Sunday, August 30, 2009

File Management... it's not just for CAD anymore

When it comes to electronic business file management, taking some time for forethought can go a long way in preventing wasted time in sorting, managing, and finding files later. It might seem like an elementary topic, but for the SolidWorks CAD entrepreneur there is an acute awareness that (1) each client has unique needs and (2) SolidWorks has inherent dynamics for CAD file references. The later often being both a blessing and a curse.

Obviously, a diverse array of file management structures can exist, limited only by imagination. So it really comes down to efficiency. As such, let's look at some basics that promote efficient file structure methods.

It is highly recommended that a unique folder be created specific for each client you are working with. Many professions mange their record keeping in this format, whether with physical folders or electronically. And it makes logical sense. When needed, one would first find the folder pertaining specific to the client, looking deeper for more information, as needed.

Client sub-folders
Now is where some forethought will prove beneficial. There are some common files that will exist for each of your clients. These may include business files such as Contracts and Invoices, as well as informational and reference data provided by the client or those you may glean from the Internet. Ask yourself how you anticipate working with this client, not only currently but into the future as well. After giving consideration, you most likely will be able to use one of two methods:

  • Long-term Basis: If you can foresee working with a client on a long-term basis, then it may be best to start with having a sub-folder specific to business related documents. Then use project folders at this same level for data specific to each project.
  • Project Basis: If you anticipate working only on a project basis, perhaps having a sub-folder identified by the project name would prove to be useful. Subsequent project folders can then be added as you provide further services to the client. Each project folder could then have within it a sub-folder to contain all your business files associated with the corresponding project.
CAD folders
Herein lies probably the largest opportunity to benefit from considering how you will be working with your clients. As noted above, because SolidWorks uses file references, there are some serious aspects to consider. The basic goals should be to have your data easily available, easy to revision and create drawings, all without having to re-create files or losing previous revisions.

A CAD file structure that works well and provides great flexibility is that of three folders, within each project folder. These may be labeled as Archived, Released, and Working.

Because most CAD business owners operate without a PDM system, using the system of naming CAD files with a reference to Revision level is also extremely helpful, if not essential with the folder structure noted above. This file naming convention allows for easy understanding of each part, assembly, and drawing revision level simply by viewing its name.

In summary, it will be to great advantage to plan ahead for the file structure which will be most applicable to the clients you serve, and these can easily be based upon the two basic structures we have discussed, as shown above.