Releasing My Inner Child – SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids

I’m a child of the Space Age. I was fortunate to grow during a time that marked the birth of what was perhaps the greatest era of exploration, scientific and technological achievements. My childhood coincided with the Apollo missions, with its crowning achievement of seeing men walk on the moon and their safe return to earth.

It was a much different era for a child to grew up in than today. Like many of my generation, I somehow managed to survive my childhood with all limbs still attached. Despite my best effort discovering electricity, being able to own fireworks and having access to a multitude of sharp implements.

Throughout it all I discovered a passion for building things and most likely for their destruction as well, which has lead me into a lifetime of working in design and manufacturing.

Technology has evolved over my lifetime. How we design and manufacture has changed dramatically. Technology influences every aspect of my life. As does its effect on how kids of today will interact and learn. We all know that devices that kids hold in their hands today have infinite more computing power than was accessible to NASA when it was planning to send men to the moon.

SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids fits into today’s era and allows kids to explore the depths of their imagination and create designs and products in the digital age. What is wonderful about kids’ creative minds are they are not yet cluttered by rules and regulations, laws of physics, concepts of colour or any other restrictions that creep into our mindset, as we are forced into adulthood.

SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids is a browser-based program. When complete it will be a full range of apps that will allow the design, creation, display, gaming and manufacture of your mind’s creations! Currently still in Beta, the current apps concentrate on the design and creation of your ideas.

With that in mind I’ve tried to reach back in time, release my inner child and go explore in SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids.

At the heart of SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids is its 3D modeller – Shape It.

Shape It is digital modelling clay! You start with a predefined shape: a box, a cone, a cylinder, a torus, a globe or a ball. These shapes form the bases of your design and start out segmented. The rest is all up to you. By selecting a segment, or group of segments, you can add or subtract material. The segments can be pushed or pulled, stretch and rotated, skewed or deformed. Segments can be further segmented, new shapes added. The only limits are imagination and ability.

I took the child-like approach, diving straight in! Discovery is the best form of learning, right? Those who like to take a more common sense approach might head to the Help section. No boring instructions that require reading!  Instead short concise instructional videos are provided. Nice!

Zooming and rotating around the model will be familiar to anyone with CAD experience. Too many years in SOLIDWORKS, a reflex muscle reaction and I discovered both Apps for Kids and SOLIDWORKS share the spacebar short cut and a common View Selector. With that commonality you might yet be able to pass on some tips to your children!

My childhood was so influenced by the space adventure of the time that most of my school books were covered in doodles of rocket ships. These sketchings were also inspired by the cartoon creations of the day, which meant that all rockets of the time required tail landing fins and a needle nose spire.

With those thoughts planted in my mind I jumped into Shape It to try and recreate my childhood memories.

Pushing and pulling the starting cylinder to create the nosecone was a simple process. As was lengthening the cylinder for the rocket body. Adding material to the nose, then required a little inward pushing from all directions, before a final pull to form the spire.

The tail landing fins proved to be another matter. Not because of Shape It ability. More so my child mind abandoned me and the adult in me came out! I wasn’t overly satisfied with the shape I was creating for the fins. Adults are judgmental and I’m a harsh critic of my own work.

I settled on the design, but in hindsight and a little more experience with Shape It, I would take another approach to how they were created.

Shape It handles multi-bodies. Adding a torus as a new body, I sized to suit and manipulated it into position for the window.  Duplicating the created body provided the additional windows. With that my first model created in Shape It was complete!

Whilst the design may have been complete, it was not ready for presentation. This is where Style It comes in. Style It is the artistic program of SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids. I settled on a classical red, white and blue colour scheme before adding an astronomical themed background. There is a wide range of colours that can be applied along with multitude of stickers to assist with artistic impression. Backgrounds choice, at this stage, is a little limited. I’m sure the range of backgrounds will increase as the product is further developed.

With my Rocket painted and ready for display it was right to share with the SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids online community – Rocket by Michael aged 57

If Shape It is digital modelling clay, then Mech It reminds me of my favourite childhood toy, Meccano®. Or as its one-time competitor product was known in the U.S., Erector Set. I personally consider the Frank Hornsby designed Meccano sets to be the greatest engineering toy ever produced. The sets I had as a child were all purchased secondhand, but I treasured them more than any other toy I was ever given.

Mech It is used to create two-dimensional layout that can have mechanical actions. Mech It can create radius end bars and wheels. Along with slotted straight and circular tracks. Multi -shaped polygons can be created and used as joining plates. Pins can be inserted to create rotation points and parts can have fixed locations. Pistons can be added to create control and motors added to provide drive.

These assemblies can have their driving actions shown in animation.


Creating components was a simple matter of point selection and dragging to a required length. As components are created, selection points are added automatically. Components could be resized or moved by grabbing the predefined points. Joining parts together is either a matter of starting a new part on a selected point, or a matter of hovering another component over the selection point of a different part until that attach. Flyout menus allow motors and pins to be added

The ability to build in Mech It is only limited to the creative imaginations and the laws of mechanical actions.

I found it easy to while away the hours creating in either Shape It or Mech It. Whether it be on my computer or sitting at the kitchen table using a touch device. At times I struggled a little without having the availability of precise control and as  well as the inability to tweak things without the use of dimensions. But that is saying more about me with too many years of routine and structure than it does about SOLIDWORKS App for Kids.

I have fond memories of my own childhood activities and creations. Even fonder memories of the hours spent drawing and colouring with my own children. In years to come, I would like to think, that these next generations will look back with similar feelings for the enjoyment and learning that they have gained from using SOLIDWORKS App for Kids.

Michael Lord
Michael Lord – I work as a Design/ Engineer – Manager at Trakka Pty Limited, an Australian manufacturer of Motorhomes and Special Purpose Vehicle. Sydney SOLIDWORKS User Group Leader. I cover how I use SOLIDWORKS products at Lover of the great outdoors, hiker, retired caver & climber.
Michael Lord

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