Simulation-Driven Design for SOLIDWORKS Users

How designers can take advantage of simulation in SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS.

Dassault Systèmes has sponsored this post.
(Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

(Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

What is simulation-driven design? This method of product development expands the role of finite element analysis (FEA) software. Rather than reserve simulation for the later stages of design, simulation-driven design encourages the use of FEA earlier and more often in the design cycle.

In this article, we’ll examine the benefits of simulation-driven design and the simulation tools available to SOLIDWORKS users.

The Importance of Simulation-Driven Design

Simulation is a powerful tool. While it continues to be crucial in validating designs, there are many benefits to using simulation to shape designs as well.

Design engineers that use simulation can refine their designs more quickly, detecting problems earlier and forestalling them before they become costly and time consuming. Companies that have embraced simulation-driven design report spending less time and money on physical prototyping and reducing overall product development timelines by an average of 13 percent.

“The goal is to provide simulation early in the design process,” explained Nicolas Tillet, Product Portfolio Manager for 3DEXPERIENCE. “It’s cheaper and that’s where the innovation happens. We want to provide tools for the design engineer to push the limits even further and to innovate more, so they can test bigger and more complex products with those tools.”

Simulation-driven design is itself driven by a movement some refer to as the democratization of simulation. The goal of this movement is to create tools that allow more and more users to take advantage of FEA. We’ll look at the democratized simulation tools available to SOLIDWORKS users, from the desktop capabilities of SOLIDWORKS Simulation to the cloud-based analysis tools provided in the 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS platform.

Simulation-Driven Design with SOLIDWORKS Simulation

SOLIDWORKS Simulation is an add-on that provides an integrated FEA workspace inside SOLIDWORKS CAD. With the same user interface as SOLIDWORKS, SOLIDWORKS Simulation provides design engineers with a familiar and intuitive FEA platform that can be readily integrated into their CAD workflow.

Screenshot of SOLIDWORKS Simulation. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

Screenshot of SOLIDWORKS Simulation. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

“SOLIDWORKS Simulation provides SOLIDWORKS CAD users with the best integration and associativity with SOLIDWORKS CAD models,” said Mai Doan, Senior Product Portfolio Manager for 3DEXPERIENCE. “So that means that when you update your model in CAD—you change a dimension, you add some feature radius—the changes automatically propagate in your FEA model without you having to export the model out of CAD. It really streamlines the workflow, makes it easy for users to work on CAD and Simulation at the same time.”

The integrated FEA tool provides users access to a wide range of analysis types, from the most common linear static analysis to more complex non-linear studies. SOLIDWORKS Simulation is available as a perpetual license, and offers different analysis types depending on different user requirements:

Analysis types in SOLIDWORKS Simulation. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

Analysis types in SOLIDWORKS Simulation. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

SOLIDWORKS users can sample simulation-driven design with SimulationXpress, a simple FEA tool that comes packaged with every seat of SOLIDWORKS. The version of SimulationXpress that comes with SOLIDWORKS Standard and Professional is limited to linear static analysis for single parts. In SOLIDWORKS Premium, SimulationXpress offers more features, including the ability to run linear analyses on assemblies.

When it comes to simulation, accuracy is of the utmost importance. A 2019 report reveals that SOLIDWORKS Simulation provides analysis values within an average of 1 percent of standard results provided by AFNOR, the French Standardization Association. A similar report using NAFEMS benchmarks found SOLIDWORKS Simulation within 2 percent of reference values for most tests.

Simulation-Driven Design with 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS

Though SOLIDWORKS Simulation provides many analysis types and integrates directly within SOLIDWORKS, some users of the CAD application will be better served by the FEA tools available on 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS. Part of Dassault Systèmes’ cloud-based 3DEXPERIENCE platform, 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS offers advanced simulation applications for SOLIDWORKS users, and is particularly well-suited to non-linear analysis.

“What we’re trying to achieve with 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS is to add power in terms of simulation for SOLIDWORKS users,” Tillet explained. “It’s for all sizes of companies—small, medium or large. It’s based on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, so it’s cloud-based to leverage collaboration tools as well as data sharing and a secure data center.”

Screenshot of simulation on the 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS platform. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Screenshot of simulation on the 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS platform. (Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.)

Though not directly integrated within SOLIDWORKS, 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS is designed to work closely with SOLIDWORKS and it offers many of the same benefits as SOLIDWORKS Simulation. There is a connector that allows SOLIDWORKS users to launch simulation in 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS directly from SOLIDWORKS, opening their CAD models on the cloud platform with all data intact. Any changes to the CAD model are automatically propagated to 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS.

“There is a smooth transition in terms of data continuity and in terms of the learning curve, as there is access directly from SOLIDWORKS,” said Tillet.

3DEXPERIENCE WORKS offers a number of different analysis capabilities to suit a wide range of users and use cases. It includes tools for structural analysis, from mainstream linear static studies to advanced non-linear analysis and high speed impact simulations. 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS also includes capabilities for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and plastic injection molding simulation, as well as tools for reviewing and comparing analysis results.  

For the most advanced users, 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS provides extensive non-linear capabilities that come by way of the Abaqus FEA solver. These allow users to conduct non-linear static studies for large deformation and sliding contacts. Users also have the ability to solve high-speed events like drop tests, aided by high performance computing (HPC).

According to Tillet, 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS offers simulation to users from novice to expert. Adding to the platform’s flexibility is the subscription model in which users can license the tools they need either quarterly or annually, adjusting their access depending on their needs.

“The fact that we have this flexibility is a plus, because we have a lot of small customers who need simulation on a specific project,” Tillet said. “You can purchase what you need for the time you need, and depending on the project needs, the user’s needs, you choose what fits you the best.”

A Spectrum of Simulation

When considering different simulation options, there are a few factors SOLIDWORKS users should take into account. Both SOLIDWORKS Simulation and the 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS simulation solutions are suitable for mainstream simulation needs, but users that require advanced meshing options or plan to conduct extensive non-linear analysis should turn to the cloud platform.

“We have customers where we’ve seen a difference [for non-linear analysis] between 20 hours in SOLIDWORKS Simulation and 40 minutes with 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS,” Tillet said.

When using 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS, users can leverage the resources of the cloud to conduct analyses, scaling up to as many cores as necessary to perform a study efficiently. Cloud simulations are available for purchase with cloud credits on 3DEXPERIENCE. Users can also run local studies on up to four cores (or more with the purchase of credits). SOLIDWORKS Simulation, in contrast, offers local studies only.

Ultimately, the simulation solutions available to SOLIDWORKS users are meant to provide a flexible range of options for users of all types. There is a unified development team behind all of the simulation applications, and they all complement one another, according to Tillet.

“SOLIDWORKS Simulation is a proven solution that’s embedded within SOLIDWORKS, and it’s great at what it does,” he said. “If you’re looking for more power to solve more complex problems, like highly non-linear problems, that would be a strong reason to consider simulation with 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS. You could leverage both and they will compliment each other.”

For a more detailed look at simulation-driven design and the FEA tools available to SOLIDWORKS users, read the recent research report.

Written by

Michael Alba

Michael is a senior editor at He covers computer hardware, design software, electronics, and more. Michael holds a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Alberta.