Brace yourselves for a battle of epic proportions. We have two Heavyweight contenders ready to duke it out; SolidWorks Enterprise PDM and Microsoft Windows Explorer. The match rules are simple: Manage a new project, which undergoes design changes and ensure a secure and auditable environment for keeping track of revisions. As a bonus, the contenders will deal with managing an Engineering Change Order.
First, let’s introduce the competitors. In the left corner, wearing the red, blue, yellow and green trunks, from Redmond, Washington, Microsoft Windows Explorer. In the right corner, wearing the blue trunks, from Concord, Massachusetts, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM. Windows Explorer has been the staple for manufacturing and engineering companies for many years and SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, which builds upon Microsoft Windows, is a rising star in the document management community. It’s time to let our contenders go at it.
Round 1: How companies store projects
In a typical engineering and manufacturing company, individuals store their documents either locally or on a mapped network drive. For this match, we are going to assume that the engineer is storing the files on the mapped network drive on the server, as that get’s backed up and other design team members with read access to those folders in the drive can read them. Before creating a new project, the engineer needs to ensure that they take a project or part number out, so as to not have duplicate file names. Then the engineer creates a folder structure with the appropriate content, for SolidWorks models, for technical illustrations and for project management documents such as a gantt chart. In a recent webcast that I ran for our customers, a ran a poll asking how they currently manage project documentation today. The poll showed that 90% of users are managing documents using a mapped Windows drive using folders, 30% also used a PDM system or an ERP system, 30% were looking at alternative solutions and nobody was using microfiche to manage project anymore. Let’s ring the bell here in Round 1 and let the contenders battle it out.
- In Windows Explorer
- For the first punch, before creating the folder structure, the Windows Explorer user needs to obtain part numbers and project numbers for the job at hand. This is done through several methods. One method is to obtain these part numbers from and Excel spreadsheet or an Access database. Others will use an MER/ERP system to obtain part numbers from an item master, but many still use a manual log book of part numbers, which is stored in document control somewhere.
- Windows Explorer then deals a blow to create the folder structure. The user takes the project number and names a top level folder with that number, creates appropriate subfolders for the project and then opens Microsoft project, saves a Gantt chart, renames it to the project number and stores that with the project. We have a pretty savvy Windows Explorer user here, so he does not create all the subfolders and Gantt charts manually, he has a directory structure stores locally as well as a sample Gantt chart stored that he can modify later.For the final punch, a haymaker is delivered and the Windows Explorer user creates the permissions for each folder to ensure correct access rights are granted to each of the subfolders.
- In SolidWorks Enterprise PDM
- In SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, to create a new project, we use the “Create Project” from a template function. This is set up by the administrator to create a repeatable, yet flexible process for creating new projects. The part number and project number are obtained from the Enterprise PDM system automatically. The interface to access SolidWorks Enterprise PDM actually is Windows Explorer, with additional capabilities, like a built in file preview window, that is interactive, Bill of Materials functions and revision control functions.
- The project structure is also defined from the template, and the folder names are renamed automatically to the project number which was added.
- Project documents are also automatically named an inserted by the “Create Project” wizard. In this case, a Microsoft Project Gantt chart is created from a template, renamed and checked into the system automatically. Fields from the Microsoft Project document are linked to the Enterprise PDM system database and can now be used for reports.
Round 2: How revisions and versions of files are managed
The topic of how to store revisions of documents, especially SolidWorks documents is typically an emotional one. In the aforementioned webcast that I ran for our CAPINC customers, I posed the question “How do you currently keep track of your documents” and the following answers were uncovered: 40% responded that they only stored the changed documents, another 40% stated they store a copy of each changed document, 10% rename files to indicate a revision change and 20% do not revision control document altogether.
I have seen many methods for managing revision discreetly, however, I have honed in on one method here for managing files without a document management system like SolidWorks Enterprise PDM. This process proceeding will allow for traceability of documents with the manual Windows Explorer process so that it is an apples to apples comparison to SolidWorks Enterprise PDM which handles this for us. In this case we will go from Rev “A” to Rev “B”. Let us assume we have a 3 piece assembly in SolidWorks in which one of the parts changes in thickness. This would mean that the changed part would go from Rev “A” to Rev “B” and the Assembly would also go too.
- In Windows Explorer
- Create a copy of the documents “the changed part and the assembly” in a separate folder named Rev “B” before making the change.
- In SolidWorks set your “Search Paths” to the top level directory of your engineering area on the mapped drive you work out of.
- Open the copied assembly in SolidWorks. The file references should pull the new files you copied manually and grab the other files that were not copied from the other directory. This is because we set the search paths. To check this, in SolidWorks, in the File… puldown menu you can see the references under “Find References”
- Use SolidWorks Custom File Properties (Data about your data) to describe the revision change (Revision B)
- In the changed part and in the assembly, change the custom file properties from Rev “A” to Rev “B”. This way the file names stay intact and the drawing title blocks are updated.
- Make your changes and save the documents.
- In SolidWorks Enterprise PDM
- SolidWorks EPDM deals a blow below the belt in this round, as all of this is done automatically. Simply “Check Out” the Assembly. When the assembly is Checked Out, it will ask if you want to check out any referenced documents. Choose the part that needs to change in thickness. By checking a document out, it gives the user the privileges to make the change and check them back in when they are done. When the change is complete “Check In” the documents, and EPDM understands to change the version of the files that changed automatically, then it also copies the old files in the background so they can be access in the future if need be. Controls can be put in place so that an approval needs to happen before anything goes from Rev “A” to Rev “B” if you want.
Round 3: How to track an Engineering Change Order (ECO) Process
Some companies have a process of approval that needs to take place before any of the changes we were doing previous in this article can really occur. This is usually called and ECN or an ECO (Engineering Change Notice / Engineering Change Order). Some companies need both the request to make a change to be approved as well as the change itself needs to be approved. SolidWorks Enterprise PDM has a nice process for handling this automatically. However, if you do not use a PDM system today, many companies employ policies such as creating a paper traveler that gets routed through appropriate departments for approvals, or a once a week meeting is established to review requests to make changes, or companies have some other system that is capable of handling this, like an ERP/MRP system.
- In Windows Explorer
- In traditional Windows Explorer, for an ECO request to begin, one would fill out an ECO Form, either on paper or Electronically in Microsoft Word. This would then be distributed via email or printed and filed to review ad hoc or in a structured weekly meeting. Once all the approvals to move forward with the changed proposed in the ECO are met, the engineer would then perform the same process outlined in Round two to make a change to the engineering documentation.
- In SolidWorks Enterprise PDM
- In the Enterprise PDM process, a user can right mouse click on the item that needs a change and choose to change its “State” to “Create ECO”. What this will do is execute a dialog box to ask the user which documents the ECO effects (The assembly knows what parts make it up, so this list is presented to the user) and then a session of Microsoft Word pops up with an ECO form repopulated with the relevant information. An email is sent to managers who need to approve the ECO automatically and once the signatures have all been obtained, through email, the file becomes writable and an engineer can check out the Assembly and part that needs to be changed and follow the process outlined in Round 2 of the Enterprise PDM prize fighter.
Well, now that we have seen a valiant fight between standard Windows Explorer and SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, we need to tally up the points and find a clear winner. While Windows Explorer was not knocked out, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, and standard Windows Explorer cannot get in as many punches in the same amount of time. Windows Explorer, while still standing, loses by technical knockout or TKO as the referee intercedes and stops the fight, declaring Explorer unable to continue because of bad cuts or bruises; it cannot go on and it is defenseless. So by TKO, the winner and new Heavyweight Champion is you, the user of SolidWorks Enterprise PDM.
For more information and a full video demonstration of these topics, sign on to our recorded GoToMeeting page at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/440165672