At Solid Edge University 2014 Dan Staples and his team outlined the main features coming with the new release, dubbed ST7. If you are expecting big surprises, you will be disappointed. But if you want to see excellent execution of what Solid Edge users really want, there is lots here. They claim over 1,300 user driven enhancements in the new release.
Business leader Karsten Newbury highlighted what has been driving Solid Edge revenue growth at double digit annual rates for the past 15 years: a great product that delivers easier design and faster time to market.
I’ve heard this so many times from so many vendors that I started to tune out. But then the development team took the stage and the crowd actually cheered for their enhancements – for little things that have been bugging them for years. This customer-centric development approach is a simple idea well executed.
Development team leader Dan Staples translated the business goals into development terms when he said that Solid Edge is known for 3 things and plans to be known for one more:
1. Sheet metal
2. Large and Complex assemblies
Dan claims that this focus on their core competencies has allowed Solid Edge to be a leading design tool for machine designers, for example. He says the fourth thing that Solid Edge must become great at is helping users navigate an increasingly complex offering. Here are the major release highlights, broken down into these categories:
Accessibility / Ease of Use
The drive to make the UI easier is strategically important when users try the product for the first time. The Solid Edge 45 day trial has what Dan refers to as the “golden hour”, which is the user’s first hour with the product. He says his team is committed to making that first hour an excellent experience.
Users of ST7 will be welcomed with a new start up screen. It’s got a familiar Windows style interface that makes it easy for new users to access learning tools, paid support, and the user community. For example, there are embedded videos that provide in-context tool tips. The creation, opening and finding of files now behaves like all other popular applications as well.
Another element of easier user interface is the revamped materials table that allows users to more easily select materials from various categories. Users can set up favorites so they don’t have to go digging through the entire library every time.
Karsten Newbury pointed out that Solid Edge is becoming more of an industrial design tool in its efforts to break beyond their traditional industries, so it’s not surprising to see new 3D drawing features in ST7. The 3D sketch tool allows easier creation of components across multiple planes and faster design for components that are swept along a 3D path, like pipes, tubes and wires.
Quick shapes is a new productivity tool that automatically extrudes 2D objects to 3D, such as a plane becoming a box or a circle becoming a cylinder. These are quicker ways to start a drawing than in previous versions. The key here is not the functionality, but rather being able to do it all in one or two clicks rather than many steps. Some might say, “why not just start with a cube rather than having to extrude a plane?” Yet even doubters will recognize that this advance represents a steady improvement.
ST7 promises new features for 2D drawing. The biggest of these from a user perspective appears to be automatic coordinate dimensioning, which was demonstrated to be more than 10X faster than in the previous release. Other drawing features included dynamic drawing view display for all view types, associative annotations and parts list component highlights.
The “Fixed length curve” feature is designed for things like hoses so that users don’t accidentally adjust the length of a fixed curve. Instead, there is now a much truer representation of how something like a hose actually behaves, maintaining the length of the hose as the ends are moved, which is useful for teams that design with stock hoses, belts and cables.
Users were cheering for the new command that creates a blank body from deformed sheet metal with depressions, for example. The material properties are assessed for formability to create the flattened blank. This feature set was intended for formed or stamped parts, but may be just as useful for fabrics.
Users in the audience at the unveiling of ST7 were also appreciative of the new feature that converts solid models of parts into sheet metal by “wrapping” the exterior (or interior) of the model. The straightforward interface allows users to define the sheet metal features such as how to handle corners. The flattened form retains association to the solid model so that changes in the model can update the sheet metal model.
Large and Complex Assemblies
Duplicate Component is a very slick “MS office” style feature that lets users CTRL C on a series of components to copy / paste them onto another area of an assembly. Although this feature is pretty fundamental in MS office, it’s a big enough deal in CAD that Siemens has applied for a patent.
Patterning components along a curve is a new feature that allows faster design of repetitive items such as links in a chain. The curve defines the location and orientation of the multiple components rather than having to make design changes.
For users with really large assemblies, there is a limited update feature that allows users to load their models faster by updating all the geometry only when they want to. To alert users as to when they might need a refresh, ST7 includes a “component tracker” that alerts users to out of date components. Users can then choose to update all, some or none as they wish.
Designers create countless holes, so ST7 has a series of commands that allow users to define standard holes in new ways, such as by bolt size including tolerances. This isn’t breakthrough stuff, but it is yet another example of greater speed and utility for Solid Edge users
Synchronous technology in ST7 has become more intelligent in working with imported geometry. One new feature allows users to identify patterns of patterns (say holes) so that they can then make parametric-like changes.
Visualization with Keyshot is included in the ST7 license
Most if not all CAD applications now offer integrated rendering and have a Keyshot plug-in. The big deal in ST7 is not so much the integration, but rather the business model that includes basic Keyshot rendering within the CAD license.
So that’s my first look at ST7. When I asked Dan Staples what to expect from ST8, he said more of the same. Solid Edge will stick with their strengths. They expect user input to continue to drive their development priorities.
Here is a link to a free trial test drive (of Solid Edge ST6 for now).