With the retirement of Workgroup PDM (WPDM) on the horizon, many sites have already made the transition from WPDM to SOLIDWORKS PDM Professional or PDM Standard. After the dust has cleared, and the users sit down to work what should one expect? How might the experiences differ?
In a previous technical tip I covered some differences between the WPDM & PDM Add-in that connects SOLIDWORKS to the vaulting system. In this tip we’ll focus on more general file management concepts and how WPDM and PDM approach each concept. We’ll start with the Explorer interface. Then we’ll move onto related terminology and other topics. At the very end, I’m going to pick up my Technical Support 2×4 and briefly review Saving vs. Check in. (What do you mean I can’t write that? I promise I’ll swing the 2×4 very gently… Scout’s honor.)
File Access: SOLIDWORKS Explorer vs. Windows Explorer
How do you access vault files when not using SOLIDWORKS? It depends on the vault.
Workgroup PDM: SOLIDWORKS Explorer
If you want to access a WPDM vault without using SOLIDWORKS, you must run SOLIDWORKS Explorer, a special interface that provides the user with a Windows-esque view of a WPDM vault.
SOLIDWORKS Explorer allows the user to browse through a (simulated) Windows folder structure, while having access to a variety of commands, file status, and other informative details. It is important to note that the nested folder structure depicted in a WPDM vault does not actually exist. SOLIDWORKS Explorer, and WPDM add-ins are the only way to see the folder structure of projects in a WPDM vault. So if you don’t have a WPDM Add-in for a particular software package, you will not be able to browse into a WPDM vault from that application. You can browse to the WPDM vault’s local cache to locate the cached copy, that is if you know where the WPDM local cache is [See my previous tech tip SOLIDWORKS Add-In Basics For Stepping From Workgroup PDM To PDM, section: Cached Files (Different): Default Save In Folder vs. Local Cache for a rant (cleverly disguised as useful tech tip information) on WPDM local cache].
PDM: Windows Explorer
If you want to access a PDM vault without using SOLIDWORKS, you browse into the vault using Windows Explorer. Done. PDM weaves itself directly into the native Windows Explorer to provide a variety of commands, file states, and other informative details while one is looking at a folder in the vault.
In addition to the ease of not having to run a separate program to view the vault folder structure, this folder structure, as it sits in the clients computer’s local cache, is real. This keeps files organized on the local client in the same structure as the vault, and allows for easier interaction with the files, especially when working offline or working with programs other than SOLIDWORKS.
File Management: Key Concepts & Terminology
By definition, vaults keep the items (jewelry, documents, etc.) within them safe and secure from theft or tampering – that is, by anyone except the item’s owner. The same applies to documents in the vault: from time to time files must be added, changed, or deleted. And while WPDM and PDM both handle file management tasks, they do them in slightly different ways and often with different terminology. This can create some initial confusion when transitioning from a WPDM to a PDM vault.
We’re not going to dig down to the deepest depths of these topics. Instead we will skim the surface to establish terminology and some standard practices, so when we do dig deeper, we’ll all be speaking the same language.
In order to do something to a file, the user must have permission to perform the action. When evaluating permissions four main questions arise:
- Who is trying to perform the action?
- Where is the file located?
- What is the current state/status of the file?
- What is the action the user is trying to perform?
When comparing permission settings, we see a lot of overlap, new terms, and PDM providing more granularity and functionality over WPDM.
Who Is Trying To Perform The Action?
Both WPDM and PDM have the concept of a single “User”, and of a “Group” (a collection of Users).
Where Is The File Located?
WPDM groups files into Projects. A project can contain other projects.
Like a standard Windows system, PDM groups files into Folders. A folder can contain other folders.
What Is The Current State/Status Of The File?
Note: the existence of different “states” of a file implies that there is some sort of path that a file takes to get from one state to another.
WPDM: Optionally, in WPDM a file can have a “Status”. When statuses are defined, the way a file can move from status to status is called its lifecycle. In a WPDM vault you can only define one lifecycle. A lifecycle can contain numerous statuses. Also of important note, the interface for defining a Lifecycle and its statuses is quite confusing.
PDM: In PDM all files must have a “state”. The way a file moves from state to state is its workflow. If a variety of states is not desired, then a workflow containing only one state can be defined. In PDM Professional you can have multiple workflows each containing multiple states. There are a variety of options for determining which files enter which workflow. A graphical interface allows one to more easily picture how a file moves through a workflow. (PDM Standard only allows for one workflow, but it has the same easy to use interface.)
What Is The Action The User Is Trying To Perform?
WPDM: In WPDM the ability to modify a file (RW access) or be restricted to only reading it (RO access) can be assigned to a user/group, based on project and lifecycle status (if enabled). The ability to change a file’s status can be controlled by a user’s write permission or possibly by their group membership, depending on how lifecycles are configured. The interface to make such adjustments is so unintuitive I’m just gonna stop here concerning lifecycles. WPDM also has vault wide Global settings, such as Allow users to create sub projects, which cannot be restricted to a particular group of Users. They are all or nothing vault permissions.
PDM: In PDM the ability to modify a file (Check out file), and a slew of other permissions: Delete folder, Delete file, Move file, Move folder, seeing files that are not revisions* (show working versions of files), Rollback, See computed BOM, and many more permissions, are configurable to users or a groups based on folders and file states. The ability to change a file’s state is configured by Transition Permissions. There are Administrative permissions that allow a variety of administrative actions to be granted based on user or group. In addition to the granularity of permission combinations offered in PDM, PDM also offers PDM Templates. With a PDM Template a user without permissions to do a specific action in a specific location – for example, create a folder, will be able to run a template that will create a folder of a predefined format because the running of the template uses a different set of permissions. Of course, the user executing the template needs to have been given permission to execute the template in his Template permission settings. There are Permissions per File that change access based on who created the file. And there’s so much more. *More on revisions later.
And glancing at the above I’m realizing that the mentioning of RW and Checked out do not tell the whole story. We’re missing the well-known WPDM concept of Ownership. Terminology chaos is fast approaching already so let’s talk about control.
CONTROL (ie. Ownership & Check out)
Just because you have permission to do something, doesn’t mean you will. It also doesn’t mean you even can if someone beats you there first. So let’s talk about how you stake your claim.
WPDM: RW Permission And Ownership
In WPDM if you want to modify a file (ie. edit it and put a new version of the file in the vault) first you must have RW permission for that file (and for its current status, if applicable). To modify the file, communicate your intent to modify the file, and to prevent other users from changing the file while you work on it, you must take Ownership of the file.
Note: The need to take ownership is also a prerequisite for many other actions on files.
PDM: Check Out Permission And Check Out Permission (Wait… Wha?)
In PDM if you want to modify a file (ie. edit it and put a new version of the file in the vault) first you must have Check out permission for that file (and for its current state). To modify the file, communicate your intent to modify the file, and to prevent other users from changing the file while you work on it, you… well you actually check it out.
The Windows Explorer Details view will clearly indicate which files are checked out and by who.
Another column actually tells you what client the file has been checked out on, but we’ll save that concept and related discussion for another day. Just remember to use the same computer to both check out, modify, and check in the file.
So now that we’ve talked about changing the file, we should talk about saving it and putting it back. But before we go there I promised you something back in Permissions. I promised to talk about revisions.
Versions vs. Revisions
The terms version and revision are one of the primary points of confusion for users transitioning from WPDM to PDM. They mean different things in different vaults. Let’s compare.
WPDM: WPDM does not use the term version. Every file that goes into WPDM is considered a revision of that file.
Revisions in WPDM are marked via a Revision Scheme. The revision scheme is defined by the administrator. It can have up to three parts – the Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary revision components. These components are highly customizable.
This is an example of a file with a revision A-01.
The info pane also displays the revision.
PDM: Every file that goes into PDM is considered a version of that file. Versions in PDM are always numeric. Versions show up in the Version tab.
They are also listed in the Get command or when looking at a files history.
(Note that changes in a file’s history does not necessarily create a new version of that file.)
In PDM a Revision is a special version of a file. Typically a revision is a released file, or a file with some special status.
This distinction is important because unless a user has the PDM permission Show working versions of files the user will only be able to see files that are revisions. For example, typically Engineers have the permission Show working versions of files and folks in. Purchasing do not. This prevents Purchasing folks from seeing files that have not been considered, well a proper revision. Revisions in PDM are marked via a Revision Scheme. The revision scheme is defined by the administrator. It can have multiple components and is highly customizable.
Revisions show up in the Version tab and are typically very prominent on the data card.
They are also listed in the Get command or when looking at a file’s history. This is shown in the example below in purple, showing that Version 2 of the file is Revision.
Note that changes in a file’s history does not necessarily create a new version of that file.
And for all you SQL freaks out there that like to read the PDM database directly, myself included, the above PDM terminology does not apply to the SQL database tables. Make no assumptions: Test, verify, test again, and contact your VAR if needed. You have been warned.
Adding External Files To The Vault: Check In From Disk vs Standard Windows Methods
This topic could, and should, be easily split into several different Tech Tips. So because I can’t do it full justice right now I’m going to just bring out some key points. To put files into the WPDM vault you have to do a Check in From Disk command. To put files into a PDM vault you have standard Windows methods available to you: Drag & Drop, Save As, Pack & Go, followed by a check in.
However, and this is important, because:
- The PDM vault is customizable on so many levels, and because,
- SOLIDWORKS is customizable on so many levels, (in case you are adding the files through CAD instead of the Explorer interface), and because,
- There are multiple factors to consider in order to properly maintain relationships between files.
A best practice/process in one environment might not be suitable in another.
It is my intent that this tech tip will serve as a foundation for future examples on getting external files into the vault.
Saving vs. Check In
Finally, this last topic isn’t a difference between WPDM and PDM it bears repeating: Saving vs. Check In.
First, let me congratulate you for making it this far. I hope these details have provided some clarification. Second, let me make one thing crystal clear: I was never in the Scouts. (But I’ll be gentle anyway, because I care about you guys, and I care about your files.)
Just as a safe is useless if your rare treasures are never actually placed inside, I have had the misfortune of encountering customers who have lost months of work because they never actually put their files into the vault. They confused the concepts of saving a file vs. checking the file in.
Saving a file only saves it to your cache. This is only a copy on your local computer. While the items in your local cache are often from the vault, your local cache is NOT the vault.
Checking in a file pushes a copy of the file in your cache up into your vault, where it is safely stored, visible to other engineers, protected from unwanted modifications, and (most likely) being backed up by IT.
So, please remember to check in those files.
I hope this has been helpful. And if you are one of those folks who is in the process of transitioning from WPDM to PDM, as I said in my previous tech tip: don’t panic. Rather, let us help you. Are there any aspects of your transition that could use some more clarity? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.