Posts Tagged "Vault"

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

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