SolidWorks training mistakes and how to avoid them


SolidWorksThe way designers and engineers are taught to use SolidWorks apparently has some fundamental flaws, according to Matt May, director of sales for SolidProfessor .

SolidWorks is a solid modeling CAD and CAE program that runs on Microsoft Windows. The traditional training model for SolidWorks is that a company will purchase software and go through training in a live classroom. The training is usually 1 to 5 days long, depending on the technical depth. Everything goes great. The teacher is terrific, the students are enthusiastic. They feel confident that they have a handle on the technology.

Then the engineer or designer is sent off to work with the new program. And here is where the problems start. Trainers will get calls from customers saying, “I think we covered this functionality in our training model last month, but can you walk me through it again?” Users end up needing more on-site or phone call follow-ups. They can’t remember the principles or steps needed to work the software.

Something is broken in that model, says May. “If you’ve got a business-critical design software like SolidWorks, Autodesk, Pro E or any of the popular design software out there, you have to be proficient with that tool in order to be an effective designer, to keep those projects on the expected timeline, keep it on target. Keeping everybody consistent and trained and working with design tools in the most up to date version and doing that well is really important When you’re not able to retain that knowledge, and utilize knowledge in your daily workflow, it come at a tremendous cost.”

“It’s a big challenge for medical device companies to keep their design team proficient at their design tools, and designing in a standardized way, says May. The company has invested in design software and if it is not being used consistently and appropriately, design errors could arise. Those mistakes cause manufacturing delays.

May says it is not the engineers or designers, but the model that doesn’t work. That is because it doesn’t take into account how people learn. Studies show that the average person forgets about 80% of what they learn in a live training study within 30 days.

The SolidProfessor model has sought to address that gap with a video-based training platform. It allows users to go back to and refresh themselves and learn new skills, all through a keyword or function search. It also allows for varying learning modes, e.g., auditory, visual or kinisthtic learners, as well as pacing.

May says that when SolidProfessor first launched in 2002, it printed off CDs and delivered those to customers. The videos would be installed locally. “We’ve gone away from that, for a lot of reasons.”

Accessibility is important, May said. “People can log in, and whenever they have a question, whatever they need or want to learn, they can access that material.”

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  1. Sharing my experience as a C-level engineering leader for over 20 years. As a customer of learning in an Engineering/ Manufacturing environment my view of the situation follows. I always start with the business needs!
    1. Business needs quality designs, meaning they can be easily changed and easily reused. The business need requires all designers/engineers in the production environment possess a broad base understanding of the technology. Business needs are such that a slow learning of the technology basics results in waste, i.e. designs that cannot be reused or changed easily. There is nothing more frustrating than to listen to designers and engineers tell me past designs are not usable (usually includes a collection of choice adjectives if you know what I mean) , just easier to start over and create them from scratch.
    2. After the initial “classroom blast”, the designer engineer does need special help/support. This can come in a variety of ways. For example..
    a. Sit the rookie adjacent to seasoned technology users and assign them the task of mentoring the rookie.
    b. Provide SolidProfessor as an option for rookies and all others as a reference to use.
    c. BTW, I provided both for all rookies and the entire department for 2 years. I believe SolidProfessor was used less than 5 times total because rookies preferred working with their mentors. I got rid of it!
    I would think most manufacturing businesses have the same business needs. Starting out in full production design mode without a baseline is a recipe for creating waste. Many businesses don’t care. They just want the designs complete and on time and not interested in reuse. Most engineering leaders will never followup and check on the quality of their designs by asking customers (i.e. engineers/designers who have to use the designs later).
    Case in point – I hired temps who knew how to use SolidWorks but were never formally trained in the basics, to create SW models of AutoCAD 2D drawings. I believe every design created during these two years were trashed by those who had to reuse them. They were better off starting from scratch and recreating them with proper design internet etc. That program was stopped as well. If these people were provided E-learning over a long period of time there would still be a major amount of waste created.

    E-learning has spot in the learning curriculum, for special needs and special cases. We have to be careful to understand the situation and the business needs. The customer may not realize what they really need. Customers focused on on-line training initially such that they complete the basics in a short period of time is an option to an in-class blast of the basics. The initial understanding of the technology is required prior to contributing in a production environment (inclass or E-learning blast).

    • Chris Newmarker says:

      Thanks for the insights, David. Sounds like you think we hit upon an important issue here.

    • Thank you for your comments, David. It sounds like you have personal experience with SolidProfessor. Maybe it’s been a while since you had a membership with us? I don’t see you in our database. Regardless, I agree that eLearning is only one component of a robust learning strategy and it may not be the first priority – just depends on the circumstances. Most of our customers are involved in some sort of classroom training through their local VAR and there’s nothing wrong with that. We actually partner with many of VARS to supplement the live training offered. Having mentors is a great idea also. However, if that “mentoring” time is really just training on software functionality that can be taught through more productive means, that’s where SolidProfessor becomes a fantastic solution. If you haven’t checked us out recently I urge you to sign up for a free account on our website. Let us know what you think! Best, Matt

  2. There is nothing wrong with with CAD and CAE. Over my 30+ years in mechanical design spanning defense and commercial, I have performed designs and led design groups at the IC and manager level. CAD and CAE tools cut out so much development time: but there is a downside, It is just a tool that will be abused.

    It all comes down to the engineer’s experience with manufacturing or design intent. I had more fabrication experience as a car mechanic than the formal education provided by my BSME. To be sure, I graduated with knowledge in calculus, differential equations, but little about making parts on a bridgeport. Over the years universities eliminated metal processing classes where you could actually run a vertical mill ( you can thank the insurance and legal department for that kids). Experience or lack of it ends up in CAD models.

    CAD is not a video game. I have reviewed models from junior level engineers some with masters degrees who used the tool like they were playing Call of Duty. At one company engineers were encouraged to “find shortcuts- read abuse the software”. I had the onerous task of ECNing some of these wonderful models. What I found appeared to be designed by crack monkeys. Playing back the feature file was dreadful. Imagine explaining the thought process of a design by someone who extruded features instead of cutting. Adding holes then filling them in with wall features. Usings external references not fixed or correct. All these instructions left in a part, and worse dimensioning real features to filled holes internal to the wall features. Try suppressing useless features only to find the whole model disappear. And worse explaining to management the reason models took so long to revise was that engineers started from scratch and did not tell anyone because that was their culture to “save time”.
    There is nothing wrong with the tools, or the VAR’s instruction but the lack of standardization and guidance to engineers entering the field.

    • Heather Thompson says:

      Seriously, I can’t stop laughing about the crack monkeys comment.

    • Hi Damon, thanks for sharing your insights from 30+ years in the industry! I agree that it’s really important to understand the thought process of design in addition to just software clicks. SolidProfessor historically focused on providing courses to teach specific software titles, but to help round out the skills needed to be a great designer, we’ve set out to add more theory-oriented courses that address the principles behind design work. We just released our Principles of FEA course and this summer will release our Designing for Manufacturability course. Any other theory-oriented courses you think we should offer?

  3. In my opinion (humble or not)
    The weak link in learning anything is application.
    You cannot learn to drive by reading a book, taking a class or watching a video.
    You have to get behind the wheel and drive!
    The same thing with any software program. cad or otherwise.
    I have watched some SolidpProfessor videos on YouTube and found them very helpful.
    They are a great resource. Same thing goes for Infinite Skills, Lynda and host of others.
    Watch the video, read the book, take the class, then use the software.
    The more it is used, in as many different ways as possible, the more skilled the designer becomes.

    • Chris Newmarker says:

      There are a lot of great comments here. Thanks everyone! Anything else that would be good for MDO to look into when it comes to SolidWorks training, or training in general in the medical device manufacturing industry?

  4. My opinion…
    Find something you can measure with lots of details and try to duplicate it.
    Start simple and progress to more and more complex models.
    Try to do the same thing different ways…
    Watch a video, try to do it yourself, repeat.
    I’ve been using SW for 6 years and have multiple certifications and I still try to learn something new every day…

  5. >>training is usually 1 to 5 days long

    It’s not just Solidworks. A 5 day cram session on any topic, (Solidworks, Photoshop, Autocad, Word, Excel, Flower Arranging, etc). Nobody can absorb all that information that is thrown at them in a 5 day period. It’s to cover what is possible with the software in minimal time. Then the end user has to take the time to actually apply the topics that were covered. Hands on after training is the key. If you take an actual class, topics are covered more slowly with labs afterwards to put into practice what you learn. Makes more sense but it takes longer.
    Take a 5 day cram and then sit next to a power user who has some patience…

  6. Hi Patrick, I completely agree! In a previous life, I was an AE for a SolidWorks reseller and saw the same thing time and again. I would teach a class, we’d cover a ton of information, and then when I’d visit the customers 6 months later, they had forgotten much of what they learned. It wasn’t that the class was bad, there are many excellent instructors, it’s simply a fact that the human brain isn’t designed to absorb information in this capacity. In 1885 Herman Ebbinghaus documented “The Forgetting Curve” (Google It!) which simply graphically illustrates the rate in which we forget things, to make space for new information. This is simply how we’re wired.

    After a foundation learning experience, be it classroom, from a book or online, ongoing learning is essential to just maintain your knowledge base. This does not include improving new skills or learning new capabilities. I’ve personally found that incorporating ongoing learning in the work-flow of my day, instead of separating it, helps me retain more information.

    CoFounder and CEO of SolidProfessor

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