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Lenovo ThinkPad P50 Mobile Workstation – 3 Month Review

The third in our line of Lenovo mobile workstation reviews serves up the Lenovo ThinkPad P50. It’s been a long time coming, and overdue to be honest. The upside of the delay is I’ve managed to use this device day in, day out for nearly 3 months during my day job as an CAD / CAM application engineer. So I’ve been running Autodesk Inventor, Inventor HSM, Solidworks, HSMWorks, Autodesk AutoCAD and Fusion 360 extensively. On top of that I’ve made use of it during my personal life and while travelling for work, so I’ve developed a pretty decent feel for how this unit performs in the real world.

My first impressions pulling the ThinkPad P50 out of its box upon arrival were great. I was immediately struck by the simple design, clean lines, how slimline & relatively weightless it was. But above all else it felt solid. The build quality and finish is great. Then when I discovered the specification of the unit Lenovo sent me, PCIe SSD’s & a Intel Xeon CPU instead of an i7!! I went weak at the knees, what a beast!

Thinkpad P50 Hero Shot

Lenovo ThinkPad P50 Design

The keyboard layout is spot on, with the exception of the odd decision to reverse the Fn & Ctrl keys in the bottom left hand corner of the keyboard, everything else matches convention. It has a dedicated Print Screen button, which I use ALL THE TIME for creating documentation and support cases. The Escape key doubles as a Fn key lock, allowing you to toggle the function of the F keys along the top of the keyboard to behave either as numbered F keys, or hardware keys. Using F1 as an example, with FnLk toggled on (achieved by holding down the Fn key and pressing the Escape key), it becomes the mute button rather than the key people universally press to access your applications help file. Ideal!! With perfectly weighted keys, this keyboard is a joy to use.

Thinkpad P50 Fn Escape Keys

The touchpad has a great feel, and the finish is lovely since it does have a bit of texture instead of being super smooth like a lot of its rivals are. I have to wonder though, how long will it last? The appearance of the touchpad exhibits a slight sparkle, which is the premium coating Lenovo refer to as ‘crystal silk’, so I would expect it to stand the test of time.

Cooling

Lenovo have developed a new approach to mobile workstation heat management, branded FLEX performance cooling. It’s essentially a dynamic cooling system built around two fans, that allows the system to direct air flow to the system components in most need of it at any given time. From a reliability standpoint, this introduces a level of redundancy that I’ve not come across in another mobile workstations so far. What struck me the most about this cooling system is the noise it makes on start up, it sounds like a server booting up! There is a serious amount of power behind these fans, and as such when they are running under normal load its a walk in the park for them. As a result you barely ever hear the beauties.

Aside from the silence, what this practically translates to is a consistently cool surface on which to place your hands while typing and using the touchpad. Which in all but the coldest of climates is likely to be a bonus. Down here during the New Zealand summers I would certainly appreciate it, because my hands can get quite hot typing away on my usual mobile workstation.

Thinkpad P50 Cooling exhausts

 

So what about air flow? Where does all that hot air exit the unit? Well the bottom of the machine is like a sieve, there are intake slots everywhere, which is great. The two fans are positioned in the back corners, so all of the air gets ejected out the periphery of those corners. This frees up space along the back edge, between the rear exhausts, for connectivity.

 

Cable Management

I have a pet hate with laptops, cables. They end up sprawling out from the device in all directions, and often OEM’s don’t do a good job of positioning the connectors during the design of the system board. So how does the Lenovo ThinkPad P50 stack up?

Thinkpad P50 Cable Management

Well, they’ve done a better job than most. All the most common connections are at the back, which immediately gets the bulk of the cables out of the way. On the right hand side of this device, there are two USB connectors, the Mini-Display port and a headphone / microphone jack. I definitely agree with having a couple of USB slots on the side, so you can quickly pop a USB drive in and out of the machine easily or plug in your slimline wireless peripheral dongles. However, I would much rather see the audio jack on the front edge of the laptop and the Mini-Display port around the back of the device next to the HDMI connector. I ended up having to use the Mini-Display port to connect to my 23″ external monitor, and so it often got in the way of my CadMouse.

Lenovo ThinkPad P50 Mini DisplayPort location

Overall, I honestly feel like this is the best designed Windows based laptop I have ever used.

Day to day use

4k Ultra High Definition Screens

One of the elements I was excited to try out with this Thinkpad was the 4K panel it came with. I had no prior experience with Ultra HD, and was keen to see how my most used applications behaved at that resolution, as well as finally being able to watch some native 4K content. I was already aware that they would be issues, and that Windows 10 is still developing to support connecting monitors of varying resolutions. So I was pretty open minded about how the experience would turn out.

Using the Lenovo ThinkPad P50 by itself, with no other lower resolution monitors connected and modern applications that support 4k is a joy. It’s simply stunning. But at this point in time, that just isn’t practical. Microsoft Office 2013 & 2016 is fine, Autodesk Inventor 2017 is fine, Solidworks 2016 is beautiful in 4K, the Adobe Creative Cloud products are also fine. BUT, Snagit & Camtasia are hideous to the point of being barely useable. Prior versions of Inventor & Solidworks aren’t good. Autodesk Fusion 360 can just about manage it (but it depends which way the wind is blowing). HSMWorks & Inventor HSM are usable but don’t deliver 4k support like their respective CAD applications do. Not even Nvidia have updated their control panel software to support 4K properly yet either!!

These limitations aren’t unique to Lenovo, and I certainly can’t blame them for any of it. It’s early days for 4K. If you only run software that already supports Ultra High Def, then go for it, get this screen. Otherwise just stick to 1080p.

Mobility

For the last 3 months I’ve been taking this everywhere with me, along side my normal mobile workstation. To put it simply, I’d much rather be carrying around this ThinkPad P50 any day. It’s thinner, quieter, has a superior build and finish, and is way faster with MUCH better battery life.

Thinkpad_P50_Mobility

Talking about battery life, what have I been doing with it and how does it perform? During the first couple of weeks, I barely used it while it was plugged in. I’d fire up Inventor & Solidworks several times a day. Outlook, Skype, Teamviewer, Edge, Firefox & Chrome were open all day. Excel definitely made an appearance several times, as well as running some virtual PC’s and Servers. The battery nearly always made it through a 9 hour day with a little to spare. Which is in stark contrast to my current machine. I’m never far from a plug socket though, nevertheless, it’s always nice to know you have that much juice available to you when you are away from the desk but still working. The battery life is made all the more impressive when you remember there are 8,294,400 pixels being lit up and manipulated that whole time.

Power management really did impress me, and it seems that Nvidia and Intel have nailed the balance of power consumption vs output with the Maxwell and Xeon based processors. Previous generations did a terrible job of switching between discrete and CPU based graphics processors. So you would invariably have to force the use of the discrete GPU 100% of the time, thereby saying goodbye to any reasonable battery life.

Build Quality

For a start it’s a ThinkPad… so it should be built well based on it’s long standing reputation. Lenovo have been wise to continue that trend from ThinkPad’s IBM origins. This P50, along with the the Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga and the ThinkPad P70, have all passed MIL-STD 810G military certification tests. In the case of the P50, it passed 11 external certifications, demonstrating system durability and adherence to stringent government and military customer requirements. Jump over to the Beyond MIL-SPEC page to read more about tough this units are.

Thinkpad P50 Rear Shot

There is nothing fancy in appearance about this laptop, it’s clean lines, and the GFRP display cover and magnesium/aluminum chassis accentuate it’s solid build. It’s light enough to feel modern but heavy enough that reminds you it packs a punch.

X-Rite Pantone Color Calibrator

What a great idea!! I love the way this is integrated. The tool prompts you to calibrate the screen every fortnight. To get the calibration started, you click on the notification, then from the resulting dialog you choose the calibration standard. All you do then is start the test, and close the lid until the P50 has stopped beeping. I’ve always wanted an easy way to calibrate my monitors so I could get my colours as close to printing quality as I could. Does it work? YES! Using the Autodesk CAM website as an example, I’ve never seen the colour of that orange displayed correctly, it’s never come close to how the printed media looks, but after calibrating the screen for the first time it was absolutely bang on. I was really impressed.

ThinkPad P50 X-Rite Pantone Color Calibrator

However, the tool isn’t that reliable, it kept telling me the monitor had physically changed some how since the last test. To fix this error, you have to reinstall the utility each time. Which is of course a pain in the arse. With that in mind, I would still opt in on that sensor if you ever create any printed media from your workstation.

Performance

AJA System Test (PCIe SSD)

Using a 4GB test file size

  • File per frame: 960 MB/s (40 fps) Write & 1898 MB/s (84 fps) Read
  • Single file: 1450 MB/s (64 fps) Write & 2041 MB/s (90 fps) Read

In summary… from now on, every single new PC I spec, will have a PCIe SSD hard drive in them. Those numbers are unbelievable and the technology is only just getting started.

CINEBENCH R15

Cinebench  is a GPU & CPU focused test, it’s very simple with very few choices for configuration. It provides a handy series of reference specifications, giving you a good idea of where your hardware sits in the current workstation hardware scene.

  • OpenGL: 34.97 fps
  • OpenGL Reference Match: 99.6%
  • CPU: 719 cb
  • CPU Single Core: 144 cb
  • MP Ratio: 5.00

This ThinkPad P50 sat in the upper half of all the test results. Reinforcing it’s intended position within the workstation market. It would be nice if Maxon filtered the results between mobile & desktop based workstation hardware. Either way, the P50 performs excellently for its class.

How Does MAXON CINEBENCH Work?

SPECwpc V2.0

All the tests were performed with a window size of 1900 x 1060. I chose to only run the Media & Entertainment, Product Development and General Operations tests, with a focus on SSD/NVMe hard drive testing. The following Composite scores for their relative Viewsets are listed below.

  • Catia-04 = 4.34
  • Creo-01 = 3.92
  • Maya-04 = 7.73
  • Showcase-01 = 3.51
  • SNX-02 = 4.74
  • SWx-03 = 2.62
  • General Operations = 1.03

The way SPECwpc compiles results is different to how SPECviewperf 12 does. In my opinion it represents a better test for CAD workstation benchmarking, than the more heavily focused GPU testing in SPECviewperf. So any comparison to previous tests would be meaningless. However, this should provide a good base moving forward, assuming it won’t be changed again any time soon. SPECwpc’s tests are far more exhaustive, with multiple tests for each product, meaning the overall score for each product is a composite of all the test scores.

When you compare these results to reports on the SPECwpc results page, it’s clear to see that the mobile Xeon CPU & PCIe SSD are lifting the mobile workstation game significantly when compared to the Dell Precision M4800 & the HP Book 17 G2. It’s really quite impressive.

To find out more about SPECwpc check out their SPECwpc V2.0 Benchmark page.

HSMWorks Performance Test

This is a pretty handy real world test of pure CPU compute power, combined with hard drive and memory performance. The utility just through a bunch of standard surface extraction and toolpath generation routines, then reports on CPU & memory usage, and the time taken. The P50 ranked as 676.2 overall (higher is better) against their database.

Task Description CPU Memory Time Elapsed
Surface Initialization 27.2% 358.3Mb 3.6s
Pocket 47.3% 427.8Mb 13.7s
Pocket Rest 51.4% 463.8Mb 16.2s
Horizontal 72.1% 307.5Mb 24.1s
Contour 83.1% 400.9Mb 27.5s
Parallel 52.7% 889.3Mb 15.8s
Parallel Rest 84.6% 359.9Mb 25.5s
Radial 61.9% 1018.7Mb 16.9s
Spiral 75.4% 1.9Gb 27.9s
Pencil 51.3% 749.2Mb 4.9s
Scallop 32.0% 359.7Mb 15.2s
Silhouette 20.8% 289.8Mb 9.5s
Contact area 79.7% 941.3Mb 9.9s
Rest area 84.9% 424.3Mb 85.0s

That’s a lot of toolpath data, processed in a pretty short space of time!

HSMWorks Performance Test tool Download

Petrikas P2 – Autodesk Inventor 2017

In the same way I did with the HP ZBook 15 review a couple of years ago, here I’m going to perform the same basic test using Gus Petrikas’ Petrikas P2 Inventor model:

  1. Load a ‘normal’ sized model from Windows Explorer, cold starting Inventor while we do so.
  2. Run a ‘Good’ quality Ray Tracing job within Inventor. Best often takes too long

While not a massive model, the Petrikas P2 does have a reasonably high level of detail using 644 file references of which 312 are unique. And it looks really cool.

Right now for the Ray Trace test. I used the following settings & Environment:

P2 RayTrace Settings

Ray Tracing has changed somewhat between Inventor 2014 & 2017, previously I’ve let it run to complete the ‘Better’ ray trace quality. However, Inventor 2017 will keep ray tracing infinitely based on a lighting and shadow quality setting. So I just let it run on draft quality for 307 seconds, so we can compare the quality to my last ray trace test with this model. It’s a bit of a cheat, because Ray Tracing is so much better in Inventor these days. However, on balance, the ThinkPad P50 is ray tracing a near 4K image here instead of 1080p.

Petrikas P2 Ray Trace - Thinkad P50 - Inventor 2017

Inventor 2014’s result

Test Unit Hardware

  • Intel Xeon E3-1505M v55 (2.8GHz)
  • NVIDIA Quadro M2000M (4GB), with the Intel HD 530 chip integrated on the Xeon CPU
  • 16GB 2133MHz DDRR4, non-ECC
  • 15.6″ 4k IPS (3840 x 2160), 300 nit, 100% NTSC Gamut
  • 512GB Samsung NVMe PCEe M.2 Solid State Drive
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 8260 + Bluetooth 4.1
  • 6 Cell (60WHr) Lithium Polymer battery
  • X-Rite Pantone Color Calibrator
  • 720p low light sensitive, fixed focus camera (I did a few international Skype calls with it, and it worked flawlessly)
  • 14.86″ x 9.93″ x 0.96-1.16″ weighing in at 5.9lbs
  • 377.5 x 252.2 x 24.4-29.5 mm weighing in at 2.8kg

Connectivity

  • 4 USB 3.0 (one Always On), two at the back and two on the side
  • 1 USB Type-C / Thunderbolt 3 (very useful for my new Nexus 6P mobile phone)
  • 1 Mini DisplayPort
  • 1 HDMI (There are some issues with some HDMI > DisplayPort cables/monitor combinations)
  • 1 Ethernet (RJ-45)
  • 4-in-1 reader (MMC, SD, SDHC, SDXC) supports UHS-II SD card
  • 1 ExpressCard/34
  • Dock connector

Lenovo allow you to significantly customize your ThinkPad P50 within a fairly broad range of specifications. Nip over to their eStore and have a play with their product configurator. I would go with the spec of this machine as a base, but got with the 1080p panel, 32GB of RAM and then buy a 3rd party 512GB SSD to drop in for extra storage & installation of less critical applications. All in all, bang for buck, Lenovo offer great value with excellent quality.

Lenovo ThinkPad P50 Review Conclusion – Would I buy it?

Yes…. I don’t want to give it back. The quality and performance of the ThinkPad P50 is right up there, and it’s priced competitively. If Lenovo has a good distribution network in your country, then you should definitely be considering Lenovo alongside the Dell’s & HP’s.

Some additional random comments I thought I should share are:

The BIOS has some really neat features that I will miss. It’s not like you go into the BIOS all that often, but when I’ve wanted to see if something was there on previous systems I’ve used, I’ve often been disappointed. The Lenovo BIOS had me impressed.

From a personal usage point of view. It was nice watching pure 4K content on the P50 and the built in speakers have a decent amount of grunt with good sound quality. It’s not really something you would think is needed in a workstation, but they actually suck quite badly in the HP ZBook. Having good speakers means you can play content for people to watch during presentations, without having to hook into an external audio source. Finally I quite enjoyed being able to Cast any video and audio content to the new TV in our bedroom, without the nightmare of having to deal with iTunes, that is a win for Windows 10 though rather than the P50.

Resources:

PCIe SSD’s vs SATA SSD’s

Bringing Intel Xeon to notebook PC’s

Studio Image credits – Lenovo

Disclaimer: Lenovo provided this ThinkPad P50 to Design and Motion free of charge and had no influence over the content of this review.

How To Disable Fusion 360 Auto Projection While Sketching

Some people may get annoyed with Fusion 360 auto projecting edges during profile creation within the sketch environment. I’m talking about the magenta lines which appear when you mouse over an edge that doesn’t intersect the sketch plane. As opposed to the edges which do intersect it and therefore automatically include themselves within the profile calculation during a modelling operation.

Disable Fusion 360 Auto Projection

So how do you disable Fusion 360 auto projection for edges? There are two ways:

  1. Turn the feature off permanently within the Fusion 360 Preferences.
  2. Prevent the projection temporarily.

Disable Fusion 360 Auto Projection

This only takes effect on model edges which aren’t planar with the sketch. Another thing to consider is these edges only get projected if the current view is normal to the sketch plane. So in other words, if you rotate the model so your sketch isn’t flat on your screen, then those edges won’t project anyway.

  • Expand the menu under your Autodesk ID in the top right corner of Fusion 360
  • Select Preferences
  • Under General, highlight Design
  • Disable the Auto project geometry not in the active sketch plane check box.

Turn off Fusion 360 Auto Project Edges

Temporarily Disable Fusion 360 Auto Projection

As is often the case in several popular CAD applications, the CTRL key is super handy when it comes to selections, it often disables other application behavior temporarily as well. Fusion 360 is no exception, check out the video below to see how to temporarily disable Fusion 360 Auto Projection. Look out for the magenta projected edge when the CTRL key isn’t used, and lack of it when the CTRL key is.

Disable Fusion 360 Auto Projection

3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Enterprise Available Now

Earlier this week 3Dconnexion announced the immediate availability of their new top of the line 3D mouse. 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Enterprise supersedes the SpacePilot Pro as the most powerful bit of kit in their comprehensive range of professional CAD peripherals. Design and Motion have been provided with a test unit to review over the next couple of months, as you will see from the press release below and embedded video, there is an awful lot to this beasty, so it deserves it decent period of use to make sure we can offer our readers some decent insight into this new offering.

3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Enterprise

Munich, Germany – April 25 2016 – Get ready to take your CAD designing to the next level with the release of the new 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Enterprise, the 3D mouse built specifically for CAD professionals who set themselves the highest possible standards, during complex and extended working sessions.

Drawing from the style and power of the award-winning SpaceMouse Pro and SpacePilot Pro 3D mice, 3Dconnexion builds on the past to reinvent the future with the SpaceMouse Enterprise.

“In the last few years we’ve gained even more insight into the needs of today’s design professionals. Based on that input, we developed the SpaceMouse Enterprise to provide the most advanced 3D input device for professional CAD users to date,” says Antonio Pascucci, 3Dconnexion’s vice president of product development.  “This powerful but easy-to-use tool provides much requested new features, taking a CAD users “two-handed power” workflow to a completely new level.”

3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Enterprise: Highlights

  • Enjoy a Real Time Understanding of 3D Engineering Design — It’s easier than ever to navigate your 3D content with SpaceMouse Enterprise’s patented 6-Degrees-of-Freedom (6DoF) sensor and instant access to Standard and Custom1 Views.
  • Fast and Efficient 3D Modeling — It’s easy to do what you want to do with 12 of your favorite application commands instantly available. And for complete visibility, the SpaceMouse Enterprise’s new, high-resolution display presents familiar icons from your application, bringing the familiarity of the toolbar ribbon to your fingertips.
  • Feel the Difference — Your hands are your livelihood. The SpaceMouse Enterprise is built to protect them at all costs from the aches and pains that are increasingly common among hard-working CAD professionals. In fact, it’s the most ergonomically designed product we’ve ever created. The comprehensive selection of large, keyboard-like buttons, including a complete set of keyboard modifiers (ENTER, DELETE, TAB, SPACE, CTRL, ALT, SHIFT and ESC) means less hand travel to and from the keyboard than ever before, while the soft-coated, full-size hand rest offers the most comfortable two-handed workflow ever.
  • Total Peace of Mind — Enjoy total confidence in your investment with our highest level of customer care. Our new 3+1 warranty offers the standard three years of other 3Dconnexion Professional Series devices plus an additional year with product registration (within 90 days of purchase).
  • Easily Customize Your Setup — The simple, yet powerful 3DxWare 10 user interface, makes customizing your SpaceMouse Enterprise a breeze. Easily assign application commands to the buttons and tailor other settings to meet your needs.

Welcome to the new standard in engineering performance. Click here to find out more about SpaceMouse Enterprise today, including technical specifications, package contents, supported operating systems and certifications / registrations.

Pricing and Availability

The SpaceMouse Enterprise is available immediately for an introductory offer of $359 / 359 EUR / £269. The SpaceMouse Enterprise is also available as part of a kit, consisting of the SpaceMouse Enterprise, CadMouse, CadMouse Pad and Twin-port USB hub. The SpaceMouse Enterprise Kit is available for an introductory offer of $399 / 399 EUR / £299. For more information on resellers or the 3Dconnexion web shop, visit www.3dconnexion.com.

About 3Dconnexion

3Dconnexion designs powerful, ergonomic hardware and smart, easy-to-use software that combine seamlessly to make working in CAD fast, comfortable and fun. From our SpaceMouse range of 3D mice to the CadMouse, 3Dconnexion products provide a superior way for CAD professionals to interact with and experience the digital world.

3Dconnexion provides peace of mind to 3D professionals who design the buildings, machines and products that power our world. They take their work seriously, and so do we. Our products feature patented technology and unparalleled build quality to provide the performance that CAD professional demand – and deserve.

3Dconnexion products are CAD companions that don’t quit, just like the 3D professionals they serve. That’s why engineers, architects and designers have trusted us for more than 20 years to improve their work, no matter how tough the job.

3Dconnexion’s European headquarters are in Munich, Germany with offices worldwide. Stay up-to-date with all the latest company and industry news via the 3Dconnexion blog, Facebook and Twitter.

1 New and exclusive to SpaceMouse Enterprise.

When to use Fusion 360 Bodies and Components

A lot of users new to CAD or new to a 3D CAD modeller may be confused by the concept of Fusion 360 Bodies and Components. You don’t know, what you don’t know right? For those users, bodies and components can appear to be too similar to one another, and keeping things organised can be a challenge. So what’s the story? What are the differences between Fusion 360’s Bodies and Components, and when should Components be used?

Fusion 360 Bodies vs Components

Bodies

Bodies are essentially collections of 3 dimensional features connected to one another, until they form a static representation of a part. People can create multiple bodies within a Component. Modern Top down design methodologies use the concept of bodies as the bed rock of its power. Essentially you are modelling one body relative to the next, as they will be built in the real world, allowing users to ‘borrow’ geometry from one body to drive features on the next. It’s a very powerful and convenient way to model.

Fusion 360 Bodies and features

  • Collections of features
  • Predominantly used with Top-Down modelling techniques
  • Geometry from one body can be used to drive geometry on another
  • Perfect for ‘fleshing out’ your design in the conceptual stages of the process
  • You can have more than one body per component
  • Bodies can be promoted to Components
  • Typically you would only have one body per component during the final stages of design
  • You CAN’T create Joints between Bodies

Components

First of all, you need to understand that as soon as you create a new Fusion design, it is already a Component, additionally it will always be the top level Component for the design. Then by default the first 3D features you create will start to form the first Body for the design and therefore the Component. Components can contain one or multiple bodies. Typically though, as your design takes shape and you move into creating movement within your model, you would only expect to see a single body in each component.

Fusion 360 Component Properties

Components can represent either parts or sub-assemblies, so naturally sub-assembly components will be made up of other components. Building the component structure is how you communicate to the tradesman reading your drawings, or viewing your model, how you want them to assemble your design. Any downstream user of your designs will benefit from what is in fact, the Bill of Materials for your product. This structure cannot be achieved with bodies alone. Properties are a huge part of BOM’s as well, so components allow users to enter custom property values for Part Number, Part Name and Description. More properties and the ability to create custom properties will no doubt be added to Fusion 360 Components in the future.

  • Any new Fusion design is always a Component in it’s own right.
  • You can only create Joints between Components
  • Components can contain other components to form sub-assemblies
  • Defining components allows you to create a Bill of Materials (BOM)
  • Custom values for properties can be assigned to individual Components
  • Drawings are associated with components
  • Components can’t be demoted to bodies
  • Positional representations can be created, allowing a single component in multiple positions to determine the geometry of a neighboring component
  • Components are used in the animation and simulation environments

Fusion 360 Bodies and Components in Summary

Fusion 360 Bodies and Components

So, essentially Bodies form the geometric representation of your designs, either independently or as a result of relationships with other Bodies.Then Components allow you to define an assembly structure, and via the use of Joints, you can determine how parts and sub-assemblies function with respect to one another. When working with Components, you need to make sure you have the Component you are working with activated, otherwise you may get unexpected results. Just remember that the Fusion Design file is a Component of its own, so any additional features you add may end up as part of the top level Component, instead of the Component you thought you were adding it to. If you would like any further clarification, have any questions or tips about using Fusion 360 Bodies and Components, then please don’t hesitate to fire away in the comments below.

Oh, AND!!

If you are wondering  what Top Down design is, Paul Munford wrote a great piece explaining the various assembly modelling techniques within the context of Autodesk Inventor. The concepts discussed also apply for SolidWorks, and of course Fusion 360. The only difference is Fusion 360 doesn’t explicitly label components as parts and assemblies.

Solidworks BIM Content Creation Tips & Tricks

Solidworks arguably has the largest install base of the mid-range CAD products globally. Naturally this translates to a lot of Building Products Manufacturers also being Solidworks users. As BIM adoption accelerates at a rapid rate of knots, with large swathes of companies using products like Autodesk Revit and ArchiCAD, the pressure to provide high quality BIM content is piling up for Solidworks users around the world. However, although the simplification tools in Solidworks are extremely capable, and certainly adequate, there are limitations when it comes to Solidworks BIM export formats and embedded data (the I part of BIM). In this post I will highlight the most compatible workflows within Solidworks, but also show how easy it is to create poor BIM content.

The Base Dataset

The most likely scenario when starting to create BIM content, is having to do so from a completed and highly detail design. Ideally you would plan for BIM content creation during the preliminary stages of fleshing out your model in Solidworks. There is no reason why you couldn’t use the simplified geometry required for BIM content, to drive the complex forms and detail of your product. The benefits are twofold, you end up with a stable model driven by simple envelopes and instant access to a simple model to create Solidworks BIM content with.

Methven Aio Faucet Render Section

For the benefit of our readers. I’ve kindly been provided permission to use a fully detailed model of a Methven Aio Basin Mixer, skillfully modeled in Solidworks 2014. Methven make beautiful products, and I can say that, given my wife and I ended up choosing to use the Methven Kiri range of products throughout our house, long before I had the opportunity to work on this Solidworks BIM project with them.

Organization & Suppression

Solidworks 2016 New Assembly Folder

As with most high end 3D CAD products, Solidworks allows users to organize components within the assembly environment into folders within its browser. This provides a great opportunity to visually sort components into two folders, internal and external components. In doing so you can quickly toggle the visibility of components in between the two folders, making sure you end up with all the relevant Solidworks ‘BIM’ components sitting in the external components folder, allowing you to suppress all the internal components in one hit.

Simplify

Solidworks 2016 Simplify command

This command is a cheeky little number, and like the Remove Details command in Autodesk Inventor, it relies on the features you want it to remove being native to the CAD application. So essentially this means you can’t effectively use the Simplify command with 3rd party models you have imported.

The Simplify command requires you to select which features you want to remove, a simplification factor, and if you want the simplification to be feature or volume based. A nice touch is the ability to ignore removal of features which affect assembly mates. In this case I’ve used all the default options, then after clicking the Find Now button, I enabled the All checkbox, but you can explicitly highlight which features you want to keep and which ones you want to suppress. Highlighted features will be suppressed once the Suppress button is clicked. You can also create a configuration with this tool if the situation suits. As you can see from the image below the result can be quite beneficial, but retain the overall appearance of the component.

Solidworks 2016 Simplify comparison

Defeature

Solidworks 2016 Defeature Powerful, but a tad unreliable, the Defeature command has 4 stages. Component removal allows you to automate the removal of all internal components, manually select components to remove but also specify exceptions to any other rules set during this step. Stage 2 allows you to maintain some movement between components by creating rigid groups. The third stage provides the ability to choose which features to keep, either explicitly or via some auto select tools and filters. The final stage presents itself after the Defeature command processes all the selections so far, two windows appear, with the original model on the left and a defeatured preview on the right.

Throughout the process you have access to a Section View panel in the Property Manager. This is particularly helpful during the final and 4th stage of defeaturing. You can use it to check to see how much of the model, if any has been defeatured as you would expect. Luckily this stage gives you the opportunity to select additional faces, features, bodies or components to remove. Select any face and a mini toolbar pops up near your cursor, then you can choose how to expand your selection beyond the face you chose. I find this quite an effective method of refining what you need, my only complaint it deciphering what you have selected. This is a unique issue to the Defeature command, but rather a global issue with Solidworks once you have a lot of entities selected. To be fair the development team have eased this issue a bit, by allowing the user to expand the selection box in the Property Manager with the 2016 release.

Solidworks 2016 Defeature - Link to OriginalClicking through to the final page of this process, you can decide what you want to do with the model. In the context of this article, the first option makes the most sense. You can choose to Link the resulting model back to your original assembly if you want. Which could prove to be particularly helpful to building product manufacturers.

Repair, Patch & Fill

Solidworks 2016 BIM - Repair Patch FillFrustratingly in this case I wasn’t able to get the Defeature tool to fill in all of the voids, even after selecting all the features in this area of the model (at least I’m pretty sure I did… tough to tell). So if you come across this situation, you an take advantage of Solidworks modelling tools to extrude a boss, then make use of the copy body, boolean subtract and add commands. Ultimately this will create a new body you can use to fill any additional voids. In this case I chose to take it a step further, and create simplified geometry of the clamps as well.

Export Options

So this is where the good BIM, bad BIM play comes in. There are three effective ways of getting model geometry and metadata out of Solidworks and into Revit or Archicad. I’ll briefly cover each of them, as well as showing the geometric results in Revit & ArchiCAD, as well as the resulting file sizes.

Solidworks BIM Export (Export to AEC)

Solidworks BIM - Export to AEC

This is more of a workflow tool than anything else, whereby it brings together a number of tools available elsewhere in Solidworks. It starts with a request to define the type of BIM component it is and it’s orientation. I believe this is the only location in Solidworks where this vital part of BIM content creation can be achieved. After defining the ‘Host’ (floor, wall or ceiling), you are required to define a plane and an origin about which your BIM component will be attached within its destination model in the future. You can choose to Flip the Normal of the plane you select, but there is no way of telling which was is correct until you have imported it into the destination model.

On the next page you have to specify the level of detail you want to get achieve in your target model. Selecting either High, Medium or Low will pre-configure the Defeature command, allowing you to skip all the questions it asks of you, otherwise selecting Custom will take you through the full Defeature process. If you take the quick option, there aren’t any view section tools available so you can quickly check if you are being delivered the result you need. The final stage then allows you to export the result as a SAT file, I find it quite bizarre that IFC (and it’s Class definition toolset) wasn’t included as an option here.

This is my preferred option of the three for exporting you Solidworks BIM model. It gives you some BIM metadata and very clean geometry for the destination BIM based CAD system. SAT files are definitely the best option to get model data from Solidworks to Autodesk Revit.

IFC Export

Solidworks BIM - IFC Export

IFC is an extremely popular neutral file format in the BIM world. It’s certainly highly compatible with ArchiCAD and can contain rich metadata and various geometry options. It’s great news then, that IFC export has had a stealthy upgrade between Solidworks 2015 & 2016. Previously you could only export using IFC 2×3 with OmniClass classification, but you also had to set your document’s image quality to a suitable level, since quite bizarrely that drives the quality of the IFC output. 2016 delivers the option to export using the IFC 4 format, then additional improvements deliver the option of using UniClass2 classifications, as well as defining if you want Solidworks to use BREP, BREP and Tessellation or Tessellation export methods. However, you do still need to set the Image Quality in your document to determine the output resolution of the IFC file, why this can’t be specified during the export process is beyond me.

Based on my tests, exporting to IFC is an acceptable way of creating good Solidworks BIM content for ArchiCAD but a pretty terrible one for Revit. However, ArchiCAD 19 currently doesn’t support the IFC 4 file format, you will have to continue using IFC 2×3 for now. Given that the Solidworks IFC imported into Archicad delivers clean geometry, whereas in Revit the result is frankly quite disgusting, I’d say Autodesk have really dropped the ball when it comes to importing IFC files into Revit.

SAT Export

Solidworks BIM - Export as SAT

It doesn’t get any simpler than this. If you’ve followed the steps in this post and created a nice, clean and simple model for export. Then all you need to do is Save As your model and select ACIS as the file type, and save it out. The downside is you don’t get any actual ‘BIM’ metadata exported with the model, like you do when you use either Export to AEC or IFC Export.

Conclusion

Solidworks certainly has some decent tools when it comes to simplifying models of its own creation, albeit with some issues. Automating model simplification will always be an extremely tricky prospect with history based parametric modellers. The second part of the Solidwork BIM creation story isn’t about model geometry, its about Information. Although Solidworks does provide some tools to deliver BIM industry standard meta data, they do fall short. It’s at this point the reality sets in for Solidworks, it has some way to catch up before it can produce the same quality BIM content for Building Product Manufacturers as some of its competitors can. Nevertheless, I hope I’ve shown that with a bit of preparation and effort, you can indeed create good quality Solidworks BIM content.

Jon Hirschtick loses Onshape to Carl Bass

It was clear for attendees and onlookers of the Develop3D Live event held at Warwick University last week, that it was a rip roaring success full of brain food and networking. Of particular interest was the dual attendance of CAD royalty; Mr. Jon Hirschtick and Mr. Carl Bass. Given the history of Autodesk and Solidworks, having these two gentlemen in the same room together will always be a curious affair. However, this time their encounter has the power of CAD in the Cloud behind it. With Autodesk showing off and giving away Fusion 360, and Onshape doing likewise, the scene was set for a competitive environment.

Autodesk Slips in behind Onshape for the win

The competition didn’t stop at the event itself though. During the event’s invite-only after party at a local casino, it has come to our attention that a watershed moment for the CAD industry occurred.

Fueled by Kraken, the stakes were rising between Carl Bass & Jon Hirschtick. With their respective products about to go head to head in the market place, a bystander suggested they play for them at the Blackjack table, winner takes all. Carl refused to put Fusion 360 on the table, insisting the wager was completely unbalanced compared to Onshape. Instead, he proposed Tinkercad as a much more appropriate bet.

Our source relayed that Jon was disgusted by the proposition but quickly came around, figuring his legendary skills at the table would surely mean Carl’s defeat. As the game played out towards the end, a small crowd gathered as Jon doubled down with the last half of his markers… and busted… Carl walked out with Onshape and the opportunity to finally bring AutoCAD solid modelling into the 21st century.

*We sincerely hope no Onshapers were harmed in the production of this post.

Autodesk Inventor 2016 Now Uses AnyCAD format

Well, well, well, Autodesk have really stepped up to the plate with this new feature. Multi-CAD… Sound familiar? PTC served up their version last year. Have Autodesk taken it further? Is it a truly useful workflow? What about improving the DWG import performance? Are all questions you may be asking. Continue Reading

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