Browser, new UI & consistent focus in SolidWorks 2016

Oct 7, 2015 | Hot Topics

SolidWorks debuted its 2016 release a couple of weeks ago and officially released it last week —you should check out its 300+ enhancements/major fixes at or by attending an event hosted by your favorite reseller— but it’s tough to sum up in 1000 words. There’s a lot of new, quite a bit of evolution, but a lot of hewing-to-its-roots, too.

New: a clean, clear UI that gets the CAD tool out of the way and lets you focus on the model you’re working on. That’s all about freeing up screen real estate but also about making sure that a task requires fewer clicks and less mouse travel. Some will find these changes a bit disconcerting but the beta testers I’ve spoken with said it was a short learning curve for a great deal of productivity gain. SolidWorks showed this example to highlight the effects of the UI update in the 2016 release:

Look at the difference in mouse travel and elapsed time between the 2015 and 2016 releases. I’m not sure what the user was trying to do here, but it took significantly fewer picks and less than half the time in the 2016 release. From what I’ve been told, that speedup is not unusual. Many tasks are now take advantage of breadcrumbs, the context-specific menu picks and view of the assembly tree that appear next to the mouse cursor to speed picks.

Also in this release (but not yet broadly available) is SolidWorks in a browser. SolidWorks Online will first be rolled out for people who sign up for a SolidWorks trial but will make it to the masses once pricing has been determined. SolidWorks Online Edition is driven by Frame, one of several emerging platforms using WebGL to run software in a web browser. You can see Frame’s take on the launch here and see SolidWorks CEO Gian Paolo Bassi’s demo here. Key points: this works on any device, anywhere as long as you have a browser and a working Internet connection. Mr. Bassi fired up a full-on version of SolidWorks, not something stripped down, and loaded an assembly from a server 1500 miles away. Performance was, as Mr. Bassi said, “awesome”, even on a cheap Chromebook.

You know that CAD in a browser will be a common way we do our work within a very, very short time. We are all connected to work 24/7; why should that brilliant idea we have in the shower not be realized as soon as we can get online? Why wait until we’re in the office? Yes, there are concerns about security, latency, what happens if the connection fails at a critical point and more — but being able to work when you want to, without an IT department to manage the installation, perhaps using a subscription to keep costs even and manageable. The benefits of constant access and the very few instances of real reported security failures are already starting to change the dynamic.

Also new, and gorgeous, is SolidWorks’ integration of Bunkspeed into SolidWorks Visualization. There are other excellent visualization tools, like Luxion’s Keyshot, but, man, RTT’s Bunkspeed was a great acquisition by Dassault Systèmes. We’re starting to see the photorealistic rendering tools that make such tantalizing advertising copy and movie effects come into the engineering domain, and this has the potential to change how designers communicate with non-CAD users, especially their customers. DS is calling Visualize the “camera” for its CAD products, as it lets users easily define materials, lighting, backgrounds and other effects to showcase design intent.

There are 290+ other things to investigate in SolidWorks 2016, including model-based design –which is going explode in popularity over the next year or two, according SolidWorks’ MBD guru, Oboe Wu– and simulation, costing, CAM prep/integration and much more. There was a definite focus on taking a design from CAD to CAM and to the field that ties into the four themes for the release: create, validate, collaborate and build. Note that create is only one part of the whole; SolidWorks is growing up. The company is pondering how to help its user base explore the Internet of Things, the merging of mechanical and electrical, how to help customers app-ify their products — moving far beyond its CAD roots.

The elephant in the room turned out to not be there, at all. All of the teeth-gnashing about CGM-based apps, the death of SolidWorks, all that, was completely absent. Mr. Bassi said that this was a conscious decision by his team, to create an event that celebrated the SolidWorks that people have known for decades: Parasolid-based, running on Windows (though browser-based, too). He told his audience that his team has “a responsibility to introduce new features that help users, not just introduce new things. When we lose touch with that, we get into trouble.” Adding hundreds of things into SolidWorks for the 2016 release, spending thousands of R&D-years on it, clearly signals that this product is far from done.

Mr. Bassi is an R&D guy, a mechanical engineer with deep roots in CAD/CAM. He speaks passionately about how technology will enable designers to create better solutions to vexing problems — and how the ecosystem that the company has nurtured (more or less) over the years remains crucial to its success. “We are all together. We are a community,” he said several times, adding that  the “ecosystem” is where “great designs happen.”

My favorite new thing in SolidWorks 2016? Mate Controller, a nifty way to create and animate the motion of a complicated assembly. Imagine an assembly robot whacking itself during a travel path or a piece of construction equipment that can’t fully extend — now imagine using a game controller-like UI to assign face mates and paths. You can create and save positions and paths, using them to create animations and feed into analyses. Nifty.

Image of Gian Paolo Bassi at the SolidWorks 2016 launch event at The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate by Monica Schnitger; slide courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.

Note: SolidWorks graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.