Knowing how to manipulate and maximize the features of computer-aided design (CAD) software is critical for those in design and engineering. At Creative Mechanisms, our team is incredibly familiar with Solidworks, and it is a large part of how we turn our clients’ ideas into reality. Previously, we have written about nine pro tips for using Solidworks, and in this blog we’ll get more basic and discuss important design features. A good understanding of these methodologies will help designers, builders, and engineers maximize their time with CAD software and streamline the design process
Five design features in Solidworks that every design engineer should know
Designing in Solidworks starts with a 2-dimensional sketch. From a 2D sketch one can create 3-dimensional objects using built-in tools called “features.” Features are simply different ways of converting 2D outlines into 3D objects. Two of the most common tools (methods) for doing this are extrusions (the “extrude” feature) and revolutions (the “revolve” feature).
- Extrusions: The Extrude feature takes a 2D sketch in the x-y plane and gives it thickness or depth by developing it linearly in the z-axis. For example, a sketch of a circle would be extruded into a cylinder. A sketch of a square would be extruded into a rectangular block (or a cube in the event the thickness were made to be the same as the x and y dimensions).
- Revolutions: The Revolve feature takes a 2D sketch in the x-y plane and gives it thickness or depth by rotating it about one of the two sketch axes (i.e. the x or y axis). A commonly known item that demonstrates the utility of the revolve feature is a pawn from the game of chess. An otherwise extremely intricate piece to design, the revolve feature allows the designer to develop a 2D profile which is rotated about the vertical axis for 360 degrees and easily completes the part.
Although extrusions and revolutions are some of the most common features used to design parts in Solidworks, they are nowhere near the only available options. Here are three more features that help round out a basic inventory of design tools:
- Sweeps: The designer can create parts using multiple sketches on perpendicular planes. One sketch will act as the profile and the other will act as the path. The profile sketch is dragged along the path to create the 3 dimensional object. The sweep feature is very effective for things like handles or pipes.
- Surfaces and Lofts: Surfaces typically work similar to sweeps in that they utilize profile and path sketches but they also introduce guide curves. Guide curves act as a second path of sorts in the event that the surface is not going to be symmetric about the path. Surfaces are great for things like handles or nozzles. Additionally, surfaces are hollow by default (the designer simply applies a thickness to the shape which is different than most solid parts). Lofts are typically used to connect different pieces into a single part by using mathematical equations that blend the curves between parts according to the designer's inputs.
- Sheet Metal: Sheet metal drawings are the most effective way to design parts that are actually manufactured by sheet metal forming (adding flanges and bends to a flat "sheet" of metal).
In truth, even these five features are only the beginning. There are a great many other tools to design and refine the design of various parts such as patterns (linear and circular are very common), holes, and a built-in toolbox for off-the-shelf (OTS) components. When determining which tools and/or features to use in your design, it is often useful to think about how the part will be fabricated once you are finished with the design. Some processes are subtractive (such as CNC), while others, like sheet metal work, manipulate a flat surface in different ways. Sometimes it is easy to buy components from manufacturers that make their Solidworks files available on the web. Sometimes parts are combined via fasteners and in other instances they might be welded together. Solidworks has powerful design tools for all of these decisions and more.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve settled on the right design, think about how you’ll display it to your clientele. What types of files do you want to export when you are finished with your design? The three most fundamental file types are .sldprt (the basic file extension for a part designed in Solidworks), .sldasm (the basic file extension for an assembly of multiple parts designed in Solidworks), and .slddwg (the basic file extension for a Solidworks drawing). But are these the right files to send to a customer?
- Sending files to customers: Oftentimes when we send files to a client it will be as a .STP or .STEP file. The interesting thing about this file type is that it doesn’t display the individual features that were used to build the part but rather simply displays the part as a single piece. E-drawings are another good way to send pictures or videos of the design to individuals who do not have Solidworks on their computer. Functional depictions of designs can be exported in multiple formats such as html, .exe (executable files) or .zip.
Do you have a project that requires design and engineering capability?
Not a designer, but interested in turning some of your ideas into reality? Creative Mechanisms has assembled a great team to help inventors, entrepreneurs, and companies design, prototype, and manufacture components...we even offer classes to help get you on your way! Our team has experience designing products across a wide variety of industries, like automotive, packaging, consumer products, and more. We use our experience as designers, builders, and model-makers to craft designs on a timeline to meet your objectives.