I have covered SolidWorks the company almost from its inception, starting in 1996. I have reviewed the product. I have sat through many SolidWorks demos. I have seen every incarnation since SolidWorks 95. I have attended SolidWorks user conferences. I have even visited SolidWorks headquarters and learned how it was made. So how hard could learning SolidWorks be, even after a long absence of hands-on use?
I unpack the software. Whoa! A lot has changed in 10 years. SolidWorks 2006 Office Premium comes on 4 CDs. Shouldn't a program that big be on a DVD?
The installation on my laptop took a while but completed fine except for registering online. I had to take the email registration option which means I have to be reminded of days remaining every time I use the software until I get a registration code from SolidWorks.
SolidWorks prompts you to select your level of expertise. I picked the beginner mode. I think this will give me more prompts and wizards. I'm going to need all the help I can get.
It's all a little intimidating. How am I going to learn all this? Relax, I tell myself. I'm an engineer. My kind have put people on the moon. I jumped right into the online tutorials. There is a fairly big set of "30-minute" tutorials included that take you from a simple part to assemblies to drawings and so on. I have the SolidWorks for Dummies book on hand but these online tutorials may be all I need.
I set about to create a simple part, Lesson 1. The opening screen is a pleasant light gradient blue. The icons have an artistic touch. Even on a 1600 wide laptop screen, the toolbars and menus leave a big window to work in.
I follow the directions, which are clear and well illustrated. I follow steps carefully. I love the way a selected plane moves normal to the view. Even zooms are pleasantly dynamic. Extrusion directions are shown on screen. Dimensions pop up and and are used to modify the approximately sketched part. The dimensions appear to be in millimeters though I swore I selected feet and inches. But I'm having so much fun, I continue. I'm sure that can be fixed later. Circles become concentric to other circles without me hardly trying. Filleted edges are previewed before becoming part of the model. Extrusions are removed properly the first time -- no trial and error. The piece is "skinned" (made into a thin wall part) with push button ease. Then for kicks, a section plane is moved through the part and shows inner detail.
I have made a part. It was not only easy, it was a series of small delights. In fact, the part came together so easily, I hardly notice what I have not had to do. I have not had to assign parameters and fully constrain a sketch. I haven't had to use the right hand rule to determine directions in 3D. I haven't had to double check if the proper curve/face/line have been selected even once. I haven't had to interrupt a command to determine the midpoint/endpoint of a line. I haven't had to rotate a part around to clear up ambiguities. I realize these ways may be remnants of my AutoCAD/Mechanical Desktop days. MCAD software has come a long way. Or is it just SolidWorks?