43 Replies Latest reply on Oct 6, 2016 2:53 PM by Jim Steinmeyer

    Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity

    Michael Hollfelder

      I've been tasked with investigating tools (software or physical) my company can use to increase our SolidWorks productivity. I've come up with a few ideas but I would like to get some ideas from the forum. Just a little background my company uses SolidWorks to design custom conveyors for the packaging industry. We have had EPDM for the past year and a half and it has been great.


      I've been investigating the 3Dconnexion spacemouse enterprise kit. It retails for about $400 but after reading the reviews people seem really happy with it. I think this will help us get work done quicker in SolidWorks and I think we would earn back the $400 with time saved after 1-2 months of use. This may be a hard pitch to sell to my boss however.


      I just discovered the compare features and compare geometry tools in SolidWorks. I've been a user since '08 and never knew these existed and I have a feeling my co-workers may not know as well. These tools would be great after copy treeing parts to find out if we have duplicate parts and if they are not duplicate we can find out what is different. I believe this is easier than manually comparing 2 drawings side by side or doing mass properties check on each part.


      I'm open to ideas from the forum.


      Thank you.

        • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
          Chris Saller

          Have you or others in your company had formal training?

          I suggest having a training class, or your most experienced user train others.

          You can learn from each other.

          • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
            Glenn Schroeder

            I have the 3dConnexion SpaceNavigator (the hockey puck-looking one with just 2 buttons).  It's only about $100.00, and well worth the money.  Mine is about 6-7 years old, has gotten a lot of use, and still works fine.

              • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                Peter Brinkhuis

                I'll second this. Yes, please get at least the simplest version. You'll soon wonder how you have gotten anything done without one. The people that aren't used to changing their behavior will most likely resist the new tech and the other half of the people will run with it.


                I still don't understand bosses that make a fuss out of a one-time 400 dollar investment in a tool to increase productivity and improve employee health. Or proper training of a few days.

                  • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                    Michael Hollfelder

                    Can any of you estimate the time saved each day from switching to the spacemouse or spacenavigator? Also how long of an adjustment period should one expect when switching over to one of these devices? A few days, a week?

                      • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                        Glenn Schroeder

                        It would be difficult to estimate the amount of time saved, but it would add up quick.  It's a big help for maneuvering models when mating, and one of my favorite things is the way it allows me to move the model when my regular mouse and cursor are tied up with another function.  Also a big help for zooming in on drawings (or on pdf's, etc; it works on other programs besides SW), although it took me a while to learn to keep my hands off of it when in a 2d sketch in a model.


                        The adjustment period will of course vary between individuals, but shouldn't be more than a day or two.  If a user is having trouble with it then turn the speed down at first until he/she gets a comfort level with it, then speed it up later if desired.  Mine is on the default setting, right in the middle.  At first you'll have trouble with your model flying off the screen and you won't know where it is.  Either get used to using the F-key, or program one of the buttons to it like I've done.

                        • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                          Patrick Couture

                          After a week of using my SpacePilot, I was not satisfied with my comfort level and I was considering putting it aside. After the second full week I was able to control the 3d model like a champ and really started to love working with it. It took me some more time to program the customizable buttons and to train my brain to use them instead of looking for the icons on the screens but once you get used to it nothing can beat using both hands and 6 to 7 fingers simultaneously. It's difficult to put a number on the time saved but if you can use some type of mouse travel recording software you would see that zooming in and out, panning and rotating requires a lot of mouse travel and you do all of that with the same hand. If you start using a 3D mouse you will transfer approximately 30% and maybe more of the mouse travel to the 3D mouse. Most of this travel will then be done in parallel instead of in sequence.


                          As Glenn mentionned start by reducing the speed of the controller and increase over time while you get used to it. If you have children learning to write at home you know that you can not ask them to write full speed right away. They have to develop their skills with the pen and it takes times. It's the same with the 3D mouse you have to train your muscle first.

                            • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                              Peter Brinkhuis

                              I did measure my mouse travel and amount of clicks on a few days of working with SolidWorks eight hours a day. You'll be amazed by the amount of left clicks you do on a day, I think it was 1000+. And that was with a space mouse. When I see colleagues dragging their regular mouse around in circles to get the model to do what they want, I know I'm saving time by using a 3D mouse. I'm constantly rotating my model, all day long. My model moves like I want it to and the rotating allows me to see errors quicker.


                              Big tip to decrease the time to get used to a 3D mouse: change the default zoom direction from front-to-back to up-down. The default never made sense to me and it seems like other people pick up on it faster as well. I still rarely use the zoom on the 3D mouse though, I find scrolling to often be quicker and more accurate.

                      • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                        Chris Saller

                        I have the SpacePilot Pro, but I never use it's functions/buttons. Others here also don't use them.

                        I plan on switching to the SpaceMouse Wireless soon.

                        • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                          Paul Risley

                          One thing that helps us is 5s/Lean manufacturing principles applied to our workflow.


                          I come from an extensive manufacturing background and have utilized my prior lean manufacturing experience to apply key components to our office.


                          We document and track all projects from concept to final redline, so now when in our quoting phase we can accurately plan our hours along with shop hours to calculate our future workloads and approximate backlog.


                          It is not perfect, but it beats the dartboard approach that was in place when I walked through the doors.


                          Since we are an OEM and most all of our projects are custom builds it helps having a good idea of the length in time of our projects on our engineering side. Which equates to a rough estimate right off the bat for our shop hours as well.


                          Another thing that will help productivity is #TASK, this tool is absolutely awesome for a lot of menial tasks.


                          As far as in Solidworks ideas that is all dependent on your operators(experience, effeciency, & the like).


                          Only you and your company could assess where you are and what would make your workflow move quicker and smoother.

                          • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                            Tony Cantrell

                            As others a space mouse of some sort and look into Drive works.

                            • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                              Peter Brinkhuis

                              How many people are using SolidWorks in your company? Are they trained? And how many employees are there in total? How do you spend your days, are you designing stuff from scratch of are you basically making configurations of existing assemblies? I'm assuming the latter because I guess you'll reuse a lot of standard parts and assemblies for building conveyors. There are tools like Takton works that can automate some work with configurations.


                              What's the state of your pcs? Are you waiting all the time for large assemblies to open or are they snappy overclocked i7 pcs with SSD's and a gigabit network that's optimized for CAD work?


                              How's communication in your company? Do you have to do a lot of rework because of wrong information or incorrect drawings? Do you have a shop floor or do you just do the designs?


                              If your boss or manager asked you to increase productivity, I certainly hope they created a budget to make some investments, right? Do you know what that budget is? Does your boss need an ROI or something? Can you test a few things on a small scale first? I'm sure they have a few numbers in mind that you should work with. Every change will take some effort, time and money.

                              • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                Scott Stuart

                                Learn to write macros to automate repetitive tasks. Many simple things take ten mouse clicks to do. A macro button can do them in one click. More complex things that take several minutes can be streamlined to be done in just a few clicks.


                                I'll second Tony Cantrell's suggestion of DriveWorks. Conveyor design is a perfect application for DriveWorks.


                                Set up lots of templates for the different types of parts you use frequently. Modeling a shaft, for example, with a keyway, a tapped hole in the end, chamfered ends, proper tolerances, etc. can take a while if done from scratch. Set up a template with multiple configurations for different diameters, keyway sizes, etc. (Seems obvious, but I'm surprised how many people always start from an empty part template.) These could be set up as library parts/features instead of templates.

                                • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                  Ken Maren

                                  1.  DriveWorks - Doesn't even have to be done on the top level assy.   Can be used to make lower level assembly parts and assemblies.  (Can help get away from making the part with hundreds of configurations.)

                                  2.  Formal Training - Learning to use advanced techiques, especially in Assembly management can save a ton of time.  

                                  3.  Good Hardware - (Good Article Here https://www.cati.com/documents/maximize-solidworks-performance-2015.pdf )

                                  • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                    Alin Vargatu

                                    Take a look at #TASK.

                                    Great time saving tool! Moreover, Artem, Victor and the team accept suggestions for new macros.

                                    • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                      Anna Wood

                                      Dual monitors, as large a size as you can get at a 16:10 aspect ratio.  I am partial to the Dell UltraSharp's.


                                      3D Connexion spaceball of some variety.


                                      Quality office chairs.

                                      • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                        Richie More

                                        what I believe in is API & Driveworks

                                        • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                          Roland Schwarz

                                          Send everyone back to high school geometry class and see how productivity increases.

                                          • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                            Malay Desai

                                            Great suggestions from everyone, however most important thing to me is to look at what you do at your workplace and identify the things that you can do more productively. At my earlier workplace in Canada we did a little study and identified few things that was "taking longer" time to finish in SW. We also found a local developer who can help us create "add-ins" and yes, as Deepak Gupta mentioned please pay to developer to create those "add-ins".


                                            We reduced the design cycle time by 15%-18% by such exercise.

                                            • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                              Alexey Groutso

                                              Some things have already been mentioned but for me huge improvements were achieved by doing things in this order:


                                              A good mouse! over the last 8 years of working in solidworks I can recommend only one, MX Revolution (original one), everything else after that was a downgrade, I still have it and about another 5 spares at home in case it dies. Bind as many buttons on it as possible. I personally have the following set, in order of importance:

                                              1. esc
                                              2. enter
                                              3. s - shortcut bar
                                              4. delete
                                              5. d - smart dimension
                                              6. ctrl
                                              7. shift
                                              8. f - mate components

                                              As well as middle mouse button for rotation. I wish i had tab on it as well but this works very well for me.


                                              Set up templates for parts assemblies and drawings which work very well together and heavily rely on custom properties. you can even have custom templates for specific parts, assemblies or drawings.


                                              to speed up drawing creation add pre defined notes, blocks to design library so instead of typing things in all the time you simply drag and drop into drawing. same thing can be done for parts and library features but I tend to stay away from blocks since they are not customizable enough.


                                              As many shortcuts as possible. encourage everyone to add more shortcuts. as an example I have most of my keyboard binded like so:

                                              • normal keys - frequent day to day functions eg: smart dim, extrude, properties, open, close, shortcut bar, etc
                                              • Ctrl+ keys - custom macros, less frequent functions eg: move, mirror. rebuild, convert entities. And as I mentioned huge amount of custom macros and add-in functions. eg: toggle perenthesis, increase/decrease decimals, add position tolerance, add dim tolerance, select origin, add centre lines, hide/show sketches (different from view hide show)
                                              • Shift+ keys - add various relationships in sketches, eg: make horizontal, colinear, coradial, tangent, perpendicular etc.
                                              • Alt+ keys - hide/show shortcuts eg: planes, axis, sketch relations, origins, dimensions names etc.

                                              Basically: more shortcuts = less mouse movement = higher productivity.


                                              Custom Macros and SolidWorks Add-in. This is a must! It can save you hours and days of time. Simple auto export as pdf or autoupdate pdf or auto insert drafter details, or revise drawing button which automatically fills in revision table and all other fields on the drawing, transfer drawing info into local database. if you can think of it, it's most likely can be done. This takes time and effort but it's worth it.


                                              3D mouse - ok so I absolutely hated them, but now I have one. I originally got enterprice kit but that turned out to be a waste of money and i'm selling that now. All those extra buttons are nice, but keyboard is a lot better and more versatile, that screen is neat, but come on, if you're looking at it you already wasting your time, the mouse with dedicated middle button is great, but other than that middle button there just isn't enough buttons on it. so now i'm selling it and have purchased small wireless one instead, I really wish it had 4 buttons rather than 2 but it's small and sits right next to my keyboard with shift, tab, ctrl well within reach.


                                              The real point of getting a 3D mouse was not to improve my productivity, I'm unsure if their website states that anywhere but it's just not happening. I bought it purely to spread the workload between two hands. With Mx Revolution and my shortcut setup I can almost get away with working with one hand for most of the day but with high workload mouse hand gets overworked. 3D mouse forces you to use both hands and once you get used to it it's just as good to use for rotating you model and a middle mouse button and most importantly your right hand now has less things to worry about.


                                              A nice bonus is that there are some cases when 3D mouse can move a model/drawing around where it was not possible to do so before with normal mouse. A slight disadvantage, I am noticing that solidworks crashes more frequent when using 3D mouse, but that could just be this well refined 2016 edition.


                                              EDIT: To make things even more interesting: Ctrl-S = Mirror sketch Entities, Ctrl-D = Convert Sketch entities, Shift-S = Make Symmetric, Shift-D = Make Perpendicular. Which means these functions can be executed using mouse only. That happened by a fluke, but it's worth thinking about. Still thinking about what would be best functions to rebind to Ctrl-F and Shift-F

                                              • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                                Daen Hendrickson

                                                Many great suggestions here.


                                                I would emphasize CONSISTENCY! SW has many tools to help with that.


                                                • Everything that can be referenced in the Tools/Options/File Locations should be on a network location that all installations map to.
                                                • Any other mapped reference type files should also be in this network location.
                                                • The "Data" and "lang" folders are legacy hold overs...
                                                • A well-organized network library structure for ALL that is reusable
                                                  • models, features, notes, blocks, etc.
                                                • A PDM solution
                                                • Property Tab with as many fields as possible linked to pre-defined lists. We have ours linked to an Excel spreadsheet.
                                                • Personally, I really like using a windows clipboard manager (I use Ditto). This allows multiple items to remain on the clipboard for recall. You can also designate some items as permanent so they are always a hot-key away (my name and email, company info, a few standard text strings we place in our SW File Properties summary area.
                                                • Templates! I prefer fewer templates with more flexibility. The property tab goes a long way in helping this. Multiple similar templates take a lot more work to maintain if a general template change or update is needed. I am sure the argument for a new template for every project has its merits as well.
                                                • Drawing templates with as much pre-defined and linked content as possible. My drawings have the views predefined, the title block COMPLETELY linked to custom properties (even for fixed text such as our boilerplate statements). Drive these custom properties with the property tab. I even drive the fixed boilerplate text with the property tab with two choices - text and blank. That allows for a quick way to turn the text on/off. The text is also fed from that excel sheet mentioned above. Need to update or add an additional choice - just update the spreadsheet and leave ALL your templates alone.
                                                • Your templates should contain all the common custom properties with default values. Your Custom Properties List should be edited so that the most used OPTIONAL properties (the ones not in your template but added often) are at the top (for instance, we add MaterialThickness for sheet metal parts and set it equal to "Thickness". This in turn drives predefined notes in the drawing). That way when you click the down arrow to add a property they are pre-selected or right near your mouse. Next you should list all the custom properties in the order they are presented in your template. This allows for adding them back into a file in the proper order without having to refer to anything else. The least used go at the bottom of the list.
                                                • Hold internal training sessions often. These can be simple 15-minutes sessions on a weekly or monthly schedule. Cover small scopes of topics. (I should take my own advise!) This really helps in communicating your company's practices and helps achieve consistency.
                                                • Consistency in naming conventions: Figure out how you will name your files and stick with it. Figure out how you will describe your models and stick with it. [Is it an "Upper Left Hand Frame" or is it a "FRAME, Upper, LH]. There are countless discussions on this topic alone, but pick something and have everyone use it.
                                                • Be consistent in your modeling approaches. This really comes into play as your products become more complex. Parts inserted into assemblies is straight forward enough. How do you handle laser/waterjet blanks, castings, pdf/dxf exports, custom extrusions, parts in parts, weldments (part or assembly), etc. Do you use patterns? Do you rename your features? Do you organize the feature tree in to folders?
                                                • Learn and teach efficient and stable modeling techniques. There are a vast number of discussions on this forum about "why is my model so slow..." This comes back to being consistent in how you model. Many times this is a result of multiple little things.
                                                • Make it easy to change. I am a pretty smart fella... and have managed SolidWorks in some REALLY COOL ways... only to conclude later I was an idiot! So spend a little extra time up front making sure your setup is robust, stable, and flexible.
                                                • Take a look at Tools / Design Checker to help with consistency.


                                                I know much of this is vague and you are looking for specifics. But many of the specifics are unique to your company and driven by your preferences of work. I hope some of this gives you some helpful direction.



                                                • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                                  Daen Hendrickson



                                                  The mechanics of linking are in the property tab builder. You can also link to an Access database.

                                                  Note that I have the end of the Range set to row 50. The blank spreadsheet rows at the end of the list are ignored by the property tab. This way you can add to the list in excel WITHOUT having to redefine in property tab - at least up to 50 entries. I currently have about a dozen entries for this item.

                                                  The spreadsheet looks like this. The green cells with embedded comments such as  in "Watermark Text" actually contain a "space" so that Property Tab will see them as containing data and include them in the drop down list choice. This allows for the choice of "blank".


                                                  Is this a completely mature solution? NOOOOOOO. The next step is to tie in with our Access based database for part numbers, etc. So this is still manual, inefficient, and redundant. But property tab offers the capability. I have been pushing for this next step for... a VERY long time.


                                                  I am still using SW2014 so perhaps Property Tab Builder has had some improvements. Unfortunately is has some limitations and "cludginess".

                                                  • The Range mentioned above must be manually entered. It would be so much nicer if I could dynamically mouse select in the excel spreadsheet. I wonder if PTB recognizes NAMED excel ranges?
                                                  • Formulas / calculations support would be GREAT. IF() statements?
                                                  • Conditional formating? Colors?

                                                  Within the Property Tab itself there are a few cumbersome limitations:

                                                  • The load time to access the spreadsheet data for the first time in a new session of SW can be slow.
                                                  • I have developed the habit of ALWAYS clicking another tab in the task manager after I have completed my work in the Property Tab or SW performance drags to a halt - especially when working on an assembly. If PT is active in the task manager, it is trying to dynamically load all the information.
                                                  • Navigational quirks:
                                                    • Tab does NOT cycle you through to the next PT entry (more mouse clicks)
                                                    • Up / Down arrows will cycle through the list, but will NOT drop it down so you can see the list contents (more mouse clicks)
                                                    • You can type the first character of an entry and it will be selected from your list. If you have multiple entries with the same first character it will NOT cycle through all of them.
                                                    • If your list allows for custom values, you can type the first character and hit TAB and that selection will be chosen.
                                                    • However, if your list does NOT allow custom values, you can type the first character but tab is ignored. You instead have to use Alt-Enter.
                                                    • Dropping down a date entry pops up the calendar applet which is AWESOME. What is lacking is a "TODAY" button. If I want to enter today's date I have to click the drop down arrow [on the far RH side of the Task Window], pick the date from the calendar applet [always on the far LH side of the Task Window {more mouse travels}]. If a date already exists the applet opens to that date. The only way to get to today is to scroll or manually type.
                                                    • The date doesn't support alternate formats very well.
                                                      • Please SW, give me a "today" button AS a PTB element that I can associate with a date entry box.
                                                      • Please SW, open the date entry box and launch the calendar applet with a click or double click in addition to the drop down arrow.
                                                    • It would be great if PTB would allow for popup tool tips on the elements.
                                                    • It would be great if PT allowed for "Favorites". I could have a favorite for each project. On new model creation I could pick one of my few generic templates, click a PT favorite and BAM! all my custom properties for a specific project are filled out.


                                                  If I keep going this may turn into a rant...


                                                  I hope this gives you some things to ponder.



                                                    • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                                      Jim Steinmeyer


                                                      Thank you for the detailed description. This will be very helpful. The first and biggest area of weakness I see with using PTB is, what happens if I change a part in design and wind up using a different thickness or material? I deal primarily with sheetmetal designs. If I start with 10 gauge and decide to change to 3/8" plate I currently have to go back and manually enter the material information. With PTB I could open PTB and make the selections from the drop downs. Wouldn't it make so much sense that if when I edit the material gauge in the sheet-metal section, it would automatically enter the correct material part number and description?

                                                           In each of the 6 companies I have worked we do not identify our material as "7 gauge" we have a specified part number XXXXX and a specified description "7 gauge Hot Rolled 48"x 120" for example. Structural material for cut lists would be the same. In the world today I can't imagine a company advanced enough to use SWx not having specific part numbers. I wonder when SWx will catchup to the 19th century?


                                                      OK you can have the soapbox back.  Top 10 is coming.

                                                    • Re: Best tools to increase SolidWorks productivity
                                                      Daen Hendrickson



                                                      You bring up a whole other discussion of gripes about PT that I forgot to list!


                                                      The one specific complaint about sheet metal (not related to Property Tab) is that "Thickness" is readily available as a property where as Gage is the "Red-Headed Step Child..." Currently we still use the mistake-prone method of manually editing our "MaterialGauge" custom property.


                                                      You also bring up a prime example of where formulas or some other means of intelligence would be beneficial. IF you pick an item from one list, automatically look up and fill in the corresponding item from another list (Excel LOOKUP function anyone?). Your gauge / number / description is a prime example. I have a similar situation with my contract information - description, number, project folder. Just like your sheet metal, they all reference the same thing and could be considered redundant but are still useful information.


                                                      So yes, you spotted another limitation with the Property Tab. Matthew Lorono needs to start another of his fishing expeditions on what could be better with PT.