Importance of CAD files Versions and Revisions: How to handle them?

CAD or Computer Aided Design software is basically 3D design software that is used to create, modify or analyze a digital model on your computer in a convenient and detailed manner. While we have already gone over the basics of CAD software, there are certain important tips and tricks about such software that you might not pick up during these basic lessons. One of such tips and tricks that we are going to cover in this article is the importance of CAD files versions and revisions.

Versions & Revisions: What are they?

Before we start explaining the importance of maintaining versions and revisions during 3D CAD modelling, it is important to understand what exactly are we referring to when we say ‘Versions’ and ‘Revisions’.

Versions

When we talk about Versions in 3D CAD modelling, we are referring to the backup files you may create while you’re working on a project. We are habitual of working on a single interface and continuously overwriting changes to a single file. But versions are said to be used when the new copy of the file is slightly different from the previous one and is saved separately.

The different versions may vary on certain points. These versions can represent different ideas that may occur to an engineer during the designing of a product. It is important to keep the versions separately as one of the ideas might not turn out to be fruitful at a later stage. In such a case, the version of the file based on the failed idea can be simply discarded.

We can take a simple example of some basic component.

Modified Design “Part_V2”

Initial Design “Part”

Further Modification “Part_V3”

As you can see, as the part is progressively modified, different versions are saved with proper file names to ensure that it will be safe to go back to either of these parts in case of any future issue.

This also brings us to point out an important point in versions: You have to ensure proper file names of the versions. This will make the task of restoration of the correct version much easier and convenient.

Revisions

If we talk about the software engineering world, just to get some context, Revisions are used to refer to new major releases or upgrades to software that brings in new features and more functionalities to it.

In the designing or engineering world, Revisions are used to document major changes made to a design. This ensures that any member of the team or any other individual that needs to access the data will have the knowledge of the complete timeline of changes that the design has undergone.

A major difference between Revision and Version is that while Versions refer to the comparatively smaller changes made during the development of the design, Revisions refer to the major changes that are made after the design data has been released. In most cases, Revision allows the design to be interchangeable with its previous versions but there are some cases that interchangeability will not be allowed. In such cases, a new file can be created.

We can take a simple example for Revisions.

Initial Design Data

Revised Design Data

Mentioned Revision Name (Source for all images above: IMAGINiT Technologies)

Naming for Revisions of 3D CAD models can be simply done by giving the name of first revision as ‘A’ or ‘1’ or any other initial character. For further revisions, the character in revision name can be incremented with each revision.

Disadvantages of Ignoring Version & Revision Handling

It is possible that a team, in their initial stages with lesser team members and lenient work ethics may ignore the concepts of handling versions and revisions of their 3D CAD models. In such cases, while the team might save some time by ignoring these processes, there could be major repercussions going forward:

  • Terminates Possibilities to Roll Back to a Safe Version:

As we have already explained above, versions enable you to have separate copies of your 3D CAD models, each of them might be treading in a different direction. Since all of these directions might not possibly work out, it is important to have a safe version that you can go back to in case of any issues. This certain ease of situation enabled by a safe version is completely terminated if a company or a team chooses to ignore version and revision handling.

  • Creates Problems in Partner Communications:

When a product undergoes a major upgrade, it creates a larger feature or application gap between the two revisions of the product. Now, a company might have different partners/stakeholders operating on different levels and either of them might need the design plan of an older revision. While the core engineering team may be aware of all the changes made in a revision, not all stakeholders will be. And because of the unavailability of the certain design data, it can create problems in the partner to partner communications in a team.

  • Weakens Product Development Process:

With all the positive points that are brought in by version and revision handling, neglecting them creates a very weak product development process in comparison to embedding them in the product development process. We can think of how, if a new member joins in during development, he/she can go through different versions of a design and choose the proper idea that he/she can contribute to improving upon. Apart from that, while troubleshooting an issue, we can track down different versions to understand and track where the root of the problem arises from.

How to Handle Versions and Revisions?

We have now understood what exactly are versions and revisions and how they are different from each other and what problems a team could face should they ignore them. Our next step is to explain the proper technical handling of versions and revisions.

Manual Revision Control

This handling method is usually chosen by small teams. It’s the simplest of methods where file-sharing services of shared file servers are being used.

File sharing services like Dropbox are preferred by such teams because of the convenience offered by them. In addition to that, these file-sharing services cost much lesser than the alternatives. Dropbox has automatic support for file versions but it doesn’t naturally come with support for CAD files. Small teams use Dropbox for sharing of the other data such as photos, text files or any other documents they may need to share.

They can also create small file servers to be accessed by the limited number of team members. While file servers may not provide the high level of a user interface provided by file sharing services like Dropbox, they are even cheaper in certain attributes and hence can be preferred.

Pros:-

  • Cost efficient. Cost is much lower than the alternatives.
  • Very simple to use. Consumers provided with a proper and simple user interface.
  • The first choice of teams that are beginning to enter the market.

Cons:-

  • Revisions can only be designated by changing their file names. No other option is available.
  • There is no ability to authorize who can set the revisions. This contributes towards the lack of a certain sense of security.
  • It does not allow the feature of publishing and forwarding a particular revision to partners or any other individual.

Partially-Automated Revision Control

For the growing organizations, it is important to choose those revision control systems which provide a consistent version and revision system. For such organizations, Workbench and other cloud-based Product Data Management (PDM) work best. Such tools enable the higher quality version and revision control but ensure optimal costs and simpler processes.

We can take the example of GrabCAD Workbench. This tool tracks each version that is checked in by a user. It gives permissions to users to restore a previous version. Apart from that, it also enables a user to declare any version of a new revision.

Pros:-

  • For all the features offered, this method is available at a lower cost in comparison to its alternatives.
  • All versions can be archived and restored properly and easily.
  • The ability provides for a user to designate any version as a revision is very helpful.
  • It works on a huge range of devices. It can be authorized to be used by other individuals outside the company.
  • It allows the feature of publishing or forwarding a specific revision to the partners or any other individuals.

Cons:-

  • It lacks in providing a proper feature to help create a complex workflow for the approvals of revisions.
  • Integration with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other systems is limited.

Fully Automated Revision Control

For organizations that deploy a single project to be worked upon by a higher number of engineers, there is a need for fully automated revision control systems. These systems are implanted with the help of traditional Product Development Management (PDM) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software. We can take the example of SolidWorks by Dassault Systems.

This software offers a plethora of features that enable the highest level of controlling and handling versions and revisions. A fully controlled and sophisticated process is prepared in which specific team members have access to the specific versions and revisions that they are assigned to. Another additional feature which overcomes the disadvantage of the previous system is the provision of workflows for routing files to specified people for their approval.

Pros:-

  • Integration of the revision process with ERP and other systems is full-fledged.
  • In some cases, it can specify the users or team members who can decide and set the revisions.
  • Again, in some cases, the process of approval and release of revisions can be controlled in a decisive manner.

Cons:-

  • It is not cost effective. For all the features it offers, there is a large cost associated with such systems.
  • Since it comes with a lot of complexities involved, installation and configuration is complicated and requires time.
  • Support and maintenance of software are necessary for proper functioning.
  • It could become cumbersome in some cases.
  • Again, there are costs involved for file sharing as in general it is available only for paid users.

Conclusion

In this article, we have clarified all the basics and technicalities of version and revisions in 3D design software. It is important to note that all three methods of version and revision control have stark differences between them. It is possible for a team to find themselves hanging between these three types in which case it is important for you to compare the pros and cons. It is suggested that for a start-up company with enough funds looking to escalate, it would be better to choose the Partially Automated Revision Control. While the first option (Manual Revision Control) is very basic and can be chosen by small teams, the last option (Fully Automated Revision Control) is not at all cost effective and can be properly maintained by corporations that have ample of fund inflow.

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