Manufacturing

A Tale Of Two CAD Books

15 Dec, 2005 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Third-party CAD software guides on KeyCreator, SolidWorks are worth your time, money


OK, I’ll admit it: I like to read technical and engineering books. As a matter of fact, I prefer these types of books over fiction, biographies and most other more popular choices. I especially like instructional CAD books because I can appreciate how difficult they are to write. They usually must appeal to a broad range of readers with widely varying needs, expectations, skill levels and work requirements.

I recently received review copies of two new CAD books: Doctor Walt’s KeyCreator 5 Introductory Guide and SolidWorks for Dummies. Both are intended primarily for new users and are well-priced, but each has a different focus and approach. It’s also interesting to note that the authors have different backgrounds and current positions: SolidWorks for Dummies is written by Greg Jankowski, a SolidWorks employee, and Doctor Walt’s KeyCreator 5 Introductory Guide is written by Walt Silva, an independent producer of a variety of books and training materials, including a SolidWorks book. I do prefer the slightly more objective approach usually taken by independent authors.

Are training books such as these really necessary, given that most CAD products are fairly well documented with online Help, tutorials, user guides that ship with a product and so on. I usually answer yes, especially for new users, because the documentation that comes with CAD products is usually not in-depth, doesn’t cover tips and tricks well, can be difficult and confusing to navigate, is sometimes incorrect, and overall, often doesn’t provide adequate answers to questions you have.

On the other hand, third-party CAD books are usually written by authors who have a lot of practical experience with the software, often allowing discussion of nuances and problem areas. These books are usually step-by-step, procedural texts meant to be read cover to cover, or references intended to be used as needed. That’s exactly what we have here – the KeyCreator book is an introduction and the SolidWorks book is a reference.

So, let’s take a look at these two new books.

Doctor Walt’s KeyCreator 5 Introductory Guide

This book is the first in a series of new training materials for KeyCreator 5 authored by Walter Silva, president of Conceptual Product Development. Silva is also the author of several books that cover other CAD software, rapid prototyping and technical desktop publishing, and he is coauthor of 11 multimedia training CDs.

Doctor Walt’s KEYCREATOR 5 Introductory Guide is a book that doesn’t get too bogged down in details. Like most instructional books of this type, the place to begin is the user interface – menus, dialogs, hot keys, mouse buttons and how to set up for the first design session. Actually, the entire book is a bit too oriented to the user interface. Although the author does show the results of user interface actions and interactions, I think readers would be better served by showing actual results of picks, entries and clicks. Also nice would have been examples and exercises provided on CD or via download. A timed trial copy of the software would also be helpful.

The book does cover many of the basic tasks that new users will want to perform to create parts and drawings, but there’s virtually nothing on assemblies. I know this is titled an Introductory Guide, but I think its coverage could have been a bit broader. The book includes many references to “What’s New” in KeyCreator 5, leading me to conclude that it might really be best suited to users of previous versions of KeyCreator or CADKEY, and not necessarily users new to KeyCreator.

Overall, I think this book would be best used in a classroom setting where an instructor can go over the points made in the book while students follow along. That the book doesn’t trace a linear path from parts to assemblies to drawings and has no index reinforces that it would in fact have its greatest utility in a classroom setting. That said, though, it does cover new features found in KeyCreator 5 and uncovers some interesting tips and tricks.

Doctor Walt’s KeyCreator 5 Introductory Guide is 144 pages in length and available in black & white ($23.95) or color ($27.95) at www.docwalt.com.

SolidWorks for Dummies

SolidWorks for Dummies was written by Greg Jankowski, manager of customer satisfaction at SolidWorks. Although he indeed has a deep knowledge of and broad experience with SolidWorks, in some instances his language and tone tend to be a bit too conversational and cutesy for my taste. I think, however, that this has a lot to do with the philosophy behind the For Dummies series -- and as the world's best-selling reference series with more than 150 million books in print on more than 900 topics, you can’t argue with its formula for success.

The book is intended for relatively new to intermediate users, but if you take the time to examine the book closely, you’ll become a much more efficient and proficient user in pretty short order.

The book covers SolidWorks 2006, but is applicable to earlier versions as well. The book’s topics cover a lot of ground, including: setting up SolidWorks software; using templates; sketching, assembling and creating drawings; editing drawings; printing and plotting drawings; reviewing drawings; automating the drawing process; leveraging existing designs; and collaboration. To be sure, that’s a lot of stuff, but not everything is covered in minute detail -- most of the coverage just right. Several concepts that can be difficult to comprehend for new users are explained in understandable terms -- techie but not too cryptic. The book also contains some handy tips, tricks and shortcuts.

Although the book is structured somewhat like an instructional textbook, it’s definitely a reference book that could find a nice home close to a SolidWorks workstation. Its detailed table of contents and index make it easy to navigate. The book includes a companion CD with video tutorials and demos of third-party add-on products.

At 342 pages, SolidWorks for Dummies is available for $29.99 at www.solidworks.com/dummies and through major booksellers. SolidWorks Corp. also offers a pocket-sized guide, eDrawings for Dummies.

As I said at the outset, third-party CAD books are valuable because they not only reinforce and supplement the information shipping with the CAD products themselves, they complement classroom or eLearning training courses as well. Most CAD products have third-party books available, and I would encourage you to investigate what’s out there, regardless of your skill level. I think for the most part, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the knowledge you’ll acquire for the time and money you invest.


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Lynn Allen

In her easy-to-follow, friendly style, long-time Cadalyst contributing editor and Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a new feature or time-saving trick in every episode of her popular AutoCAD video tips. Subscribe to the free Cadalyst Video Picks newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!

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