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Let’s Talk Toolbox

There’s nothing like looking around your garage for screws you saved from another project and then when you are ready to use them you can’t find them to save your life… Of course you couldn’t just throw them away because you just might need them someday… Maybe I should have labeled them properly and stored them all in the same place… Ever feel like this with your SolidWorks Toolbox??

Broken sledge hammer

I thought I would take the time to help with the many ways you can use the SolidWorks Toolbox. An understanding of the different methods can provide you a better way to organize and use the data across the board at your company. Once you pick the method, having all the users conform to it will also help.

There is a lot to discuss when it comes to toolbox, so I’m going to start at the beginning…

SolidWorks Toolbox Installation
During an install of SolidWorks Professional (and up) you will be prompted for a toolbox installation location. The default is C:\Solidworks Data. If you see a (2) next to the install path it is likely because there is or was another version of SolidWorks on that computer. The local install works fine for a single user, but falls short in a multi-user environment. To network toolbox, simply copy the SolidWorks Data folder up to a common server location and link the path for all the SolidWorks seats to point to it. This is done in Tools > Options > System Options > Hole-Wizard/Toolbox.

Upgrading SolidWorks Toolbox
Next, let’s talk about upgrading SolidWorks Toolbox. Life is easy on a single user. Put the SolidWorks DVD in and choose to upgrade the local toolbox. Note that older versions of SolidWorks will no longer be able to access the toolbox after the upgrade. As for a network upgrade, there is a little more work to be done. Install the new version of SolidWorks. You can upgrade the local version if it’s still there or install a clean one. (This will only be a clean backup anyway.) After the install, you will need to manually run the upgrade tool on the networked toolbox location. Back up the SolidWorks data folder first, and make sure you have administration rights on the machine. The upgrade tool is located in C:\Program Files\Solidworks Corp\Solidworks\Toolbox\Data Utilities and is called UpdateBrowserData.exe.

Update Toolbox Database

Link your path at “Database to Update” (by clicking on the ‘…’ button) to the network toolbox location. It is specifically looking for the “swbrowser.mdb” file in the ‘lang\english’ folder. The “database version” should show a lower number (previous version) and the “Update Version” should be a higher number. Then click the ‘Update’ button.

That should update your networked toolbox and get everyone pointing in the right direction.

So what exactly are you updating??
The SWBrowser.mdb file is an access database file which SolidWorks uses to create toolbox fasteners. Your ability to customize this database is limited to the toolbox configure tool (which is a user interface SolidWorks developed). There are a few different ways to launch this interface: 1) You can find it on the Hole-Wizard/Toolbox page under Options, 2) you can right-click on a toolbox file in the design library or 3) you can find it in the start menu under Solidworks Tools.

Step 1 – Select Your Hardware
This is where you choose what standards your company will use. (All options are turned on by default.) If you plan to customize your hardware (step 2), you should make a copy of the standard you plan to use, as you cannot modify the existing standards.

Step 2 – Customize your Hardware
This is where you can choose what sizes are available, add part numbers and other custom properties for company use. I would like to stress caution with Toolbox Part numbers. Part Number in toolbox is NOT a custom property. It appears to be a special property of some kind. I point this out because unlike other properties set in this tool, part number will not show up on the custom properties list; this makes things more difficult if you are trying to tie to that custom property with other programs. It does, however show up on the BOM.

Step – 3 Define User Settings
This is where you set up what toolbox actually does when you use a new fastener. I also want to make clear: This is a USER setting. This means every user in the company needs to set this, and they should all be the SAME. By default, every user is set to Create configurations. This means when any user uses a new fastener, SolidWorks opens the master part (in the Browser\Standard folder) and creates a configuration in that master file. The upside to this is that the fasteners are stored in separate folders. The downside to this is that all parts are configured so the master file can get rather large (which can result in performance issues). Personally, I recommend ‘Create Parts’ which defaults to the “copied parts” folder. This means when the user uses a new fastener SolidWorks opens the master part file and then saves another part into the specified folder. The upside to this is that each fastener is its own part file resulting in uniform small file size. The only downside is that all fasteners end up in one folder (not separated by standards or types). The third option is explained rather well in the dialog, as a combination of both. I don’t personally recommend this for the sole reason that I prefer uniformity which generally results in predictable results.

Step 4 – Set Permissions
This is simply where you can set a password to the access database for the user.

Step 5 – Smart Fasteners
This is where you can set which fastener SolidWorks defaults to when it auto-populates smart fasteners (based on hole wizard type).

There is another method to using toolbox that I do not recommend but it’s worth discussing. When browsing to toolbox files through the design library, it is possible to right-click on a fastener and create a part. This launches a tool that “configures” the fastener and allows you to save it to an outside location. The reason I do not recommend this functionality is two-fold. First, the concept of toolbox is a shared directory so saving files outside that directory is problematic for various reasons. Second, any file saved in this matter has a toolbox “watermark” that you cannot see. SolidWorks still recognizes this file as a toolbox file which is problematic due to the following:

  • There is a new checkbox that was introduced in Solidworks 2011. In Tools > Options > System Options > Hole-Wizard/Toolbox there is a checkbox that states: “Make this the default search location for Toolbox Components”. It is turned on by default. So here is what this does…
  • This check box causes SolidWorks to default to the toolbox master file in the toolbox directory, as opposed to a toolbox file outside the toolbox directory. We have had many customers unaware of this functionality and the result is an assembly which references the master file instead of the saved part file. Clearing this checkbox will allow SolidWorks to reference toolbox files outside of the toolbox folder. An alternative solution would be to remove the watermark from the file. This is done using the SldSetDocProp.exe utility located in C:\Program Files\Solidworks Corp\Solidworks\Toolbox\DataUtilities.

Hopefully this sheds some light on how to install, setup and maintain your Solidworks Toolbox. If you have any questions, please submit a helpdesk ticket at http://www.dasisolutions.com/index.php/support/helpdesk and we would be glad to give you a hand.

On a side note, SolidWorks 2012 Beta is available. They have announced that SolidWorks Toolbox will be changing next year, so it should be noted that all of this information is relative to 2011 and prior installations. As we learn the changes coming in 2012, I will be following up with a new document to outline and discuss the upcoming changes to SolidWorks Toolbox. Keep posted.

I will be holding a “Lunch with DASI Webcast” on September 16 from 11am to noon ET. The topic is SolidWorks Customization Options and will include toolbox options. Register at http://bit.ly/r28mBB.

Tune in again for my “Let’s Talk” blog series.

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur
DASI Solutions

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