Believe in better products: see your design while you’re creating it

When it comes to 3D graphics, SOLIDWORKS raised the bar with RealView, SOLIDWORKS realistic interactive real time renderer. The surprising thing is, from talking with the SOLIDWORKS users that I meet, RealView appears to be underused.

Some argue that this is because they are modelling something simple, like a basic engineering part and not a flashy industrial design, but I would suggest that RealView has a much broader implication. Most things that are designed and manufactured need to be looked at and handled in some way. In the past I worked for a tooling company where everything we made consisted of various colors of grey steel.


By using RealView lighting on these types of models, I would have been able to see where the shadows were being cast and where to design the grab holds on which to mount the jig to the machine. SOLIDWORKS has moved improved upon its RealView engine over the last few years. When Ambient Occlusion was first implemented in SOLIDWORKS 2008, it wasn’t real-time and had to be switched off when spinning the model.

Ambient Occlusion is a way of looking at light that is bouncing off of the object itself, helping it look less rendered and more lifelike. In SOLIDWORKS 2013 a draft technique derived from Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (AO) that allows a fast approximation of AO in real-time was implemented. This was more of what designers were looking for, as it allows them to check the look and feel of their model while it is rotating.

SOLIDWORKS has lots more useful ways of making models appear more lifelike. Self-shadowing is one way where one component casts a shadow onto itself or onto other components in the assembly. This utilizes a percentage close filtering (PCF) technique to smooth shadow edges at no cost in time to compute — the blurring is done in the GPU hardware. Another technique is to use full screen Anti-Aliasing is a way of stopping the “jaggies” (the little steps you get with lines and edges). Anti-Aliasing basically fills in the gap with a little pixel to smooth the edge so it looks as it does in the real world.

If you are into aesthetic design, it adds a lot to the viewport, but if you use this with an HD resolution and above display it can make the graphics card work quite hard, so you might need to get a faster one. With SOLIDWORKS 2014 an important new graphics technology called Order Independent Transparency (OIT). OIT assembles a “pixel-accurate” representation of the model and its surrounding geometry in the GPU memory. This creates a more practical real-time transparent 3D viewpoint for designers to continuously work within, helping improve the designer’s sense of “design intuition” and aid in better decision-making throughout the product development stages.

Simply put it means when you are in a transparency mode you can see objects closer to the screen more accurately and without errors. The information is held in the GPU memory and can be acted upon quickly, thereby by improving the performance of an area that could slow down any design system. You need a modern discreet professional graphics card with at least 2 GB of memory for SOLIDWORKS to turn on OIT in 2015; of course, all of the current AMD FirePro™ cards support this.

The best news is that you can apply all of these effects at once, which is fairly unique (unless you’re using a dedicated styling application).In SOLIDWORKS 2015, OIT was improved in performance and great user feature, part and model preview, was added. This is where if you click without enabling parts, a “ghost” preview using OIT is shown on the screen. This saves lots of time enabling and disabling parts and subassemblies as often part names are not always the most descriptive and we are all visual people so a shape is better than random number.

Boosting performance

As you increase your assembly size, you are effectively increasing the amount of lines and surfaces you have to display on screen, so the slower, the less interactive model will go. There are several ways to fix this. You can throw a high-performing graphics card at it, write optimized code, or write support via one of the high level languages.

SOLIDWORKS has Vertex Buffer Objects (VBOs) implemented in its OpenGL graphics engine. These allow geometry to be stored in the graphics card (Frame Buffer) memory and even updated without using many CPU cycles. The more graphics memory you have, the larger the models are that can be manipulated without taking a performance loss.

If you have massive models, then a faster card is still required but the combination of fast GPU, big frame buffer and a card that supports advanced OpenGL will allow a new level of assembly size to be edited interactively. AMD also has several tools to help you with your implementation. AMD FirePro cards can use a free memory tool that shows how much memory is being used by your system and by your GPU. There is also a tool that measures how many triangles you have in your model. Both of these are useful if you are pushing your system to its limits.

In summary, as the native screen image of SOLIDWORKS can now be of such a high quality, the need to ray trace render is diminished. All you need to do is take a screen grab! It is even better if you need to demonstrate your design to a customer as you can show interactively a 3D real object. This is not as much as gimmick as it was once thought of. With all of the realism, effects and performance available with the advanced graphics and OpenGL functions, SOLIDWORKS is pushing the boundaries of mid-range modelling software — if that term can be applied anymore!

SOLIDWORKS 2016 Launch

Robert Jamieson

Rob is an ISV manager for AMD.

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