Modular Configurator Workflow

As you may have noticed, as you place configurators, Inventor automatically creates the files for you in the same folder as the master assembly that the configurators are placed in –in this case, the Medical Depot.iam

 [level-advanced]With this scheme, only the configurators and their support files (sub-configurators, libraries, etc) are managed in any meaningful way. Just leave it that way! Do not rename files, do not try to organize what is automatically generated into folders for reuse later. You will reuse the configurators and a small set of support files only. Everything else is generated and used to produce the product, and is then promptly archived. The ONLY thing you need to deal with is renaming the browser nodes, which is covered it the Room Placement tutorial.  All that does is rename what you see in the program, not the file itself –and this is merely a more descriptive way to view the model structure.

Once Upon a Time

Here is a story that may sound familiar. I worked at a company where the ‘Cad Administrator’ began his career back in the early 80’s using the original AutoCAD. Files back then were stored on gigantic floppy disks, and storage space was at an extreme premium. In this world, you were obsessed with file size. Even file names had to be as short as possible to save precious storage space.

Eventually computers started coming with hard drives, and those hard drives grew in size pretty fast –but so did the file sizes as the software developers increased the file sizes with new features such as 3D to take advantage of the new larger hard drives. File size was now somewhat less of an issue, but still there. To save design time, everything was saved. Every possible size of every possible part had a folder structure and file name to find it so that it could be added to current project when needed.

There was a gigantic file structure that needed to be learned and maintained. We spent huge amounts of times in ‘CAD Committee’ meetings, or running around asking people where a certain part could be found. Many times the file was on someone’s desktop, and would never be found, and much of what was stored was obsolete. It was easier just getting new files from vendors and redrawing the rest. We spent at least as much time dealing with files as we did actually designing products. Vault was used to try to harness the mess, but it only added another layer of mess. The old-school ‘CAD Administrator’ was still obsessed with file size and creating a better monster of a file structure right up until the company folded.

Lean Mean Design Machine

Storage space is now so cheap that spending even a couple hours dealing with unnecessary file structure is quite frankly stupid. Configurators will rapidly produce exactly what you need when you need it, and when you are done, you archive the entire project including the current configurators. This way you create a snapshot that is self contained. There will be no missing files a year from now, and linked files will not have changed. Every new project will start with the latest and greatest version of everything. The Lean process of Continuous Improvement will not alter your archived work. 


I recently created a configurator for a metal industrial stairway where the company (one person at the company) wanted to have code written so that the configurator would run automatically, night and day, and generate every iteration of the stairway as files, and create a folder structure to house the new files. They planned to continue to hunt down files and assemble them from the ground up! I put my name on such monumental stupidity, si I took another job instead.


The file size of the configurators and their support files used for these tutorials is currently only 31 MB. It will likely get to be two or three times that size, but who really cares? The price of a gigabyte of storage is incredibly cheap, and the price of design time is incredibly expensive. The cost for a gigabyte of storage in 1982 when AutoCAD made its debut was $260,000.00. It is currently at about $.10, and is expected to hit $.01 very shortly.

If all you need to do with a new designer is show him how to copy and rename a couple files then off to the races, how much time will that save over your current process?

If you are not convinced yet, that’s OK. As my grandpa used to say, the world needs ditch diggers as well… [/level-advanced]

Posted in Advanced Tutorials