This is a topic I want to open up to discussion from both sides of the aisle here, but in particular I’d like to hear from the Edgers. I see the theoretical advantages and disadvantages of the concept of “configurations” in SolidWorks, where many versions of a part can be stored within a single file. I’d like to hear about the advantages and disadvantages of the Solid Edge method for Family of Parts.
Just for clarification, let me go through the SolidWorks configuration idea for those who aren’t familiar. “Configurations” in SolidWorks are basically versions of the part or assembly where you can turn on or off features, change dimensions, colors, certain feature options, and other similar kinds of things in assemblies. The configured part or assembly remains a single file, and there is a list of configurations, allowing you to switch between the configs, and even switch which config is used in an assembly or external reference. Configurations can be driven several ways in SolidWorks:
- no organization, just features turned on/off and dimensions changed in various configs
- tables for individual features
- tables for parts
- Excel spreadsheets that control variables/dimensions/properties
You can use configurations for various purposes in SW:
- to simplify parts/assemblies
- to show size variations of parts/assemblies
- to show variations with different features/parts
- to temporarily eliminate certain features you may want back later
- to show assemblies in different positions
- to show parts with secondary operations such as machined castings, or plastic parts with pressed inserts
- to show parts in a flexed state, such as a flattened o-ring, or a tire under load
Actual applications include:
- an entire family of screws might be configured so that all sizes of SHCS might be found in a single file
- simplified versions of a part or assembly that have complex features removed to make it easier to work on them
- versions of an assembly shown in different positions
This is an oversimplification of configurations in SW, there are a lot of different configurable items and just as many uses for configurations. Configurations are a widely embraced method in SolidWorks. There is no question that they are useful.
But on the other hand, a lot of users have been bitten by configurations, and actually prefer to use the Solid Edge Family of Parts type method within SolidWorks – they save each version out as a separate file. Probably the biggest example of the failure of configurations is SolidWorks Toolbox. Because files of the same name can have different configurations, moving assemblies between different Toolbox implementations can result in a complete loss of fasteners from an assembly. Toolbox can be set up to use configurations or separate files. The only safe way to use it is with separate files.
Several drawbacks exist when using configurations:
- not all PDM programs can track individual configs
- if you delete something, it is deleted from all configs
- if you don’t use a table or Excel, managing configs can be messy
- files with many configs can become huge
- switching between configs can be slow
- managing nested configs can get confusing
- believe it or not, there are bugs that might make some aspects of configurations unpredictable
- Toolbox configurations automate big problems
Given the Toolbox argument which has raged for over a decade, it is easy to see one reason why Solid Edge users might prefer to use the separate file approach, but having used configs within a single file, it might seem limiting to not be able to turn on or off collected features within a part.
I wasn’t able to find any good demos of Family of Parts in SE on Youtube, or even anything particularly helpful in the SE Help. Even with the Command Finder I wasn’t able to locate the Family of Parts icon to get started. I don’t think there’s a very good conceptual overview, or a workflow overview of this functionality, so this is one place where Edgers can step in and fill in some of the practical details that the documentation has left out.
Edgers, what do you think of the current state of Family of Parts? Is there anything missing or anything that you think works great? If you’re familiar with SW, can you compare FOP/FOA to configs?