I’m mainly a plastics design guy, but few of us get to totally specialize in just one thing. Especially when the economy is tough, if you’re a freelancer or contractor/consultant, you take what work comes to you. So I’ve had to do some sheet metal part design in the course of doing assemblies that contained some plastic parts. The thing I love about designing for sheet metal is that it’s all about the process. If you don’t know how the sheet metal process works, you can’t design parts that can be made realistically. I’m not an expert by any means, but I love to learn things like this. Plus, you can just open up your computer casing and get a good idea about some cool real world sheet metal parts.
Sheet metal just happens to be one of the two things that Solid Edge has built a reputation on. The other is drawings. I have always enjoyed the sheet metal tools in SW, but having used the sheet metal tools in Solid Edge, I have to say that Solid Edge is much better.
Solid Edge sheet metal can be used in both Ordered and Synchronous workflows. Contrary to my experience with the punch holder, making sheet metal models in ordered is pretty nice. I think if it came right down to it, I would pick SE ordered sheet metal over synchronous, although the capabilities are very close to one another. This impression might change with use, but they are both very good, you can hardly go wrong regardless of which one you pick. Some more experienced users will probably have something to add in terms of subtle or not-so-subtle differences between the two methods.
I’ve written previously on comparing SW v SE sheet metal. This time I’m going to focus more on the stuff you can do in SE that you can’t do in SW.
The first thing that impressed me this time through the Solid Edge sheet metal was that SE has little need for library features. SE has standard features for dimples and drawn cutouts that make this kind of work as easy as making a sketch and setting some options. One of the things that impressed me most was the Gusset feature. You can just slap it on a bend, resize the bend, change the thickness, change the angle of one of the flanges, and the gusset continues to work properly. In SW, the official line is that gussets are impossible. In reality, they are possible, but they require a specific set of items to be set up exactly right, and a mit-ful of left handed workarounds.
I worked through tutorials for both sync and ordered sheet metal. I noticed that for ordered sheet metal there’s a tool for flattening a single bend so you can make a cut out on the flat, and later form the bend across the cut. I was worried that this approach wouldn’t work in synchronous mode, but it turns out that synchronous mode has a special option called Wrapped Cut which senses when you are cutting on a bend, and will automatically flatten that specific bend for you. Really nice.
Things like louvers are already set up in SE as a feature, just drag and drop, then use the options to size. No clunky library features or forming features.
And then there’s the bead, cross brake and etch. Bead is just a raised path on the surface of a part, cross brake stiffens parts with big flat sections, and the etch is maybe most like a text stamping, or coining. Nice features.
Also, if you’ve suffered through gage tables in other software, you might appreciate how SE handles the whole material, thickness and default values issue. You can still use gage tables if you want to, but I think the information about thickness, default bend radius, relief size, and bend equations is laid out pretty well in Solid Edge.
Solid Edge still has the same sort of “straight brake” limitations that SW users are familiar with, along with the corner relief issues. You’re not going to design automotive body panel sheet metal or formed suspension components in Solid Edge and expect them to flatten. There is a lofted flange in ordered mode which I don’t believe exists in synchronous. SolidWorks recently added a welded corner for sheet metal parts that fills in gaps at corners. I haven’t seen an equivalent in SE.
Flat patterns in SE are relatively straight forward. You can save out a DXF directly.
My overall impression after working with SE sheet metal for a little while is that it just feels a lot snappier than what I’ve used before, and it has a more complete set of real options that are more integrated and just natural feeling. I fell into the groove with ordered sheet metal much more easily than I did with regular features for some reason. There seems to be slightly more functionality with ordered than sync, but I may be missing something here.