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Maintenance & Sustainability for Dimensional Projects

you need to find a way to keep your source files, your model, and your output in formats that can be viewed and manipulated, even if the original program you used is no longer available.

Published onOct 14, 2019
Maintenance & Sustainability for Dimensional Projects
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The biggest problem for many dimensional projects is the need to work with programs that are changing frequently, many of which have proprietary file formats. In many cases, companies will decide to combine software packages, get rid of free versions, or simply stop supporting certain formats. This means that you need to find a way to keep your source files, your model, and your output in formats that can be viewed and manipulated, even if the original program you used is no longer available.


File Management

The following best practices will help maintain your model if you need to make edits or change the format later on:

  • Keep all of your original source files and intermediate stages: photos, sketches, diagrams, frameworks, and so on. For file formats for your supporting content, check out the guide to formats for archiving data.


  • Keep one copy of your dimensional file(s) in the format preferred by your application (this will usually be a proprietary format, like .fbx, .3ds or .ma) and one copy in a neutral file format like .stl or .obj.

    Since each program works differently, each has a different way of interpreting the same data, and different file types will use slightly different methods to translate visual content into code. The proprietary format will store data in a way that adheres most closely to your choices in the model, but you may not be able to use it in another program if your chosen system is discontinued. Neutral formats like .obj and .stl are readable by most current modeling programs, so they’ll have more flexibility. Do make sure to look up the differences between these file types, as they each have different strengths. In general, .stl files are very flexible, but are primarily used for structural models as they won’t encode a lot of surface colors or texturing information. If the surface of your model is important, .obj formats are probably a better choice.


  • Keep your files together! Dimensional models are often constructed using lots of internal links to tie different source visuals together. Lock files or folder structures and work from a copy whenever possible. Make sure you keep a copy of your process documentation alongside your source files.

Whether you will need to edit your model later on or not, export still images of your model in multiple angles and consider taking some video while rotating the model. Then, even if you can no longer manipulate the original file, you will have a way to use it for publications or websites. This is especially important if you have hired someone to help you create the model as you may be working with other people who do not know how to use your modeling application later on. While the earlier best practices were about how to make sure the model itself is maintained, taking photos and videos give you an additional way to save some of the model’s effects in widely-used formats. You should use both methods, if possible: think of this as the difference between saving an image file and saving a printed copy of the image, or between saving sheet music and a recording of a performance.

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