EDMS Hardware/Software Integration: A Bottom up Approach
By Ray Nair, IPL
Indianapolis Power & Light Co. (IPL) has been creating new engineering drawings in AutoCAD for the last five years. Before that, all the drafting work was done manually, resulting in a large repository of drawings in hard copy form such as paper, mylar and cloth. The number of drawings is estimated to exceed 250,000. Most of these drawings are located in IPL`s administrative centers or power plants.
Two years ago, IPL recognized the lack of control and possible deterioration in this large volume of drawings. It decided to look for an electronic solution that would enable the utility to achieve specific objectives.
The key objectives were to:
secure the drawings by converting them from paper into an electronic format;
implement a drawing management system through which users can search, display and plot any drawings available in the system from their desktop workstation; and
perform editing work on the scanned images, thereby reducing board work to a minimum.
Advent of a Wide-Area Network
IPL implemented a Novell Netware-based wide-area network throughout the company in 1994. The network electronically links all the power plants and administrative offices. This gave impetus to the idea of sharing drawings companywide in a very secure and efficient manner.
During the summer of 1992, IPL set out to explore the various possible solutions available in the market. After a year of contacting different industry sources, including other utilities, IPL proceeded with the engineering document management system (EDMS) project.
Process Study and Setting Standards
Traditionally, an employee would physically locate and retrieve drawings from the drafting records department (not an easy process) and have prints made. Then the employees made needed copy changes and returned it to drafting where changes would be incorporated into the drawing. In most cases, the drafting staff would perform the task on the drawing board.
Then, the draftsmen would update this drawing in AutoCAD. Drawings created using AutoCAD were stored in a slew of directories on the hard drive. The only people who knew the location of these drawings were the drafters. IPL`s goal was to replicate these processes into a format that incorporated security, convenience and usability.
Next, IPL decided on certain standards for the following: raster image format, hardware platform and mass storage systems.
The main criterion used in deciding this was the universal portability of the scanned image files. Based on this, CCITT Group 4 format (TIF file extension) was chosen for the utility`s scanned images. HP equipment and Raid Array were chosen as the mass storage option.
After the standards were set, IPL selected the different components for the system. The components under consideration were flatbed and aperture card scanners, drafting workstations, user workstations, mass storage devices, plotter, raster editor and database software.
For each of the items on the list, IPL evaluated comparable products from at least three manufacturers. This was done by bringing these products inhouse to evaluate. The main acceptance criteria used were: adherence to the open system concept, ease of use, technical support, quality of output and performance (speed).
After six to eight months of evaluation process, the hardware was assembled. The hardware includes a Calcomp plotter, HP Apollo 700 workstations with HP-UX operating system (as drafting workstations), Calcomp 1000 dpi flatbed scanner and HP RAID ARRAY mass storage system. For the software, the utility selected CAD Overlay ESP from Image Systems Technology as the raster editor and an
IPL took a bottom up approach, which gave it internal expertise within the organization on the components that went into the system. The utility also realized tremendous monetary savings by doing the integration in-house rather than using an outside contractor.
Once these components were selected, IPL looked for a drawing management system software that would run on its selected equipment. In discussions with various EDMS vendors, the utility gave them its selections and let the vendor decide whether their product would run on such a platform.
This helped to automatically eliminate vendors that did not adhere to IPL`s open systems policy. IPL selected two out of the six vendors from the initial list, and as a final determination process, had them bring their product in-house to be installed on our equipment. IPL then went through a thorough evaluation process of these two products running side by side.
For this, the utility had users go through a review process and fill out a criteria sheet. Based on the user responses, and overall comparison of the products from a system level, IPL chose CMS from WorkGroup Technology Corp..
CMS is an engineering drawing management system that has features such as check-in, check-out, revision control and workflow. It does work with popular RDBMS such as Oracle and Sybase and runs in multiple UNIX platforms such as HP, Sun and IBM.
The Oracle database and the CMS software were installed on the same day by the vendor.
Prior to the installation, IPL designed the class structure in which the drawing would be stored and various attributes associated with the drawings. This was accomplished in consultation with the utility`s drafting services and the engineering group.
Once the software was installed, the structure was built on the CMS system. A week later, a consultant from WorkGroup Technology came onsite and presented ideas and recommendations to improve the system structure. This helped eliminate any potential hardware/software bottlenecks.
As a first task, all the existing vector drawings were moved into the CMS system using the batch loader feature that is a part of the CMS software. The operation was conducted in two stages. On Feb. 1, 1994, production scanning began using a Calcomp flatbed scanner. IPL was able to scan approximately 400 drawings a week.
This included scanning and populating the database. On March 1, 1994, aperture cards were scanned. Aperture cards were shot inhouse, assuring the quality of the images.
The aperture card gives a utility the capability of incorporating punched card information (up to 54 characters). Certain characteristics of the drawing are encoded in these 54 characters that include the drawing title, class and other pertinent information. The aperture card scanner reads this punched information and creates a hollerith file (an ascii text file) for every image file. Using this information, drawings are moved into the EDMS while at the same time, automatically populates certain fields. This way, manual data entry is minimized.
Currently, all IPL drafters are using the new EDMS system to check out drawings. As a newly instituted policy, any paper drawings that need to be worked on will be first scanned into the system. The drafters may check out these drawings from the system and use CAD overlay raster editor to perform editing. In the first month alone, IPL was able to demonstrate tremendous time and cost savings.
At the beginning of the day, the system automatically sends a mail message to each drafter listing drawings checked out to date and by whom. This process eliminates the possibility of two drafters working on the same drawing at the same time and also performs the function of tracking the drawings.
IPL`s goal is to utilize redline functionality and raise the total number of EDMS users to 100 by the end of 1996. This project has helped the utility to extensively reduce the problem of drawing deterioration and lack of control. The utility also realized tremendous savings in man hours due to the ability to search, locate and edit drawings electronically.
The system has helped ILP`s Electronic Production, Engineering and Transmission & Distribution divisions effectively communicate regarding the drawing changes without creating duplication in effort. Also, the feature of tracking the previous drawing revisions aided in documenting job history, which is a critical need in a regulated industry.