How Big is Too Big for SOLIDWORKS?

Article by Jim Peltier, CSWE updated October 30, 2012


Being a newcomer to the Greater Toronto Area, and while teaching a SOLIDWORKS lesson on revolves, I felt compelled to model up the CN Tower. For 30-odd years, it was the tallest freestanding building in the world at a whopping 553m. So, naturally, I tried to model it up to scale as best I could using images from Google, as well as my own experiences visiting there recently.

However, as my sketch neared the top mast, above the Space Deck which is the smaller pod higher up (446m), I started to run into problems. SOLIDWORKS would not let me sketch geometry beyond a height of 500m! I’d reached the SOLIDWORKS size limit.

As frustrated as I was, I could not create the CN Tower in a single sketch. The workaround was quite simple, though: I just used 2 revolves. One was for the tower up to and including the Space Deck, and the other was for the final mast. You’ll notice these two features at the top of my feature tree in the figure below:

SOLIDWORKS Size Limit CN Tower Model

CN Tower SolidWorks Model (SLDPRT file)

You may also notice that the origin of my part is about halfway up the tower (200m up the tower to be precise). This was due to the fact that the origin counts as part of the sketch. Therefore, I cannot create sketch geometry 500m away from the origin, either. I can, in this case, take advantage of sketch geometry in both the + and – directions of the Y-axis.  This means that I can complete my SOLIDWORKS model of the CN Tower.

However, the CN Tower is no longer the tallest building in the world. Dubai now holds that title with the Burj Khalifa, which is about 830m tall. To reclaim the title for Canada, and hold it for quite some time, we will need to double the height of the CN Tower at a ridiculous 1.1km! I know what you’re thinking: SOLIDWORKS can’t do that because features would have to go beyond the 500m range, right? Well, guess again. The limitation only applies to single parts. So, as long as you model the new tower up in individual parts, you can put them together in an assembly. Behold, the proof below:

Double CN Tower

Proposed 1100m tower (SLDASM file)

Okay, so I’m not an architect. But, I think I’ve proved that the size limitations of parts can be easily overcome with assemblies. And with only a dozen features, I’m surprised at the level of detail I’ve been able to achieve:

CN Tower Detail

Rendered using PhotoView 360

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Jim Peltier, CSWE

Jim has been using SolidWorks since 2001, and has spent most of that time working in the design of industrial automated manufacturing equipment. He has been working as an Applications Expert at Javelin Technologies in Oakville, Ontario since July 2012 and is a Certified SolidWorks Expert (CSWE).