Lightning – the fast fastener filter

Fasteners in SOLIDWORKS are still a pain in the ass.

Scrolling through long lists of files is laggy and slow. Adding washers and patterns still feels like work.

So I built a new add-in to fix this. I call it Lightning.

It’s time to improve working with fasteners

Fasteners are standardized so well. So why does our CAD software not take advantage of that?

  • Why do we have to pick a new file from a long list, when we just want a slightly longer bolt?
  • Why do we have to manually add a washer under each bolt and nut?
  • Why can’t we create a pattern automatically when our hole wizard has multiple holes?

 

My goals for Lightning

My goal is to improve everything that has to do with fasteners in SOLIDWORKS. I am going to improve:

  • Inserting a new fastener into your assembly.
  • Adding a washer and a pattern.
  • Changing the length or diameter of an existing fastener.
  • Nudging your employees into using well-stocked sizes.
  • Updating fasteners when your models change.

Plus stuff that I have no idea about yet.

And while some of those items may sound trivial, I have already found great ways to improve those tasks.

The ultimate goal: one-click magic

One-click magic is my term for what I think software should do. If you want to get something done, one click is all it should take. If SOLIDWORKS normally asks you the same question every time, I want to store the answer and skip the question.

The second part of the term is magic. When is the last time some piece of software positively surprised you? It’s probably been a while…

So my goal is to create software that works better and does more than you expect. I want it to feel like magic.

Bolts in a flash

Here’s what Lightning can do right now, as of November 2020.

1. Data, not just filenames

Lightning has a simple database that stores the type, diameter, length, material and coating of your fasteners. You have to fill this database once, which takes between 10 minutes and an hour, depending on how well-structured your filenames are. Your colleagues can copy this database once you’re done.

We can extract data from your filenames and configuration names. Say your filename is ISO4014 M4x10 8.8 zinc.

Lightning lets you create a pattern to extract data from all files in a folder. In this case, the pattern is <standard> M<diameter>x<length> <material> <coating>.

lightning solidworks fasteners database

(click for a larger image)

2. Simple choices instead of endless scrolling

Now that we have all that data stored somewhere, we can filter this data in milliseconds. So I built a filter that is perfect for fasteners.

I don’t want you to scroll through a list of filenames. I want you to make a bunch of trivial choices: a type, a diameter, length, material and coating.

Here is a seven-second demo of the filter in use:

lightning seven second demo

If you pre-select a hole, we will even pre-select the correct diameter for you.

3. Drag your part into the assembly

Once you made your choices in the filter, click and drag a part from the Single fastener button into your assembly. See the gif above.

If your part has mate references, and it really should, the bolt snaps in place and SOLIDWORKS adds one or two mates. After that, we can do our magic.

4. We add a washer for you

Did you notice the filter has a washer option at the top right?

fastener filter - add washer automatically solidworks

Lightning knows when you select a bolt or a nut and it knows that those fasteners usually need a washer. So you get to choose which washer type you want.

Once you drag your bolt into the assembly and SOLIDWORKS adds mates using the mate references, Lightning adds a washer under your bolt. With mates of course.

I’m very happy with this feature, it still feels like magic to see that washer just appear.

5. We add a pattern for you

You probably need more than one fastener in your assembly.

If you have a Hole Wizard feature with multiple holes, Lightning can add a Pattern Driven Component Pattern for you. Like this:

solidworks fasteners automatic derived pattern

To do this, just click and drag from the Include hole wizard button. The following then happens:

  1. You drag the bolt or nut into the assembly.
  2. SOLIDWORKS adds mates using mate references.
  3. Lightning adds a washer (if you want it to).
  4. Lightning adds a pattern for your bolt and washer.

automatic pattern driven component pattern

To make sure the pattern uses the correct hole as the seed, Lightning selects the first hole in the pattern if you pre-select any of the holes.

6. Change the length or diameter in one click

Replacing a fastener with a shorter, longer or fatter is one is not hard. But I made it user-friendly.

In Lightning, you click on the fastener you want to change, then just click Decrease Length. Boom, instant shorter fastener. You don’t even have to select the part in the tree, you can also click on a face or edge in the part.

Lightning toolbar solidworks

Lightning saves your selection, so you can click the increase/decrease button multiple times.

solidworks fastener filter - change length or diameter

In the background, we look for a file or configuration with the same diameter, material en coating as the current bolt. We then find the configuration that is one step shorter and replace the selected part(s) with a new one.

It works best with a great fastener library

Lightning works best when you already have good fastener files. That means parts with:

  • Consistent file names and configuration names (so the setup goes faster)
  • Mate references (so the parts snap in place and we can add a washer)
  • Consistent face names (so that your mates won’t break when we replace the file)

If your files don’t have these properties, or if you are just sick of the standard Toolbox files, I can offer you a great library.

I have spent over 500 hours building the best fastener library available. I create part files with software so that the files are completely consistent. My software adds stable reference faces, mate references, custom properties and much more.

I bought the ISO and DIN standards and extracted the data from those standards directly. I’m even working with NEN, the Dutch arm of ISO, to sell these fastener models together.

The files are compatible with PDM and you will never have Toolbox license issues again.

It’s everything you need for a great fastener library. You can read all about it here: https://cadbooster.com/fastener-models/

Lightning is now in beta

I decided to make Lightning freely available. You can download Lightning here and request a beta license that is valid for at least six months. You can request the license from within the product.

My goal is to obtain a lot of useful feedback in this beta period so that I can improve the product quickly. I plan to release roughly one update per month.

I cannot afford to give away my products, so I will start charging at some point. My plan is to make Lightning €99 per year per user, so it will be very affordable.

Limitations

The main limitation right now is that Lightning cannot handle imperial sizes. Everything is designed for metric sizes and I have no idea how it will respond to imperial parts.

How to get started with the free beta

It’s very easy to get started:

  1. Go to the Lightning page and click Get started for free.
  2. Download the installer, run it and start SOLIDWORKS.
  3. Request a free beta license by clicking the License Key button in the Lightning toolbar or in Tools > Lightning > License Key.
  4. Go through the settings wizard to fill the database.

I have recorded a ten-minute video to guide you through the entire process. It’s available in English and Dutch in the Knowledge Base.

Please send me your feedback

I want to keep improving Lightning so I will be releasing regular updates.

If you have any feedback, please use the Send feedback button in the Lightning toolbar. Or just send me an email at [email protected].

Lightning toolbar solidworks

Dreaming about the possibilities

I am very excited to share Lightning with the world. Adding and changing fasteners is already so much simpler with this SOLIDWORKS add-in.

And it will only get better. The more I work on it, the more ideas I get for making working with fasteners more fun. You’re welcome to tag along 🙂

Start filtering today

The add-in contains a helpful getting started video. You can use Lightning for free for a least six months.