Curing Unresolved File Headaches--Part II

31 Jul, 2002 By: Jeff Wymer

Last month we explored the concepts behind Project Files, how they work, and how they fit into your working environment; this month, we'll learn some tips and tricks on how to create and maintain your Project Files. Project Files are text files with IPJ extensions; they contain a list of paths to various folders where the referenced Autodesk Inventor documents are stored. They break the dependency between an Autodesk Inventor dataset and the file's actual location.

Creating Project Files
Your project files can be authored to match your company's design processes and workflows, which may be within a semi-isolated, isolated, or shared working environment, as defined in July's column, "Curing Unresolved Files Headaches--Part I".

Users working in a workgroup working within a semi-isolated environment commonly store files on a shared server. When they need to make a change or revision, they typically copy the required files into a personal workspace on their computer, while still accessing the shared files from the server. The workgroup members commonly access the shared files through a Group Project File available on the network. The Group Project File is simply a project file with Library Search Paths and Workgroup Search Paths. Standard and purchased parts can commonly be located by the Library Search Paths. Workgroup Search Paths contain links to the parts that make up the rest of the design, excluding the components of works in progress. A Group Project File makes it easy to build a project file for the semi-isolated working environment. You define a Workspace for the components of a work in progress and link to the Group Project File to access the remaining design files.

Figure 1. Inventor's Project Wizard provides a way to simply fill in the required information about your project and create a project file suitable for your working environment.

The Autodesk Inventor Project Wizard is the easiest way to create a project file. To activate it, go to the Projects window within the Open dialog box and press New. To begin creating a Project File for a semi-isolated environment, select the Personal Workspace for Group Project radio button within the wizard. Move to the next dialog of the wizard, shown in Figure 1, and fill in the required information about your project (the project's name can be numeric or textual). The project file (with the IPJ extension) will have the same name as your project. When picking the location for personal files, select a folder on your workstation as the Workspace. Lastly, locate the network directory where your Group Project File is stored. Once you've entered this information, you've created your Project File for a semi-isolated working environment.

Users working in an isolated work environment typically copy all of the files from the network to their workspace; these users have their personal project file placed within their workspace. Shared environments consist of multiple users storing most or all of the files on the network, where everyone working on the project can access them. All designers use a common project file maintained on the server. What is common between these two work environments is that all the data files reside in a common location, either on a workstation or a network server--not a combination of the two. As a result, both working environments share the same options within the Project Wizard. Therefore the "New Project (personal or group)" radio button should be selected within the wizard to create a project file for either an isolated or shared environment. You can also use this option to create the Group Project File mentioned earlier. When selecting a location for the project file, specify a folder on your workstation for isolated environments and a network location for shared environments. Whether your project is going to use new or existing components, go to the location where they should be located. If more than one location is required, these can be added to the project file later. The last step of the wizard, shown in Figure 2, will add the required Library Search Paths to your project file which will guide the program to the required standard and purchased parts. Once finished, you have a project file suitable for either an isolated or shared environment, as well as a Group Project File to be stored on a server.

Figure 2. Project Wizard also allows a user to add the required Library Search Paths to the project file.

Maintaining Project Files
A key to working with project files is being able to modify them (fortunately, the process is simple). The Open dialog box, shown in Figure 3, offers a project window where you can add, edit, or remove various search paths within your project files by right clicking. You can keep several Local, Workgroup, and Library Search Paths since the data is often distributed across many network locations. The program also provides the flexibility to reorganize the search paths and control the sequence Autodesk Inventor follows during a particular type of search. If you work in a semi-isolated environment and link to a Group Project File using the wizard, it will show up in the project file as an Included File, shown in Figure 3. Lastly, by double clicking on a project file within the top pane of the projects window, you can make the project active, helping you focus on your design. You can also rename, delete, browse for existing projects, or create new projects with a right-mouse click.

figure Figure 3. The wizard will display the Group Project File for a semi-isolated environment as an Included File.Paths to the project file.

Tips and Tricks

  • If there are multiple copies of a file stored in various locations, Autodesk Inventor will resolve the first instance of the file that it finds. By sequencing your search paths, you have the flexibility to control which file instance is selected first when opening a design.
  • Autodesk Inventor will automatically look in the directory specified in the predefined search path and its subfolders. To be efficient, do not add search paths for the subfolders within a designated Workspace, a Workgroup, or a Library Search Path.
  • When entering a network location as a search path, use an absolute or UNC (Universal Naming Convention) path. This removes any potential problems created by the mapped drive letters since it is unlikely that all the users will map the same drive letter to the appropriate network location.
  • Usually a project defines an absolute path for each entry, including the server designation (for example: \\Production\Goldteam). The "Use Relative Paths" option in Project Files, however, further enhances the ease by which projects can be moved from one disk to another, or one server to another, without impacting the users. To use relative paths, right-click the "Use Relative Paths=False" option in the project and select Enable. Be sure to store the Project File in the root of the directory tree that contains the data files required.
  • Commonly, you find out that a coworker or network administrator has renamed a directory or moved some files. This leads to unresolved file-references when you attempt to open your design, which can take hours or days to fix. The problem is even greater when users unknowingly overwrite or lose some of the files.

Properly using the Project Files function in Autodesk Inventor provides you the flexibility to easily restructure and relocate your data, alleviating the pain of unresolved files.