Working With SolidWorks Files On A Network – Jim Peltier – CSWE

Often times when you work in a multi-user environment, it seems like a good idea to store your project files on a network drive so that everybody can access them. This allows everybody to see the files, prevents multiple people from editing the files at the same time, but allows them read-only access to the latest and greatest copies of the files. It also cuts down on redundancy. Seems like the perfect idea, right?

I’m afraid it is far from perfect. If you’ve ever had a file open on a USB stick, then unplugged the USB stick, you’ll know that bad things happen when you lose your connection to the file you have open. Even if you plug the USB stick in right away, the damage is done. Networks are no different. Take this typical support question I received the other day:

“I am getting several users who are advising that when they work of solidworks assembly parts from a network shared location, the file size grows exponentially in minutes for no particular reason. It will go from 10 MB to 30 MB when they haven’t made any change. Yet they take the same document save it to their local drive, and the file size does nothing and is stable. The issue that they have is that over network, accessing the file will cause solidworks to crash several times over the course of trying to work on a drawing.

Do you know of what would cause this to occur?”

What is happening here is that the network has a tendency to “cut out” momentarily, for a fraction of a second. This can cause file bloating (as described here), SolidWorks crashing (also as described), and most seriously, file corruption. File corruption can take all kinds of forms from the loss of ability to edit a feature to being completely unable to open a file. In the less extreme cases, utilities exist that can repair minor corruption, or even making a copy of the file can clean it in some cases. Obviously in the more extreme cases (even most of the moderate cases), repairing the corrupt file is not an option and you have to rely on backups.

This is why working with SolidWorks files stored locally is always preferred. A simple way of doing this is to simply copy the files to your local machine and work on the copy, then copy it back when you are done. With this method, you need to be very careful to communicate well with your colleagues as to who is using what files. If you have two engineers working on the same project, it is very easy for them to accidentally overwrite each others’ work. Having used this method in a previous job, I can tell you it ends with a lot of rework time.

A smarter way to do this is to use some sort of document management system. This way, one engineer “checks out” a set of files, making them read-only for everyone else. SolidWorks has prepared for this contingency and has two products for this: Workgroup PDM, which comes with SolidWorks Professional and Premium, and SolidWorks Enterprise PDM (sold separately). Using a system like this allows you to work with files locally (the only ones opened over the network are open read-only, which protects the files from corruption), and even provides an automatic backup of older versions of the files.

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