A Look Under the Hood of a SOLIDWORKS File

By Stephen Petrock on August 14, 2014

If you're like most SOLIDWORKS users, performance is your primary concern when it comes to modeling. Luckily, SOLIDWORKS has made great strides over the years to improve software performance overall and add great new features.

So far there has been four features added to the SOLIDWORKS tool set. Here's a break down of those four features:
assembly enhancements timeline

assembly modesThese should be familiar since they represent the modes in which you're allowed to open a SOLIDWORKS model from the open dialog. Obviously there are pros and cons to each of these features. In certain situations, one might be more beneficial and appropriate than another. But to truly understand how these features really affect your SOLIDWORKS performance, we'll need to see what's inside the SOLIDWORKS file itself.

With this better understanding of a SOLIDWORKS file, you're about to make a more informed decision when choosing which special functionality to leverage. So let's pop the hood and see what's inside!

Every file, from the largest most complicated assemblies to the simplest blocks, are all made up of the same four ingredients. These are listed in the table below and you can see a visualization of them in the following image.

    1. Windows Header - Like all windows files this stores information about the file, but SOLIDWORKS also uses this to list any reference pointers as well.
    2. Parasolid Database - This holds all of the information used by the parasolid modeling kernel to define the geometry of your models. Think of this as a database containing the mathematical definition of your model's topology such as trimmed surfaces, loops, edges or vertices.
    3. Tessellation Data - This is the visualization data or the triangle information used to generate what you see in the graphics area. Why triangles you ask? It’s because any 3D object can be approximated by fitting together triangles. You can learn more about this topic in this great YouTube video from Computerphile.
    4. Parameteric Data - This is the set of instructions SOLIDWORKS uses to combine both the parasolid and tessellation data to build your model. Think of this as a step by step instruction set used by SOLIDWORKS (aka the FeatureManager design tree).


ingredients of a solidworks file

Armed with this understanding of the inner workings of a SOLIDWORKS file, you can see exactly what each of those performance enhancing tools and features are really doing. All of the tools like Speedpak, Large Design Review and Lightweight Components are doing nothing more than loading specific chunks of data from the SOLIDWORKS file itself. Depending on what you wish to accomplish, each of these tools offers you a way to spend your resources on only what you need, which adds up to dramatic time savings. Here we see exactly what portion of data each function is loading. open modes

As you can see, each one of the modes loads just a specific chunk of data from the SOLIDWORKS file, and that's why there are certain limitations associated with these modes. Obviously working with "Fully Resolved" components will hurt you the most in terms of performance, but it is the only mode that does not have any limitations on it like the others do. So what it boils down to is choosing the right tool to help you best accomplish your immediate goal.

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