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Getting through a project in a multi-user environment is one of the greatest challenges an engineering company can face.

There’s this PDM and that PDM, this process and that process, and it quickly turns into a community of gopher-heads popping up to have each other check stuff in ‘real quick’ while schedules dwindle into the pasty thin atmosphere of successful ventures.

Shake off the sad face, there’s hope yet.
Fortunately, SolidWorks has some options that make collaboration much easier. But where do you start? How do you set up a multi-user environment? Here’s how to keep the peeps in their seats and the music bumpin’ for a fully collaborated machine of a team.

Now don’t get offended if this is over simplified. Hopefully it is. Work environments are different, so take the steps and adapt them to your situation.

Set up roles
Ok, first step. Who’s doing what. This can be used for 1 to 27 people. 28 are just too many. Really the numbers don’t matter, but roles will help define tasks and it’s always good to have some checks in place. This can be as complicated as you like, but here’s a simple 3-part approach.

Manager – Schedule tasks, deal with emotional people
Lead – Check data, coordinate the collaboration, hugs
Peons – Design and update, the grunt work, follow commands

This is mostly to capture a process rather than set-up a organizational structure. If you’re a consultant, you may be all these things wrapped up in a single streamlined operation. If you are, even better, these three roles turn into that process to help organize your workflow.

Keep files on central server with read-only Access
This is about as important as you can get. You don’t want something to change accidentally. It’s common sense yeah, but a lot of times, and especially when SolidWorks is first being implemented, people will save models on their hard drive – makes it kinda hard for people to work together with everything on your hard-drive. That’s ok for testing but it’s an even more important reason to have a good implementation plan.

Create a Central Workspace on the Server with Read-Write Access
Pretty Basic. This is the spot everyone works from. Files are moved from the secure area to the work area. The Lead can take on this task to make sure everything stays safe. He would need that super-powered administrative access to move files in and out though.

While I typically do not recommend working off a server, in a team situation this may be more convenient. If you’re concerned about working on large assemblies, I would add an additional step to set-up syncing files to your local drive. If your PDM doesn’t do this, you can use SyncBack to load files faster and make a mirror of your server files on your local drive.

Set-up some simple Task Management
You can do this through Outlook. In the Navigation Pane, there’s a Task Section. The manager can throw tasks out on a whim to the team and watch the progress with updates.

some simple delegation can go a long way. John does this assembly, Jim does that one, Jane works in the main assembly, Jack get the coffee brewin’… you get the idea.

Set Collaboration Options
Ok now the SolidWorks part. You may have seen these options and pondered long drives to somewhere far away. However, these simple check boxes are the magic beans behind the scene.

You’ll want to set these options to take advantage of how SolidWorks can control file permissions for your team and keep everyone working with the most recent data.

  • External References
    Can you see that top one there? Its Open reference documents with read-only access. You definitely want this checked when everyone is working out of the same location on different items.
    swx-external-ref.jpg
  • Collaboration
    This is the collaboration section. It’s down at the bottom in System Options. I have all the boxes checked. The first activates the multi-user options. The second adds a menu item so when you right click a file you’ll see an option to either Make Read-Only or Get Write Access. Say you’re working in an assembly and need to add a notch to a part. Right-click on it in the Feature Manager and select Get Write Access. Now you can make your change, right-click again and set it back to read-only.The last checkbox to check for changes to read-only files is optional, but good to use when there’s lots of changes happening. You can set it to check every minute up to every hour.
    swx-collab.jpg

This can help you gently ease into a collaborative work-environment. Do you think there are other things that help multi-user environments?

Author

Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.