Entropy is the natural state of things. Machines break down, order becomes disorder, and systems become more confusing and harder to use the longer they are in operation. The same happens in the workplace; systems set up to keep tools clean and orderly go to pot if effort isn’t applied to keep them humming.
What Often Starts As Organized Often Becomes Chaotic
Disorder like that is obvious in a machine shop, but with each SOLIDWORKS assembly having tens or maybe hundreds of part files in it and every engineer, toolmaker, or draftsman at your company picking up and editing those virtual files, your electronic inventory can get just as cluttered as a real one. Except that no one but you can see it.
We’ve seen some of our customers come up with well meaning systems to organize their CAD files before, only to have that system break down after people have been using it a while. After providing SOLIDWORKS to over 1,000 companies in the New England area for the last 27 years, here are some tips we’ve come across to design your file storage philosophy in a way that your co-workers might actually help, not hurt, your efforts to defeat entropy.
Have A Standard File Naming Convention
This seems like a “duh” for any engineering company , but not everyone follows it equally. We’ve seen that:
- Lone engineers working in a bubble can usually stick to some sort of self-created file naming convention. (Until designs start happening fast).
- Large companies can usually enforce file naming conventions , no matter how onerous they are. Basically, if your company is large enough to have an HR department to tell Fred that black socks plus sandals doesn’t equal Casual Friday, it’s large enough to have a Document Control department scary enough to enforce regular CAD file naming rules. (For released data, anyway).
Lost between those two ends of the curve are mid-sized companies of 3-10 engineers. They are the most at risk since it’s no one’s dedicated job to tell everyone to clean up their file names, but there are already too many cooks in the kitchen editing and moving SOLIDWORKS files around.
On the topic of WHAT the file naming convention should be, we’ve talked about the horrors of having “Intelligent” part numbering systems before, so the only system that really works in the long run is just a simple sequential number for the part in the order it was created. Sometimes we even help customers install a system that automatically gives each new CAD file a sequential number when it’s created, since less work the engineer has to do to start a part, the less he feels that the system is “holding him back”.
Have A Way To Separate Files You’re Still Working On From Those That Have Already Been Released
This tip might seem like another obvious one, but in the course of helping our SOLIDWORKS customers, we’ve seen:
- Manufacturing groups starting to use in-work drawings as released because they were all stored in the same folder
- Released drawings being edited while suppliers are out creating parts, resulting in delivered parts not matching the engineering drawings used to order them
- Child parts being edited without telling the parent assemblies, resulting in confusion about what parts built and shipped assemblies actually contain
To combat mix-ups like these, the most effective manual strategy we’ve seen is to separate files by location, manually moving finished work into a ‘Released’ folder or even into an entirely separate system. This works most of the time, even if it is a bit labor-intensive.
What works less well is when companies try to segregate work by file name in one existing location. No matter how disciplined you think you are, some day some one is going to click on “901-314 Released” when they mean “901-314 Rev E” and start to edit the wrong thing.
Sometimes companies segregate files by file type, leaving all the working copies as SOLIDWORKS files and the released drawings as PDFs only. This works sometimes, if you’re okay with having limited 2D PDFs as your only data of record.
When customers call us for help on this issue, we usually install a system to separate files by state, using electronic permissions to let manufacturing computers not even seen in work files, and setting conditions that released files can’t be edited by anyone until an ECO goes through.
Have A Way To Find Moving Files
Anyone can find part files when they all live in the exact same folder as their parent assembly. But when that parent assembly gets moved to the “Released” folder, and some of those part files get put in the “Common” Design Library, and then some engineer moves a few to his desktop ‘just for a while’ before leaving the company, it’s much harder to piece Humpty Dumpty back together.
Files are going to move around, that’s the nature of collaborative work. But in well-organized tool drawers, there’s a simple system you can employ to make it obvious what tools are missing.
Find Your Moving Files & Who Has Them
Now if it only that simple for SOLIDWORKS files! Oh, and we need a way to tell who took them, too.
We haven’t found a manual system that does this well yet. Usually the choices are some sort of paper ledger check-in/out system (which is always doomed to entropy and failure) or investing in a data management solution which automatically tracks and find files no matter where they go.
When installing a data management system, we try to make it the least additional burden on the working engineers (by making the system try to match their workflow, not the other way around) but also with plenty of stand-up support.
So, to recap some of most important aspects when making a SOLIDWORKS file storage system, we recommend:
Have a standard file naming convention
Have a way to separate files you’re still working on from those have already been released
Have a way to find moving files
Those are just the bare bones, there are many other lessons we’ve learned from watching how engineers really store their files, versus how they’re “supposed” to.