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The big picture that is “structure”

I am often asked the question “How should I structure a project in TopSolid’PDM?”.  And I often answer with something like…that depends.  Why?  To build a good structure for your process, you must first ask yourself a few questions.  Before you can ask the questions however, you also should understand your end goal.  And to understand the end goal, you need to understand the mission of managing data and how it will flow through your organization.

My goal in this blog post is to help you begin to understand your own work flow.  Then take that workflow and turn into some basic structure within the TopSolid 7 platform.

The mission of data management

Why do you want to manage your data?  It’s a very simple question…but wow the impact of the answer can be intense!  Why?  Managing data (or information) should be in the top 5 of items that have the largest impact on your business.  If it is not, then you might be making a critical business mistake.  The reason I say this is because if you do not manage information within your organization correctly, then you can run into problems like:

  • Misinformation being shared (internally or worse externally)
  • Wrong revisions being manufactured
  • Projects not starting on time
  • Projects starting too soon

The list can go on and on.  Managing your data in a way the follows even a basic structure can ensure that some of these business-critical mistakes are lessoned or better eliminated altogether.  Ask yourself this question:

What would it be worth to your organization if you could eliminate or even minimize the number of mistakes made during the flow of your manufacturing process?

I’ll bet that if you really sat down and thought about this question…the answer would shock you.  And hopefully the answer will motivate you to begin down the path of structure.

Now if we circle back to the first question in this section… Why do you want to manage your data?  The simple question after all will have a simple answer.  You want to structure your data so that you can ensure it flows through your organization in a way that follows the most optimal path while ensuring all parties involved always have the most up-to-date information possible.

The end goal of structure

Structure of a viceNow that you understand why it is important to manage data, it’s time to discuss the structure of data.  In thinking structure, you want to think about what you need to manage and what the parent/child relationships of managing that item might look like.

For example, maybe you build vices.  The overall vice will have a part (or item) number for the final assembly of the vice. Each of the components of the vice will in turn have their own part number.  Each component of the vice would be a child to the main assembly of the vice (called a parent).  Yet still some of the items of the vice are standard off-the-shelf items and might have their own part numbering structure as well.

The goal of structure in this case is to help determine how the vice will be not only designed, but also manufactured.  And here again, you have two forks in the road potentially.  Are you designing the vice as well as manufacturing it? Or are you just doing one of the two processes.  See…structured workflow is important to think through.

Fictional company

To give us something to discuss, I am going to outline a need from a fictional company called ABC Manufacturing.  ABC Manufacturing specializes in turn-key manufacturing of work holding such as the vices discussed in the previous section.  In this samples case, we are only going to focus on the structure of manufacturing the vice and will assume the engineering of it will come from one of their customers.

To manufacture each vice, ABC Manufacturing will have to manage the following:

  • Assembly / Part number(s)
  • Customer Design
  • Special fixturing/tooling
  • Manufacturing operations
  • Manufacturing documentation

In the next section we will discuss what a project can be within the TopSolid platform. After that we will discuss how to define a couple of different structures for projects.

What is a TopSolid Project

A TopSolid Project is simply a container of information that is managed in a clean way by TopSolid.  The management of the information includes:

  • Location of data
  • Organization of projects
  • Organization of content within projects
  • Full major/minor revision tracking
  • History of revisions
  • Organization of teams and users (Client/Server version)
  • Work flows (Client/Server version)
  • Security Roles (Client/Server version)
  • Centralized Workspace (Client/Server version)

Now, how do you relate a TopSolid Project that is managed by a PDM back bone to the way you may be working now?  It’s not that difficult.  Most companies have a structure they follow already.  It is just done directly off a shared drive on the company server.  To start understanding how you will structure a TopSolid Project, just look at how you structure a project today on your own server!

In the next section we will discuss two diverse ways to structure a project in TopSolid.

How to define structure for your process

The first thing to determine in managing a project would be to what scale you want to manage the project. For example, in the case of manufacturing a vice, we have an assembly full of parts. In a PDM based Cad/Cam solution like TopSolid, you can structure how you manage a project many ways.  In this section we will review two possible strategies.  But remember, these are only samples. The goal of this article is that you take what you have learned from it and build a structure that works specifically for you.

Project full of projects

The first sample we are going to look at is a Project full of projects. In a PDM based Cad/Cam system like TopSolid, you could manage a project for the assembly and a project for each part being manufactured.  You can even tie the projects together to share information from one project to the other.

Structure of projects made of projectsThe advantage of working in this kind of structure would be that you could spread out the work load easily to multiple people or even multiple business sites.  In the image to the right you see a sample of this type of structure.  There is a main project for the assembly.  Then there is a sub project for each part of the assembly.  And if you notice, there is a specific folder structure for each of them as well.

project structure for managing assembliesIn the image to the left you will see the main assembly project structure.  In this structure the only thing that I am worried about organizing is the main assembly and the documentation (ie. Drawings, BOM’s…) that go with it.

In this type of structure, you will also need to add the reference to the child projects that you want to work with as well.  Just right click on references folder, and choose reference project.  You can control select as many projects as you like in one shot.

Part project structure in TopSolid 7In this next image, you will see a new structure.  This structure allows me to focus my efforts on one of the parts of this assembly.  And again, by structuring our projects this way, we can easily assign portions of the project to individual team members while maintaining perfect synchronization between all files and people involved in the project.

Global Project

The next sample we are going to look at will follow the principle of a Global Project. In a Global project, you will have a single project that contains all relative information for that project.  When developing the structure for this type of project you want to pay close attention to your internal workflow as well.

In the information following, I have completely outlined the entirety of what a Global Project can look like.  The goal of this is to help you to see what kind of information you could put into a global project and help you to define a structured way to organize it.

  1. Global project structureName of PDM Project
    • This could be the overall name of an assembly. It could be a job number or even a part number. It can be any identifier that makes sense as to how you want to control the overall identification of a project
  2. References
    • This area gives you the ability to create relationships with libraries (standard items) or other projects. When something is referenced by a project, the items within that referenced object are useable within the project. Without the reference, use of items from another project or library would be forbidden.
  3. Templates
    • This area allows you to have predefined TopSolid document templates. The use of predefined document templates can massively increase your user’s productivity. For example, a TopSolid’Cam user might have their DMG CTX 1250 Beta with tooling and fixturing predefined.  This way when they start a new program on it, they literally can be programming a new part in seconds.
  4. Favorites
    • Favorites are probably one of the coolest items in a TopSolid project. Favorites are drag-n-droppable shortcuts to anything that you reuse a lot of.  In this picture you can see I have favorite hardware showing.  This makes it supper fast and efficient for me to add a standard screw to my assembly for example.
  5. Recycle bin
    • The recycle bin for a project acts just like it does in Windows…with one exception. It is local to that specific project!  This means if you delete anything in your project, it will show up here.  To empty the recycle bin, just right-mouse-click on it (just like windows).  To restore something from the recycle bin, just right-mouse-click on that item and choose to restore!
  6. Documentation Folder
    • First, this is a folder just like any folder you have worked with inside of windows File Explorer. You can name it however you like and you can put anything you want into these folders.  In this samples case, I called it Documentation.  In here you can see I have placed some non-TopSolid files such as Word, Excel and PDF.  The PDM can manage any file that Windows knows what to do with.  For example, if I double click on the word file, it will launch Word to allow me to edit the file.  The cool factor here is that these files are also version tracked by TopSolid’PDM. And in client/server mode you can even know who modified it and when!
  7. Parts Folder
    • In this samples case, I will put all the TopSolid Part files for this project within this folder.
  8. Assembly Folder
    • In this samples case, I will put all the TopSolid Assembly files for this project within this folder.

Also, if you notice, I have put a number in front of my folders starting at zero.  The reason I did this is that I can then control the order of the folders.  This is due to how Windows organizes information, which is alpha-numerically.  Again, not a requirement, but it is a simple trick that can allow you to structure things precisely how you want too.

The big picture

When working towards a structured practice within your organization, ask yourself two things.  Is what you are making repeatable project by project?  And more importantly is what you are making really needed?  The last one is likely the most important one.  One of the common mistakes companies make when moving to a structured platform is they try in one shot to put too much structure in place.  My recommendation to all here is start by outlining your structure on a dry erase board with your team.  Then leave it up there for a week and discuss it once per day.  Try your best to simplify as much as you can.  Then go live with what you have and test it for 6 months.  This process will be ongoing until it isn’t.  Don’t be discouraged during this time.  Like all great tasks in your career, doing this will take time and it should!

Interested in more TopSolid PDM know-how? Check out our other PDM posts and videos.

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