File management can help to save signiﬁcant time during the design process. File management is a topic that needs to be decided on early in the process and is not something you slowly ease into. The methods and procedures need to be determined, implemented, and enforced if you are to gain any benefit. Starting a project with the idea that you can just start designing, naming and storing files without a well- thought-out procedure is a recipe for disaster. It takes much less time (and costs less) to plan the process and rules, than it does to fix the problem afterwards.
Managing and Sharing Data
To set up and manage files it is important to start with a set of goals. So, what are our goals when managing our ﬁles? These are some general goals that are usually included:
- Multiple users must have access to the same files.
- Users must be prevented from overwriting each other’s work.
- Everyone must know what the current version of each part is.
- Different work styles must be accommodated.
- Files need to be stored for maximum productivity by keeping them stored locally.
SolidWorks File Structure
The SolidWorks file structure is a single point database. This means that each piece of information is stored in only one file. Any other file that needs that piece of information must reference the file where it is stored rather than copy the information into itself. This means that SolidWorks creates compound documents by establishing external references.
External references are the links between documents. There is no separate database to list the references. Instead, a pointer in the file header lists the referenced files and their location. These are absolute references, in other words, they are a complete path such as K:myfilesappliedproject.sldprt.
There are no reverse file pointers in SolidWorks. While an assembly knows what files are used in the assembly, the individual components do not know that they are used in that assembly. This presents a management problem when modifying files that may be used in different assemblies. Data manager PDM systems keep track of these relationships, which makes it easier to determine the effects of changes to parts. Without a data management system, SolidWorks Explorer can be used to locate “where used” relationships; however, this can be slow as it must literally search through all the files in the specified search paths to determine if there is a reference.
The Manual Data Management Method
If you have a PDM system, how are you going to manage all the files for your large project? Different companies have tried different methods, but they generally reduce to two primary methods.In the first method, all files are stored in a central location. Users open the files across the network from the central location as needed and save the files when done making changes. SolidWorks collaboration options help to prevent multiple users from having write access to the same files at the same time. There are several problems with this method:
- No history Any history as to changes, or who opened or saved the files, must be kept manually.
- No revision or version control, Tracking revisions must be done manually. Methods such as appending the revision to the file name are sometimes used and can cause additional file management problems.
- Easy to violate the rules There is nothing to stop users from copying files to their local drives to speed up their work, but this in turn violates the rules of only one person having write access to a file. If you are not strict with all users, someone will break the rules at the worst possible time and cause a loss of data.
- Opening files across a network Opening files across a network is a sure way to reduce productivity. With the large number and size of the files, network bandwidth can significantly slow the opening, saving and closing of files. Most PDM systems cache files locally on the user’s hard drive to speed open and save times.
- Search Without a PDM system, searches are left to SolidWorks and Microsoft® searches, In the second method, files are stored in a central location and users copy the files they need to their local workstation. After making changes, they save the files back to the central location. This ls the “Wild West” approach as nothing in the system enforces the rules. All control is lost except for what can be done through procedures enforcement. Whoever saves a file back to the network location last, overwrites the previous version, even if the last saved file is older than the file it is overwriting.