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Are You Opening SolidWorks Files from a Network Drive?

  
  
  
  
  

Post by Gabe Enright

Day after day our support team reports the same thing over and over.  Many SolidWorks users are working in one of the most inefficient ways possible.  What is that way?  Working directly from a shared network drive.  I am not an IT professional and will keep this discussion high level, but we will talk about the reasons why opening SolidWorks files from a network drive is bad.

opening solidworks files from a network drive

Let's start with why many do work from shared locations. 

  1. It's a convenient way to allow users to access the data they need to.  Once a project is complete we need to put it somewhere and if someone else needs to access it they need to know where to find it.
  2. It's easy to back up.  No company is going to allow its valuable Intellectual Property to exist without being regularly backed up.

Now let us discuss why this is a bad strategy for SolidWorks users.

  1. Its slow
    No matter the speed of your network, loading something from your local hard drive is always going to be much faster.  With the increasing use of SSD's that gap is widening even further.  Remember opening a SolidWorks assembly may also require the loading of many other referenced components at the same time. 
  2. It can be unstable
    Remember, if you are opening SolidWorks files from a network drive there are at least two pieces of hardware involved, your computer and the server.  There may also be other devices between them like switches.  Any bottlenecks or failures while opening can lead to you having to start the process over.  If something happens while you are saving you may end up with a corrupt component.  At that point we have to get SolidWorks Technical Support involved and pray they can recover your component. If they can't, you are requesting a backup copy and redoing your work.

Here's a quick analogy.  Imagine you are packing the family minivan for a weeklong road trip.  A pretty inefficient way to do it would be to pick up everything you are bringing, carry it out to the car and load it without putting anything down.  A sane person would bring everything out to the car, put it down then load it.

opening solidworks files from a network drive Customers will often call frustrated that an assembly takes a long and often variable time to load. They are growing weary of waiting for the “Busy” icon to clear so they can actually do some work.

If your blood pressure is rising just seeing this, then you know what I’m talking about.  We have a simple test that we ask customers to try which is to copy the data set to their local drive.  This is often most easily accomplished with a Pack & Go.  9 times out of 10 they will report the assembly loads dramatically faster.  Even when accounting for the time to copy the files to the local drive it is still much faster to get that assembly open this way.

So at this point we've convinced the customer that it is faster to work from their local drive instead of the network.  They are still going to tell us this method is not practical, and they are correct!  They now have lost the protection of having routine backups.  When they are done they still have to put the components back on the network.  If I copy a fifty piece assembly from the network to my local drive and change 10 parts I have to put the ten changed components back when I'm done.  Perhaps they were in different folders on the network.  I have to determine which components changed, and put them back.  Then I should delete the files from my local drive. 

That is the most basic scenario but let me throw in a couple other wrinkles.  What if you want to keep the old version of the file for history?  How can you be sure you loaded all the changed files back to the network before deleting them from your local drive? 

The answer is you can overcome these challenges with enough time and a thorough understanding of SolidWorks referencing.  Frankly, I'm guessing nobody got into engineering and design dreaming of spending hours moving files around. 

There has to be a better way, and there is.  The answer is Product Data Management or PDM.  PDM makes all these challenges go away by: automatically moving files to your local drive to be edited, putting the changed ones back when you are done, and making sure that only one person changes a file at a time.  If you are getting the idea you need PDM you might as well start with the Best PDM system for SolidWorks files, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM

EPDM Webinar - Opening SolidWorks files from a network drive I will be hosting a webinar introducing SolidWorks EPDM on Tuesday April 15th.  Register today and join us on Tax day to see all the deductions you can take from your design and documentation schedules.  Use this link to Register, or view an archive of the session if it has already passed.

 

Why Companies Migrate to Enterprise PDM from Workgroup PDM?

  
  
  
  
  

 

Posted by Gabe Enright

Now that I spend a lot of time talking with companies about how they will manage their SolidWorks Product Data I am often asked questions about the PDM solutions offered by SolidWorks.  People often want to start with Workgroup PDM and figure they will grow into EPDM later.  I personally feel the EPDM is the way to go for any company that wants to manage their CAD data and share a few points about Workgroup that gets them thinking.  These are the main five points I share.  There are many more.


 5 Reasons Companies Migrate away from Workgroup PDM  

1. NO Enhancements    

While Workgroup continues to be updated to be compatible with each release of SolidWorks, it has had little functionality added.  The last release that had significant enhancement was SolidWorks 2007.  That's 8 years ago!  There has been one true enhancement since then and it was added in SolidWorks 2008.   

When reading the shortcomings in the next four points recall the words of a revered (or reviled depending on your location) New England sports figure, It is what it is”

2. Unique Names

Every file in a Workgroup vault must have a unique name.  You can't have two parts called Bracket or two Assemblies called "Initial Concept" even if they are in different folders.  In theory this is a good practice, however users find it restrictive and will work outside the system to get around it. 

Taking this a step further, folder names also must be unique.  If you have folders for projects and like to organize  them with subfolders, like "Artwork", "Customer Requirements“ or "Schematics" you have to make those names unique as well.  This is cumbersome and often times even more restrictive than file names.  

3. Not good for managing non-SolidWorks files

 Workgroup was designed to manage SolidWorks files (Parts, Assemblies, and Drawings.)  Any other file that a user would like to manage must be done with SolidWorks Explorer.  You can either Drag and Drop those files into the vault, One at a time Only, or add them in a process that is a lot more like uploading a file to a website.  Getting them out and changing them is similarly tedious.  

4. Every change makes a Revision 

Every time you check in a file to the vault, Workgroup is going to file it as a new Revision.  There are workarounds but in the end most avoid checking in their work until they absolutely have to, which is dangerous.

5. Limited Workflow capability

Workgroup has the ability to set up ONE limited Workflow.  This presents two key limitations

•First because it only has one lifecycle, all files must follow the same set of rules.  Many companies have different rules for different departments.  Manufacturing and Tooling will have more freedom than the Product Development groups.  Everyone using a Workgroup Vault has to follow the same rules and those rules apply to all file types.
•Second the Workflow capability is limited and not robust.  Companies have to adapt their procedures to the Workgroup limitations.

Because of these two limitations most companies never even turn on the Lifecycle module in Workgroup.

If you'd like to learn more about PDM we are running a series of webinars in February.  

 Follow thelink to register for one or all three.  Click HERE

MS Office EPDM Add-in for 2014

  
  
  
  
  

The Enterprise PDM add-in for MS Office has been released.  The EPDM toolbar shows up in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.  Functions include the basics, plus Select File in Explorer View and you can initiate the search function.

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Input Formulas for Data Cards

  
  
  
  
  

There is a little-used feature for EPDM data card edit boxes – the input formula (at the bottom of the Edit-properties dialog).  This is a very powerful tool with many uses.  The input functions allow access to both the variables and some basic programming functions like the current date, mathematics, and string searches.

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For example, if you would like to use the value of a variable to categorize the associated SolidWorks file, the input formula can be used to capture a portion or all of the data string in that variable.  Translating engineering information into more generally accessible information is another use.  Engineers use technical terms like AWG instead of wire gauge and PA instead of nylon.  In that case, the data card could contain a separate tab for non-technical viewers and use the input formula to create aliases (convert a pull down list to numerical values) and publish the term “metal” if the material is gold, steel, tin, etc.

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Another use is searching for one value when any number of values is possible.  For example, a particular fastener may have multiple sources, so searching for all the assemblies that use a ¼-20 bolt won’t tell you how many assemblies have fasteners from ACME.  To solve this, create a data card with several “supplier” edit boxes.  Then either on the same or another tab, aggregate the responses into one – searchable – field.

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New Emoticon for EPDM

  
  
  
  
  

‘[_]‘

The logical replacement for a space is underscore.  I teach PDM classes and in those I tell Customers there are times when spaces in names are fine and times when they aren't ... so don't use them and then you cannot be wrong. 

We recently ran across a situation where the underscore causes an issue - so much for "can't be wrong".  If you would like to create a condition in a transition or would like to search to find the underscore, you need special formatting in the condition - like the "emoticon" above.

Placing a condition that looks for _ fails to produce the desired result.  Microsoft Search Engine (Windows Explorer) is not what EPDM uses. EPDM instead uses the SQL database to perform these types of actions and in SQL an underscore is a wildcard character for 1 character. 

The correct way to call out an underscore is to use the following syntax so that SQL knows how to distinguish it.   ‘ [ _ ] ‘  (spaces added for clarity)

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The Quick Change Loop: White-Out for EPDM

  
  
  
  
  

Post by Josiah Sansone

dewHave you ever approved a drawing in EPDM, and two seconds after you click that “OK” button on the state transition, you look at the drawing and realize “Oh no! Something is WRONG!”?  That’s right, human error has butted its ugly head into your perfectly controlled documentation system.  Whatever the error might be; be it a typo, a miss-spelled name, an incorrect view or dangling dimension, invisible lines, or inaccurate tolerances, it means that you have to fix that drawing somehow.  Now, you could simply roll back the drawing, fix the issue, and send it back through the transition.  But what if you just went through a complex parallel transition to get multiple signatures? Or maybe you’re still doing red-lining and paper signatures, and you’ll have to have them all check it again before you fix it.  You don’t want to send it through the revision process again, that would waste too much time.  If your setup is like most companies, you can’t just edit the released copy; that would create a new working copy, which your employees in production or sales wouldn’t be able to see.  Well today we’re going to show you how to create a new revision to fix a simple mistake, without creating a new revision.

This trick is called the quick change loop, or quick revision loop. Sometimes these are used to do a “does not need approval” revision change, but in this case we’re going to use it to create a new version and release that version as a “released” revision, but keep the revision the same, both in the drawing and in EPDM. 

The first thing you’ll need is an editing state.  If you have the ability to check-out and edit your drawings while they are in their Released state, you can just check out the drawing and edit it there.  If you already have an editing state for your normal revision process, you can use that and we can add the quick-change loop from that point, or you can create a “quick change” Editing state with limited permissions.  Remember that while this loop is useful for fixing typos, it should only be accessible to those trusted with this type of power; a less trustworthy employee could use this to try and fix sloppy mistakes or make a product change without anyone being the wiser.

For the purpose of this example, and to keep things as simple as possible, we will use our existing Editing state to edit the files for their Quick Change loop. 

workflow

Next we need to create a Quick Change state, and assign the revision scheme used in the workflow to this state.  Once the revision scheme is assigned, set the Increment Revision counter to 0. 

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Next we create a Quick Change Loop Transition from our Editing State to our Quick Change state, and add an Increment Revision command to this transition.

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Once this is done, we create a second, automatic transition from the Quick Change state to the Released state. 

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Now our workflow should look something like this:

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Give appropriate permissions for the new state and each transition for the users you want to have access to this Quick Change Loop.  The history of a file passed through this loop should look like the following:

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As you can see, we have two released Revisions at “A”, with two different versions. By adding transition and check-in comments, we can record and clarify any changes made to the documents during the quick-change loop.

EPDM Revision Control for Drawing Approval

  
  
  
  
  

With Enterprise (EPDM), SQL is used to control the versioning of documents.  Revisions get bumped during transitions.  This causes a concern in some cases.  Let me explain.

In the workflow below, the assumption is that the revision gets bumped when the file is released – let’s say from A to B.  However, that means the file was at revision A before it was submitted for approval.  So, a change comes in – part number changes, coating changes, etc.  You grab the current revision – Rev A – modify it and submit it.  It was at A, a change was made and… it’s still at A.  True, the file is no longer in the “released” state – it’s back at “awaiting approval” in my example. 

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The document’s state can be shown in a couple of places – including a column in Windows Explorer.  However, drawings aren’t reviewed in the Windows Explorer view where it is easy to spot the workflow state.  Using EPDM vernacular, the file is versioned, not revisioned and this situation causes some businesses angst. 

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EPDM workflows can be set to send notifications when files are submitted for approval.  But let’s say your company needs more certitude – the title block needs to show that Rev B is in front of the checker/approver.  That result is simple in EPDM - just bump the revision when the file is submitted for approval.  That works until someone makes a mistake and it gets “rejected”.  Now you’ve got a file at Rev B that needs to return to Rev A.  There are a couple of easy ways around this problem – other than demanding engineering perfection.

We can set up the workflow to “reset” the revision.  There is a “reset” function in workflow transitions, but that’s not what we’re after.  We need to return the SQL revision to A.  To do that, we add a “rejected” transition and set the actions in the transition as follows:

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The REJECTED transition is set the same way.  The difference is that the revision increment in the AWAITING state is set to 1 and it’s set to -1 in the INITIATED state. 

The only step left is to lock down permissions to the files when they are waiting to be approved – “awaiting” in this example.  This way only personnel that should be approving and releasing drawings will have access. 

However, notice in the file’s history that it was at revision C for a period of time until it was rejected.  Again, this causes some companies angst.

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There is another way.  The revision variable can be set to the next revision when the file is submitted for approval, but we can keep it a secret from SQL until the file is “Released”

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Now the history looks much better and more reflective of the intent of the workflow.

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In our next post, Josiah will give you an even better idea for how to “whiteout” some pesky accidental EPDM revision changes.

Great News For EPDM Administrators

  
  
  
  
  

Post by Gabe Enright

One of the announcements at SolidWorks World was that the SolidWorks Enterprise PDM Administrator (CEPA) examination would be free until June 30.  If you are an Administrator of EPDM it’s a great way to show that you are qualified and know what you are doing. 

One of the great things about EPDM is that Administrative tasks can be shared.  A team member might only be responsible for adding users to the system or setting up data cards.  Although these are administrative functions and they are using the Admin Tool, it doesn’t mean they have the knowledge to fully administer EPDM. This can lead to widely varying skill levels among folks describing themselves as EPDM administrators.  The CEPA is one objective way to measure your abilities.

To learn more about the CEPA exam check out the Certification section of SolidWorks Web site.  There is a great description of the exam and the prerequisites.  (You will need administrative access to EPDM for one and the ability to create a vault for example)

When you are ready to take the exam follow this link to the SolidWorks webstore.  Instead of buying a test email the address provided to receive a coupon code for a free exam.

Once you’ve achieved your certification you’ll want to publish it.  The SolidWorks Blog did a nice write-up recently on how to add your certifications to LinkedIn. 

Another announcement at SolidWorks World was that there would soon be a way to add a link to your LinkedIn page from the SolidWorks Certification site.  This means once someone has found you through the SolidWorks certification directory they can now contact you.  This functionality has not yet been implemented but when it is we’ll post an update.

Good luck and let us know how you do!

-Gabe-

Upgrading EPDM (part four)

  
  
  
  
  

Welcome back.  Now that you've gathered all the information and download, you're ready for the upgrade. 

One of the (many) advantages EPDM has over Workgroup is the client version of SolidWorks doesn’t have to match the major version of EPDM.  So it’s easy to upgrade and test right away from the SolidWorks clients.  So we can just focus on upgrading EPDM.

1>  Download or dvd.

Keep the download handy.  It is needed for all phases of the upgrade, including the clients. 

2>  License file

EPDM uses a license file that needs to be downloaded – like the good ol’ days of SNL (if you don’t know what SNL means, then you likely don’t remember the good ol’ days either).  After an upgrade, the first thing you want to do is login to the vault, but instead of congratulations for a job well done, you get an error message:

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The license file is acquired via the Customer Portal – My Support->My Products->Get License.  Have that handy before upgrading … and before backing up (sorry, I couldn’t stop myself from mentioning it again).  You’ll also need to know the name of the machine hosting the SQL service and the SA password for SQL.

3>  Installation Guide

Have the Installation Guide handy.  After unpacking the download (or loading the dvd), the guide is found at C:\yourfoldername\Support\Guides – pick your native language.  I’m not sure why, but rather than “E”nglish, the English version is under “GB”.  Don’t get me wrong, I know what “GB” represents, but I’m pretty sure no one in the world speaks “GB”.  Anyway, the upgrade discussion starts on page 93 in the 2013 guide.  Next, as the bullet list above notes, we upgrade the archives. 

Get Started

If your installation has everything on the same server – archives, database, and SQL, then you can upgrade the archives and the database at the same time.  In either case, the process is straightforward.  The download is a zip file, the dvd will fire up on its own.  Once the EPDM installation gets going, you will be presented with two options on the first screen – “upgrade” and “exit”.  If you don’t, then stop and figure out why you think EPDM is installed on this machine, since it isn’t.

After selecting upgrade, the installation wizard will let you know what it finds:

describe the imageAgain, if this list doesn’t match your expectations, stop and check it out.

Honestly, there’s not much to it after that.  You’ll get a warning that the archive and database are running, but just select the default to automatically stop those services.  I’ve tried it both ways and this is the easiest.  If you get some errors discussing failed dll registrations, take screenshots and contact your Reseller.  But even in those cases, a reboot and “repair” often fixes the problem.  Once the update is complete, login to the admin tool and add-in your new license file.

After upgrading the archive and database, the clients get upgraded.  Here’s the good news – it’s the same process.  You saw the client upgrade in the selection list while updating the database and archives.  You’ll need this same set of downloaded files (or dvd) for each client, so maybe place it on a network location.

Next, the file vaults get updated.  This is a very often missed step in the upgrade.  The Installation Guide discusses it, but the shortcut is to start the upgrade wizard manually from the “Upgrade” folder on the install CD (or download folder) by running Upgrade.exe.  There’s no mystery in the upgrade, but note that a reboot of the SQL server is recommended after upgrading the file vaults.

Finally, update the Task Add-ins and Tasks like Convert and Print and Dispatch.  Again, this often gets missed and unless you use them, you’ll never know.  SWTaskAdd-in and the Convert, Design Checker, and Print tasks are copied to the C:\Program Files\SolidWorks Enterprise PDM\Default Data\ folder.  Open the Convert_GB.cex and drag/drop the Task Add-ins into the Task node.  All of this is covered in the Installation Guide.   If you have custom dispatch scripting, don’t worry, that gets updated, but the dll's need to be replaced with new ones.  However, if you have modified the Tasks, those will have to be updated manually.  Besides, you have a backup if anything goes wrong.

Next, upgrade toolbox.  This process can have a few variations, but keep in mind, this is only necessary if you are alos upgrading SolidWorks.  The basic and most common process is check out the entire toolbox (typically the SolidWorks Data folder), use the corresponding SolidWorks upgrade to update the toolbox, then check the toolbox folder back into the vault.  Is simple, no?

Now, a word about upgrading all of your SolidWorks files that are in the vault - Why?  SolidWorks got rid of the annoying pop-up telling you the files is old.  I agree, it’s nice – I’m OCD, too.  But it's easy to over-estimate the number of files actively accessed.  Consider letting everyone update the files as they are updated.

Finally, I strongly recommend against skipping major versions.  I have experience with a Customer where this has caused a problem.  I understand the concern about upgrading for every service pack, but skipping major versions is asking a lot of SolidWorks developers.  I mean every bug fix needs to look back how far?  Anyway, save yourself some trouble and update every year.

Upgrading EPDM (part three)

  
  
  
  
  

Now that we’ve gotten SQL taken care of, we can focus on the rest of EPDM.

We don’t really get too many support calls for EPDM upgrades issues.  It’s a fairly robust process and there are a fair number of Customers that contract us to do it for them.  Like any other upgrade, there are a few “high runners” – frequent support requests, so I’ll point out the things we get asked most often.  This may help you decide whether this is a “we” or a “you” project.

First, if you’re a frequent reader of this blog or if you’ve ever been in one of my classes/demos/webinars, you’ve heard this before – I cannot over-emphasize backing up and…AND testing those backups.  It’s never more important than when making changes to your company’s data management system and one reason we spent two posts on how to back up SQL (thanks Josiah).

Now, back to upgrading EPDM.

There are just a few steps in the process:

bu resized 600To begin, you’ll need to gather a few things for the trip. 

  1. Download or dvd.
  2. License file
  3. Installation Guide
  4. Name of the machine hosting the SQL service
  5. Windows Admin login/password to the machine hosting the SQL service
  6. Windows Admin login/password to the machine hosting the Archives
  7. SQL Administrator password
  8. EPDM Admin login/password

 Now go get those prerequisites and I’ll see you back here in the blog in a few days.

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