Maintenance Staff Gains Fast Electronic Access To Drawings

EP Editorial Staff | December 1, 1998

Cedar River Paper Co., Cedar Rapids, IA, has piloted a software package that provides the maintenance staff with instant access to all of the drawings and manuals needed to maintain the plant. When fully implemented, the software will also help reduce errors by eliminating the possibility that maintenance staff might use an outdated paper manual to make a repair.

The paper mill recycles 700,000 tons per year of corrugated material and waste paper to produce the inner and outer layers of containerboard boxes. The plant’s containerboard machine #1 produces a swath 600 mi long and 25 ft wide every day of the fluted inner layer of corrugated boxes. Containerboard machine #2 produces linerboard, the outer layer of corrugated boxes. Both operations recycle a mix of old corrugated containers and waste paper. The plant has the capacity to recycle all of the scrap paper produced in Iowa. It employs 220 people.

Documentation problems
The designers of the mill provided thousands of AutoCAD drawings that frequently needed to be accessed during preventive maintenance or an unscheduled repair. Paper copies of these drawings were maintained in a central document control area. The plant was large so walking to the document control area took a considerable amount of time, then there was a wait while the person on duty located the drawing and copied it. The time required to get the drawings needed to fix a machine and return to the work area could easily be more than a half hour.
In addition, the suppliers of equipment to the plant provided several copies of paper binders containing instructions for maintenance and repair. At least one copy of each binder was supposed to be kept in the document control area while the other copies were usually located convenient to the machine. But manuals frequently disappeared from their assigned areas, which meant that the maintenance person had to go to the document control room in search of another copy.
Another problem with the old approach arose when updates to the manuals were received from machine manufacturers. The document control staff did its best to update the copies floating around the plant but often were unable to find every copy, so in many cases out-of-date manuals were used to order parts or perform repairs.

Evaluating alternatives
Cedar River Paper engineers led by Greg Hilton, senior project engineer, looked for a way to provide the maintenance staff with faster access to drawings and manuals. First, they considered a traditional document management solution based on a high-end database. They discovered that the cost of implementing such a solution could easily run well into seven figures including necessary hardware, software, customization, and training. Despite the magnitude of the savings that they were hoping to achieve, it would have been impossible to justify an expenditure of this magnitude.

Then engineers viewed a software package called Paragon Virtual Library (PVL) from FESTech Software Solutions, Findlay, OH, that uses proprietary dynamic pointer technology to provide a structure and access to existing information without requiring a database and deliver up-to-date information and documentation to any workstation on a local area network or wide area network. PVL also allows users to view and print documentation without the need for native applications such as AutoCAD, Microsoft Word, or Excel.

“Demonstrations convinced us that this approach would make it possible to provide instantaneous access to every type of document in the plant and that implementation and training time would be very short,” Hilton said. “The elimination of the need for a centralized database and its simplicity reduced the cost of the system to only a small fraction of what would have been required to implement a typical document management solution.”

Library architecture
Many machine suppliers provided manuals in electronic format that could be imported into the PVL library, and an outside contractor scanned the rest of the machine manuals into electronic format.

The engineers developed an architecture for the library based on the same terminology and concepts that the maintenance staff already used to identify different areas of the plant. Hilton explained that this architecture uses a plan view of the plant as the basic method for locating drawings and manuals. “System users click on any area or machine to access reference materials,” Hilton said. “Once they enter an area they can select from the different disciplines including electrical, mechanical, structural, process, and instrumentation diagrams, and equipment specifications and drawings. They can also select other related files such as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that are used to store records that document information on each roll such as why it was changed and how long it was.”

The engineers had no difficulty organizing all of the reference materials in the plant in a logical and consistent manner. This eliminated the need for hiring consultants, usually the greatest expense in any document management implementation. It also meant that the people who organized the database had intimate knowledge of how the plant worked.

The pilot showed that the maintenance staff could easily find the documents they needed from personal computers throughout the plant. Many members of the staff who were familiar with computers were able to start using the system on their own without any training. A one-hour class will be put together by the developers of the architecture and this is expected to be all that new users need to become efficient.

Search capabilities
While maintenance staff typically uses the tree structure described previously, the search capabilities of the PVL library provide an alternate approach. Users can enter keywords such as the name of a piece of equipment or its identification number to instantly find documents. For example, if they type in “pulper” they will get a list of all the drawings and manuals that relate to the pulpers in the plant.
Then double-clicking on the line item they are interested in will pull up the drawing or manual through the viewer that is bundled with the product. Once they find the item they need, they can pan around the drawing, move from page to page of the document, zoom into areas of interest, and make a printout to take with them to the work area.

Remote access
The new software will be installed on four personal computers that are already in different areas of the plant. When the maintenance staff member receives a work order, he or she will be able to walk over to one of these computers and locate and print out the drawings needed to do the job in a minute or two. The elimination of the overhead of a high-end database makes it possible for the system to provide virtually instantaneous response throughout the plant even though it runs on inexpensive personal computer hardware and contains about 25 gigabytes of information, nearly all the documentation required to run the plant.

Once the new system is fully implemented, the plant expects to see an improvement in plant operating efficiency, Hilton said. “Machine downtime will be reduced because maintenance staff will be able to get immediate access to the information they need to make repairs. The potential for errors will be reduced by the fact that the system always provides accurate and up-to-date information. Finally, the low cost, ease of implementation, and ability to run efficiently on inexpensive hardware makes it relatively painless to install the system and easy to justify its cost.” MT

Information supplied by FESTech Software Solutions, 807 S. Prospect St., Marion, OH 43302; (740) 375-4497; Internet




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