This post isn’t about z-heights in AutoCAD, it’s about document management silly :)
No one who has created more than one or two drawings and wants to share them with their team wants to manage them using Microsoft windows. No one. Yet many of us have to.
The problem is one of trust. Without some S__t hot document management standards (and a big stick) nobody trusts the ‘system’, so nobody uses it. How often have you been asked for ‘the very latest set of drawings’ even though you know that the set of drawings on the server are up to date?!
There have been plenty of software solutions created to solve this problem, in this post I’m talking to Chris Vaught about his new web based document management systems – Flatter files (Skip straight to the interview).
Flatter files – What is it?
Flatter Files is a digital Flat File Cabinet for your drawings. It stores your drawings in the cloud such that you can access them on mobile devices as easily as you can on any PC. You simply log in and all of your drawings are available.
The flatter file system consists of two parts. The main programme is kept on the Flatter Files web server, along with copies of your files. The second part is an App that sits on your local drive. The App is used to upload and sync your files with the cloud server. Flatter files also has Apps for your iPad and iPhone for viewing files.
Flatter files tracks versions of your drawings. It also has a simple approval process module, so that drawings aren’t made available to the general team until they’ve been reviewed. Drawings placed on Flatter files can be shared with a link and password to a document. Whenever the viewer looks at the shared document, they will always see the most up to date version. As an added bonus, if the document is being modified, the viewer will be alerted.
Flatter files also has a very neat feature to view and compare past revisions of drawings, to help you see what’s changed from version to version.
Flatter file works with AutoCAD, Inventor and Solidworks. Power point, Word, Visio and PDF’s can also be synced and added to your account.
Note: You must have the relevant software on your machine for the uploader App to work with these file types.
What does the uploader App do?
The uploader App looks at all of the files in your pre-defined upload folders and determines which have changed since the last upload. If the file has changed, it creates a temporary PDF using the appropriate program for that file type and uploads the PDF along with the original file to Flatter Files. It also looks for any property data associated with the file and uploads it as well. If the CAD package is a 3D modeling package (Inventor, SolidWorks) then it also uploads the associated assembly data and appropriate model files.
What does the uploader App not do?
The uploader does not modify your drawings or documents on your computer in any way. This means that if you delete an item from Flatter Files using the web application, the uploader does NOT also delete it from your computer.
The workflow for the Drafter appears to be blissfully simple. To check out a document, all the Drafter has to do is open it – the Flatter files App will automatically ‘ping’ the server to let the viewer know that the document is being modified.
To check the document back in, the drafter will need to open Flatter files in the web browser, and click ‘check in’ (The files themselves will have already been synced by the uploader app). The Drafter must pick someone to review the document. The document won’t be available to view by the team until the files have been reviewed.
All data is SSL encrypted. Flatter files can be set up to use two step authentication. In this case, users have to enter there mobile number. They are then sent a code by text message that an be used to authenticate there account.
At the time of writing Flatter files is in Beta so right now, it’s FREE. Pricing will be pay as you go and based on 2GB of storage, with each extra 1GB of storage costing $1 per month. Viewing, and reviewing accounts are unlimited and free. Email support is included in the price.
Up to 5 Creators $50/month
Up to 10 Creators $80/month
Up to 20 Creators $120/month
Up to 50 Creators $200/month
Who is Chris Vaught?
I grew up in a small town in Arkansas (South Central US). I graduated from the University of Arkansas with a Civil Engineering degree. Upon graduation I went to work for a consulting firm as a blast engineer where we designed structures to resist the effects of explosive loads.
One of our clients was a small manufacturing company that built explosive containment vessels. I went to work for them as the primary design and manufacturing engineer. At this company I ended up managing the creation of all of our drawings in a manufacturing/fabrication type environment. About a year ago I started working for myself to create Flatter Files.
What inspired you to create Flatter files?
The idea originated when I was working for the small manufacturing company. We subcontracted quite a bit of work out and I needed a simple way to send drawings to external vendors.
Many times we would need to send very large assembly drawing packages out and to create a PDF of all of these was a real pain. Especially as the drawings changed which was very common. In addition, revision control and overall drawing organization was a real mess. As usual, most of our problems was exaggerated due to the lack of resources. We were always understaffed and so as I considered a solution I was very focused in creating something that actually saved time.
What kind of person/company do you see using Flatter Files.
Anyone that is creating important drawings and documents will find it very useful especially if the content is evolving such that revisions are important.
A lot of companies worry about hosting their IP (Intellectual property) ‘off site’ – will ‘Flatter Files ever be available as a solution to install on your own server?
There are no plans for that. Flatter Files was built from the ground up to be a highly secure and highly scalable cloud solution.
Flatter Files is built on the Google App Engine (GAE) platform. This is a highly scalable cloud platform that results in all data being replicated across multiple Google datastores. Thus, Flatter Files doesn’t actually own any servers. Everything is handled using the same infrastructure that powers Google’s products Chris maintains that this is much more robust and secure than anything that an individual company could provide.
Is Flatter Files secure from IP Theft?
Absolutely. All data is transferred over a secure connection. The same type of connection that your bank uses. In addition, you can now enable two step authentication which drastically improves the access security.
Does Flatter Files provided any assurances that data stored on the Flatter Files server won’t be re-distributed or used by Flatter files (or their business partners) in any way?
Per our terms of service your IP remains yours entirely and thus we can not nor would we ever consider re-distributing your content.
Flatter files is a ‘Pay as you go’ service – what happens if Flatter files decides to put their prices up – and the user can no longer afford the service?
That is a very unlikely scenario since storage, processing, and bandwidth cost go down over time. That being said, the user would be given an ability to download all of their content. I will also point out that Flatter Files archives your content and automatically creates PDFs but your actual drawing and document files continue to exist locally as you continually use them.
Flatter files has stiff competition from products such as Autodesk’s cloud documents 360. What is Flatter files unique proposition?
The biggest difference is that Flatter Files focuses on publishing and revision control for organizations where as it appears that 360 focuses on collaboration and sharing between individual CAD users. This is a big difference. Basically, Flatter Files focuses on providing the deliverables that will be used and anyone within the organization can easily browse, search, and view these items without needing anything other than a browser. The result is significantly improved communication between the CAD creators and everyone else within an organization that might need to use a drawing.
Flatter Files includes an uploader desktop app that automatically uploads your content and there associated properties to the cloud. This requires minimal effort such that a companies entire drawing and document catalog can easily be uploaded. Where as it appears with 360 you must manually upload each drawing individually. The uploader app also plays a big part in revision control within Flatter Files such that keeping your drawings up to date is much easier.
Another major differentiator is the idea of publishing assemblies. Many projects contain lots of individual drawings. With Flatter Files you can group your drawings into an assembly and then all of the drawings can easily be viewed at once. Basically a new PDF is created that contains all of the drawings needed for the assembly. Anytime one of the drawings within the assembly is updated, the entire assembly automatically is updated.
For Inventor and SolidWorks, the assemblies are automatically generated based on the models assembly hierarchy. This feature is a huge time saver since you can share links to the assemblies or sub assemblies and the resulting link will always contain the latest version of each drawing contained within the assembly.
Flatter Files is also drawing and document independent. Therefore, Flatter Files works with SolidWorks just as well as it does with Inventor and AutoCAD. In addition it works directly with Word and PowerPoint for uploading your important documents such as specifications, procedures, and manuals. As demand warrants, additional support for other CAD programs and document programs will be added.
Do you have any plans to show 3D models via Flatter Files?
This is being implemented currently. I expect to announce the addition very soon.
Do you have any plans to add further mark-up/approval gates to the Flatter Files system?
I do plan to add mark up capabilities in the future but it is not currently being implemented. Currently, a notification is created when you submit an item for approval. Within this notification you can make comments and suggestions. When viewing a drawing, you can also send out a notification to everyone asking for a revision of the item. Within this notification you can include information regarding what needs to be revised.
What are your future plans for Flatter files?
Right now the focus is implementing the 3D viewer. I’m also always working to improve the current features. Suggestions and comments are highly encouraged. Creating an Android app to go along with the iPhone/iPad app is also on the horizon.
If you are looking for a simple web based document management system, check out Flatter files here – and let me know what you think!