Category "Autodesk"

PDF Publishing

‘Nuff said.

*and there was much rejoicing*

Well, maybe I could add a little more detail. It has long been known that the PDF is the currency of visual data exchange. All too often, I work with users and organizations that have to print PDFs outside of Vault, creating an uncontrolled document. If you were using the item master (discussed by my colleague here), you could attach it to the item; however, keeping it up to date is still going to be a manual process.

Now, thanks to the #1 most requested feature being implemented, that will no longer be an issue. Vault will now publish PDFs as part of your release process (as part of a transition action in a lifecycle change). This file will be categorized differently than the native CAD file, or even the DWF visualization file. The new category is called “Design Representation,” which can then be assigned its own set of rules, properties, and lifecycles.

As of this release, we have the ability to publish 2D file formats: DWG and IDW; that means either AutoCAD based files or Inventor drawings can be published to PDF. At some point, Autodesk may need to add the 3D PDF generation that was added to Inventor recently – which, by the by, could be used to publish all of the new Model Based Definition (MBD) annotations Inventor 2018 has added. I suspect we could see 3D publishing in the next release, or even a mid-year “R2” release (if there is an “R2;” who knows at this point).

Questions, comments, and celebrations welcome.

When working with our customers, from time to time, we’ll get questions on why they see unexpected results in some of their searches. This typically happens when they search without wildcards (I’ll explain later). In this blog post, I hope to shed some light on what can be a confusing experience for some Vault users.

The search engine in Vault operates on a on a general computer science principle called general Tokenization. This process essentially chops up the indexed properties into chunks called tokens. When a user searches in Vault (either quick search or advanced find), the search engine will attempt to match the tokens in the search string to the tokens in the appropriate properties.  Before going further, I’ll explain how Vault does the slicing and dicing.

First, there are three categories of characters (for our purposes, at least); alpha [a-z, A-Z], numeric [0-9], and special [#^$, blank space, etc.].  Vault will parse the string and sniff out groups of characters belonging to a category.  For instance, ABC123$@# would be tokenized into 3 individual tokens:

  • ABC
  • 123
  • $@#

Again, what happened is that Vault saw the first character, A, and understood it to be an alpha character. Vault then asked “Is the next character an alpha, too?” to which the answer was yes, so the token became AB. C was then added to the initial token, as it too was an alpha character.  However, the answer was “No”, when it came to the character 1.  Vault finished its first token and began the next one, now that it sensed a different category of character. Vault continued this line of questioning with the subsequent characters.

Another example might be a file name like SS Bearing Plate-6×6.ipt. Here, we have 8 tokens:

  • SS
  • Bearing
  • Plate
  • 6
  • x
  • 6
  • ipt

Now, you may have caught the missing period. Vault will only tokenize six special characters – all others are ignored. These special special characters (sorry, had to do it) are:

  • $ (dollar sign)
  • – (dash)
  • _ (underscore)
  • @ (at symbol)
  • + (plus)
  • # (octothorpe, aka number sign)

So now where do the unexpected results come in? This usually happens when an incomplete token is used without wild cards. For example, a user wants to find a specific mounting bracket. This user then types in “mount,” expecting that to be enough. In our hypothetical Vault environment, the results would return “Fan mount.ipt” but not “Mounting bracket.ipt” like they intended. Why? Remember that Vault is trying to match exact tokens (again, without wild cards).

If the user had entered mount*, the results would return the expected “Mounting bracket.ipt” as the user intended.

Moral of the story?  Always use wild cards…always.  No, really, all the time.  For everything.

One of the first things I typically discuss with customers concerning file management is the relationship between files in their engineering data.  This is especially the case when working with data from 3D CAD systems like Autodesk Inventor. When you have Assemblies, parts, drawings, and presentations all with linked file relationships, it can be extremely challenging to manage this data without a tool that understands and maintains all the file links.  Simply renaming a single file can cause all sorts of problems if done in Windows Explorer.  Here are some of the areas where file relationships matter.

  1. Part, Assy, Drawing – As previously mentioned, 3D CAD data can be a challenge to manage.  Simply understanding where a file is used (or linked) can be tremendously helpful.
    vault-where-used

    “Where Used” within Autodesk Vault

  2. Copy Design – There is a “copy design” tool in Autodesk Vault that can make it much easier to reuse existing designs in the creation of variants based on the original.  This also reduces the amount of duplicate data in Vault because so much more is reused rather than recreated.
  3. Renaming – In many workflows, files are initially created using descriptive filenames.  These files then need to be renamed once a design is approved and will go into production.  With Inventor data, renaming files in Windows Explorer will break the links between parts, assemblies, and drawings. The files then have to be manually relinked, which can become extremely troublesome if a file was used by more than one assembly without knowing it.  When someone opened up the other assembly, the file would be missing and very difficult to locate.  Vault simply fixes all the file references whenever a file is renamed so this isn’t a problem.
  4. Moving – Files that are moved in Windows Explorer can cause the same problems as renaming, but usually because of the way Inventor uses project files. Using Autodesk Vault with a single Vault type project file eliminates many of the challenges in moving files to more relevant or common locations.
  5. Attachments – Attachments in Vault can also be tracked.  One example might be a design specification document that might apply to a whole class of components.  The design spec can be attached to the relevant designs.  If the design spec document changes, you can simply do a “where used” from it to see which files will be impacted by the specification change.

Autodesk Vault uses the concept of a “Local Workspace” whenever files are opened or checked out.  Essentially, whenever a Vault file is accessed, a copy is cached in the workspace on the user’s local workstation.  From a user perspective, the workspace can be ignored for much regular work.  There are several benefits of a local workspace.

  1. get-to-workspacePerformance improvement over network share – One of the problems without a PDM system is that files are opened directly across the network.  Files being accessed and edited are located on a network share, and stay there while being worked on.  In environments with multiple users working with large datasets, this can become a disaster.  When files are checked out from Vault, they are cached locally and the workstation’s drives are able to respond to changes more quickly than a network server.
  2. Offline workflows – The local workspace also allows users to retrieve data to work on while disconnected from their corporate network.  The local workspace actually acts much like a briefcase:  The user simply checks out files, disconnects from the network and works on them, and checks them back in when they return to the network and are logged back into Vault.
  3. Better distributed workforce management – For companies with distributed workforces, the local workspace can also be a big benefit.  Combining the performance and offline workflows really makes workflows possible with a distributed workforce.  All that is required is a remote VPN connection, and then files can be checked in and out of Vault.  The VPN doesn’t have to be permanently connected.  When disconnected, it will really be just like an offline workflow.  Since files that are checked out from Vault reside locally, the distributed users still have good performance while editing and saving their work.

 

item-documentationLet’s review the role of the Item Master in managing components and all of the relevant documentation in Autodesk Vault.  There are three main uses for the Item Master in Vault:

  1. Container for all relevant documentation – Items as a concept in Vault are really nothing more than a container for all the relevant documentation related to a component. This could be a PDF file, AutoCAD drawing, or Inventor part and drawing.  This is most commonly done by promoting a document to an Item, where it is assigned an item number.  If an Inventor part or assembly is promoted, the associated drawing is also captured, and this begins the process of capturing all the relevant documentation.
  2. Mechanism for release management – Like individual files, Items also have their own workflows and release process. So rather than trying to manage the release of each individual file, the entire package of relevant documentation can be released from the item level instead.
  3. item-bomCommon BOM format for communication to other business systems – Items also allow the management of a Bill of Materials (BOM). A BOM can be built from scratch from multiple items; however, this is more commonly automated from Autodesk Inventor file relationships.  An Inventor top-level assembly will automatically generate the beginning of a BOM in the Item Master.  This BOM can then be edited to add extra items or change quantities if desired. This BOM can also be exported to a neutral format for communication to other business systems such as ERP or MRP.

Autodesk Vault offers a basic environment for change management that is more flexible and useful for more situations than people realize. The change management interface in Vault appears at first glance to only include a single rigid workflow for change, but upon further investigation you will find that it can be used more broadly.  Let’s take a look:

  1. ECR, ECO, ECN – The Vault change management environment is called “Change Order List,” but that is really misleading.  Different templates can be created for many purposes and these could include Change Request (ECR), Change Order (ECO), and Change Notice (ECN) to name just a few examples.  If using more that one type in your environment, it is common to use prefixes of ECR, ECO, etc. for each template type.
  2. Release management – The change environment can be used as a formal release mechanism as well.  This might be helpful if you want multiple people to review and approve work before it is initially released.  This gives you a location to capture everyone’s comments and thoughts related to the initial release.  A template with a REL prefix is often used for this.
  3. Simple changes – The flowchart for the change environment makes it look like it must be relatively complex, but there are options to shortcut many of the steps for those with the appropriate authority.  The “submit and force approval” and “fast track approval” make it much quicker to transact and capture simple changes.
  4. Complex changes – More complex changes will often use all the steps in the default workflow, and may even go through multiple iterative loops.  This can be done by simply rejecting the approval and re-opening the change.
  5. Simple or complex with the same basic workflow – There is only one formal workflow with the various options built in.  This can be used in many scenarios, and often with different people involved (based on the change template used).  Each change template can have a different routing.  The routing determines which people are responsible for each step in the workflow.
  6. Role of the change administrator – The change administrator is responsible for determining what happens when changes are in the “Open” state. This means someone else could create a change, but the change admin acts as the gatekeeper and determines if the change is really going to be made by submitting it to have work actually done. This means change requests, change orders, approvals, and notification can really all happen as part of the same workflow if you want to keep things simple.

change-order-status

Autodesk Vault offers several methods and workflows for finding files, understanding your data, and organizing your work.  Let’s take a look at each.

  1. Basic search – This search essentially searches the file name and all the properties where the “Basic Search” option is turned on in the properties administration area.  This can be a very broad search if you use a lot of different properties in Vault.  Many people will use this to see if they can start getting some relevant results, and then will use one of the other more advanced search types if the basic search returns too many results.basic-search
  2. Criteria search – This is my preferred search for narrowing down a set of results to just what I am looking for.  The criteria search lets you start with a basic search, but then lets you refine the results by entering values for specific properties.  As an example, you could search for a document created by a specific user, within the last 6 months, for a specific project, and with the word “collet” in one of the other properties.  This should result in a very targeted result, and works well when you remember that you created something a while back, but just can’t remember the file name or where it was saved.criteria-search
  3. Advanced search – The advanced search is even more structured than the criteria search.  It allows for the same level of refinement for results, but is in a more rigid interface in its own window. There are separate tabs for the basic search, advanced search and options.  Unfortunately, the basic and advanced options can’t be combined into a single search like with the criteria search.  The big advantage of the advanced search is in the ability to save a “search folder,” which I’ll explain next.advanced-find
  4. Search folders – Search folders are saved from the advanced search interface, and allow you to reuse search criteria in a very fast and easy to use manner.  When a search is saved as a folder, it shows up in the folder list on the left of the Vault client interface. You can simply pick on one of these search folders to display an updated list of all that search’s results. I commonly use this to display all the files I still have checked out to me.  As a manager, this is also a good folder to make sure other users are consistently remembering to check in their files as well.search-folders

When considering an upgrade to a network deployment of software, there are a lot of steps involved.  Without a proper plan, significant disruption of engineering systems can occur.  Let’s take a look at a plan for upgrading an Autodesk network deployment of software.

Autodesk licenses (for those with an active contract) allow the use of the current version as well as the three previous versions.  The three version consideration for FlexLM actually involves the license files themselves and not the version of the license manager.  Here is some clarification:

  • When Autodesk issues a license file to a customer on subscription / maintenance, it will be for the current version (2017) and the three previous versions (2014-2016).  So when you request a NEW license file, you will be able to run any combination of 2014 to 2017 software with that NEW license file.
  • Old versions of the Autodesk Network License Manager often can’t read new license files.
  • New versions of the Autodesk Network License manager (FlexLM) can still read old license files.  This means that you can still use an existing license file (for your 2013-2014 software) while you are upgrading to newer software editions.  This is permitted for up to 30 days during a software transition.

Here are a set of steps that can be used to upgrade an Autodesk networked software environment (example for 2013 to 2017):

  1. Upgrade your license manager to one compatible with 2017 software while continuing to use your existing license file.
  2. Create software deployments for the 2017 versions and prepare to roll them out on workstations.
  3. Obtain and test (status enquiry) a new 2017 license file for use in the upgraded license manager (LMTOOLS to configure and verify).  For the time being, this license file will be a merged version of the previous license file and the new one.  This is done by simply copying the contents of the newly obtained license file into the existing one.  This will allow users to continue utilizing their existing version of 2013 software while the newer 2017 is deployed and tested.
  4. Roll out and test 2017 deployments on user’s workstations.  This can be done while leaving existing 2013 software on their workstations for production use during the transition.
  5. After testing of 2017 software is complete and rolled out to all users workstations, the old license file content (for 2013) will need to be removed from the merged and combined license file.  Once the old content is removed from the license file (keep a copy for reference), do a Stop, Start, Re-Read in LMTOOLS for the changes to take effect.  This step is critical to comply with the license agreement, and is a common oversight that gets companies in trouble in the case of a software audit (if they fail to disable the old software).  I would do this within 30 days of obtaining a 2017 license file to be safe.
  6. After you are sure there are no serious problems with 2017 on users workstations, the 2013 edition can be uninstalled.

Hopefully this adds some clarity to an often confusing process.

Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing a variety of promotions and specials for the month of December. Check out these offers from Autodesk and Tata Technologies, which expire December 30th.  It truly is the best time of year to purchase software for all of your manufacturing and design needs!

Autodesk Promotions:Autodesk and Training End of Year Specials

  • Lock in your price and save on multi-year subscriptions. You can save up to 10% on 3-year subscriptions of most Autodesk products, including AutoCAD Mechanical, Product Design Collection, Inventor Professional, and more.
  • For a limited time, get AutoCAD Mechanical for the same price as AutoCAD.  AutoCAD Mechanical includes all the functionality of AutoCAD, plus libraries of standard-based parts and tools to help accelerate your mechanical design process. This offer starts as low as $1400/year.
  • If your subscription contract renewed or is due for renewal between November 1st and April 2017, you are eligible to add new subscriptions to Vault Professional and receive a 40% discount.  In addition, you can add new subscriptions to Product Design Collection and receive a 15% discount.

Terms and conditions apply. Please contact us here or email us at autodesk@tatatechnologies.com to inquire about an offer.

Tata Technologies Specials:

Training and i GET IT promotions

 

  • Get a free Kindle Fire HD Tablet or a 3D Connexion Space Navigator mouse when you attend the Inventor Essentials class.  Click here for more details and to have a sales representative contact you.
  • Our self-paced online learning platform, i GET IT, is now more affordable than ever.  Get 30% off annual subscriptions and learn the latest features and enhancements of Autodesk software and more. Explore what package is right for you and purchase your subscription right online.  Make sure you use the coupon code CYBER2016 – valid through Dec. 31st.
  • Buy Now, Pay Later! Take delivery of your software, and let it generate revenue before making any payments.  We’ve partnered with Complete Capital Services to offer clients 12 – 60 month terms on financing products as well as training, maintenance, and implementation services. Don’t forget that IRS Section 179 tax savings can also help.  Let us know you’re interested here.

Inventor 2017 R2 has introduced some useful new ballooning functionality in addition to some techniques you may not have been previously aware of.  Balloon sorting has been introduced this release, and works very well in cases where multiple balloons have been attached into one grouping.  Let’s take a look at the steps to accomplish this:

balloons1

1. Typically, balloons might look like this to start.

 

balloons2

2.Right click the balloon you want the others attached to and select one of the “attach” options.

 

balloons3

3. Pick the other items you want attached.

 

balloons4

4. Right click the balloon group and select “Sort Balloons”.

 

balloons5

5. The result should look something like this after deleting the previous balloons.

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