Document management systems can only provide an effective tool for the busy drawing office if they follow two basic precepts.
They must be complete environments, integrating all document related activity within a total system, and they must be easy to use - encouraging users to comply with the process because it is harder not to.
In fact, this latter statement needs some qualification, as anyone who has ever had to make a rapid search for a particular document among thousands of poorly filed drawings would welcome the barest approach to a storage and retrieval methodology. Let us say, instead, that the system must be able to organise itself around the lackadaisical approach of the laziest designer, ensuring that their efforts are maintained, revised and managed to the same high standards that the rest of us naturally aspire to!
DvTDM, the Total Document Manager developed by Practical Programs, and is available from Kinetic Distribution, can actually be configured to force documents to be stored within the system. Serving primarily as a CAD TDM, DvTDM can be used to store and view files in Autodesk formats, including Autodesk Inventor and MapInfo. It can also be used with Microstation. As a well-established application, DvTDM can handle a wide range of legacy documents, including some old favourites such as CAD Overlay, Calcomp Plot, ECW, FelixCAD - in all, more than 250 different file formats.
DvTDM is not restricted to CAD environments, either, as the methods that it uses and the flexibility of its screen form layouts make it suitable for other document and image management solutions. As part of its image management capabilities, it can handle input from all new digital cameras, enabling users to drag and drop photos straight into the system, enabling users to build up photo or artwork management systems.
Document and image files do not need to be stored in a central database either, as DvTDM can manage them wherever they reside on the network, and can even view images off portable disks. Most documents will be viewed using DvTDM's own viewer. However, as the software integrates with MS Office and Adobe, which have their own viewing tools, these can be used instead - particularly Adobe's Acrobat, which comes with additional features not required in DvTDM.
Whichever application DvTDM is to be used for, the whole layout and the supporting database can be created from scratch. Anyone familiar with form design in MS Access will readily understand how easy that is - it allows users to build up custom templates for recording, storing and accessing documents, images and other information.
Although MS Access is the most readily available database, DvTDM allows users to create other format databases as well - Interbase, SQL and others, with data readily transportable from one to the other. Those not familiar with SQL can create their database in MS Access and then upsize it automatically to SQL.
The databases are used to keep a record of who created the documents, when, who edited them last, and what version is current. Users can also choose whether or not to include document image thumbnails with the document information. More advanced users can invoke macros to refine the database interface further, assisted by a Macro Wizard - useful for simplifying such things as the handling of document check in/out and revision control. The rest of us will find the controls to handle such critical areas within drop-down menus while setting up the databases.
Access to the system
After configuring the database system, the users have to be configured. It is not only the drawing office that needs to use DvTDM - everybody in an organisation should have access to it, from the receptionist to accounts, marketing and management. Each type of user, though, would only need to access parts applicable to themselves, and the program can be used to set up secure access levels and design different input screens for each user.
Gone are the days when documents needed to be added to specific databases, adding reams of information describing who sent them, and what is in them. With DvTDM, documents, including e-mails, are dragged and dropped into the system, the software pre-indexing them, so that subsequent searches can be carried out in seconds.
Allocation to projects and personnel can be set up using rules that look at the file extensions of all documents and send them to the most appropriate recipients - DOCs to admin and DWGs to the CAD office!
The prevalence of Xrefs within drawings is increasing, as designers enhance their productivity by incorporating elements from other drawings. Maintaining links to drawings is, therefore, becoming harder. DvTDM gathers all of these up, and informs the user how many there are, where they are located and whether links to Xrefs have been broken, or not. DvTDM is quite capable of restoring these links, and, when drawings are being imported into the system, will warn users if Xrefs should have accompanied them. If imported Xrefs have a similar name to ones that already exist, the names can be changed.
Attribute links simplify and speed up the importing of AutoCAD drawings into the database. DvTDM checks the main title block data, and if matches are found, auto-populates the database with the rest of the title block information.
DvTDM is very easy to use. The main screen provides six tabs that take the user into each section - Record, List, Search, View, Project and Workflow. The tabs are repeated as icons to the left of the screen. Refer to graphic.
Record provides information about each document based on the custom-built input form - its number and revision status, and boxes that show the creator, revisor and approver of the document and dates - and, of course, the document thumbnail. Check in/out tick boxes are also displayed.
List produces all records, which can be filtered using any criteria. List can also be used to check documents against each other, extracting the differences between each.
Search makes finding documents easier, allowing documents to be sought using any criteria, using pull-down menus for each field.
View allows users to view, zoom, print, redline and check properties within documents. Layers can be turned on or off within drawings. The software can also be used to view and handle 3D objects, enabling them to be rotated, sliced through and rendered.
Project provides an explorer style interface that assembles all project files in one place, and Workflow enables users to track and report on projects, using a graphical representation of work in hand.
DvTDM can either be used within a single network, or expanded to include the Web version. DvTDM links can be set up that can incorporate clients and suppliers within the same workflow. Creating a Web portal can be achieved within a few minutes, synchronised with DvTDM's database.