Mastering the Challenges of Large Assembly Design in SolidWorks

Mastering the Challenges of Large Assembly Design in SolidWorks

Determining what qualifies as a "large assembly" may vary depending on one's perspective. It is not solely determined by the number of components or physical properties, but rather by two essential characteristics: fully utilizing all system resources and impeding productivity. These characteristics can manifest in various ways, such as being physically extensive, having numerous components that strain computer resources, or containing imported data. Furthermore, factors like complexity and the use of multiple systems or disciplines can also contribute to a slow performance. Although investing in Solidworks-certified hardware can enhance performance, it is critical to adopt the best modeling practices to avoid lengthy processes that can further hinder the assembly's performance. Slower performance often results from several minor issues that necessitate a proper design strategy rather than a mere upgrade to a more powerful computer.

When setting out to create large assemblies, there are a multitude of crucial factors that must be taken into consideration. Arguably the most important of these is ensuring proper file management in order to grant all members of the design team access to the necessary files. In addition, files must be protected from accidental overwriting by non-design team members and it is imperative that file properties and metadata are accurately filled out. It is also essential to avoid any situations where parts, assemblies, and drawings become stuck due to the inability to locate files or issues with modeling, hardware, or network problems.

In terms of producing parts, assemblies, and drawings in a highly efficient manner, making use of in-context features during the design process is highly recommended where appropriate. Breaking in-context relationships and addressing problems with part origins can also greatly aid in this process. It is also vitally important to ensure seamless data sharing between engineering, manufacturing, and design teams. Keeping configurations limited to two to three at the component level and designing simplified parts can help streamline the process. For library or purchased parts and assemblies, parasolid bodies or simplified parts can be utilized.

Ultimately, it is important to note that there is no quick-fix solution for slower large assemblies. As such, it is imperative to follow significant methods and steps during the design process to improve large assemblies.

In order to achieve optimal design practices when working with Solidworks, it is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of how the background functions. This involves effectively modeling parts, ensuring the proper origin, and constructing user-friendly features. It is also important to eliminate in-context relationships and circular references, simplify versions, and organize sub-assemblies for greater efficiency. Proper mates, reducing the amount of information loaded into memory, and using lightweight designs are all highly recommended practices. Additionally, utilizing tools such as Large Design Review, simplified configurations, and SpeedPak can be incredibly helpful. Draft quality drawings and data sharing are essential for designers, as is having access to all necessary files and the most current versions. Making changes to files with responsibility and protecting them from others overwriting are also important considerations that must be taken into account.


When developing a strategy for design, it is important to consider how it will be implemented and enforced. These are some key factors to keep in mind:

  • Document the approach: Written procedures ensure consistency and accountability. It's worth taking the time to document the plan properly to avoid costly rework later on.
  • Make it accessible: Ensure that everyone who needs the information can easily access it. Posting it on a shared platform or intranet is a good way to do this.
  • Communicate with users: Discuss the procedures at planning meetings and stress the importance of following them. Remind people of the procedures if any deviation is noted.
  • Use document templates and settings: Consistent templates and document properties save time and ensure consistency between team members.
  • Customize properties: Custom properties can be used to fill in data and aid in file searches.
  • Set system-level settings: These can significantly improve system performance, so make sure the design team is aware of how to set them.

When embarking on the development of substantial projects, it is vital to engage in meticulous planning beforehand, comprehensively grasp the fundamental elements of an effective data management strategy, and fully appreciate the myriad benefits associated with a robust file management platform, such as PDM.

When embarking on a large project design, it is crucial to plan thoroughly to avoid potential setbacks. A complex design requires extensive planning to ensure that everyone involved is using the same methods, which will prevent lost data, extended rebuild times, and higher costs related to problem resolution. To plan a large assembly, you must consider several factors, including the size and composition of a typical data set. Since you will be working with significant data sets, developing a strategy before modeling and assembling the parts is essential. You should also determine which tools and techniques will make your assembly more manageable.

Choosing between the two primary techniques, the Skeleton model technique, and the master model technique, requires careful consideration. The Skeleton model technique is ideal for large assemblies like machines, plant designs, and paper processing, while the master model technique is suitable for consumer products like ducts, car bodies, and similar items. Naming parts and handling revisions is another important aspect to consider; each file name should be unique, and deciding between intelligent part numbering or dumb part numbering is crucial. Additionally, determining the revision scheme and how revisions will be captured in the files is essential.

To ensure an efficient and successful large assembly design, disciplined modeling, assembly, and drawing techniques are necessary. Planning before beginning work is vital, as reacting to issues when 15,000 parts are already in the assembly is not ideal. Efficient large assembly design is a result of many smaller elements working together effectively. It is also crucial to keep in-context relations as simple as possible and stick to one master model where feasible. Finally, developing a workflow for documents is essential to ensure that the project is completed smoothly and efficiently.


Proper file management is an essential aspect of efficient design processes. To ensure a smooth workflow, it is crucial to determine file management procedures early on and establish clear methods for naming, categorizing, and storing files. Haphazardly designing and saving files without a well-defined plan can result in serious complications. Therefore, it is more cost-effective and time-efficient to plan and implement a comprehensive file management system beforehand rather than attempting to fix issues later on.

When it comes to managing and sharing data, it's essential to begin with a clear set of goals. So, what exactly are our objectives when managing our files? Typically, they include the following:

  • Ensuring that multiple users can access the same files.
  • Preventing users from accidentally overwriting each other's work.
  • Ensuring that everyone knows which version of each part is the most current.
  • Accommodating different work styles.
  • Storing files in a way that maximizes productivity, such as keeping them stored locally.


The SolidWorks file structure is designed as a single-point database, meaning that each piece of information is stored in only one file. Rather than copying the information into other files, any other file that requires that piece of information must reference the file where it is stored. This creates compound documents by establishing external references.

External references are the links between documents, and there is no separate database to list them. Instead, a pointer in the file header lists the referenced files and their location using a complete path such as K:\myfiles\appliedproject.sldprt, which are absolute references.

As for the "Where Used" feature, there are no reverse file pointers in SolidWorks. While an assembly recognizes what files are used in the assembly, the individual components do not know that they are used in that assembly. This can present a management problem when modifying files that may be used in different assemblies. However, Data Manager PDM systems keep track of these relationships, making it easier to determine the effects of changes to parts. Without a data management system, SolidWorks Explorer can be used to locate "where used" relationships, although it can be slow as it must search through all the files in the specified search paths to determine if there is a reference.

The Manual Data Management Method

If you are in possession of a PDM system, how will you handle the management of files for your large project? Companies have experimented with various methods, but two primary ones have emerged. In the first method, all files are stored in a central location. Users can access the files across the network from the central location as needed and save them once they make changes. SolidWorks collaboration options aid in preventing multiple users from having write access to the same files simultaneously. However, there are a few issues with this method, such as:

1. Lack of history: Any record of changes or the persons who opened or saved the files must be maintained manually.

2. No revision or version control: Keeping track of revisions must be done manually. Some techniques, such as adding the revision to the file name, may be used and can add to file management issues.

3. Easy to flout the rules: Nothing prevents users from copying files to their local drives to expedite their work, but this, in turn, violates the rule of only one person having write access to a file. If you are not stern with all users, someone will break the rules at the worst possible time and cause data loss.

4. Network file opening: Opening files across a network is an assured way to decrease productivity. With the large number and size of files, network bandwidth can significantly slow down the opening, saving, and closing of files. Most PDM systems cache files locally on the user's hard drive to speed up the opening and saving time.

5. Search: Without a PDM system, searches are left to SolidWorks and Microsoft® searches.

In the second method, files are stored in a central location, and users copy the files they require to their local workstation. Once they make changes, they save the files back to the central location. This is the "Wild West" approach, and nothing in the system enforces the rules. All control is lost, except for what can be done through procedures enforcement. Whoever saves a file back to the network location last overwrites the previous version, even if the last saved file is older than the file it is overwriting.


Effective data management is an integral aspect of any engineering project involving more than one individual. The rationale behind this is to prevent confusion and errors that may arise from the use of inconsistent data. Despite its importance, some individuals still resist utilizing Product Data Management (PDM) systems due to various reasons. However, without proper data management, locating files and tracking changes becomes a challenging task. Fortunately, there are several PDM systems available in the market that cater to varying data sizes and budgets. Efficient data management is crucial in saving time, money, and avoiding human frustration. Therefore, it is vital to manage your data either by utilizing a PDM system or through manual methods.

When choosing a data management method or system, it's important to consider the goals of such a system. These goals include:

  • Efficiently searching for and locating referenced files
  • Easily creating a list of materials and finding where files are used
  • Supporting collaboration and change control
  • Keeping track of revision history and securely storing files.


This PDM system is designed for workgroups located in a single place. Depending on the size and composition of the design team, SolidWorks Workgroup PDM may be suitable, but large projects typically require an enterprise solution. One significant difference between SolidWorks Workgroup PDM and an enterprise solution is the single vault structure. If your design team works in multiple off-site locations, SolidWorks Workgroup PDM may not be the best option due to connectivity requirements that result in excessive time to check files in and out of the vault. SolidWorks Workgroup PDM offers essential features such as revision control, a single workflow, tracking of all file changes, the ability to store any file, and controlled file access through permissions.


When managing large collections of files, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM is the most efficient option available. This powerful tool utilizes an SQL database, which allows for easy copying of the vault to multiple locations, enabling regular synchronization of data. This feature prevents delays caused by network bandwidth or slow internet transmission speeds. The database system also ensures quick searches of the vault, making it easy to locate specific files quickly.

SolidWorks Enterprise PDM offers a range of critical features, including revision and version control, multiple revision schemes, multiple workflows, tracking of all changes to files, the ability to store any file, access control through permission management, and notifications of changes. All these features are crucial in managing files, especially in large organizations where many people need to access the same files.

Whether or not to utilize PDM depends on the needs of the end user or company. Data loss without PDM can have a significant impact on productivity and increase system and user training expenses. Therefore, it is critical to consider using SolidWorks Enterprise PDM to manage large file collections to ensure efficiency, productivity, and data security.

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