What’s the Best Method to Create SOLIDWORKS Configurations?

Configurations of Similar Components

If you are a SOLIDWORKS user, you’ve probably noticed that there are a million and one ways to do EVERYTHING. Whether it be creating a sketch, a feature, inserting a component, or even just opening a file. This post is going to talk about the 3 main ways of creating configurations of your models:

  • Manually
  • Modify Configuration
  • Design Tables

First Things First: What is a Configuration?

Before I dive into HOW to create a configuration, let’s first discuss WHAT a configuration is. Configurations are variations or versions of a part or assembly that all live inside of one file. They provide a convenient way to create and manage a “family” of models that each have different parameters.

What is Configurable?

Okay now that we know what a configuration is, what parameters can you even configure? The most common parameters that are configured are features and dimensions, but that’s not even close to the extent of the list. Some more examples include: Equations, Sketch Constraints, External Sketch Relations, Sketch Planes, Feature End Conditions, and Colors. In fact, there are about 30 different parameters that you can configure in your parts and assemblies. A fill list of the configurable parameters can be found on the SOLIDWORKS help page. Now that we know what a configuration is and what parameters we may want to configure, let’s talk about the different methods of creating configurations AND When it’s the best the time use them.

Manual Method

We’ll start off with the manual method. The manual method is a great way to create a small number of configurations. This method is a little tedious, so making more than a few configurations may be quite time consuming. The manual method also gives the opportunity to configure any of the large list of parameters that I mentioned earlier, rather than just commonly configured parameters. Let’s talk about how this method works.

To manually create a configuration, you need to right click in the Configuration Manager and choose “Add Configuration”. (NOTE: Make sure you do not right click on an existing configuration when doing this step. This will give you the option to create a derived configuration, which is not what we want and is a common mistake when creating configurations.)

Manually Create Configuration

This will then activate the PropertyManager which will ask you to define the Properties of the Configuration. Once you hit the green check, the configuration is created and becomes active.

Configuration Drop Down

When you are making changes, keep an eye out for what I call the “configuration dropdown”. This dropdown will allow you to choose where you’d like to see the edits you’ve made. When configuring parameters, you have the three options for choosing which configurations to modify:

  • This configuration
  • All Configurations
  • Specify Configurations.

For commonly configured parameters, like dimension values, this drop down is usually easily spotted. However, for less commonly configured parameters, it sometimes requires some searching and may not even appear as a drop down. This is one of the downfalls to creating configurations using this method and makes creating more than a few configurations very time consuming.

Modify Configurations Method

The next method for creating Configurations is called the Modify Configurations Method. This method is extremely efficient for creating configurations as well as configuring common parameters. It provides you with a table interface for creating and modifying new and existing configurations. The Table interface speeds up the process by giving you control over all parameters and all configurations in one convenient place.

There are a few ways to access the Modify Configurations Dialog Box. All you need to do is right click on the parameter (feature, dimension, etc.) that you wish to configure, and choose the option “Configure <Parameter>”.

How to Launch Modify Configurations Dialog Box

Doing this will launch the Modify Configuration Dialog box. Here you will see a list of all current configurations in the rows. In the columns, you should see the parameter that you selected when launching the dialog box.

Modify Configuration Dialog Box

With this dialog open, you can then double click on any commonly configured parameter to add them to the table. You can also create new configurations by typing in a new name. With the parameters in the table, you can then make any necessary edits and easily choose which configuration is changed.

Modify Configurations Dialog Box with Edits

After you are done modifying your configurations, you have a few options for applying your changes, as well as saving the table view you created. At the bottom right of the dialog box you can choose OK, Cancel, or Apply.

  • Choosing Cancel will close the table view and NOT apply any changes to your model.
  • Choosing Apply will keep the Modify Configuration Dialog Box open but apply any changes you made to your model.
  • Choosing OK will apply any changes to your model, but it will close the modify configuration Dialog Box without saving the Table View. This is important to note, especially if you’ve made significant additions to your table view and would like to come back and see them later. If you’d like to come back and see the table view, you must give the table a name and choose “Save Table View”.
Save Table View Option

Once saved, you will be able to access that table view again by navigating to the ConfigurationManager, right clicking the table, and choosing to Show Table. You are not limited to one table view per file. You can save several table views to make modifying your configurations even that much easier.

As you can see, you can streamline the creation process by using the Modify Configurations method. Creating Configurations and modifying the commonly configured parameters is much quicker when using the table view, but there is a drawback. When using this method, you are limited as to what parameters you can configure. You can only configure what SOLIDWORKS considers “commonly configurable parameters”. Commonly configured parameters include: Dimensions Values, Dimension/Feature Suppression, Material, Custom Properties, and Component Configurations. Because of this drawback, I usually recommend using a combination of both the manual and modify configurations methods.

Design Tables

The last method for creating configurations is to utilize Design Tables. Design Tables are great way to create a large number of configurations efficiently. Design Tables allow you to create configurations using a Microsoft Excel file, which is a huge advantage when it comes to manipulating large amounts of data.  Design Tables give you the ability to manage your configurations in a table interface, similar to the Modify Configurations Method, but does not limit what parameters you can configure.

To create a design table, you need to go to Insert > Tables > Design Table.

Creating a Design Table

This will then launch the Design Table PropertyManager, where you’ll be asked for one of three sources:

  • Blank
  • Auto-Create
  • From File

The syntax that a design table requires is very particular, so I recommend using Auto-Create. I also recommend that you have much of the parameters that you plan to configure already defined. Some other options you have available to change are Edit Control. This controls whether you can make edits to the SOLIDWORKS model or if all edits need to be made in the design table. The other options control whether features or dimensions are added to the design table if they are added in the model.

Design Table Using Excel

Once created, you’ll be prompted to add configurable dimensions to the design table. You can work on the design table directly inside of SOLIDWORKS, or you can open it in its own Excel Window. Using the Auto-create source automatically ensures the table is properly formatted. The format should look like the Modify Configurations Dialog Box; where the rows are the configurations, and the columns are the parameters being configured.

Using a Design Table is the most powerful of the methods. It allows you to configure your files in a convenient format of a table, like the Modify Configurations Method, but also is not limited to what you can configure when using this method. You also have all Excel functionality at your disposal when entering and editing your parameters. For tips on how to take advantage of Excel’s capabilities, check out this post  SOLIDWORKS Design Tables 4 Tips to “Excel” your Designs

While using Design Tables gives you the most versatility, sometimes it may be a bit overkill. It may be more time-consuming setting up the design table with its parameters all using the correct syntax and behaving properly, than it would be to use the manual method or modify configurations method. Another thing to watch out for is making your design table too complex. If your design table has hundreds of configurations that each change multiple parameters, or your complex logic and equations have become almost impossible to follow, you may want to utilize an automation tool such as DriveWorks.

So, now that you know the main methods for creating configurations, which method will you use for your next project? If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more about the capabilities of SOLIDWORKS, check out our Resource Library!