Drawing Communication


Flatter Files is an application that is focused on improving drawing communication within your organization and with third parties outside your organization.  Historically, the design team handles the drawings and is also responsible for making sure everyone has the correct drawings.  This can be very difficult when drawings are changed or when many drawings are needed to complete a project.  You may have a large bill of materials that contain the part numbers and you must make sure you have the correct drawing for each of the part numbers. Once multiple revisions are introduced, this can become quite a headache to keep organized.

Flatter Files does two specific things to greatly improve drawing communication between the design team and others involved in the project.  First, all drawings and subsequent revisions are automatically uploaded to a central hub that can be accessed.  This requires no additional work by the design team and yet results in full viewing access by simply logging into Flatter Files.  The drawings found are ensured to always be the latest approved revision and if someone views a drawing that is currently being modified they will be notified.  The second thing Flatter Files does to improve drawing communication is it groups your individual drawings into assemblies.  An assembly provides a single view that contains a collection of drawings that are needed to complete a task.  The assembly remains up to date as the drawings are revised.  This eliminates the need to search for all of the related drawings and make sure that you have the latest version.  Instead, just locate the assembly.

These two specific features will greatly reduce the amount of time required by the design team to keep the drawings current and will give everyone in your organization access to the most current information without having to ask for it.

Assemblies

Assemblies are vital to the simplification of managing the distribution of your drawings.  Rarely does a single drawing provide all of the information necessary to convey the intended design.  Therefore, to communicate your design and corresponding changes you must ensure everyone has all of the drawings needed and then also ensure the latest version of each drawing is being used.  Assemblies greatly simplify this process by creating a hierarchy collection of the individual drawings needed that are always using the latest drawing revision.

There are two types of assemblies.   The first type is a Manual Assembly.  This is where you drag and drop individual drawings as necessary to create the hierarchy desired.  The second type is an Uploaded Assembly.  This is an automatically generated assembly that uses the assembly structure contained within the solid model.  Uploaded Assemblies are extremely powerful because they don't require manual creation and the hierarchy stays up to date with the hierarchy of the model.  Uploaded Assemblies will only work with solid modeling CAD packages such as Inventor, Solid Works, and other similar packages that contain the necessary model information.

The image below shows the application once logged in.  The bottom left hand side is the assembly navigation.  This allows you to view each assembly individually.  Manual Assemblies are noted by the icon on the far right side of the assembly navigation view.


As you can see in the image, the assemblies are sorted into two folders.  Folders allow you to organize your assemblies.  Folders can be added, removed, and renamed as necessary.

By clicking on one of the assemblies, all of the items in that assembly will be displayed along with the current assembly view.   You can also navigate to a specific drawing within the assembly by simply selecting the drawing in the hierarchy.  This along with a zoomed out view of the assembly is shown in the image below.


Assemblies can be shared externally in the same manner as a drawing.  This allows you to send a vendor or external partner a single link with all of the drawings that they will need for the particular item.  This link will always contain the latest version of each drawing.  This is a much easier way to share groups of drawings.

Assemblies can also be copied.  For Manual Assemblies this can simplify the creation process.  Many times you will want two assemblies for the same item but exclude a few items as necessary.  Simply copy the assembly and paste it into a folder (copy and paste can be found in the right click menu).  Then delete or add additional items as necessary.  Uploaded Assemblies can also be duplicated but the hierarchy will remain in sync and can't be changed.  Even though the hierarchy will remain the same you can hide items within an Uploaded assembly such that the resulting view will not show that particular item.  Thus, two Uploaded Assemblies can exist that are identical and remain up to date with changes to the model hierarchy.  You can then hide certain items within the assembly hierarchy such that viewers only see the items you want them to see.  The image below shows two Uploaded Assemblies that are identical.  The assembly hierarchy on the left displays all of the items.  The one on the right has multiple hidden items, which are displayed with gray text.


Assemblies are a very powerful tool within Flatter Files.  Once they are setup, changes can occur to the underlying drawings and the assembly will automatically be updated.  No more worrying about everyone having all of the drawings they need or making sure the have the latest version.  Just set up your assemblies and your done.


Workflow

This post is going to describe the typical workflow for the CAD Technician when using Flatter Files.  An initial design goal when developing the application was to reduce significantly the amount of time that is spent by the CAD Technician communicating the drawings to everyone in your organization.  Therefore, minimizing the extra steps needed to keep the web application up to date was critical.  The desktop application provides all of the heavy lifting such that very little additional work is required.

Any time a drawing is being editing it is important to communicate this to everyone that might view the drawing.  Therefore, the drawing is simply checked out.  This doesn't remove the current drawing and only effects the drawing by notifying anyone that views the drawing that it is currently checked out.  As you can see in the screenshot below, when the user selects the drawing that is checked out a message appears indicating that the drawing is checked out.


Drawings can be checked out from within the web application.  In addition, the uploader application automatically checks out the drawing whenever the drawing file is modified.  Therefore, the CAD Technician is NOT required to do anything.  As soon as they open a drawing and save it the drawing is automatically checked out.  This prevents any interruption to the normal work flow.

Once the CAD Technician is finished editing the drawing they must check the drawing back in.  From within the web application, they simply select the drawing and click check in.  When checking in the drawing they must select a reviewer.  This simple check in process is the only additional work required by the CAD Technician and it only occurs when the editing of the drawing is ready for review.  There is no need to upload a drawing since the uploader desktop application has already automatically done that.  The check in dialog can be seen in the screenshot below.


The drawing is still checked out at this point since the drawing must be reviewed first.  But the CAD Technician is finished.  A notification is immediately sent to the reviewers dashboard along with an email alerting the reviewer that the drawing needs to be reviewed.  The reviewer simply logs into the application and navigates to their dashboard.  The unread notification is present at the top of their notification list as seen in the screenshot below.

From the notification, the reviewer can view the proposed revision, accept, reject or simply post a reply.  If they post a reply this message will show up on the dashboard of the person that submitted the revision for review. Once the revision meets the criteria of the reviewer then they simply accept the drawing.  This simple process of accepting the drawing automatically marks the notification as complete, checks the drawing back in, and makes the new revision available to anyone viewing the drawing.   

Thats it.  That's the entire work flow.  Open a drawing and start editing.  When finished editing check the drawing in and select a reviewer.  The reviewer accepts the revision and now everyone viewing the drawing sees the latest version along with all previous revisions.


Video Demo


The first video demo has just been added to www.flatterfiles.com and is embedded below.  This screen cast quickly describes a few of the key features of Flatter Files.  The items include:  search by drawing property, external sharing, revision creation, highlighted changes, check in/out, automatic uploading, and the revision review process.  More detailed videos will be added in the near future.


Hello World...


Welcome to Flatter Files.  A revolutionary new way to manage drawings.  Flatter Files is a web application that will provide access to your drawings anywhere you have internet access.  It will allow you to effectively manage revisions, share drawings externally with password protection, and group individual drawings into assemblies along with many other features.
This is just a start.  A video demo will be posted in the near future and detail explanations of the features will be described in many subsequent posts.  In the meantime, please sign up for the private beta on www.flatterfiles.com

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