The following post is an excerpt from the white paper "Tech-Clarity Insight The Basics of Managing CAD – When Brute Force Fails and PDM is too Much" by Tech-Clarity President. It discusses the pros and cons of managing your CAD files manually as well as using various other techniques like PDM/PLM or cloud-based file management services. You can read the whole white paper here.
Explore the Options – Manual Approaches
Perhaps the most common way to manage CAD files is on a shared drive with a directory structure and file naming conventions. That can work in some situations, but it carries significant risks and limitations. "It was easy when it was just me, but when we added a second person it was difficult to have the same file structure," recalls Andy Homyk, the lead mechanical engineer at medical device company HemoSonics. "It was hard to get updates from his computer onto mine and ensure I had the right revision."
These manual approaches are better than nothing, but in all but the simplest scenarios lead to errors. As complexity and number of engineers increase, unmanaged approaches fall apart. Relying on individuals to consistently follow manual rules eventually leads to problems. This approach frequently results in the errors discussed earlier, specifically overwriting each other's work, using the wrong version of a file, multiple people working on the same file, and lost productivity.
As complexity and number of engineers increase, unmanaged approaches fall apart.
Manual approaches also fall short when sharing designs with others. "Sending a 20 MB CAD file in email is cumbersome, and if it changes you have to do it all over again," says Jake Myre of Hippo Engineering. Opening up access to shared drives requires knowledge of things like selective access, VPN, and firewalls. These are not trivial to set up and maintain and take limited engineering resources away from their work. Companies typically resort to email, portable drives, FTP, and other insecure and unreliable techniques. "The only three letter acronym we used to exchange CAD files was 'USB'," jokes Tim Higgins, a mechanical engineer at HemoSonics.
We didn't ever order a wrong part … but as far as efficiency and keeping people on task it was awful.
Tim Higgins, Mechanical Engineer, HemoSonics
Email and other manual file-sharing techniques are error-prone and time-consuming, and lead to multiple file versions in people's inboxes or on their hard drives. This makes it nearly impossible to have confidence that you know which file is the most recent. "I always had to go back to make sure I had it right version before ordering something for thousands of dollars," describes HemoSonics' Higgins. "We didn't ever order a wrong part, but we were very aware of the possibility and paid a lot of attention to it. We prevented wasting money, but as far as efficiency and keeping people on task it was awful."
Manual approaches are one set of options that design teams need to explore when planning how to manage their files. For more information on managing CAD files, download the full white paper "Tech-Clarity Insight The Basics of Managing CAD – When Brute Force Fails and PDM is too Much.