For CAD managers, keeping track of the barrage of CAD drawings, models and associated files can be a real headache. When files are not managed properly, time can be wasted looking for files that might have been stored in the wrong place, documents can get lost or overwritten, and models can be released prematurely causing significant, costly problems downstream.
As product data evolves and changes throughout the design process, some form of a management system, (Product Data Management (PDM) or Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), aims to provide everyone involved with access to the correct and current version of the data, while simultaneously managing and tracking changes, and the evolution of the product from cradle to grave. This has become more of a problem as design teams have greatly expanded both in size and in geographic location, adding more participants to the collaborative design process.
Establishing best practices for maintaining control and controlling access to product data can go a long way to help to minimize errors and duplicated effort. Some type of management system is essential to enable cross-team collaboration, control revisions, maintain an audit trail for regulatory compliance, maintain relationships between diverse files belonging to the same product, and provide security and access to product data. Key capabilities are centralized document access, full text search, check-in/check-out, version control, audit trail, file relationship management, and workflow automation.
Here are a few best practices to follow to help control the chaos.
Implement a PDM or PLM system. This might seem obvious, but these solutions, offered in PDM and PLM systems, will go a long way in helping manage your product data, offering built-in, automated features to control revisions, manage access and security, facilitate collaboration, create audit trails, manage file relationships, etc.
Establish a control process. Again, this is essential if no automated solution is in place. This process will ensure that all employees are checking and making changes to models and drawings in a consistent manner.
Store all models and drawings in one location. Preferably a shared network drive, if a PDM system is not being used. It’s essential to create a good product structure tracking system. When making changes to files, copy the file locally first instead of making changes directly to the models in the shared location. This is will help ensure that released documents are not prematurely updated without going through the data control process. When changes to models are drawings have been approved, move them to the share location and update any references that should point to released data.
Maintain consistent file naming and revision control standards. Again, this is important if you are not using any type of management solution. Make sure you use unique names for files and use a project name or customer number as a prefix or suffix to eliminate confusion when multiple parts have the same name.
Don’t use revisions in file names. If you have assemblies with a lot of parts, changing the revision level in the file name for parts will cause havoc with external references (in-context, mirrored, base parts, etc.).
Many of the best practices described above can at best be described as a band aid approach to solving data management problems, in reality, companies who deploy a PLM software solution will find the above best practices are a core part of the capabilities of the system, delivering an effective approach to solving data management issues.
Effective data management can help your users quickly find files, control revisions, reuse design data efficiently, collaborate across multiple sites, automate workflow and approvals, manage complex file relationships, maintain an audit trail, and comply with industry standards. All this will result in overall better business results through improved productivity and collaboration, higher quality, and streamlined processes that enable your company to be more competitive and profitable.