Every engineering consulting firm that services complex municipal facilities such as water and wastewater treatment plants will face the task of creating operating documentation. These documents must describe all aspects of plant operation in detail, serving as the reference for equipment maintenance, operating procedures, plant upgrades and new construction.
However, the constant attention required to keep documentation completely up-to-date is expensive. As a result, many plant and procedure changes never make it into the documentation. Over time, the effect of these omissions accumulates. Soon the plant is running without documentation, relying on the memories of a few key employees, and on the outside consulting firm, any time procedures are questioned or equipment must be adjusted or replaced.
First, text is combined with scanned images, CAD drawings and full motion video and sound to provide a complete multimedia presentation of operating information. Taking full advantage of the unique capabilities of various presentation media allows more information to be presented with greater clarity -- and perhaps with a grater likelihood of retention -- than can be done with a bound paper book.
Second, the client can take control of the documents, altering them to match equipment or procedural changes as they happen. Outdates information is changed as it is encountered. Affected sections of the associated hardcopy plant manual are reprinted immediately. the documentation remains useful, even after years of incremental changes and improvements in the plant's operation.
This ease of alteration yields a third benefit: reduction of ultimate costs. True, full multimedia documentation complete with video and cross-linked text and drawings often takes more time to generate than printed pages, but the costs of reprinting bound paper manuals is significant also. And both pale compared with the cost of using outdated information in a safety related procedure, even once.
The menus are arranged hierarchically, so that some general menu items might lead to more specific menus, which themselves list actual documents. this organization makes it easy for operators to browse the documents, and to quickly locate specific items of information. Other menu commands allow operators to perform automated searches for specific words or phrases across all documents, and to browse through electronic drawings.
The documentation system uses off-the-shelf software products -- AutoCAD for the basic CAD system, WordPerfect for text editing, DRAWING Librarian for drawing display and manipulation, and Lotus Magellan for text searches. these all work in concert with proprietary "glue" software developed in-house.
Once in a section, the user reads the text of the manual, and branches off into the multimedia enhancements attached to the section. A discussion of a complex valve assembly might include CAD drawings detailing the assembly, digitized photographs or even a videotape presentation of adjustments and operation. Future versions of the system may use laser disk video equipment for give faster response to the user's requests.
The result of CH2MHill's software work is a documentation system that requires few decisions and few keystrokes to reach a particular piece of information -- whether by using menus to reach known documents and drawings, or by exploiting sophisticated search capabilities to locate documents and drawings covering a specific subject.
"This took some skill and required as much as an hour per drawing to do," said Cal Leckington, Software Division Manager at CH2MHill. "Even after conversion, AutoSketch didn't have the linking tools we felt were needed."
In addition, users saw copies of the original drawings, not the drawings themselves, with the AutoSketch scheme. Changes to those originals would only appear in the documentation system if the AutoSketch conversion process had been performed, and there was no dependable way to tell if it had.
Eventually, CH2MHill went with DRAWING Librarian. It reads the original files in native format; no conversion was necessary; and its user interface was more straightforward. "Even a simple document might contain 50 drawings," explained Leckington. "Viewing the original drawings in place improved and dramatically simplified this portion of the documentation system."
For text updates to CAD drawings, a single key selection in DRAWING Librarian loads the documents into WordPerfect, where the operator can add or correct information as needed. For drawing updates, CH2MHill used redlining capabilities in DRAWING Librarian so plant operators can record equipment changes in the CAD drawings with a standard PC and a pointing device (a mouse, for example). These "redline" markings are stored in separate files, and appear any time the drawing is displayed. A CAD operator can incorporate the redlined information back into the AutoCAD drawing file later.
CH2MHill also uses a graphical linking mechanism to connect related drawings together, and to connect detail drawings to large scale overviews. this capability extended the search and scan features of the documentation system into the CAD drawings, making it more productive to browse the drawings for information of interest. Once a drawings is located, it can be printed on demand, or print requests can be passed to AutoCAD for exact renderings.
In addition to the electronic documentation, a printed set of the textual material is kept in three ring binders for out-of-office use and quick answers to simple questions. the client is in complete control of the electronic master documents, and changes made to those masters require affected sections of the paper documents to be reprinted, a relatively inexpensive process using a printer attached to the documentation computer.
The strategy makes good consulting business sense, too. CH2MHill clients are more comfortable with the decision to hire when they know they are released form a dependence that would normally last the life of the documentation. In fact, CH2MHill says this approach has actually raided the firm's level of repeat business.
Special for CADalyst Magazine