SOLIDWORKS, 3D CAD, Tech Tips

What Every Engineer Should Know About SOLIDWORKS Virtual Components

By Patricia Bar on May 9, 2019

This week’s Video Tech Tip is all about virtual components; what they are, why they’re great and how to use them. So, what are virtual components all about? Virtual components are used for assembly modeling in SOLIDWORKS and they are special parts because they are saved internally in the assembly file instead of in a separate part or subassembly file. This means they only exist inside the assembly and not physically on the hard drive somewhere. At any time, a virtual component can be saved to an external file. You’ve probably seen this message at some point in your SOLIDWORKS modeling career.

Virtual components are especially useful in top-down design instead of bottom-up design. Those are the two main methods used for assembly modeling. Bottom-up typically requires the parts to exist first and then put together like LEGOs™. While top-down is a method that involves creating the parts in place in the assembly. Virtual components really are the functionality behind the scenes that makes top-down modeling possible. It’s so integrated to this modeling process that by default, when you create components in the context of an assembly, SOLIDWORKS saves them inside the assembly file as virtual components.


During the conceptual design process, when you frequently experiment with your models and constantly make changes to the assembly structure, using virtual components has several advantages over the bottom-up design method:

  • You can rename these virtual components in the FeatureManager design tree, avoiding the need to open, save as a copy and use the Replace Components command.
  • You can make one instance of a virtual component independent of other instances in a single step.
  • The folder where you store the assembly is not cluttered with unused part and assembly files resulting from iterations of component designs.

Virtual components make it extremely easy to work with your assembly, just remember that they don’t exist on the disc somewhere. Rather, they are saved within the assembly. That is one reason why sometimes the largest assembly by file size is not the top-level assembly.

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