Building a Solidworks PC – 2015 Edition

EDIT: This article has been updated in Building a Solidworks PC – 2017 Edition

The core of a good Solidworks workstation should be a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and a Solidworks approved workstation graphics card.

Solidworks performance is limited by the CPU and unfortunately only runs single-core for everything except simulation and rendering.  An Intel i7-4770 processor will provide good performance for the price even if you’re using only a single core on the chip.

16GB of RAM is a minimum and important for dealing with large assemblies.  This stuff is cheap and can easily be expanded in the future.

A basic CAD workstation graphics card should be sufficient and won’t hinder performance.  They key here is stability and performance with Solidworks which is why you want something like the Quadro K2000.  Workstations graphics cards are essentially glorified gaming cards but they have extremely stable drivers.

Those are the important bits, the following list covers the complete build.  All components are from Amazon because they have fairly competitive prices and good customer service.  Shop around though, your experience may vary.

The system price at time of writing is is $1495.  Part prices are not listed here because they seem to change week to week.  Expect the system price to trend downward in the next few months.

Processor – Intel i7-4770 – good performance for the price

Motherboard – MSI Z97 PC Mate LGA – feature-rich motherboard to provide flexibility in the future, has a fancy BIOS and will support up to 32gb of RAM

Graphics CardQuadro K2000 – you’re paying for stability here

Memory – Kingston 16GB – fast and cost effective

Storage – Samsung SSD 840 EVO-Series 500GB – a nice solid state drive for speedy performance, I think it’s important to stick with a name brand here to ensure good performance over the life of the drive

DVD LG Electronics 24X – sigh, can’t quite escape physical discs yet.  With writing feature for all of your documentation purposes.

Case – Corsair Carbide Series 200R – a nice clean case that’s easy to work on

Power Supply – Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550W – Solid power supply with more than enough wattage, will support expansion in the future

OS Windows 7 64-bit OEM – The old standard here, I prefer it over Windows 8

That’s everything you need for a complete build!  The case comes with all necessary hardware and fans, the power supply has all the cables, and the CPU has it’s own cooler and heatsink.

Need monitors?  I’m a big fan of the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp because of the positioning flexibility.  It’s easy to setup your dual monitor view in any configuration.  Ergonomics are a big deal if you’re sitting in front of monitors for 8+ hours a day.

 

Move with Triad

Solidworks Triad

This is by far my favorite Solidworks feature that no one seems to use or even know about.  It’s called “move with triad” and it makes working with assemblies much easier.  Right click on any part in an assembly and it should be an available option.

Triad Menu Option

The triad tool allows you to constrain part translation or rotation to a single axis.  This removes a lot of frustration when positioning parts in an assembly prior to mating them.  The flexibility to position things easily can really speed up machine layout and concepting when things are loosely defined.

The triad can also help you locate parts lost in larger assemblies or move parts that have gotten lost inside other solids.

Bind it to your “T” key now!

 

 

 

Manufacturing a Composite Rocket Fuel Tank

This is an interesting video from NASA showing the manufacture of what appear to be different composite spacecraft parts including a fuel tank.

The center piece here is an articulated robot mounted on a “seventh” linear axis with a automated fiber placement end effector.  The end effector heats the area and applies strips of resin impregnated composite “tape.”  The whole process requires a high level of motion control especially with a rotating work piece.

I’m not an expert on the process but it’s easy to have an appreciation for the new manufacturing processes required by high performance composites.

The pair of blue “post” style machines in the beginning of the video appear to be testing for voids in the finished part.

Ultrasonic Void Testing Composite Tank Robot Composite Tank AFP

Stewart Platform Mill

The Giddings and Lewis Variax mill.

They were definitely thinking outside the box on this one.  Interesting concept but some of the claimed advantages seem dubious. The machining envelope appears limited for the size of the machine and the control enclosure is never shown in frame.  The tool changer seems like a bit of a kludge and makes the whole system difficult to guard – everything would need to be isolated and caged as a cell.  Work piece access also appears difficult and would require a lot of reaching and bending at the waist.

I’ll give them credit for trying something new and developing the concept as far as they did.

Stewart Platform Mill Mill Tool Changer

Solid Modeling and Solidworks

Over the years I have used most of the available solid modeling packages for machine design and part detailing.  Autodesk Inventor, PRO/E, CATIA, and Solidworks.  I tried Sketch Up once and considered it an abomination – it is in a strange uncanny valley between engineering and consumer uses.

Inventor and Solidworks are extremely similar in appearance and function but Solidworks is by far the package I have used the most.  It is my current favorite (having learned all of the its idiosyncrasies) and has a nice blend of usability and performance.  I have easily surpassed the 10,000 hour mark but still have much to learn.

That being said I have learned a few tips and tricks over the years and plan to share them here.  Stay tuned for some Solidworks specific posts.

 

The Enginoor

Welcome.

The goal of this site is for me to share engineering videos, topics, or stories that I personally find interesting. I plan to cover a lot of automation, mechanical design, and maybe provide some light analysis. If you’re into machinery or manufacturing expect to see a lot of really cool stuff here.

I am a BSME and have a background in aerospace assembly, manufacturing automation, and machine tool design.