File Management for Engineering Firms - Best Practices

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Folder Hierarchy for Engineering Firms - Best Practices

Best practices for folder/file path hierarchy are shown for different branches of engineering, including electronic engineering, structural engineering and civil and mechanical engineering using AutoCAD.

Washington State Department of Transport — Standardization

Who uses it

What it Entails

  • The full hierarchy can be seen in the diagram entitled Washington State Department of Transport shown on page one here.
  • Washington State DOT standardizes its folder/file path hierarchy for each of its projects by assigning the folder creation for a new engineering project to the project manager.
  • The Department of Transportation provides a "Create WSDOT Project" utility that automatically creates the standard folder hierarchy. This automation ensures consistency and standardization.
  • It also sets up project level resources, provides screens for the project manager to input metadata, and creates the necessary files to ensure efficiency in WSDOT applications.

How it is suitable for engineering

  • The hierarchy is designed explicitly for engineering projects in that it includes folders for CAD designs, Engineering Data Design, Engineering Data Construction, and others.

Structural Engineering (Design) and Construction — Multi-Use

Who uses it

  • This file folder hierarchy was designed by a structural engineer who manages state-owned capital projects and works with teams of architects and engineers. Her name is Amy Dean, PE PMP LEED AP, Senior Project Manager — Real Estate Development & Construction at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc.
  • It is used at the University of North Carolina.

What it entails

  • The layout can be seen on page two of this document entitled Structural Engineering (Design) and Construction — Multi-Use.
  • The first level contains folders for the organizational guidelines, metadata, templates, and any other documents standard to the company.
  • One of the folders in the first level is projects. In the second level for this folder are sub-folders with general information on types of projects the company does (e.g., Parking Decks, Medical facilities). The second level also includes a sub-folder for the years of the projects.
  • Level three includes each project, identified by name, the firm undertakes.
  • Level four provides a standard folder structure for each project, including the stages of each project, as well as folders for meeting minutes and communication.

How it is suitable for engineering firms

  • This hierarchy meets the full needs of an engineering firm, from providing company standards through to providing a company designed template.
  • Each project specific folder has the folders required for an engineering project.

Brief Description of each Project Specific Folder

  • 00-Initiation: This folder includes project set-up documents from Requests for Proposals through to documents awarding the contract.
  • 01-Feasibility Study: This folder includes initial documents from the designer
  • 02-SD, 03-DD and 04-CD These folders are designed to be customized according to the type of project.
  • 05-CA: This folder holds the Copy of the final contract and items relating to construction.
  • 06-Meetings: Meeting notes and the steering committee's official meeting minutes are saved in this folder.
  • 07-Project Management: All things related to managing the project including project invoices, schedule, budget worksheets, construction estimates, and project directory are saved in this folder.
  • 08-Communication: This folder contains an “Incoming” folder and “Outgoing” folder. All incoming and outgoing email attachments that are not submissions go to this folder, like sketches or design options.

Civil & Mechanical Engineering — AutoCAD

Who uses it

  • AutoCAD is an industry-standard computer-aided design software solution used by engineers to make blueprints to transition projects from concept to completion.
  • The folder hierarchy shown here was designed for civil and mechanical engineers and designers. It is specifically designed by a consultant for the management of AutoCAD related files and could be a subset (subfolder) of any engineering project. The consultant's credentials can be seen here.

What it entails

  • The layout can be seen on page three of this document entitled Civil & Mechanical Engineering — AutoCAD

Brief Description of each Folder

  • PROJECT is the main folder used to identify the name or project number of the job.
  • CAD is a subfolder in the PROJECT folder, and it holds the CAD-related information.
  • CIVIL 3D is also a subfolder in the CAD folder and contains any .dwgs that are made in civil 3d.
  • DATA is also a subfolder in the CAD folder in which are saved any files used to create drawings/models that aren't referenced as xrefs. This includes files like .csv and .txt point files, tables, and charts to import, word docs, etc. This will vary depending on the engineering field.
  • In the PRODUCTION subfolder of the CAD folder are saved all final production drawings that will be plotted and printed. It is a CAD best practice to include xrefs to other files for each .dwgs file.
  • In the CAD folder, in the REFERENCE subfolder, are saved any files that reference (xref) production or civil 3d drawings, typically broken down into:
Inside the REFERENCES folder is the DWG subfolder, to be used for any cad drawing referenced.
Also, in the REFERENCES folder, is the IMAGES subfolder for any image files referenced into drawings.
  • In the CAD folder, the SOURCES subfolder is probably the most useful. All source files from the client, surveyor, or download from a site, etc.are saved here. For each set of files, "create" a new folder in this folder and name it in the format shown — year-month-day — then a short description of where it came from and what it is. For example: "20140910 — Steve Jones — Base survey, means that on September 10th, 2014, the base survey files were received from Steve Jones." Important: never modify or link to the files in these folders, they are meant to be originals.
  • To use a file from here, make a copy of it to the DATA folder and use it in there. If anything ever goes wrong and there is a need to start over or to prove a specific file was received, the original will be there and dated.
  • This OUTPUT subfolder is in the PROJECT folder; it contains any files that are sent out. Each time files are sent, create a new folder in here and save them to it. This way, there is an organized record of all the outgoing drawings and PDFs.

research strategy

We started by recognizing that different branches of engineering have different needs when it comes to folder structure hierarchy. Our research strategy was, therefore, to find file structures that came from reputable engineering organizations or departments, that we knew were being used successfully and that covered different branches of engineering.
We began with electronics engineering and found an automated folder creation strategy for electronic engineering at the Washington State Department of Transportation. Upon analysis of the process and the output, we determined this was a high-quality example which had used automation to ensure the best practice of standardization across projects.
We then turned to professional engineering websites and blogs, looking for articles on best practices for structural engineers. There we found a folder structure designed for use not just by the engineers but also by the other stakeholders (e.g. architects) and by the project managers, which followed the best practice of keeping all relevant documents in one easily accessible place.
Lastly, we looked for best practices in mechanical and civil engineering. Knowing that AutoCad is an industry-leading computer-aided-design tool in many engineering branches, we searched for an article on best practices in creating folders for AutoCad files. There we found detailed processes steps from an AutoCAD industry expert. This structure was designed for complex projects. We included not only the detailed process but also their credentials to confirm their expertise.

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File Management for Engineering Firms - Best Practices

All the best practices in managing files in engineering firms have resulted from the recent development of engineering document management solutions. These changes are all electronic and include allowing collaboration in a file to reduce the need to create duplicates, customized workflow and file tracking to manage reviews and approvals, and integration of files between engineering tools and office tools.


Tracking Changes and Workflow

  • One of the best practices in managing engineering files is the tracking of metadata about documents, such as approvals across roles and departments.
  • This metadata supports review and approval automation, which ensures documents move through the process within company defined timelines.
  • In the best solution, the company can design customizable workflows which route information for follow-up and approval.
  • Engineering firms manage CAD files, designs, drawing, technical documents, project files and communications. The goal is to automatically capture and log information in RFI processes, submissions, RFQ’s, and change orders.


External (file integration between tools)

Internal (file management inside an engineering tool)

Examples of companies using all best practices

Examples of companies using Engineering Document Management Systems which have all the best practices listed above, include Dow Chemical, Fluid Components International, and Space Age Electronics.

Research Strategy

A review of the top five engineering document management tools, from two different web sites, iSkysoft and Lifewire, allowed us to identify the functionality included in each of the tools suggested. The best practices were identified as those that appeared most often in the reviews. An analysis showed that the top best practices included collaboration support, workflow and tracking changes in documents, and file integration.

The companies that are using Electronic Document Management systems were found under the client section of one of the websites.


From Part 01
  • "The project directory structure discussed in this section is intended as the WSDOT standard structure for Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) data storage to consolidate all of a project's electronic engineering data files into one folder structure on a local or network resource. "
  • "With over 5.5 million views on my Youtube channel, I make tutorial and tech videos for CAD designers and tech-savvy viewers who are interested in the newest and best technology, computers, software, monitors, mice, etc. for design, CAD,"
  • "I work with and influence Engineers, Designers, Tech enthusiasts and Business owners in a variety of fields and niches."
  • "Recently named one of the 35 under 35 top young designers for AutoCAD"