Users, Choosers, and PDM-less Losers

It’s a fairly common topic on most of the SW fora: “How do I move/manage/protect my files?”.  I suppose someone needs to say it, just as a formality; it doesn’t take very long before someone replies, “You should get a PDM system!”

 Can I get a “Well, Duh!” from the congregation? [Amen, Hallelujah].

The fact is, the vast majority of the SW community are users, not choosers.  They work away in the arena provided by their employer: slow network, weak workstation, outdated software, leaky ceiling and bad coffee.  Users may have loud voices, but usually very little say in what they get to use.  They almost certainly don’t get to decide whether to install and use a PDM system, making the first salvo of well-meaning advice hollow. For whatever reason, management will not allow PDM implementation.

File Management Survival Skills

As CAD skills go, file management tends to get short shrift.  New users-in-training are preoccupied with more pressing issues like changing colors and constraining sketches.  They are in a hurry to get useful so that Sir Boss doesn’t second-guess his hiring decisions.  Especially true for small-to-medium sized businesses, where cost of CAD comes out of Sir Boss’ pocket.

At work, it gets worse.  Projects and priorities appear and change daily.  Many projects get idled or abandoned, and the SW files get scattered across a half-dozen network drives and “My Documents” folders.  Multiple files exist of some parts, leaving no one certain what truly belongs.  Parts get accidentally changed by ham-fisted noobs or over-eager bosses.  In many places, there is no formal ECN process or designated storage area for released files.

Get the picture?  I’ve seen it four times over in the last two years while doing contract work.

Case Study: A Client Awakens

There is hope for some.  My current assignment is at a metal fabrication place with three SW users, plus myself.  The engineering manager saw the mounting file management crisis and tasked me to address it.  PDM was out of the question, as there was no money or support from parent company.  We had to find another way.

The result was a system of protected folders acting as a vault for CAD files and a library for other documents.  The folders are protected using windows security and are owned by a “phantom” user, so that no individual can inadvertently change files under his own login.  So far, it works.  Not as good as PDM, but OK.

What was encouraging was that the manager saw the value of his CAD data.  CAD data is valuable information.  Design data does not come cheap.  Software, hardware, users, training, etc. are all pricey.  Even more costly are the mistakes that can result from mishandled or lost data.  Design data needs careful guardianship.

File Management Survival Skills

File management is a skill set that is no less important than sketching.  There are things every user should know how to do (or at least know can be done).  If you can not do any of these things, you should not be satisfied with your file management skills:

  • Move files to a new folder
  • Create copies of files for work or backup
  • Copy entire assemblies
  • Replace components in an assembly
  • Reconnect “lost” components to an assembly
  • What is a file’s “internal ID” and why it is important
  • Understand how SW finds components and references
  • Use your operating system to protect files and folders

Not a complete list, but enough to get one thinking.

3 thoughts on “Users, Choosers, and PDM-less Losers”

  1. Great man. very good. PDM is nice but if you don’t know some basic file management things can still be messy. I think it’s perfectly feasible to be able and manage a CAD system without PDM. But, people still need to learn the points you make.

  2. I’ve been toying with the idea to use one of the open-source revision control systems (Subversion comes to mind) as a SolidWorks File and Data Management tool. While not designed for CAD, I think it could be utilized as a really inexpensive PDM. It’s not going to give you any of the bells and whistles of any of the dedicated SolidWorks PDM’s, but it will protect your file and data integrity.

    Further looking indicates to me that it would be fairly straightforward to built a add-in for SolidWorks invoking SVN (or some other tool) for data management.

    Just a thought,

    chris

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