SolidWorks Tools for Managing your CAD
File structure for CAD can quickly become difficult to manage. The way that files are named saved and structured are often industry and even project specific and can be very confusing for an outsider to the system. When there is a small number of people working on a project, sometimes it can be possible for everyone to manage the process on an individual level. The larger a project team or company gets, the more necessary it becomes to have a system for file management that keeps individuals accountable to the system. SolidWorks offers a system to satisfy this need. In the following article we’re going to take a look at the basics of using SolidWorks PDM system and the benefits that it carries for managing your SolidWorks files.
What is SolidWorks PDM? Solidworks Product Data Management (PDM) is a system for organizing and indexing data. The goal is to provide version control and allow team collaboration while providing an workflow that maximizes productivity and minimizes file related errors.
Starting with SolidWorks PDM
SolidWorks Product Data Management (PDM) is a powerful set of tools that give you far more ability to manage files than you could have without this system. To start with this system, it is first important to recognize that it is designed to be used on a shared server. Installation of this system should be performed by an IT professional, or even better, someone qualified by SolidWorks as a Certified PDM Professional Administrator (CPPA). Proper installation of the system is paramount to its proper functionality. Remember, this system will be protecting and managing all of your files, and, while you should always maintain redundant backup systems, inability to access files or even loss of files due to poor installation could be a costly “shortcut” to take. Once the system is installed properly, you may begin implementation of the system. It is important here to note that if you have existing redundancies or issues in your current file structure than simply moving the problems to PDM will not help create a solution. The system will however help prevent problems such as these from occurring within the new system but as with anything, proper implementation is vital to success. Once the system is installed, you will need to add a server and a vault. You do this using the “SolidWorks PDM Administration” app, which you can open “SolidWorks PDM Administration” like any other app on your computer. A server will typically be added as part of the installation process. If it is not, you can add a server by right mouse clicking on “SOLIDWORKS PDM Administration” in the window on the left side of the screen. Once you have selected a server to host the files that will be organized by PDM, you can add a “vault” which is nothing more than a directory managed by SolidWorks PDM. This is done by right mouse clicking on a server and selecting to add a new vault and following the prompts on screen. Once a vault is created you can use another application provided by SolidWorks PDM, the “View Setup” application. Following the prompts in the wizard, you can add a local view of the vault to your machine. Now that you have a local view of the vault, all the standard features of SolidWorks can be used to modify files within the PDM vault. Since SolidWorks PDM works native in the windows file explorer, moving files into the vault can be as simple as simply dragging and dropping. That said, there are some careful considerations that have to be made before moving files into the PDM vault. The first is any references that exist in the files. If a file references another existing file, moving the file may break the reference. There are a few tools within SolidWorks that can help with this, such as the “pack and go” tool or the update references tool within PDM. It is recommended that you carefully review these tools before you decide what method is best for your specific use case. Another thing to consider before moving files over is the file’s properties and revision level. Making sure that these options are recognized properly by SolidWorks PDM is vital to being able to search them properly later. Note that it is vital for this to be performed before the first time that you “check in” the files. When it comes to the process of moving files into a newly implemented vault, it is highly recommended that an experienced PDM installer be consulted to ensure that this is done properly. Once the move to the vault has been made, the files can be accessed in the same way that you would access the other files on a server through a file explorer, but you will be required to be logged in to PDM. To open files you will be prompted to “Check Out” a part and no modifications will be made permanent until you select to “Check In” those parts with the proposed changes. PDM now manages and keeps track of different versions of files as changes are made and has options to track other information such as engineering change notices, revisions, and the reasons for various changes. PDM also offers the option to add a custom data card that can track even more information, including lists of options, attached images, and fields of information. Because data on cards is stored centrally and doesn’t require files to be opened to be accessed, this creates a very convenient system for being able to search for parts with specific qualities. If set up properly, you can also search for parts based on bills of material. This system supports recognition of multiple types of BOMs from assemblies, weldments, and drawings.
PDM in Practice
SolidWorks PDM is capable of all of this and much more, but just having these capabilities doesn’t necessarily improve your SolidWorks workflow. Using PDM is a matter of setting up structure so that protocols are enforced. Within PDM some users are given administrative abilities to give others access to certain areas of the PDM vault. This allows for a more structured workflow. PDM allows administrators to control who can access certain folders and files, manage the different stages of documents and production, determine who can approve files and move files from one stage to the next, and much more. The core of this system is that every user has unique PDM login credentials, and must have access, or request access, to modify or even create files. This ensures that files are not modified once approved or changed multiple times to address the same problem. By structuring it this way, no file changes are submitted until a part is “checked in” and, if appropriate, approved by a user with a higher level of access. A process like this depends on the progressive system to be able to work effectively so making sure that the levels of access are maintained properly is vital to the success of this system. This brings into play another level of management that is provided by SolidWorks PDM known as workflows. PDM allows us to create custom workflows based on the different stages of design, review, and production that we undergo. Once a workflow is created, it can automatically govern certain parts of the process. Workflows can control who has access to a file depending on which stage that the particular file is in, it can automatically update information on a file or its attached data card, and even automate the publication of certain documents and files when a file hits a certain stage of the workflow. Different stages of a workflow are known as “states” and moving between them is known as a “transition.” When putting a file through a transition, SolidWorks PDM allows you to control who can move files through a transition, and who can approve files to make transitions possible. All this is made simpler to manage by the aforementioned user permissions, and user groups. Defining user groups allows you to assign access to different teams (for example engineering or costing) at different states in a workflow, or different folders. Additionally, the user permissions allow you to give rights to managers to oversee the transition of files from one workflow to another and therefore out of that department. Hopefully it is quickly becoming clear why the management of SolidWorks PDM is so vital to its success. The system drastically simplifies processes if used properly and makes it far more complex if handled in the wrong way. This makes choosing administrators for the system a very important decision. Sometimes an administrator is chosen to have the primary function of maintaining PDM rather than being directly part of a production or design role. This is to ensure maintenance of the system, individual permissions, and workflows.
Solidworks PDM is an extremely powerful tool
for proper file management. When properly managed, this system of organized
workflows, permissions, and file management can be invaluable, and one could
argue that a system such as this becomes necessary for larger companies or
collaborative groups. If implemented properly, this system can prevent a myriad
of file problems, but making sure that that SolidWorks PDM is administered
properly is vital to the success of this endeavor. Once you get everything set
up properly, managing your SolidWorks data becomes a much more manageable task.
Trevor Holloway is a mechanical engineer and CAD expert. He is certified in SolidWorks at the expert level (CSWE), and has years of experience in designing products for manufacture.
Trevor Holloway is driven by turning ideas into reality through engineering. He consistently seeks to push the limits of his skills and expand his knowledge base with the intent to innovate and solve problems. He enjoys viewing the engineering process holistically, from design to implementation, and always seeks to take a hands on approach. He is certified by SolidWorks as a SolidWorks Experts (CSWE).