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Swepco converts to custom CAD, watches productivity climb

Issue 4 and Volume 99.

Swepco converts to custom CAD, watches productivity climb

Southwestern Electric Power Co. (Swepco), Shreveport, La., had approximately 40,000 engineering documents on file on linen, vellum, sepia and mylar. Many drawings were pen and ink, but most were pencil on vellum, running the gamut from torn and ragged edges to coffee-stained, yellowed pages.

The drafting shop has six drafters with busy work schedules and pressing production loads. Most projects involve retrofit of existing projects with short schedules and a fast turnaround.

OWhen we first attempted CAD (computer-aided drafting) drafting in 1989, increased productivity was hard to come by,O said Gary Galloway of Swepco. OWe attempted to use AutoCAD out of the box with no special customizing or support. The system became a burden when we attempted to convert the third manual drafter to CAD drafting.O The CAD drafters were less productive than the manual drafters because the required drawings had to be manually digitized into vector data before editing.

With technical support and assistance from Black & Veatch and Softdesk Imaging Group, a state-of-the-art digital imaging system has been installed. The system was selected and implemented to address raster editing, hybrid plotting, viewing, redlining and document management. The new technology made it possible for Swepco to convert from manual drafting without impact on the company?s construction schedule.

To begin, Swepco enlisted the aid of Black & Veatch as consultants to evaluate the department?s needs. The consultants recommended enhancing productivity through development and implementation of procedures, applications and standards for the CAD system, including imaging, document management and strategic goals.

Pilot project

Swepco immediately began a pilot project to determine the feasibility of a digital image-based system to work with the existing AutoCAD system. Specifications and procedures were developed to evaluate scanners, plotters and necessary software. Upon completion, vendors were selected for product performance, features, competitive bids, local vendor support and third party developer relationships with Autodesk.

An OEO size ANAtech Eagle 3640 scanner and CalComp Drawing Master Professional thermal plotter were purchased, configured and placed in production. CAD Overlay ESP from Softdesk Imaging Group was installed. Paper drawings were scanned and the resulting raster image edited with CAD Overlay ESP. Revisions and additions were made using AutoCAD drawing tools, resulting in a hybrid raster/vector drawing. The hybrid was then plotted, quickly sending the revised drawing back to the field.

Although no formal training was provided, CAD operators had no difficulty learning to use CAD Overlay ESP and they found raster editing to be quick and efficient. Productivity immediately jumped 35 percent.

Hybrid improvements

OUtilizing hybrid documents avoided the expensive and time consuming conversion of scanned raster images to vector files,O Galloway said. OAlso, hybrid documents saved many man-hours of the project engineer?s time. He had full confidence in the document and only needed to check the edited portion.O

Plotters were configured for the CalComp 906 format to produce high quality hybrid plots with screening capability, multiple pen settings and multiple line-types.

OWhen using the CalComp 906 format and our customized plot configuration, the time to produce hybrid co-plots was comparable to normal AutoCAD vector plots,O he said. OCad Overlay ESP supported network plot cue capabilities, which freed up work stations for other tasks while plot files were processed.O

In the next few months the drafting shop added a Novell network and the Netware operating system. A Xerox 8812, 11 inches by 17 inches, laser printer was installed and configured with the CalComp 906 format to perform economical check plots.

OA milestone was reached when the last two manual drafters converted to CAD drafting. Since then, all work has been performed on Swepco?s new digital image system,O Galloway said.

A network version of ViewBase, from Softdesk Imaging Group, has been installed on the file server for viewing and redlining hybrid raster/vector drawings. Network security rights allow outside users to view and redline drawings without having expensive software packages installed and configured on their computers.

OAfter spending many hours evaluating and attempting to customize a document management software package, we reached a decision to develop our own Log-in/Log-out program to control and link AutoCAD drawing files to the drawing control database file inside ViewBase,O he said.

The program allows users to check-out documents electronically for editing. Site names and location numbers can be selected from a browse screen. Revised documents remain in a working subdirectory until all construction work is complete and the document has been updated with all necessary changes.

OOur digital imaging system is the most productive set of tools that has ever been used in our drafting shop,O Galloway said.