Who decides What’s New in SOLIDWORKS? Product Definition team members are a major component in determining and defining enhancements and new functionality included within the SOLIDWORKS products each year. They meet face-to-face with SOLIDWORKS customers to discuss what’s working, what isn’t, and what they would like to see in the future. These customer visits are fantastic opportunities for you to connect with SOLIDWORKS directly, and let us know what we can do to help make your jobs easier. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be talking with members of the Product Definition team for an inside look at their favorite 2016 features. Today, we’re talking with Blake Reeves.
Blake is a proud geek working in Product Definition on a large variety of the innovative tools in SOLIDWORKS. He aims to give users the best experience with the product through useful new functionality, while also looking at technology trends to ensure users have the tools they need for tomorrow. While he’s not speaking to customers or writing specifications, you can usually find him playing with a lot of the cool tech gadgets that come through our doors and evaluating possibilities in areas like 3D printing, 3D scanning, Model-Based Definition (MBD), Augmented Reality, and more – you know, all of the cool stuff. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the 2016 release, and I’ll let him do the the rest of the talking.
What is your favorite 2016 feature?
There are a bunch of awesome new features in SOLIDWORKS 2016, including Assembly Roll-up in SOLIDWORKS Costing and support for Zonal Sections in eDrawings, but the Flatten Surface enhancements have to be my favorite in this release. You can find the Flatten tool by going to Insert > Surface > Flatten or in the Surfacing toolbar.
Why flatten surface?
This feature has been a long time in the making, and was initially worked on by several teams before I even joined SOLIDWORKS. It was really exciting to finally bring the hard work of all these individuals together to create a tool I’ve wanted to see in the software for quite a while. I worked on this tool for the last two years with Rob Jost and some very talented developers, so with 2016 we can really open new doors to creating flat patterns for a variety of applications including fabrics and deformable vinyl.
How does flatten surface enhance/improve the user experience?
As you know, we debuted Flatten Surface in SOLIDWORKS 2015, but it had limitations with surfaces of higher deformation and with internal geometry. With SOLIDWORKS 2016, we completely revamped the solver, so not only can we flatten more complex non-developable surfaces containing internal cuts, but we can do it more accurately and give you more control with additional entities you might want to flatten with the surface. You can add curves or sketches to the surface to be flattened with it for things like alignment marks, and then you can choose curves, sketches or other entities to act as relief cuts to relieve stress in certain areas of the surface without modifying the base surface geometry. This makes for a really smooth workflow within one feature, and opens up a huge amount of flattening possibilities.
What was the hardest part of bringing flatten surface to life in 2016?
Again, this was a very big project with a lot of possible use cases, so one of the harder portions of the project was ensuring the proper technology was in place to reach the largest amount of users in each release. In SOLIDWORKS 2015 we focused on the large portion of our users with applications requiring minimal deformation, and with SOLIDWORKS 2016 we now have a tool that can meet the needs of many of the remaining users who require more complex flattening of surfaces with more deformation. The beauty of the SOLIDWORKS Community is in its diversity and passion, and of course this can make our jobs challenging at times when we try to make our tools meet everyone’s needs, but it also makes my job that much more interesting and enjoyable as well.
What was the most enjoyable part of developing flatten surface?
Seeing and testing all the new things we could flatten with the new algorithm was a bunch of fun. We would try to test its limits to the best of our ability and it held up thoughout all kinds of mad experiments – entire cars, human faces, I think there was a cow once, too. But the best part of this process was definitely the reaction of one of our users who we had worked closely with in the development of this tool. When he first got to play with Flatten in SOLIDWORKS 2016 at SOLIDWORKS World, the smile on his face and his excitement over the improved functionality was so rewarding to see. That is one of the best parts about working on any functionality in SOLIDWORKS – our users create incredible things using our software, and we help give them the tools to do it.
Was Flatten Surface initiated by a customer visit? An Enhancement Request? How did it start?
When I came onto this project, there had already been a bunch of discussion with a variety of users, but Leo Schowengerdt at Kvichak Marine Industries, Inc. had been one of the longest-running advocates for this functionality. Kvichak Marine Industries, Inc. makes a variety of large and small boats and marine equipment, so they regularly need to work with abnormally bent sheet metal components, specifically for their hulls. These hulls are comprised of several sheets of metal, but they could not unfold these sheets using our sheet metal flat pattern functionality and instead needed a more complex surface tool to accomplish this. They always wanted to be able to do this flattening within SOLIDWORKS, but they also needed to add mark lines in the flattened state to ensure manufacturing had reference locations for alignment when assembling these hulls as well. After many iterations and some back and forth over the years, 2016 finally looks like the release they can start using SOLIDWORKS for their flattening needs.
And to wrap up with Blake, I asked him one more fun question. What’s your favorite car?
Mclaren F1 – always an icon of style and performance.
If you’re interested in setting up a Customer Visit with a member of the SOLIDWORKS Product Definition Team, send an email to SOLIDWORKS.NAM.RD-Info.com. Please include: your name, company, contact number, and a brief summary of what areas you’d like to discuss (Assemblies, Weldments, Sheet Metal, Drawings, Simulation, eDrawings, SOLIDWORKS PDM Standard/Professional, etc.) to get started. You can also find the team at your local user group meetings, and at SOLIDWORKS World 2016 in Dallas, Texas.
Every year SOLIDWORKS releases a new version of its flagship product, and last year, a new tradition was born here on the Blogs. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a Sneak Peek at 15 new features here on the SOLIDWORKS Blog, and then we’ll be following them up with short, detailed videos on the functionality over on the SOLIDWORKS Tech Blog beginning September 23rd. Until then, you can learn more about SOLIDWORKS 2016 by clicking the banner above and checking out the Launch Site.