Recent Updates

Flatter Files is continuously being developed to add new capabilities, improve user experiences, and fix issues. Below is a summary of some of the new capabilities and improvements from the past few months that have been added to Flatter Files.

Alternate PDFs

Support has been added for creating an alternate PDF when processing SOLIDWORKS drawings. An alternate PDF is created and uploaded alongside the primary PDF of the drawing but has different content that is controlled via drawing layers. As shown in the image below, you specify specific layers in the Uploader that you want hidden or shown for the primary PDF. Then by checking a single box the opposite can be uploaded as the Alternate PDF.

Alternate PDF Configuration

The result is that when viewing the item on Flatter Files the primary PDF is shown but with a single click the user can view this alternate PDF. For example, consider the scenario where you have a layer called Balloons and this layer contains inspection callouts. Flatter Files can now upload the PDF where it ensures the Balloons layer is hidden and then upload an Alternate PDF with the Balloons layer shown. You might then name the Alternate PDF something like “Inspection” to designate it as the view for when conducting the inspection. The resulting option in the view right click menu is shown below.

View Alternate PDF

The name of the Alternate PDF can easily be changed to any value by going to Dashboard > Settings > Company > Misc Settings. The setting is shown in the image below.

Alternate PDF Name

The idea for adding support for Alternate PDFs came directly from a customer. We are very interested to see how other customers will use this new capability.


Stamp Property onto PDF

Flatter Files now supports stamping any property data onto the PDF when the Uploader creates and uploads the PDF. This allows you to stamp content that is dynamic such as the current PDM state of the item or other property data that isn’t shown on your drawing. The settings in the Uploader are located within the File Type Options page as shown below.

Property Stamp Configuration

As shown in the screen on the far right of the image above there are two key settings. Static text and Property. If you want to stamp a single property then you can optionally enter additional text in the static text field and then select the property. For example if you wanted to stamp the filename you could enter “Filename: “ for the static text field and then select the filename property. If the filename for the item is 123456.slddrw, the result of the stamp would consist of the following:

Filename: 123456.slddrw

If you need to stamp multiple property values then you can use the method that is shown in the static text field in the image above. Basically you can stamp as many property values as needed by surrounding the property name with brackets. Assuming the item was in the Released state, the value for the text entered in the image would produce:

Filename: 123456.slddrw State: Released


Android App is now in Amazon App Store

We have published our Android Application to the Amazon App Store such that you can install and use it on your Kindle Fire tablet devices. The application can be found by searching for Flatter Files in the app store or by using this link. Please let us know if you find any questions or find any issues when using the application on your Kindle Fire tablets.


Specify Library based on Model

When uploading drawings from SOLIDWORKS or Inventor you can now specify the Library that the items should be placed in based on the model type. This allows you to have a Library that contains all of your Part Drawings and a different Library that contains all of your Assembly Drawings. To do this click the Config button next to where you select the Upload Library in your folder configuration as shown in the image below. Then enter two library specifications where the property is equal to Model Extension and you select a different library for the different extensions. The configuration is shown below for specifying that SOLIDWORKS parts should be placed in the Parts Library and the SOLIDWORKS assemblies should be placed in the Assemblies Library.

Library based on model configuration

Keep in mind that for the above configuration to be possible, you must first create the two Libraries on Flatter Files by right clicking “Libraries” in the web application and selecting “Add Library.”


New Export Type

Support for three new export types have been added for SOLIDWORKS files. The three new types are SOLIDWORKS Pack and Go Model, 3D PDF, and 3D DWG. SOLIDWORKS does not support direct export to 3D DWG. Thus, you must have DraftSight Pro installed to generate this export. The Uploader will actually first convert the SOLIDWORKS model to a temporary SAT file, open that in DraftSight, and then export it to 3D DWG using DraftSight.

Export types

All three new export types can be accessed via the Flatter Files applications while viewing the item just like all of the existing export types.


Missing File Check

One of the major benefits of using Flatter Files for distributing your content is that the resulting content that is created (PDF, STEP, etc) remains connected back to the local source file. For SOLIDWORKS content the local source file is typically the SOLIDWORKS drawing and as new revisions of the SOLIDWORKS drawing are created the resulting content is also automatically updated. If for some reason the source file is deleted locally or no longer configured for upload by the Uploader then the Uploader will warn you that the previously uploaded file is missing. You are then given the option to either ignore or delete the item from Flatter Files. The Uploader now includes the ability to run this check on demand. Simply go to the Uploader menu > Process File and click the new “Run Check” button at the bottom as shown in the image below.

Update to process file

If files no longer exist locally or no longer are configured for upload then you will be shown a button to click to view the list of files. You can ignore or delete the files from Flatter Files as needed.


Process File Update

Using the Uploader’s Process File command is very common when debugging issues with a specific file. Sometimes you might need to send Flatter Files support additional information regarding the processing for help. In the past you would need to turn on debug mode, process the files, then turn debug mode off. There is now a new option in the Process File view that allows you to process the file in debug mode. This option will automatically turn debug mode on, process the file and then turn debug mode back off automatically. The new option is shown in the image below.

Update to process file

The Process File file location input field has also been updated. It now supports dragging and dropping a file such that the path is automatically added for the file dropped into the input field.


Install Beta Uploader

Often times, new capabilities and bug fixes are added to a beta version of the Uploader. The beta releases are not a separate installation just a newer version. The Uploader includes a setting that allows you to switch the update frequency to Beta such that you get releases early. It is recommended to always leave the update frequency set to Current but yet at times Flatter Files support may recommend that you install a Beta release to fix an issue or test new functionality. To make this easier we have added a button to simply install the beta version without having to change the update schedule. The button is located by going to the Uploader menu and clicking Settings. The resulting view and button is shown below.

Install Beta Uploader

When you use this method to install the beta version you won’t get future beta updates but you will continue to get the new Uploader updates when the non-beta releases occur. Thus, you can click the button, install the current beta, and yet not have to worry about changing the update frequency.


As you can see, it has been a busy few months adding new features and capabilities to Flatter Files. If you have any questions or enhancement requests, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected].


Query Builder

Advanced queries have always been supported by Flatter Files. In the past, a user had to create and enter the advanced queries manually. This required knowledge of a query language that was often hard to remember. Flatter Files now includes a simple user interface for creating advanced queries. This new user interface makes it such that any user can now easily create advanced queries without having to have any understanding of the query language used by Flatter Files. This makes it much easier to quickly locate the specific item the user is looking for on Flatter Files.

There are two ways to display the new user interface for building a query. The first option is to click the magnifying glass icon in the search box at the top right of the web application. This displays a menu with an option called Query Builder as shown below.

Menu

Click the Query Builder option and the new user interface for building queries will be displayed. The second option to display the query builder is to simply hit Enter while the cursor is in the search box and there is no text in the search box. If there is text entered into the search box then clicking Enter results in execution of that particular query. From now on if there is no text when you click Enter then the new query builder will be displayed. This makes it very fast and easy to get to the query builder. When you first load the web application, the cursor is automatically located in the search box. Thus, once the page loads if you simply click Enter the query builder will immediately be displayed.

The new interface for building queries is shown below. The first option is to define which Libraries you would like to search. By default all Libraries will be searched but you can easily select a specific set of Libraries to search.

Menu

When the Query Builder is initially displayed, a single query component is defined for the Property Name “All.” This will result in all properties being searched for the value entered. If you would like to limit the properties searched, click the drop down menu that contains the “All” option which will display all of the specific properties that can be searched.

Multiple properties can be searched at the same time by clicking the “Add” button. In addition, there is a sort option and the operator option that can either be OR, NOT, or AND. An example is shown below where the Part Number must contain “bd” and the Description must NOT contain “long.” In addition, the results will be sorted in ascending order by the Part Number.

Menu

As you can see, this new query builder allows you to quickly create advanced queries without the need to understand the query language used by Flatter Files. If you have any questions please contact us at [email protected].


Reference Files

Flatter Files now includes the ability to include any file type as a reference file for each item. Once the reference files are uploaded they can easily be viewed or downloaded while viewing the item. Most customers already use Flatter Files to auto generate and upload lots of supporting content such as STEP, Parasolid, DXF, etc but the new reference file option allows you to include any additional existing files. This is great way to include as-built images, quality documentation, program files, or any other pertinent information.

Automatic Upload

Reference files can automatically be uploaded by the Uploader for each item. Configuration is completed from within the main File Type Options page in the Upload Folder Configuration. As shown below, there is a new option to “Upload reference files.” Enable this option and then click the “Configure” button that will appear. This will display the configuration options as shown in the image below on the right. PDM references can be included and/or you can simply include items located in the same folder as the source file. If you include files in the same folder, then you will likely need to limit the included files to reference files that contain the source filename in the reference filename.

Configuration

The last setting to configure for the reference file upload is to simply specify the file types that should be considered a reference file. Thus, if you need to upload text files, excel spreadsheets, and PNG image files as reference files then you would enter:

txt, xls, xlsx, png

Flatter Files does not re-upload the reference files each time a new version of the item is uploaded. However, when a new version of the item is being uploaded it checks each reference file and will re-upload any reference files where the PDM version of the reference file itself has increased. If the reference file isn’t located within PDM then it will be re-uploaded anytime the reference file has been modified locally.

Viewing

Once reference files have been uploaded, they are easily viewed and/or downloaded from within the Flatter Files web application. Simply right click the item, go to View > References. In addition, when viewing an item you can click the button with a down arrow and then go to View > References. This will display the list of references in a window as shown below:

View References

If the file type of the uploaded reference can be viewed from within a browser, then you can view it by simply double clicking on the reference file or by right clicking and selecting View. The full right click menu is shown in the image below:

View References Right Click

As you can see, there are options to view and download the reference file. In addition, if you are an Admin or Creator then there is the option to add notes or delete the reference file.

Manual Upload

When Uploading a reference file automatically using the Uploader, the Uploaded By column shown above will be empty. However, reference files can also be uploaded manually by Admin and Creator accounts. If a user manually adds a reference file then their name will be listed under Uploaded By. Manually uploading a reference file for an item can be accomplished by selecting the item and then clicking Upload at the top of the web application. This will display the Upload dialog. Ensure that the “Replace Files” option is selected at the top right. Click Add Files to browse to the specific reference files you would like to upload and then click Upload.

View References Right Click

It is highly recommended that you primarily use the Uploader for uploading reference files such that the reference file can be synced from a local location and kept up to date automatically if the reference file changes. However, as shown above manual upload is an option if needed.

If you have any questions please contact us at [email protected].


Barcodes

Flatter Files is designed to distribute your content digitally in a controlled and secure manner. Ideally your content will be made accessible digitally all the way to the shop floor and even into the field. Digital access on the shop floor has many advantages and Flatter Files makes this extremely easy via super fast search, immediate preview images, and quick access to the drawing and supporting files. To make digital access even better, we are happy to announce that Flatter Files now supports barcode scanning as an input method for quickly finding the correct item. This makes finding and viewing content digitally so much easier. Simply scan a barcode and you end up with digital access of the correct item. No need to search for a part number or scroll through multiple search results. Barcode scanning is supported directly within the mobile applications for iPhone, iPad, and Android. In addition, a USB barcode scanner attached to a computer can easily be used with the Flatter Files web application.

Mobile Barcode Scanning

The Flatter Files iPhone, iPad and Android applications now include a simple barcode icon on the main page of the application as shown in the image below. Users of the application can simply tap this icon at which point your camera will be turned on and can be pointed at a barcode. Once a barcode is found, a quick search on Flatter Files automatically occurs and if a matching item is found then that item is immediately displayed.

Mobile Applications

USB Barcode Scanning

Using a USB barcode scanner is simple to setup. Once you have a USB barcode scanner it can be used to scan barcodes and enter text into any normal input. For Flatter Files, we have created a dedicated input page that users can use. The page only displays an option to enter an input value or scan a barcode making the process slightly simpler for the user. This dedicated input page can be accessed by simply going to the URL shown below:

https://www.flatterfiles.com/input

Once this page has loaded, the text input is already selected such that you can simply scan the barcode with the USB barcode scanner. This will result in an immediate search for the item. If a matching item is found then that item is immediately displayed.

Web App Input Page

You will notice that the input page shown above includes a property selection option. The default value is set to the PDM ID meaning that the barcode scanned should point to the corresponding PDM ID for the item. This can easily be switched to Part Number or another custom property. To change the default input property go to Dashboard > Settings > Company Settings > Misc Settings as shown in the image below.

Default Input Property

Change the default input property to the custom property that you use for generating the barcodes. Once this property has been changed then that property will always be selected when loading the input page and that property will also be used by the mobile apps when searching for an item that was scanned.

Generating Barcodes

There are many ways to generate barcodes and to incorporate the resulting barcodes into your production workflow. One option is to add barcodes to your production management documentation. Most ERP or similar software systems support barcode generation such that those documents can easily be created and then scanned. In addition, you could generate barcodes and place the barcodes for the corresponding drawing at the various work stations.

Flatter Files can also be used to add a barcode onto your drawing. The idea behind this capability is that it allows you to support both paper and digital methods of content distribution. Imagine your shop prefers to have the drawing printed but at the same time they would like an option to view the 3d model directly on the shop floor. If there is a barcode on the drawing, then the user simply scans this barcode at which point they have access to the same item on Flatter Files. This gives them access to not only the drawing but all of the supporting files that they have been given access to. Thus, if they have access to it then a corresponding 3d model could easily be viewed. This is a great way to augment the standard paper drawing with additional content.

Adding barcodes to all of your drawings and documents uploaded to Flatter Files can be accomplished by simply configuring the new barcode stamp option in the Uploader for the appropriate folder configurations. Go to the Uploader > Edit Configuration > Folder List > Select the folder configuration > Edit > Click the “Select” button next to File Types > File Type Options > The page shown on the left of the image below should now be shown.

Stamp Barcode Options

As shown in the image above, click the “Stamp Options” button, enable the barcode stamp and then click the “Configure” button. This will display the page shown in the image below. Configure the barcode placement as desired and select the appropriate custom property that should be used.

Stamp Barcode Options

This is all that is required to add barcodes to all of your items uploaded to Flatter Files. Obviously, this barcode is only useful if the user already has access to the drawing that they can then scan. As mentioned previously, the most useful place for the barcode would likely be on some type of production documentation or placed directly at the work station.

As you can see, the ability to scan barcodes such that you can easily access the drawing has all kinds of potential to help you improve productivity within your production process. With Flatter Files, barcode scanning can easily be implemented via the mobile applications as well as a standard USB barcode scanner. If you have any questions please contact us at [email protected]. We would be happy to help you evaluate ways to implement barcode scanning within your production facility.


SOLIDWORKS MBD

Flatter Files can now be used to automatically create 3D PDFs and STEP 242 files using SOLIDWORKS MBD. If you have decided to implement a model based workflow for communicating your design data then Flatter Files can now facilitate this workflow. Obviously, distributing your design data via paper is not an option with MBD. Thus, using a centralized system like Flatter Files to organize, simplify, and control access to the resulting design data is essential to your successful implementation. Flatter Files has been used for years to implement both partial paperless and completely paperless workflows in organizations. Thus, it is a mature and proven solution to provide the digital access to viewers required to implement MBD.

The integration of SOLIDWORKS MBD allows for two types of folder configurations:

  1. SOLIDWORKS Drawing (slddrw) files are ignored and a corresponding 3D PDF is created for each model.
  2. Model files are checked for a corresponding SW Drawing and if one isn’t found then a 3D PDF is created for that particular model.

The two configurations can easily be mixed and matched for different folders that are being processed by the Uploader giving you the flexibility needed. Option 1 is ideal for folders where you don’t expect any drawing files and if there are drawing files you don’t want to make those drawings accessible to your viewers. Option 2 is ideal for folders where you need to upload both 2D PDFs for your traditional drawing files and 3D PDFs for models that don’t have a corresponding drawing.

Keep in mind that Flatter Files is still organized around a primary deliverable that remains up to date and connected to the original source file. Up to this point, the primary deliverable has always been a 2D PDF created from a drawing or document file. With SOLIDWORKS MBD integration, the primary deliverable can be a 3D PDF created from an MBD template.

Whether you are uploading 2D PDFs from drawings or 3D PDFs from model files, each item uploaded can contain additional content such as STEP, IGES, DXF and many other file types. SOLIDWORKS MBD now allows the STEP file that is created and uploaded by the Flatter Files Uploader to be a STEP 242 file. STEP 242 files can include the dimensions, tolerances, notes and other design data that is defined within the source model file.

Viewing 3D PDFs

The built in PDF viewers across the Flatter Files applications do not currently support displaying the 3D models within the PDF. Instead we have integrated the Flatter Files web application to use Adobe Reader to display the 3D PDFs. All items that consist of a 3D PDF are marked as being a 3D PDF such that when a user double clicks to view the item the PDF is automatically displayed using Adobe Reader instead of the built in PDF viewer. This requires the installation of the Flatter Files browser extension that is available for Chrome and Firefox. Users will automatically be prompted to install the extension when first attempting to view a 3D PDF.

Even though 3D PDFs have been around for quite some time, the specification is still relatively new. I have tested many PDF viewer applications and so far the only application that I have found that properly displays 3D PDFs is Adobe Reader.

Since the built in PDF Viewer is not used, the buttons to view previous revisions are not available. Thus, we have added an option in the right click menu to allow viewing a specific revision. This option is only available if more than one revision exists and the user has access to the previous revision. The new menu is shown in the image below.

Revision Menu

Configuration

If you are configuring a folder to use option 1 such that all drawing files are ignored then you simply select SW MBD as the file type as shown below and then skip to the SOLDIWORKS MBD Options.

MBD File Type

You will notice that SW MBD and SolidWorks can’t both be selected. Thus, if you are using option 2 to upload only 3D PDFs for files without a corresponding drawing you must first select SolidWorks as the file type. Then proceed to the SolidWorks/Inventor file type options as shown below.

Model Only Enabled

At the bottom of the SolidWorks/Inventor options page there is the option to include items without a corresponding drawing. You can elect to enable just parts, just assemblies or both parts and assemblies. Once enabled, you can click the settings button to display additional settings. The resulting settings page is shown in the image below.

Model Only Options

There are multiple options for the type of upload that should occur for these model only options. The last option in the drop down is to upload a 3D PDF using SOLIDWORKS MBD. The other options are useful for scenarios where you either don’t have MBD or simply want to upload a simpler PDF than the templated MBD 3D PDF. For example, you could upload a 2D PDF of the model using a drawing template.

A key element to only uploading 3D PDFs for items without a drawing is determining which models don’t have a drawing. The simplest and fastest method is to exclude any models that have a corresponding drawing with the same filename. In addition, if you are using SOLIDWORKS PDM then you can also exclude models that have a parent drawing reference. To enable this additional check you must enable the setting to do so. Enabling the setting is required since it does impact the amount of time it takes to process files. Thus, the option should only be enabled if your drawing and model filenames do not match.

SOLIDWORKS MBD Options

Whether you are uploading all models as 3D PDFs or only models that don’t have a corresponding drawing, there are just a couple of MBD specific settings. You can get to these settings either from the model only settings page shown above or by selecting the SOLIDWORKS MBD file type settings option.

The only required setting is that you must select the MBD theme that you would like Flatter Files to use when creating the 3D PDF. A single folder configuration can have a separate part and assembly theme. If you need to use different themes for different projects or products, then you can simply define additional folder configurations with different themes as required. The SOLDIWORKS MBD settings are shown below:

MBD Options

As you can see, you simply define the two themes that you would like the Uploader to use for each folder configuration. If you would like, the part and assembly theme can be the same. The only other MBD specific setting is whether or not you want to attach the STEP 242 file to the actual PDF file such that it is located within the PDF file.

In addition to those MBD specific settings, almost all of the traditional SOLIDWORKS configuration options will still apply to your MBD files. Thus, you will want to make sure that you configure those options as necessary. For example, do you want to include eDrawings exports, a DXF of the sheet metal flat pattern, a Parasolid file, or many other options.


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