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Designfax —Tying it all together: SolidWorks design tools for the electronics indus...

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Editor's note: I am thrilled that SolidWorks will be providing exclusive monthly columns to Designfax
readers. Hope you find some inspiration and usable new tools. Future columns will include both
overviews and solving specific design challenges. Mike

Exclusive: The SolidWorks Design Tips Series — #1

Tying it all together:

SolidWorks design tools for the electronics industry
By Patrick Rainsberry

In today’s world of design, it is very rare that we find products that don’t incorporate at least some aspect of
electronics. Whether it is the latest electronic gadget for sale at The Sharper Image or a control panel in an oil
refinery, electrical and mechanical design are becoming ever more reliant upon each other for success. As we
progress towards faster, cheaper, smaller, and more robust products, our requirements for these products
also increase. To make it faster, a product needs more power; if it has more power it gets hotter, so how can
we ensure performance? If it is smaller, how can it be more durable and more impact resistant? As the
controls systems become more complicated, the connection and cabling have also become more
complicated, but must fit into ever smaller packages. How is this accomplished?

SolidWorks software has a growing set of solutions to address these challenges. Given the variety of
solutions available to this group of engineers, I felt it appropriate to summarize some of the tools and their
uses here in this article. Communication between electrical and mechanical engineers is one factor that will
help companies be more adept at driving new innovation.

First , the obvious: SolidWorks modeling. Let us assume that we are creating a “standard” electrical housing.
It has a sheet metal enclosure and it houses some circuit boards, fans, and other electrical components. For
this, clearly we can use SolidWorks Sheetmetal features for creating the box. One really nice tool you may not
be familiar with is the “vent” tool. Notice in Figure 1 how I can easily create complex vent features by simply
creating the skeleton sketch of the boundary and ribs. Traditionally, to create a cutout like this would require a
complex sketch and pattern to create. 04/05/2010
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Another excellent tool for this is the use of a fill pattern. In the fill pattern dialog you can select “create seed
cut.” By simply defining a boundary we can easily create all types of venting as shown in Figure 2.


Another tool that is extremely useful for mechanical designers is SolidWorks Routing. Routing allows you to
create cables and harnesses in 3D. You can either create the routes by dragging connectors directly into your
assembly or by using a “from-to” list. This is extremely powerful since most cables are already defined by the
electrical or controls engineers before mechanical begins their work. Additionally, there have been some
significant enhancements to this functionality over the past few years to help with building libraries and
communication. One very nice feature is the ability to take a complex route and instantly create a “flattened”
view of the cable, as shown in Figure 3. This allows for the easy creation of detailed views and drawings. 04/05/2010
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Speaking of communication between electrical and mechanical designers, CircuitWorks is a must-have tool
for engineers working in a collaborative environment. While electrical engineers typically have their own 2D
ECAD tools for design, we in mechanical engineering want to see things in 3D. Enter CircuitWorks.
CircuitWorks allows designers to import data from popular ECAD tools and instantly create 3D models as
shown in Figure 4. While all versions of SolidWorks allow you to import IDF files to use in interference
checking, CircuitWorks has some very important additional functionality. First, it brings in the data as an
assembly and allows for the creation of custom library components for commonly used design elements.
Second, it allows for the filtering of this data. In SolidWorks we know that there is no reason to have
thousands of tiny “via” holes represented in our model, nor is it necessary to show very small resistors, etc.
that have no real impact on thermal or height requirements. Third, it allows you to pass data back to the
electrical designers. For example, if you need to move a mounting hole in a board or move a cable connector
for mechanical functionality, this information can be passed back to the ECAD system.


Once a product is designed, it must be tested. In addition to standard stress analysis there are a few other
specific areas of simulation that may be of interest to this area of design. The first is Drop Test. This
functionality literally allows you to simulate the effect of dropping a device onto the ground. In Figure 5 we can
see the effect of impact on a case. 04/05/2010
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The second is Fluid Flow. In this case, our fluid is air and we want to know the effect cooling has on the
design. In SolidWorks Flow Simulation we can not only simulate physical flow of air, but we can simulate the
cooling that will take place as well. There are special models for fans, heat sinks, filters, thermoelectric
coolers, and other items that are specific to electronics design. One of the most significant advantages of this
type of simulation is that it allows you to visualize the flow and thus understand where potential problems may
occur. By visualizing the velocity in the case of Figure 6, we can see the low velocity regions (shown in blue)
correspond to the high temperature regions in red in the second picture (Figure 7). Clearly by moving the fan
location we could improve the overall flow and thus see a reduction in maximum heat on our critical

FIGURE 6 04/05/2010
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As you can see, the many tools inside of SolidWorks can be used to enhance the ability of mechanical and
electrical engineers to work together and get the job done faster and more efficiently.

About the author

Patrick Rainsberry is a territory technical manager for the western region of the U.S. As part of the sales
team, he presents demos and serves as the technical expert in sales situations with current and potential
SolidWorks customers. He also trains the channel technical and support teams on product details as new
generations of the SolidWorks product line are rolled out.

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© Nelson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved 04/05/2010