Solid Modeling – so much better than 2D CAD

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve gone back to college and am currently taking classes and working when I can. One of the classes I’m taking is a study of engineering drawing and one of the tools we’re using is Solidworks. If you’ve never seen or used Solidworks, know that it’s a program that lets you build 3 dimensional models of parts and combine them to create whole assemblies. After being exposed to this software, I’m ready to move away from our older 2D CAD system, and here’s why.

Advantages of solid modeling

First, building solid models allows you to “create” things without ever cutting a chip. You can build virtual prototypes of parts, assemblies, and eventually, entire products. You can see how changes to one aspect of one component affect the other components in the product. This can save time and cost by removing the need to physically build prototypes, at least until later in the design process when many of the bugs have been worked out digitally.

Another advantage is the analysis capability of the solid modeling software. Because you define the geometry of the components, along with the material, the software can tell you things like:

  • mass
  • volume
  • center of gravity

If you’ve ever designed a product only to be surprised by how heavy (or light) it was, or how out of balance it felt, this software can help you avoid those surprises. The software can also allow you to test a part for deflection based on loads and constraints. If you’ve ever wondered if a particular component will handle a certain force applied to it, solid modeling can help you answer that question, again without building a prototype and doing complex physical testing.

Disadvantages to solid modeling

Well, it’s not cheap. I’ve looked on the website, and they don’t list prices. And, as the old saying goes, “If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.” Now, I’m sure the software is affordable depending on how you justify it. If you’re spending 6 figures building prototypes, a seat of solid modeling software might be a giant cost saver. If you’re a small company flying by the seat of your pants, well, maybe it’s time to stop wearing pants.

It’s also not necessarily easy. When you first sit down with the software, there’s a staggering abundance of toolbars, commands, and a blank slate staring at you. That can be intimidating. The time it takes to learn how to use a solid modeling program is also going to be a cost, and some people may not have the time or money to spend on the training.

Conclusion

Despite the high costs and steep learning curve associated with solid modeling, I still think the ability to design and create without using material far outweighs the costs involved. With any luck, I’ll have Raytech updated to using solid modeling either before I graduate, or shortly after.