Configurations vs Family of Parts, Round 1

Solid Edge Family of Parts and Works Configurations don’t line up neatly for comparison. Edge even has a functionality called Configurations, but its best compared to Works Display States. I know this comparison is going to take more than one blog article to muddle through, but I’m gearing up to talking about SolidWorks Toolbox, one of the most controversial aspects of the software for users.

If we just limit the discussion to what it takes to create a library of standard parts, then the items we need to control are sizes controlled by table, and features turned on and off. This functionality is classic Family of Parts. It is also a small bit of what Works calls Configurations.

Solid Edge’s Family of Parts functionality uses a master part, a table, and then a set of individual parts that contain the sizes. SolidWorks uses all of the configurations within a single part file.

To be fair, in Toolbox, SolidWorks allows you to use either Configurations or the “Create Parts” setting. But the default is Configurations. If you read any of the books I wrote where I mention Toolbox and Configurations, I recommend that you use the “Create Parts” setting, primarily because the way Toolbox and Configurations are used in Works violates the very first rule of good file management techniques – “Thou shalt not have multiple files with the same names and different content.” I mean, that rule is beat into most users of CAD regardless of the brand, but SolidWorks Toolbox violates it right out of the box, by design.

The safest way to use Toolbox is to use the “Create Parts” setting – where each size is a separate file. True, in some ways its less efficient, but it is also risk-free. You never get a file that doesn’t have the right data. The problem with Configurations, for those not familiar with it, is that everybody installs Toolbox with the basic files, but the basic files don’t have all the sizes. So one person will make one set of sizes, and another person will make a  different set of sizes, and then if they ever share data, one person may wind up with an assembly that calls for sizes that the other person didn’t make. What happens in that situation is often that the sizes just come in wrong.

SolidWorks has applied piles of bandaids to this problem across the years, but they have never fixed the fact that by default, they are setting Toolbox users up for failure by ignoring fundamental file management facts.

When you compare the overall philosophies of Edge and Works, this is one of the arguments that really helps define the two products. Solid Edge is not going to develop tools, regardless how sexy, that put your data at such systematic risk. The Family of Parts method is far less risky, somewhat less sexy, and in most situations, requires less memory. “Fast and Loose” is not the attitude that I take with my data. Why would you trust a CAD company that takes that approach with yours?

6 Replies to “Configurations vs Family of Parts, Round 1”

  1. Matt Johnson,

    Thanks, although I do watch most of the Lunch Bytes, I don’t think I’ve seen that one. I’ll also take a look at the help, see what I can find in there.

  2. …I wouldn’t describe anything about SE as ‘sexy’ myself but OK….
    Btw Matt there is a new video out of JH talking about CAD in the future. Might want to check it it out. Comfort for thumb enabled generations etc..
    Also – Autodesk have teamed up with Otoy and Mozilla to develop game streaming technology ORBX.js – will be used for Inventor browsing ex Amazon.

  3. I no longer use the Solidworks toolbox parts. These parts are almost never dimensionally conforming to the parts that can be procured. I like table driven configurations for things like AN3 bolts. My model for 96 sizes of bolts has the full part numbers and is conforming to the specification. The SW file is 4.2MB. I must be shit, hot to create 4MB in half an hour. I calculated the actual amount of information in the file by counting every line, relation, reference, dimension, character and feature, and it is only 4100B about 1000X smaller than the SW file. SW file bloat is much worse for complex surfaces.

  4. JR,

    We recently hosted one of our Lunch Bytes on the topic of Solid Edge UI customization. There may be some helpful tips in here for you.

    Furthermore, if you are truly interested in the deployment options you should look into customizing the options.xml file using the SEAdmin tool. Take a look in Solid Edge help for Solid Edge Administrator.

    Hope these are helpful for you.

    Matt Johnson
    Application Engineer
    Ally PLM Solutions

  5. Hi Matt,

    Since you’re talking about Toolbox and user sharing data, that got me thinking, at some point you should write about some of the best practices when it comes to deploying Solid Edge to multiple users. You know things like setting up default settings and shared templates and libraries.

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