What I’m Learning in Training

Online training isn’t that bad, especially if you’re accustomed to sitting through webexes. The format works well, as long as other people remember to mute their mics. And they use headphones so the mics aren’t picking up the speakers…loop….loop…loop…

The nice thing is I can sit there in my PJs and learn what I need to know. I can roll my eyes when necessary, and even groan out loud when it become too much to contain.

The point is that I’m really learning stuff this week. Here are a few things I’ve picked up that will help me down the road:

Action-Object is overrated.

Going into this training, I really thought that Solid Edge was mostly Action-Object. But I was wrong. Patterns are Object-Action (only) and creating geometry can be either. The best workflow (fewest clicks in this case) is Object-Action. I wish one of two things: 1) Solid Edge would standardize – pick one and stick with it 2) “The entrenched” would see the wisdom of standardization and not groan when it happens. Some functions are one way, some are another, and some can use both. I think SE should go all O-A or make all functions use both. The inconsistency is a little bothering.

Selection Manager

You can access Solid Edge’s Selection Manager in several ways. Ctrl-selecting, box-selecing, selecting geometry or Pathfinder, Select drop-down, spacebar. This tool is important to know, and it’s important to understand its importance. You guys who already know this stuff, bear with me, I’m just learning. I want to help pave the way for others. The first thing you select is the thing that’s going to move. Multiple Align is very powerful, and allows multiple things to move at once, even from different starting points. Then finally you select the “where to” item that defines the final position. Easy once you know what the intent is.

The Selection Manager is important because in lieu of ‘Works style design intent, your selection is your intent. So the tools for selecting stuff are fundamentally important.

Keyboard Shortcuts are far more important in Edge than I thought

There are some really powerful keyboard shortcuts in Solid Edge. The M/C/E business to help you select mid/center/edge elements is one of my favorites. You can align stuff using midpoints. You can do this in Works too, but I think the way Edge does it is less clumsy. In Works you can use construction sketch geometry but in Edge you can do it directly with feature geometry. Spacebar is a good one. And the Shift key has more uses than I can remember. This information needs to be all in a single place for reference.

Then the view shortcuts like Ctrl-F for Front View. Better than Ctrl-1 in SW. Ctrl-H for Sketch View, compared to Ctrl-8 for Normal To.

On top of all this, the buttons on my Spaceball work too. Cool.

Works and Edge are Worlds apart

I guess I’ve known this for some time, but now it’s crystal clear. SolidWorks is very dependent on the process. Solid Edge is more dependent on the method, or technique, but mostly concerned with the geometry. Someone with a very geometrical mind would do very well with Solid Edge. With Works you have to also have a passion for process.

There is a huge difference between these software packages. Just huge. I’ve heard people say the opposite, which I have to admit, I just don’t see.

I’m not sure there’s a huge difference when it comes to how much specialized information you need to run one vs the other. With Edge, you mostly have to remember facts about the interface tools, and with Works you have to remember and apply the concept of how the whole process works. But with Works, you can be very much at the mercy of who ever handed the model off to you. With Edge, you are the master of your own destiny. The editability of the parts depends mostly on your understanding of the editing tools.

Learning is Hard. Teaching is harder. Writing materials for teachers to help people learn is the hardest of all.

It’s really hard to articulate how to use something as complex as a CAD system. Sometimes I look back and try to remember how I put together the 1200 pages of the SolidWorks Bible, which wasn’t made for classroom use. How did I organize the information? Did I do it right? Some people tell me no, and others yes. You can’t organize that much information in a linear way. Storybooks are put together in a linear way – front to back. Stories are linear – beginning to end. It had to have a web of links – like a Help file with cross references.

Take a topic like fillets. Fillets can be sketched or feature-based. So which do you cover first? You have to cover sketching before you can cover fillets, and if you cover fillets with sketching, you have to come back to fillets later when you talk about features. If you don’t cover fillets with sketches, you have to revisit sketches in the middle of talking about features. So writing, or explaining in any case is a non-linear thing. This is why I didn’t try to do what Alex Ruiz did when he wrote a beginners book about SolidWorks using a single assembly model as a story line, trying to cover each feature type in the course of telling the whole story. That’s a very compelling method, but to actually pull it off would require a lot of planning and organization. And in the end, I don’t think it would make any sense. I don’t think you can teach CAD using a straight-line story, as much as you might want to. I never read Alex’s book, or talked to him about his method. So I’m not sure if it was successful or not. The book never made a second edition, so that might be the answer we need.

My basic SW book was organized at the top level from the Parts=> Assemblies=> Drawings  => Advanced Topics sort of theme that I think a lot of CAD books use. Within Parts, it was tempting to tell a chronological story, and maybe I did, but only in concept: Concepts=> Sketch=> Features => Visualization=> Specialized Features, so it was really in order of complexity. This book really turned out to be an encyclopaedic reference book. There’s no curriculum. It’s all explanation. No teaching.

I’ve had the chance to talk to other people who write technical books or help or training guides from time to time. I think I’m correct in saying that the prevailing method for writing training information is “cookbook” style – do this do that. I respect that other people think this is the “right” way to do it, but I just can’t learn that way. I can execute steps given in a list, but that’s not how I learn. I think I learn by understanding the overall concept first, understanding the limits of a function, and then understanding the affect of each option. I don’t pretend to be a real/professional/career writer/documentation guy/trainer/educator/scholar/academic or whatever. I’m just a guy who’s curious.

The SW surfacing book was organized differently, because it was already a specialized topic. This book made more of an attempt to be a training guide. I covered Concepts => Tools => Techniques. In the case of surfacing, just explaining the tools is not enough. You have to break them down to understand how they work, and also string them together to make something useful of them. Maybe this is just the nature of the more complex topic. I think this Concepts=>Tools=>Techniques approach was very successful in the Surfacing Bible, I’m not sure if it would be equally successful covering more basic material, or in a bigger more general book.

The reason I bring this up is that in taking training myself, I can’t help but trying to think about how to do it better.


Updated: March 13, 2013 — 11:20 pm


Add a Comment
  1. Great post Matt.

    I have never gotten my head around the Selection Manager but I’m really not sure why.  Reading this has encouraged me to go back and give it another go as I’m probably missing something useful.


  2. “Learning is Hard. Teaching is harder. Writing materials for teachers to help people learn is the hardest of all.

    This is one of truest quotes I heard since before our last presidential election! I would add one sentence to your quote. “Unlearning is even harder.”

    It is impossible to develop training materials for everyone- there are just too many different learning styles and you can’t design your materials for all of them or you would never get done.

    When it comes to CAD system training I always go back to the objective of the course/series and that, usually, requires me to go back to the mangers and ask them what they want the person to be able to DO when they are done with the class. This is a bit different then just taking a class that teaches you what you need to know. Know and do. Very different objectives. With that in mind, my course designs are usually project based and not just feature/function based.

    I do agree that I prefer the O-A method, but that goes back to my NX experience where this has been the case for many years now. I like the ability to pick a face and the pick what action I want to apply to the face or creation of new geometry or reference geometry on the face.

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