Sorry, this turned out to be an extra long post, most of which is available in user group presentations on my website
in the User Group area.
Success with large assemblies in SolidWorks is mainly dependent upon a combination of technique and settings.
I was just working on a 2 part assembly that because of a bad technique I used "just to get the job done", gave me some bad rebuild times, even on pretty good hardware. I was able to make some settings to offset the effect of the bad technique.
Most of the problems I see with people having trouble with assemblies is avoidable and self inflicted, even though most people blame the software. I guess that's the easiest thing to do since you don't generally have to learn anything to blame the software. Because of that, take criticisms with a grain of salt, especially impassioned criticism.
There are a lot of things you can do to paint yourself into a corner in SW, and not all of them obvious. Is it the software's fault if it offers good and bad ways of doing things, and doesn't help you distinguish between them? Sources of truly reliable and comprehensive information are few and far between, particularly around assembly performance. If you know what you're doing, you don't have to pay the price of bad modeling techniques, but how do you get to the point where you know what you're doing? SolidWorks training doesn't even begin to cover it. Also, you have to come to grips with the fact that you are stuck with the limitations of the software you are using whatever it is, and learning how to work with/in spite of it
From what I see, Pro/E has a clear advantage over SW in large assembly capability, but there are other things about Pro/E which make it less attractive. The ability in SW2006 to turn off automatic rebuilds will be a big step forward once I start using it.
The original post was about structural steel (I read "weldments" here) and sheet metal. I personally love the sheet metal functions in SW, but I'm just a plastics guy, so I don't really know any better. Weldments in SW can be handled primarily as multibody parts, which may be an advantage and may not. Big perforated patterns in sheet metal are one thing that will bring SW to its knees quickly. The technique here is to have a simplified configuration.
The sooner you realize that you're not going to work on detail parts in the 50,000 part top level, the better off you'll be. In large assemblies you will work with several ideas:
- break large assemblies into subassemblies where possible to limit the number of mates and assembly features solved at the top level
- use patterns effectively. instead of mating 10 screws, 2 mates each, mate just the first one and pattern the rest. using hole wizard for holes can help you make feature driven component patterns, even for irregular patterns.
- limit the use of incontext features, and lock them if you can. You can't unbreak a broken reference, but you can unlock a locked reference. same performance benefit.
- absolutely avoid circular references
- don't mate to: assembly features, incontext parts, assembly level reference geometry created with some reference to a part, pattern instances
- fix errors as they happen
- avoid flexible subassemblies if possible
- make use of simplified configurations in parts and assemblies. There's this great technique which I've never heard of anyone using. If your parts all have a config with a certain name like "simplified", in the open dialog you can create a new assy config that automatically references all the part configs with that name.
- SW2006 has display states which are much faster than configs for controlling visibility
- Don't scoff at lightweight. If you are using large assemblies in SW, you need to be using lightweight. This gets better literally with each new release of SW.
- Don't be afraid of Large Assembly Mode. just understand it for what it is, a different set of performance settings that kicks in either automatically or manually.
- Display settings are important. Use common sense.
- Avoid transparency, wireframe, section views, curvature, zebra stripes, etc. That isn't to say "don't use" these things, just realize that they are going to cost you something which may or may not be worth the benefit
- Turn off "update mass property data"
- Turn off anti-virus real-time scanning. You may have to strangle a rabid IT person to do this. Sacrifices must be made...
- Work locally. Get a PDM system to share data. It's not impossible. Figure it out. If you can't, hire someone who knows what they're doing.
- Get a fast hard drive
- Don't skimp on ram
- Don't open files by double clicking in Windows Explorer - use the Open dialog
- Turn off the back up and auto-recover functions
- Realize that using Toolbox over the network is probably a performance mistake
Large assemblies are managable in SolidWorks, but you have to accept that you will have to actually plan your approach. Good things won't happen by accident. There is no "easy button". Some useful techniques that you see all the time in sales demos and training classes are actually bad ideas. Be very careful about who you take ideas from.