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By Jeffrey Heimgartner, May 23, 2013
Over the years, our company has tried different software tools and methods to help us manage communications and implementations of design projects. Some added too much complexity by adding too many additional tasks. Others lacked the power we needed.
TeamPlatform, per the company’s Web site, is an "on-demand project management software for product design and engineering services." Would it allow us to communicate with clients more effectively and complete projects more efficiently? I decided to find out.
I found easy to get up and running just by visiting the TeamPlatform website. The site provides three levels of usages plans: Basic Team, Pro Team, and Enterprise. Clicking on either the Free Sign Up or Get Started Now link took me to the "Set Up a Basic Team Account" page (see figure 1).
|Figure 1: Setting up the free Basic Team account|
The Basic Team Account is free and has no time limit. I can use it for as long as I would like; best of all, I didn’t need to enter any credit card information unless I wanted to upgrade my account. Basic give me up to 10 workspaces, allow up to five guests to share, set up five shared pages or forms, and store up to 1GB of data.
(The Pro Team Account would give me unlimited members, workspaces, pages, and storage for $25/month per member.)
I entered the requested information into the appropriate fields, and then selected Create My Team Account. Within a few minutes I received a welcome email with a confirmation link, which finalized the setup of my account. The welcome email included a link to short introduction video, links to the support page, news page, and support email - along with three tips to get me started:
From there it was time for me to set up some Workspaces and give it a try.
|Figure 2: Tabs on the TeamPlatform interface, which runs in most Web browsers|
Logging into TeamPlatform via the sign-in portal took me to the Dashboard Tab. It shows you a snapshot of what’s been happening in your account. Recent comments, updated or added workspaces, tasks, discussions and recent files added are examples of what you can find on the Dashboard. You also can add custom filters in dashboard widgets to control how the dashboard looks and operates.
Dashboard is one of six tabs within TeamPlatform. The other five are Workspaces, Tasks, Discussions, Users, and Settings (see figure 2).
One of the first tasks I wanted to do was add team members to my account. This is done under the Users tab, where I manage members, guests, and groups. Team members are typically made up of people from within the company. I can share workspaces with team members, choosing for them one of these member roles: Team Member, Administrator, or Account Administrator.
"Guests" are people from outside the organization. I can grant guests read-only access or else edit permission.
"Groups" are made of both team members and guests. Groups help me organize with whom I share what. Adding team members and guests to groups is as simple as making the appropriate Add selection and then entering the desired team member’s email address (see figure 3). TeamPlatform automatically sends invites out via email.
|Figure 3: Adding team members and guests to a group|
After I added team members and guests, it was time for me to add workspaces, and then share them. Adding workspaces is accomplished by picking the New Workspace button from either the Dashboard tab or Workspaces tab. The New Workspace dialog box allowed me to enter a title and description for the new workspace, and to control with whom I shared the workspace (see figure 4).
|Figure 4: Setting up a new workspace|
Once I set up the workspaces and shared them with people, the power of TeamPlatform starts to shine. I found I could share files in a professional manner. Built with my company brand, files I embed into the team’s password-protected Web pages can be previewed; I could send files or a whole folder quickly and easily with a link.
The team works on files together by uploading revisions and tracking changes. We can even mark up drawings and make comments from each of our computers, tablet, or other mobile device.
TeamPlatform includes a CAD viewer for both 2D and 3D file types. It even helps with project management by allowing me to create and assign tasks, and then shows how the tasks tie into the entire project schedule with an intuitive Gantt chart and related tools.
A workspace is made up of seven tabs: Overview, Comments, Files, Pages, Tasks, Custom Fields, and People. Figure 5 shows the tabs with the Overview tab activated.
|Figure 5: Workspace tabs|
The Overview tab highlights the most recent activity from all the other tabs within my workspace. The Comments tab serves as a forum for discussions related to the project, while the Files tab allows me to upload and organize project information. The Pages tab is where I can provide reference material, record meeting notes, elaborate on files, and more. (Pages can be published to team members and guests with varying access permissions; I can track visits on my published pages.) The Tasks tab allows me to create and assign tasks. It also provides access to the Gantt Chart, as shown in figure 6.
|Figure 6: The Gantt chart in the Workspace tab|
The Custom Fields tab allows me to create multiple, customized fields that can contain text, lists, checkboxes, yes/no buttons, and date fields. Finally, the People tab is where I control with whom the workspaces are shared, and their access level.
I found uploading files easy and quick. One of the best things I discovered when uploading 3D assembly files, is that I needed only to upload the top level assembly, and not all of the individual parts that make up the assembly. TeamPlatform took care of the rest.
(Many assembly files are big, because they are loaded with geometry. In CAD software like SolidWorks, it is optional to retain all the geometry in the assembly file. TeamPlatform extracts the geometry from those assemblies that contain geometry. Should the assembly not have geometry, then the dependent files need to be uploaded. If the dependent files are already on TeamPlatform, such as when a revised assembly file is uploaded, then the dependent files need not be uploaded).
Another thing that I really liked was that TeamPlatform generates update emails automatically, which it names "Daily Digest" (see figure 7). The email gives every team member updates on activities carried out that day on TeamPlatform. It lists new team members, workspaces created or modified. It also reports on updates to workspaces, with a list of the newest comments and thumbnail views of newly updated files. It includes some descriptive information about the files and links that will take the recipient directly to the specific file within the workspace. The frequency and information within these digests are customizable.
|Figure 7: TeamPlatform's Daily Digest email|
The CAD viewer within TeamPlatform is quite impressive because it works with more than 130 2D and 3D file formats. I found it easy to use, and quite functional to boot. There also is a 2D viewer and a 3D viewer. The only drawback I ran across is that the 3D viewer does not work with all Web browsers, Internet Explorer being one of them. The first time I accessed the 3D viewer, IE gave me WebGL error, and informed me that I needed to use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome instead. This frustrated me, but the support team at TeamPlatform assured me they were working with Microsoft to work it out. They provided me workarounds if I did not want to change my Web browser from IE.
Once past that blip, I found the viewer is stable. The standard views are easy to select and manipulate. The Assembly tree is part of the 3D Viewer and allows me to isolate and view individual parts easily. A neat feature is the Explode tool for seeing exploded views of all the parts in the assembly, regardless of how the file was created (see figure 8).
|Figure 8: Explode tool in the CAD Viewer|
The viewer supplies tools for drawing markup, annotation, and comments, which allowed me to share and collaborate on drawing revisions without email attachments or messing around with FTPs (see figure 9).
|Figure 9: Drawing annotations and mark ups|
TeamPlatform highlights so many functions on its Web site - file sharing, file collaboration, 3D data management, project management, customer service portal, team project portal, and TeamPlatform API - that I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of all that it has to offer. In the amount of time I had to review the service, it became apparent to me that TeamPlatform is a wonderful way to complete projects efficiently.
TeamPlatform provides me with a myriad of ways to communicate project information both within and outside of our company. I thoroughly enjoyed working with this software, and will continue to evaluate how our company can utilize this tool to its full potential.
|Jeffrey Heimgartner has over 20 years of industry experience. He manages Advanced Technical Services for CapStone’s CAD division. He has a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology with an emphasis in CAD from Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska. More...|