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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

CAD/PDM Software Evaluation: Autodesk Inventor/Vault Professional

 
May 16th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a series of four evaluation articles of CAD/PDM systems for SMBs.

Overview

Autodesk Vault Profession is one of three levels available from the company. Also available are Vault Basic and Vault Workgroup.

Vault Professional is a standalone application providing access to vault data. Integrated add-in clients for CAD and non-CAD applications are used to manage data. When working on files managed by any vault-type system, it is important to note that copies of files that are stored in the vault are checked out. Files are never directly edited in the vault; these files are read-only until they are checked out. In effect, copies of files are checked out of the vault for editing. In a vaulting scheme, a file can be checked out only by one user at a time. Changes made to checked out files are sent back to the server when a file is checked in.

Introduction to Autodesk Vault Professional 2014

Autodesk Vault consists of two components – a server and a client. The server stores master copies of all documents and design data. Storing all data in a common, centralized location allows it to be relatively easily shared and managed. This scheme can also be somewhat vulnerable, but that is largely a function of implementation.

Autodesk Vault is a relatively simple client/server application. Separate software components are installed for the server and client applications.

The Vault server stores data and manages access to those data files. It maintains information about the status of those files and which users have permission to change and update the files. When change s are made to files, a complete version history of all changes is maintained, providing a mechanism for accessing the latest versions, as well as previous versions.

Basic Workflow

The workflow in a vault is different than the workflow of a standard file system. The primary difference is that a vault provides a collaborative environment for sharing information with others on a team.

Like all vaults, Autodesk Vault supports different users being responsible for different portions of a design or project, while still being able to view the entire project to understand the context of what they are working on. Each user has a copy of the entire project in their working folder (with the exception of common or library components) and only checks out the files they need to work on.

Following is a basic workflow sequence:

  1. Create a new Vault project file in Autodesk Inventor.
  2. In Autodesk Inventor, open an existing vault project or create and open the new vault project and login to Autodesk Vault.

Note: To move legacy data into the vault, use Autoloader.

  1. Map the vault project to a vault folder from inside Autodesk Inventor.
  2. Use the Add files command to add files to the vault for the first time. Always add Inventor files from within Inventor to maintain parent-child relationships between the files.
  • The vault server now contains the master files. Although the files were not removed from a local working folder, they are now in a checked-in state. The checked-in state means that the files in the working folder are now read-only, and must be checked out for editing.
  • All users who have access to the vault can now access and check out the files for editing.
  1. When the latest version of a file is added to the vault, the project folder and all subfolders are created automatically below the working folder, replicating the folder hierarchy from the vault on the local computer.
  2. When finished working on a file, check in the file so others can see the changes and edit.

Final Thoughts

Autodesk Vault Professional is relatively low cost and easy to implement, administer, and use. Since it is a basic client/server check-in/check-out vault systems, it is relatively easy to deploy and support, meaning that in most cases a dedicated IT specialist/System Administrator is not required.

Vault may be starting to fall out of favor as an on-premise solution, deferring to Autodesk’s cloud-based PLM 360, and may be receiving fewer support and development resources as cloud-based solutions ramp up.

While Vault seems best suited for relatively simple workflows, especially in the Autodesk ecosystem, Vault is very competitive and compelling PDM solution for that ecosystem.

Report Card

Pros

  • PDM process workflow is well defined and well structured.
  • Relatively easy to set up and administer.
  • Has long legacy with many Autodesk customers, especially AutoCAD.

Cons

  • Limitations of the relatively simple vault structure.
  • Does not seem particularly scalable beyond a certain threshold of users (>50).
  • Probably has finite lifespan as an on-premise solution.

Cost (MSRP): CAD (Autodesk Inventor) — $4,725; PDM (Vault Professional) — $1,775

Overall Grade: B

For More Information: Autodesk Vault

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