SOLIDWORKS in Motion: Hidden Power of Motion Simulation

   By on March 17, 2021

SOLIDWORKS motion tools are powerful features included in the software that can be easily overlooked. We think they are so important that we have created a series of articles to help you see the value and the power of these motion design tools, many of which you have in the version of SOLIDWORKS you’re already using. With this knowledge, you will start hitting SOLIDWORKS harder, diving deeper into the menus and getting more value from your software investment. We’ll start small, covering the tools inside SOLIDWORKS Standard that everyone has in their subscription and work up to techniques only available to users with Simulation Professional, or Simulation Premium licenses.

By way of introduction, I am a Simulation Specialist and work for TriMech’s Project Engineering Group. We help SOLIDWORKS users solve their trickiest problems and make simulation more accessible to businesses. If you have a short-term need for design verification that does not warrant the purchase of your own software, our group of engineers can run that study for you. If you want some guidance on that first analysis project, we can jump-start your success. If you already have simulation software in-house, but your analysts are slammed with a workload spike, we can temporarily augment your team. A big benefit of simulation is that the more you do, the more problems you can catch and fix early on, saving time and money.

SOLIDWORKS Simulation 2

In my 20+ years as a SOLIDWORKS user, demo jockey, hotline support engineer and now as a consultant, I have observed that the Motion Simulation tools are, to a surprising degree, under-implemented. I can’t think of another capability in SOLIDWORKS, that adds so much value, and yet has fairly few active users.

Reasons Users Miss Out on SOLIDWORKS Motion

Before we delve into the specifics, let me outline the four main reasons that you probably haven’t experienced all the capabilities of your SOLIDWORKS and what we’re going to be addressing in this blog series:

  1. A lot of users simply don’t realize the full scope of what they already own.
  2. There is a LOT of ability and variety in the toolbox, which can be somewhat overwhelming.
  3. If you are fairly new to the program, you may need guidance using the interface. 
  4. There is some important underpinning theory that isn’t taught in readily available materials that can help turn mystery into clarity.

In these blog installments, we’ll dive down into menu clicks and widgets, but in this kick-off article, I’ll keep the discussion at a high level.

Users Don’t Realize What They Already Own (And Why)

Through no fault of its own, the Motion Simulation plug-in has suffered from its size – it’s very, very, medium. This can be a reverse-Goldilocks problem: not enough tools for a formal training, and more than can be covered adequately, through e-Learning modules and YouTube videos.

SOLIDWORKS Simulation 1After 2000, SOLIDWORKS switched their packaging strategy to make licensing bundles, that grouped related or popular licenses together. This made order management and renewal tracking a lot easier, but it also meant that the popular package called SOLIDWORKS Premium included a license of the Motion Simulation. If a customer bought that license level for access to other tools, (like the data management or FEA tools), they may not realize that the Motion plug-in came along ‘for free’.

By 2002, the basic Motion Study ability was made available as part of every SOLIDWORKS license, so you only needed the SOLIDWORKS Premium if you wanted the time-based integration. This is a recurring theme in SOLIDWORKS licensing history. Frequently, when a cool, new ability got written into a high-end bundle, some of the high-end capability would be migrated down-license to the intermediate bundle and some of the intermediate tools migrated down to SOLIDWORKS Standard. That way, every user had a reason to be happy with each new release, but it means that cool new tools could have slipped in between versions, unnoticed.

>> Learn more about how SOLIDWORKS adds features to every upgrade

I am happy to say that the training issues have been addressed in recent years – the application has grown, course material is more extensive and now the standard training class developed by SOLIDWORKS is two days long – a completely manageable amount of time. Still, there is a whole generation of SOLIDWORKS users out there who never considered taking the training and may not even know that it is available.

>> SOLIDWORKS Motion Simulation Training Opportunities

SOLIDWORKS Motion at a Glance

A lot of user suggestions and request have fed into the current state of SOLIDWORKS Motion. A user can need the animation of parts and assemblies for a lot of different reasons, so although there is one main interface convention (the timing chart), there are at least 4 different end goals and therefore four different workflows that you can follow to put your parts in motion.

Motion Synthesis

This can be thought of as designing the desired motion first and then letting that path engineer the parts. Most of these tools are organic to SOLIDWORKS Standard and integral to the Sketcher and Assembly constraint engines, so everybody has access to those tools. Our first blog posts in the series will demonstrate Motion Synthesis tools and procedures.

Animation Capture

SOLIDWORKS AnimationSimply put, this is creating a video clip of a motion. The motion could be driven by motors and sliders, or it could be the result of running a synthesis, but it could also just be a free-hand dragged ‘cartoon’ of a motion sequence. This requires the Motion Simulation timing chart, but does not require the ‘analysis’ plug-in, so every SOLIDWORKS license has at least some of this ability. We will cover this workflow to compare closed-loop, ‘determinate’ machines and open-loop, free-ended machines (like robot arms).


SOLIDWORKS Simulation 3

What the categories above lack, is a sense of time. With the Analysis plug-in active, SOLIDWORKS will keep track of time and energy, so you can report torque, reaction forces, required power, etc. You can combine all of the Animation Capture workflow, and some of the Synthesis workflow with Analysis, but they are not required. Sometimes, interface widgets from these workflows can hinder you in running an analysis. There will be in-depth information on this ability provided in upcoming blog articles, as there is some theory involved. Application of that theory requires you to understand degrees-of-freedom, redundancy and the role of bushings, stiffness and dampening. We will take a deep-dive into showing how to link the motion simulation of an assembly into the Finite-Element Analysis of one or more parts.


By default, you place events on the timeline and then the machine reproduces that sequence with whatever velocities and accelerations are required. You know the times at all the key-points, up front. The logic is fixed.

Sometimes a motion is controlled by sensors, actuating servo and controller logic (dwells and timers and decision-making). In this case, the throughput time is the output, not an input. Users who have Simulation Professional or Simulation Premium can alter the timing chart to use this workflow. Examples of this use could be in designing conveyors, pick-and-place equipment or a progressive-die punch press line.

To check if your seat currently supports the plug-in for time-based motion and energy analysis, go to the menu, Tools > Add-Ins, and see if you have a line-item for SOLIDWORKS Motion. If not, you can still use the Time Line to do simple animations and basic motion studies.

Next Steps

SOLIDWORKS Simulation 4Motion Simulation is a powerful application that supports four different patterns of use, but while the utility is high, the awareness level in the user base is low. We can fix this. Over the course of this series, I’m going to walk you through the problems you can solve. I don’t plan on replacing the standard SOLIDWORKS training course or re-inventing the wheel.  Good tutorials and videos already exist and I will point them out to you. My goal is to provide additional framework for you to conduct your own exploration.

When we’re done, I hope to help you become more productive and excited enough that you’ll pursue other training resources on your own. Maybe you’ll start pushing the boundaries, possibly log a few enhancement requests on the SOLIDWORKS User Portal or read and respond to a few posts on the 3D SWYM community. One day, you might encounter a problem or an opportunity that needs some expert guidance to kick-start the project and then you just might contact me here at the TriMech Project Engineering Group. One way or another, I hope this series will inspire and help you to get more mileage, out of your SOLIDWORKS, in Motion.

>> Read SOLIDWORKS in Motion: Creating and Positioning Blocks

TriMech’s Project Engineering Group helps businesses solve their trickiest problems, whether it is in Design, Scanning, Reverse-Engineering, Finite-Element Analysis, Rigid-Body Dynamics or Fluid Dynamics. Learn more about what we can do.


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Keith Pederson

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