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By Francis Sebastian, July 24, 2013
When we use electronic folders to store, retrieve, view, and edit documents on computers that are the deliverables and backbone of our business, we are performing the task of "document management." This article looks at the visualization capabilities of Synergis Software's Adept EDMS (electronic document management system) from the perspective of integrating tasks that occur between the time a document is generated to its use and archival.
The default document management system in most organizations is Windows Explorer or Apple Finder. A key failing of these systems is their inability to preview, review, or mark-up engineering documents without a native application or viewer – never mind the challenge of controlling the storage structure or setting access permissions. It is impractical for everyone to have the requisite software installed for viewing and markup, especially those outside the immediate project membership, such as accountants and those in management.
In recent years, Adobe's PDF (Portable Document Format) file has evolved to fill a need to layer graphical communication atop the existing 2D and 3D drawings, establishing itself as the common medium between different software applications. The nice thing about using this "communication layer" is that it affords a reasonable degree of security, both in terms of maintaining the integrity of the parent document and in controlling access using passwords.
Another advantage to PDF is that the viewer is universally available, and is incorporated even into most Web browsers.
The downside to PDF, however, is limited automation for the entire process. In fact, it is not very different from the days of flustered office assistants filing away reams of paper in flat filing cabinets, except that the filing is now done on computers without assistants. This means that it is the designers and engineers who are the ones pushing the electronic paper! Any security applied to PDFs, such as passwords, document expiration dates, or watermarks, are applied manually as additional work at each instance. For project engineers, however, the worst aspect of PDF is that its files need appropriate names or need to be opened for viewing in order to determine which version it is, or even which document is the most current one.
The second challenge with PDF-based workflows is that it is not an added layer, but a parallel filing system that mirrors the state of the project's design and support files. This is because PDFs are usually generated through a one-way export from native applications, like CAD systems and Word.
From figure 1, it is clear that feedback from a PDF-based workflow has to be collated manually. Some PDF editors have comparison and watermarking capabilities, but the versioning and storage is still dependent on individual performing due diligence.
Figure 1: Manual feedback from a PDF-based workflow
From this, we can conclude that there are two pain points that should be removed to make workflows more efficient:
Figure 2: Adept provides a more efficient workflow by eliminating manual collation
In an ideal world, we would browse, view, and mark-up all documents with one piece of software. Synergis Software accomplishes this in Adept by integrating the AutoVue Viewer from Oracle. It handles the viewing and mark-up for many formats. See http://www.synergissoftware.com/resource_center/technical_documents/adept_cimmetryformats_2013_v20-2.pdf.
While the actual list runs in the hundreds, I found that not all versions of all software are necessarily supported. However, thanks to Adept EDMS we have the flexibility to configure a third party alternative file viewers on the fly, thereby ensuring that we never need leave the Adept ecosystem.
While this review is about visualization within Adept EDMS, I will approach the topic from the context of business process and workflow. From this perspective, the efficacy of any document management system is a function of it efficiency in facilitating mundane yet integral parts of the workflow. This includes the following steps:
To this end, I'll highlight these salient features of the AutoVue visualization component of the Adept EDMS.
Reviewing functions in the Adept Viewer include the ability to view the model in a manner similar to that of the CAD authoring tool. In Adept, these include the standard zoom, pan, and orbit tools, as well as enhancements such as dynamic zoom, spin, and walkthroughs. Added to this is the ability change the visual style, toggle visibility of native layers or parts, change lighting, and access its native view points.
I found two tools especially compelling: sectioning and exploding. The Sectioning tool has a variety of modes which allows us to place a section plane oriented to any direction and then view either the model or the just the section outline (see figure 3).
Figure 3: Sectioning models with geometry, lines, and specific plane orientations (left to right)
I found the Explode tool useful for quickly laying out the parts of an assembly for easy comprehension (see figure 4). It comes with a couple of useful aids, such as leaders connecting the original location and the displaced location, and the ability to animate the displacement process.
Figure 4: Explode tools in action. Model credit: Apollo Lunar Module by Michael Carbajal from http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/3d_resources/assets/lunarlandernofoil_c.html
Other reviewing tools such as Manipulate and Walk-through are useful when the tasks warrant it (see figure 5, on the right.)
Figure 5: Walking through a model with lighting control (left), and manipulate individual parts (right)
The idea in Adept is that there is a base layer of all possible navigation tools to enable any amount of investigation in any 2D or 3D file. Additionally, there are rudimentary controls available for controlling transparency, lighting intensity, object colors, and rendering styles as illustrated in the screen-grab from a walkthrough in figure 5 (above and on the left).
Querying and commenting go hand in hand in development processes. Recording and assigning tasks based on comments is a major "task" in itself. Adept's integration with AutoVue viewer automates the recording, tracking, and assignment of comments and tasks. For instance, snaps are available to pin notes and dimensions to 2D and 3D vertices in drawings. Links to files and URLs are mark-up options. A very useful feature I uncovered when working with scanned drawings (or incompatible formats) is the calibration tool that lets me mark dimensions and display them in any unit format.
Figure 6: Commenting on a Revit model exported to DWF and then viewed in AutoVue
Some of the more pragmatic aspects of the user interface include the disabling of comments related to geometry not visible in the active view; as seen in the grayed-out comments at the bottom of figure 6. We can add attachments and hyperlinks within Adept and to sites on the Internet.
It is possible to query drawings and models for embedded engineering data. I found this feature to be somewhat tricky, because the interface of properties dialog box was designed to be universal in presenting engineering data (see figure 7). While I could change the precision of the values globally, I could not on a per-property basis. I can, however, live with this limitation when I am doing a quick read of the part.
Figure 7: Querying embedded engineering data
Comparison tool is a key feature of any EDMS: the ability to call out the differences when comparing two documents. In Adept's Viewer, this is accomplished though an easily readable format that is color coded. One feature I would have appreciated, however, is to mark-up or otherwise record the comparison. When performing comparisons, only the dimension and zooming tools are active, unfortunately. I had to go back to the original documents to add notes and change directives.
Printing in Adept is as simple (if not simpler) than in any other software. All settings are accessed through top-level tabs, with only a few notable additions. We can add custom headers and footers with our own data fields, such as time-stamps. We can add watermarks that can be configured via Adept to change status - or disappear, based on time constraints. For example, when a document is not to be released until the approval of a manager, then the 'Draft' watermark appears on every print electronic approval is received from the Adept EDMS. Similarly, Adept prevents the printing of documents based on team roles and other criteria. These functions may not sound exceptional, but I feel that it is this sort of detail that makes a document management system practical, let alone easy to work with.
Efficient document management is a 'necessary evil' to the staff of most engineering and architectural firms. In an age where most documents are generated electronically, however, the question is not whether or not a firm needs EDMS, but which system is the most practical. The criterion is to find the system that can be adopted with minimal disruption to the existing workflow, while maximizing efficiency.
Adept's integrated visualization component is a natural corollary to a system that automates most of the document management process smoothly.
|Francis Sebastian is an architect by training. He teaches, supports and provide implementation services for the AEC industry in the New York tri-state area and writes for his para-analytics blog. More....|