How to Manage Common Files in a Multi-User Environment

A consistent start can ensure predictability in any project. Ensuring that company standards are adhered to will provide this consistency.

By ensuring that each CAD station is configured identically, companies can expect that each user will have access to the same document templates, libraries and any custom programs. Project files can also be stored in a central location. In this article, we will look at different strategies to ensure all users are working within a controlled environment.

Designate an Administrator

While it may seem easier to allow users to install and update their systems to the best of their knowledge and inclination, this will inevitably lead to a chaotic assortment of system preferences and file locations. By having one or more designated administrator(s), locations of file templates, working directories, file libraries and automated scripts can be distributed and controlled.

In order to ensure that this is done consistently, a dedicated administrator must take ownership of this process. Initially, the set-up may require a significant commitment of time, but once complete, the required maintenance time is relatively low. When choosing an administrator, familiarity with the organization’s CAD system, as well as with the design workflow, is an asset. Having the support of a company’s IT department can also facilitate the distribution and accessibility of common files.

Set up File Locations to Point to a Network Drive

One of the simplest ways of ensuring consistency is to have common files on a shared network drive. Document templates, component libraries and other company standards can be located on a network drive that all CAD users can access. These network locations can be set to Read Only for all users, except for administrators. Once a network location has been chosen, your CAD software’s options can be configured to point to these locations.

Setting file locations in SOLIDWORKS.

Keep in mind that generally, accessing files across a network will be slower than accessing files from a local drive. The difference in performance will be affected by many factors such as network performance and network traffic. Performance difference will be especially noticeable when accessing larger file sets.

Copy and Distribute Settings

Individually configuring each system can be tedious and will inevitably lead to inconsistency between systems. Capturing settings from a master and distributing these settings to all user computers can help to ensure uniformity and reduce the tedium associated with configuring each system individually. In SOLIDWORKS, for example, the Copy Settings Wizard will allow the administrator to copy system settings from a master system and distribute these settings to all user computers.

Copy settings options in SOLIDWORKS.

Using an Installation Image to Standardize System Settings

While having the ability to copy and distribute system settings can be a powerful tool, having to do this on every system can be time-consuming. Preconfiguring an installation file set that already designates file locations can significantly simplify standardization. Many CAD packages offer the ability to create custom installation file sets. In SOLIDWORKS, an administrator can create an administrative image to standardize file locations.

Creating a SOLIDWORKS Administrative Image.

Distributing an Administrative Image

Once a customized image has been created, the next step is to distribute the image. This can be done in a number of ways. In SOLIDWORKS, administrative images can be distributed through e-mail so that each user can initiate the installation from a centrally located image. In order to run the installation, it may be necessary to set up escalating system permissions for each user. This may not be an option in some organizations.

Alternatively, installation by means of an administrative image may be possible though a Windows Command prompt.

Launching Windows CMD.

To automate this process further, it may also be possible to run the installation through a batch file. Depending on how the batch file is distributed, escalation of user permissions or manually logging into each user computer as a system administrator may be required. Installations can also be distributed through the Windows Active Directory. This way, installations can happen silently, without the need to escalate permissions or manually log in as a system administrator.

Standardizing Using Data Management

Having files located on a network drive may work well in a single-site environment, but having a central location for standard files can present performance challenges in multi-site environments. This can be especially noticeable if sites are situated at great distances from one another. Performance problems can be exacerbated further if local network performance is poor.

A data management system can allow an administrator to define a common location for standard files. Standard files can be cached locally to enable end users to take full advantage of the performance capabilities of their system. Data management systems often allow the synchronization of files between sites. This synchronization can occur at scheduled times, so that files are updated during non-working hours. This means that at worst, users will be accessing files from their local server instead of a server located halfway around the globe.

In this article I presented a number of strategies for sharing common files amongst users. Which methods will suit your organization depends on the size of your company, the resources you have available and the number of sites that need to be synchronized.

About the Author


Joe Medeiros is a senior applications engineer at Javelin Technologies, a SOLIDWORKS reseller servicing customers throughout Canada. Medeiros has been involved with SOLIDWORKS since 1996. He regularly blogs about the product and has won awards for his blogging.

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