Lately there has been a lot of buzz about a product called SolidMap. This is a SW partner software that graphically shows relationships between parts in an assembly or features in a part.
Here is a screen shot of the interface when it is started inside a part document:

The preview doesn’t look like the part. Anyway, let’s see what the relations are inside the part. Its not really obvious what you need to do, so I try the obvious, like double click, right click, etc., none of which do anything.

There are 3 buttons which appear to be something other than interface navigation, Refresh, Synchronize, and Update File Relationship. These don’t sound like they will list the dependencies of the features in the part.

There are also 3 drop down lists, Type, Direction and Steps. Try Type, and set it to Feature Detail. Now it wants me to select a feature. So I select a feature in the tree, about in the middle. Nothing happens. So I hit the Synchronize button, and it generates a tree. Why that button? Dunno. After watching some of the help, there is apparently a more elegant way of doing all of this, but it isn’t obvious.

Ok, it’s a really wide tree, and if I can see the tree I can’t see what’s in it. If the Direction drop down is set to Both, it shows relationships to both parent and child features, but the direction is only indicated by an arrow at one end of the leader between the features. The word Affects is on each line.

The tree can be reoriented vertically instead of horizontally, but I don’t see anything to make the icons smaller. It would be nice if it just showed the names of the features, or had an option to do that. The graphical layout isn’t conveying any information that an indented text layout doesn’t also convey.

Open an other part with incontext relations. Press Synchronize a couple of times. It shows the assembly that the part has incontext relations within. The Type box automatically has switched to File. Switch it back to Feature Detail. Again, it asks for a feature. I already had a feature selected. But I select a feature with an incontext relationship, and press Synchronize twice. Oops, change Direction back to Both again, and Synchronize.

Now it shows both parent and child features, but if you compare this diagram against the SW Parent/Child information, SolidMap is not showing sketches. Again from listening to the help, there are some indications that there is more detail, but those indications are not shown here. I think it just deals with solid or surface features and reference geometry, not with sketches.
There is a bit of “help” that comes with SolidMap. You won’t find the help on the product’s toolbar though. It is on the SolidMap menu in the SolidWorks window. The SolidMap window is always on top of everything so you constantly have to resize it and move it around, even on my 24″ widescreen monitor. It turns out the help files are all on the internet. The help is video with audio. Presumably this allows them to update the help frequently.

Anyway, you get the idea. I’m assuming that the assemblies information is roughly in about the same shape. Actually, there is one situation where this sort of thing could be very useful – finding circular relations. Part A references Part B which References back to Part A. So I made a 3 part assembly with circular references to see if SolidMap can help identify it.

So here is the image of the results. In reality part2 has an incontext relation to part1, part3 has an incontext relation to part2, and part1 has an incontext relation to part3. This is a situation where there is always a rebuild symbol on the parts and with every rebuild, each of the parts increases in size. The SolidMap image shows absolutely no indication of this.
I think you get the idea about this product. It made a nice programming exercise for someone, but in the end, the interface is not intuitive, and the information presented is a watered down version of what you can already get through the Parent/Child RMB menu option in SW.

Is it worth $800? No way. I don’t think it’s even worth $150. I can’t think of a thing I would use it for even if it were free.
Is there a need for something like this? Yes, absolutely. Relationships between parts and features are difficult to navigate in the SolidWorks software, but SolidMap is not going to help you. Maybe I have overlooked something. If I have, I’d like to hear about it. I was hoping this product would be useful, because I have some parts with crazy external relations, and I’d like to be able to spot features which don’t relate to anything of importance quickly so they can be deleted. Maybe in version 2.0.

I should clarify a little. I don’t want to malign an otherwise worthy product. It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and ruin some programmer’s day, so I’ll try to suggest what I would consider useful in a product that does what this does.

My issue is that SolidMap doesn’t have the stuff I’m looking for. It does contain basic functionality (Parent/Child) which is available in SolidWorks, and it is somewhat more convenient than SolidWorks for that purpose. SW Parent/Child functionality is pretty basic and very dated. For some people who just like to see the information in a different layout, SolidMap’s approach may be fine, but the things I would look for would be more detailed and covering more types of relations.

In particular, SolidMap would have value to me if it had stuff that is either difficult or impossible to get from SolidWorks currently:
– detail about incontext relations (sketch, feature, part, assembly)
– warnings about circular relations in assemblies
– warnings about relations to things in assemblies that require multiple rebuilds (incontext features, component patterns, etc.)
– the interface to be laid out so you can see more than a few features at a time
– option to show the feature tree in a purely history based representation (not indented and reordered for parent/child)
– identify orphan features (have no relatives in the tree, and also features with no children in the tree)
– information about inserted parts, split parts, etc.
– information about references as relating to configurations
– possibly combine Feature Statistics, since that info is already available

This review was done with a free 30 day copy of SolidMap.

6 Replies to “SolidMap”

  1. Matt,

    I like the new look on your of your blog and appreciate the extensive amount of info you post it is always helpful. One suggestion on the font could be easier to read and possibly a couple of shades of grey off of stark white. Keep up the good work and keep on writting.

    Thank you,

    Thanks for the comments. The main text already is a couple ticks off of pure white. I’ve been experimenting with colors. Do you like the text darker or lighter? I’m guessing you meant slightly darker. I’ll try to mess with the font a little, but I’m at the extents of my web programming knowledge just to make the color changes.

  2. The new text looks blotchy and is difficult to read. It looks like a bad copier copy of 40 years past. The antialias method of the Mac OSX using Firefox browser makes the vertical strokes of letters have variable brightness. The comment text box is much easier to read. Text editing is weird as my text highlight color is yellow so selected text is gray on yellow with low contrast.

  3. I’m glad to hear you like the new wordpress. I’m going to be installing that here soon to control my own website (not-SW related). It’s not even a blog, it just looks easier to control.

    I definitely like the mechanisms behind your blog, and I like the new look. Glad I didn’t have to see it in autocadyellow!

  4. Matt, I like the new look but the background is a little dark. I found myself squinting a little to read. I think you’re right, some of the blogs started to run together in their appearance.


  5. Nice new digs. At least you didn’t put yellow text on a black background. That’s so AutoCADish.


    oooh, shudder, not autocadish! I knew there was a reason I had to change it so quickly.

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