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Review of the Data Standard Extension for Autodesk Vault

At the very end of November Autodesk released a second subscription extension for Vault. Autodesk describes it as…

Vault Data Standard is a data control feature for found within Autodesk Vault Professional and Vault Workgroup that helps you enter data for new or existing files in a standardized format.”

This extension is for Subscription customers only and is far from “out-of-the-box.” It requires configuration before you start using it and is not for for everyone. You will need to know a bit about XAML, if you want to customize the dialogs.

My honest first reaction? It brought back memories of LISP and Diesel dialog boxes for AutoCAD r13, which is a very scary thought. However, after being talked off the ledge (thanks Andrew) I realize how smart Autodesk was about this extension, in how it was developed and the possibilities it provides. Its a focused open toolkit, with a lot of possibilities

WHAT IS IT?

This extension provides a means to standardize how properties are presented, what they must contain, and how they are edited. It is really a toolkit in which you configure. One of the main components are forms that you customize to show just the properties you want. The property input can be customized to include mandatory properties (ones that must be filled out). The extendable forms are available for Inventor, AutoCAD, and Vault Explorer. They can be set to automatically appear when a new file is created or a file is saved. It is very extensible in that you can add dynamic pick list or additional “business logic“.to the forms

Chris Atherton of Symetri posted this video highlighting the extensions usage and what it can do. Two high fives for Chris, one for capturing and presenting the uses of this extension so well and secondly for using Autodesk technology to do the capturing (Autodesk Chronicle). See the video here.

The Good?

  • The extension is really three different components, meaning you can install and use just the ones that you want.
  • The extension is extremely extensible, you should be able to make it do whatever you need it to do, well at least when it comes to data standardization

The Bad?

  • For those with limited programming and development experience you might struggle with the customization and setup.

The Meh?

  • The help is ok, better than most, but not superb. Expect a lot of trial and error

For this post I’m just going to focus on the Vault Explorer component.

OUT-OF-THE-BOX (Vault Explorer)

After installing the Vault Explorer Extension additional tabs will appear in the various preview panes. For example, with files a CAD BOM tab will be present and for files and folders a Datasheet tab. The Datasheet tab is completely customizable, in that you specify which properties to show. However you can’t do anything with this tab other than view properties.

The CAD BOM tab is exposing information tracked in the API, in a read-only state. You can’t do anything from this tab except view the BOM. What would I like to do? Go to file, open file, check-out file… just a few of the things that would be nice. A warning, the CAD BOM is not extensible. I received confirmation on this in the Autodesk Discussion forums from Jeff Paquette, a Data Management Support Specialist for Autodesk.

“The CAD BOM tab was not designed to extract Vault properties. CAD BOM shows the CAD data extracted at check-in time.”

However I think its provided more as an example or a starting point… you can add your own tabs! At least I’ve seen custom tabs added, its on my list of things to try.

The Good?

  • The property palette is ok but shows too much information. Having the ability to control this with the Datasheet tab is a nice touch
  • The CAD BOM tab shows very useful information and could be very powerful with the right touches

The Bad?

  • I wish there were more examples in the help and a bit more clarity on what you can and can’t do. I wasted a couple hours trying to customize the properties that appear in the file BOM tab only to find out from Autodesk that its not possible. Why provide a form that you can customize if you can’t? Or at least explain this in the help.

XAML

XAML (pronounced “zammel”) is Extensible Application Markup Language. Before this extension I had never heard of it, well at least never paid it any attention. It is an XML-based markup language developed by Microsoft and I have been told that the big advantage of using XAML is its portability between platforms, as in developing one form and using it in your application and as web app. In this situation we are able to use one set of XAML forms for AutoCAD, Inventor, and Vault and really don’t need to get in deep with any coding using the API

I HIGHLY recommend if you’ve never used XAML before is spend an hour with google reading a bit on what XAML is and how best to code with it. Personally I found using Microsoft’s XML Notepad easier to customize the forms that using Visual Studio. I also learned that its easier to move text boxes and labels by changing the row position than by dragging and dropping.

The Good?

  • The forms of this extension are XAML based meaning that the process to customize them for each of the applications is exactly the same, even copy and paste code between them to speed up the process.

The Bad?

  • The forms of this extension are XAML based meaning for me there was a bit of a learning curve

SETUP, CONFIGURATION, & USAGE

Step #1: install the desired components. The downloaded installer package from the subscription site will contain five files, a msi to install the Vault Explorer extension, plus 32-bit and 64-bit msi installers for the AutoCAD and Inventor extensions. If you don’t install the specific extension the files for configuration will not appear.

The configuration files will be installed into C:\ProgramData\Autodesk\Vault 2014\Extensions\DataStandard\Vault\Configuration. Before making any changes create BACKUP copies! Doesn’t matter how, just have something to fall back on.

To modify the properties of a file or folder right-click on the object and select Edit Datasheet. Guess what controls the properties that appear on this form? You guessed it, the configuration files deployed to the location above. 

Here’s an image of what the Datasheet tab looked before I changed it and after. I made a simple change to add the Cost property

What the Datasheet tab looks like "out-of-the-box"

What the Datasheet tab looks like “out-of-the-box”

 

What the Datasheet tab looks like customized

What the Datasheet tab looks like customized

Here’s a video of me using the Microsoft XML Notepad to make a change to the Edit Datasheet dialog.

Notice the use of IsReadOnly and applying a greyish colour makes the field read-only and gives it the appearance that it is read-only. This is only the tip of the iceberg as you can also:

  • make properties mandatory
  • add combobox drop-downs
  • use events
  • create computed fields
  • look-up data from another source to populate the values.

Hopefully you can see that it was very easy to make a change, and customizing any of the tabs is very similar.

TEMPLATES

The other area of the Data Standard extension for the Vault Client is the Template workflow. The workflow is to create a Template folder in the root of your Vault and populate it with files that you use regularly. These files become the templates for creating new folders and files and should be populated with the properties and property defaults you want standardized. With files in the template folder you can right-click in any location and create the new file or folder, and Vault will prompt you with the Edit Datasheet dialog. You complete the properties and viola you have a new file populated with the correct property information.

For me this has become a very useful feature for when creating new purchased part files, creating project folders, and creating new project documentation like project reports and manuals.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Read the readme and the online help, twice before starting! Strategize first and map out what you want to accomplish.

If you don’t have much programming and development experience don’t get down on yourself if you can’t make it work, it isn’t for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (use the discussion forums).

There really isn’t a limit on what you can accomplish with this from a Data Standardization perspective. Having issues with non-standard property information, this is the add-on for you. Even if you don’t use if for the Data Standard aspect it makes for a great property editor.

I am interested in how Autodesk is going to incorporate this into 2015. I would love an option to include this during the Vault Client deployment including the inclusion of the customized configuration files.

QUESTION

Anyone know of a method to tie the customized files (cfg and xaml) into the installer? I’d like to elegantly push this out to my users but don’t want to copy my customized files to each system. I was thinking a script but if I could do it all at one shot, install the extension and copy the files, all the better.

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  • scottmoyse

    To answer your question at the end. Once the fix is released for the Command Line version of Workspace Sync, you could push it out via your template directory. If that suits? or what about Doug Redmonds Thunderdome extension?

  • Kamil

    Hello Michael,

    I hava aquestion regarding Data Standard and Inventor 2013 + Vault 2014 enviorment.

    Can I install Data Standard extension on my Inventor 2013

    Best regards

  • scottmoyse

    Hey Kamil,

    Thanks for your comment. Data Standard is only available for 2014 products & if you are on subscription.

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