The Pitfalls of Teaching Yourself SOLIDWORKS

Article by Mike Walloch, CSWE updated April 10, 2024

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In this article learn about the pitfalls of teaching yourself SOLIDWORKS and how you can avoid them and in a fraction of the time of going it alone.

No one part of SOLIDWORKS is complicated. Think of it like one of those big cabinet-style toolboxes. Mastering any one tool just takes a little bit of instruction and practice. The problem is that SOLIDWORKS is chock full of tools, and you have to know how to use them together to get stuff done. That’s where it gets complicated.

Some people learn SOLIDWORKS by following a carefully designed curriculum taught by one or more experienced instructors in school, or from professional CAD training courses. SOLIDWORKS training courses like ours here at Javelin/TriMech, and instructors like me. We teach you how to use the tools, one by one, and how to use them together. Others choose to go it alone and follow the self-education route. 

Formation SOLIDWORKS

The SOLIDWORKS Tool Cabinet

SOLIDWORKS Self-Education

School is expensive. Professional training courses are much more affordable but could still seem like a large investment if your budget is tight. So why not just go it alone and figure it out for yourself? There are many educational resources available:

  • Tutorials (included with SOLIDWORKS)
  • 3rd Party Textbooks or Online Resources
  • My.SolidWorks.com Training Videos
  • YouTube SOLIDWORKS Channels
  • SOLIDWORKS Blogs
  • User Forums

Yes, you can learn on your own. But, as I pointed out in my previous blog “Does Professional CAD Training Cost Too Much?”, there are some serious potential pitfalls to being a self-taught SOLIDWORKS user:

  • High Cost in Time
  • Gaps in Knowledge
  • Inefficient Techniques

High Cost in Time

In my last blog, I covered how the cost in dollars of teaching yourself SOLIDWORKS may be low, but time is money, and the cost in time is often quite high. I know this from personal experience. I first learned CAD and basic 3D modeling in school before SOLIDWORKS was even on the market. Having an instructor to help me figure out what just wasn’t clicking in my brain was incredibly useful. He also handed me a CAD job on a silver platter, thanks to his industry connections.

I already had years of CAD experience when I got my first taste of SOLIDWORKS at a new company. They handed me a seat of this shiny new software, which was nothing like what I already knew, and basically said “Have fun.” No training was offered. It was not a pleasant experience slowly struggling to do what I could have easily and quickly done in the software I already knew.

After a year of learning on the job, they sent me to a 3-day basic SOLIDWORKS class. I learned more in those three days than in the previous year. Even though I still only knew the basics, my productivity skyrocketed as a result. My employer would have gotten much more out of me in that first year if they’d trained me sooner.

Gaps in Knowledge and Inefficient Techniques

Professionally trained SOLIDWORKS users can often spot the work of self-taught users. Inefficient modeling techniques and poor design choices are a dead giveaway. To put it simply, you don’t know what you don’t know.

I once had to model a spiral-shaped flat spring from an old manual drawing. At the time I had no idea how to draw a helix or spiral curve. Luckily it was a purchased part. My model didn’t have to be real-world accurate, just good enough without looking too close. So, I spent a lot of time sketching a passable spiral shape with a bunch of tangent arcs. I created an inaccurate model, and our assemblies had sub-par flat spring models from then on.

It’s not just gaps in knowledge of specific tools, but also of best practices. Those who’ve never been taught what techniques work best and why tend to create models that are slower to open and work with. They’re also easier to break, causing a cascade of errors and warnings. This is especially true of large assemblies, which can be many times slower than a model created with best practices. My colleagues and I have seen examples that opened in seconds instead of minutes after being optimized. It’s the focus of our Large Assembly and Drawings Workshop.

A colleague of mine and I once saw a model of an entire vehicle body which had been created by an obviously self-taught contractor. We had to scroll far down the feature tree to find something other than reference planes. Most of them were unnecessary. The designer also made extremely heavy use of top-down assembly modeling. He clearly didn’t understand the power of external references comes at a high cost in complexity. His unfortunate successor couldn’t change anything without causing errors, and open and lag times were terrible.

Another example I’ve seen personally was an extremely complex part. My best guess is the guy who created it first learned solid modeling using non-parametric CAD software, just as I did. There are no features or sketches to edit, just a dumb body. Modifications require issuing new commands. This is how he approached SOLIDWORKS. Any time he needed to change something; he added a new feature to the tree instead of just editing an old one. After many revisions to the design his tree became enormous and the model was painful to work with. A topology error developed which he had no idea how to solve.

Something I’ve seen more than once from self-taught SOLIDWORKS users is their sketches lack dimensions and relations, resulting in an unstable model prone to accidental changes. I could go on with many other examples.

Should you be teaching yourself SOLIDWORKS?

The individual tools in the vast toolbox that is SOLIDWORKS are easy to learn and use. Some people absolutely can, and do, master it without the benefit of professional instruction. But the pitfalls of teaching yourself SOLIDWORKS are very real. We instructors are here to help you avoid them and in a fraction of the time of going it alone.

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Mike Walloch, CSWE

Mike Walloch is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert (CSWE) and works as a Process & Training Consultant at TriMech