Even if you go on their paid model, it’s only $100 a month. When you think about the relative cost. For pretty much the same price as what Solidworks software is charging you for an annual tech support subscription and upgrade subscription, you can use Onshape for the same price.
Now, they’re not the same program. One’s cloud based, the other one is installed in your computer. I think that Onshape, being newer, doesn’t necessarily have all of the features. But it is also a very comprehensive program. I know from talking with the folks at Onshape that they’re continuing to develop it. They have a small army of developers out of MIT among other incredible schools that are constantly adding features and improving and upgrading the software.
I think their goal is to be every bit the same functionality and capability program as Solidworks, among other CAD programs. I told them about some of the things that I do in Rhinoceros that their software can’t do. They said, “We’re going to add that to the list. We need our program to be able to do that as well. Make organic forms and model surfaces and things as well.” Maybe they’ll get there and that would be great.
There are others to consider. Obviously, Autodesk also has some major parametrically based high end software similar to Solidworks. It’s Autodesk Inventor the name of theirs. It was sort of their answer to Solidworks and essentially is a very similar type of programs, works in the same way. I’ve met engineers that learned Solidworks and then went to Inventor and had no problem picking it up. The same thing going the other direction. Just keep that in mind.
Final Thoughts on Solidworks Software
There are lots of videos on YouTube and it will have some links to them so you can check out the software even without downloading a free trial or having to go and put your information and get a call back from a dealer. There’s also an online community of people using it and they have a resource center. There are things that you can go and do your homework and see if Solidworks software is really the right program for you.
I think it just depends on the kind of things that you’re making and how much time do you want to invest in learning and becoming proficient at a CAD program. Because I do think, regardless of what CAD program you choose or what programs you choose to use, you’ve got to dive into it and spend a lot of time really getting very good at it. Understanding how certain kinds of parts need to be built in their program, so that when you then have an object you’re designing or design and you want to make it, you don’t waste a whole lot of time figuring out what command what I’m going to use, how am I going to make this?
I think you really need to put in time into whatever CAD program you’re going to use. Put a lot time into it, go through as many tutorials as you can, learn how to use the program so that when you’re designing parts in the future or engineering parts in the future, using a CAD software just becomes an extension of your brain. It’s like breathing. It’s not something you have to think too much about. Because it takes your head out of the game of what it is you’re trying to make.
Obviously, I use Rhinoceros because it’s what I’ve used the most. It’s better at some things and worse at others compared to a lot of programs. I don’t think that there’s any one program that’s the best. It’s actually very similar to 3D printers. There’s probably not one that’s absolutely the best. There are benefits, pros and cons, to all of them.
It really depends on who you are and what your purpose is, is this a professional use, personal use, hobby use, educational use? Weighing the options and deciding what 3D printer you’re going to use and what CAD program you’re going to use. Pick one, go for it, become the best that you can be at that CAD program. Move on and you’ll be doing great. At times, you may need to use another program to do certain things or get help from somebody who uses another program to do certain key things. That’s fine. That works too.
Anyway, I think it’s a wonderful world here that we have so many different CAD program options to choose from. A lot of them are free and then a lot of them are not. As I mentioned upfront in this episode, I think coming up next is going to be Blender I believe, which I don’t have a lot of experience with. But I’m going to get some experience between now and then and be able to share that with you so you can consider that program as well.
It’s probably a lot more appropriate program for a lot of you who are learning or in the education field. I think a lot of people with that level use that program. Hopefully, I’ll learn why. We’ll see and we’ll talk about that next time. Don’t forget to comment on the blog post for this episode. Also if you have any comments or questions, as usual reach out on social media @3DStartPoint, or you can always email info@3Dstartpoint.com. Thanks so much, everyone.
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