The importance of efficient information documentation

Paul Boughton
Over the past decade or so, the development of plant design software has steadily gravitated away from 2D drawings towards what industry commentators generally regard to be their more dynamic and flexible 3D counterparts. Despite this trend, however, the need for 2D drawings still remains; many diagrams are most accurately presented in 2D, and in areas such as wiring and connection, they are still as crucial to the design process as they were 10 years ago.
A topic that often comes to the fore in new plant design project discussions is that of balancing the competing aesthetic and practical considerations of the design process; having access to accurate data information is crucial to a project's integrity and development, but the designs themselves must also be sufficiently clear and visually correct to ensure they remain accessible.
These considerations are exemplified by the debate over whether to employ CAD driven hand designs, or more technical, database driven drawings. Both arguments have their merits, but the idea seems to prevail that CAD systems are generally more common and are consequently more accessible to a greater part of a company's workforce, maximising the amount of personnel that can work on a project and contribute to it. Database driven systems, on the other hand require greater training and expertise to use, which increases costs for a company and precludes a greater part of the work force from their use.
The solution arguably lies in finding the right balance. If a workforce can somehow use a database driven system that is both accessible and highly accurate, whilst producing an acceptable format of drawing layout, then this could provide a viable alternative to normal CAD systems.
As an example, consider different departments that are working together on different aspects of the same project, as is usually the case. In this scenario, efficient cross departmental communication is paramount as ideas, postings and information are endlessly going backwards and forwards between the draughtsman and the different engineers involved. In most cases, the draughtsman will communicate on one level with the process, instrumentation and electrical engineers, for example, and they will all communicate with each other separately on a different level. This model often results in each party being in possession of asymmetrical information, which is highly undesirable in a process that demands a streamlined and concerted to be successful.
This problem is addressed by the DesSoft Product Suite in two ways.
Firstly, the suite contains simplified drawing tools which enable the engineer to easily create and later change the design of a plant component whilst ensuring that that same component is located in only one part of the database, and never duplicated with alterations. Consequently, the same version of a recently created or amended motor, tank or transmitter can be accessed from different departments (through the DesSoft Piping and Instrumentation Diagram (P&ID), Electrical Designer (EDes) and Fieldbus and Instrumentation Designer (FDes) respectively) and at different times, all the while ensuring that all parties are using the same designs.
Secondly, the suite also enables each department's specialised information to be accurately stored within the database and shared between all parties.  As the information is stored in one location and the system itself prevents data from migrating, all departments have the complete picture, and the problem of asymmetrical information is eradicated. As a direct consequence, decision making becomes easier and a project can move forward with greater fluidity.
A database driven system like this has the added advantage that all important information regarding a specific component, for example, can be directly attached to it within the system, making all the relevant information immediately accessible.  This contrasts significantly with information management in typical CAD systems, where frequently only some information can be attached to a particular drawing, as otherwise they become too cluttered and consequently incomprehensible. Furthermore, the system has built in functions that make applying changes very simple using quick filtered lists as well as a simple drag drop function.
A further advantage of a database driven system like the DesSoft suite is that all information entered into the system by all parties is made even more accessible through various reports that are automatically generated from the database. The overall effect is that all changes a project undergoes are automatically recorded, streamlined and made compatible across the system, ensuring all information is consistent within the database, and eradicating the need to double check drawings, equipment lists, costing reports, cable schedules and so forth.  
To delve a little further into the practical implications of this, let us consider the two main types of connection drawing.
The first type is a template drawing, usually driven by a drawing system. The main advantage of this type of drawing is that the connection layout is very flexible, and the end result looks good. Problems arise, however, when a new template is required for every new wiring scenario. This can cause problems where too many different templates become available, as statistics indicate that when more than 20 templates are available, time pressured staff choose a match that is just close enough, and then amend it accordingly. Whilst this initially works in principle, the pitfalls of this scenario are twofold. Firstly, engineers create endless new templates to fit their specific requirements, which will see a company’s system eventually become overburdened with thousands of new templates that are only ever used once. Secondly, if engineers pick the wrong template, incorrect information will be displayed, contributing to making documentation more inaccurate.
This brings us to the second type, which is the auto generated drawing. Instead of using a pre determined template, this type of drawing is created directly from information available in the database itself. If, for example, a wiring scenario changes, then the connection diagram automatically adapts according to the change of data in the system itself, without having to design a new one. This in turn ensures an accurate display of information at all times, and makes the process more efficient. The downside to this kind of diagram, however, is that the drawing layout is sometimes unacceptable.  Software engineers at DesSoft have therefore strived to overcome this, ensuring clear and accurate layouts for both instrumentation loop and connection diagrams are produced at all times, whilst maintaining fidelity to the data the diagrams look to represent.
DesSoft has produced a database driven design suite that allows for highly efficient information management and documentation as well as the production high quality and accessible diagrams. In an increasingly competitive landscape across all industries, minimising wastage and optimising resources  are paramount to an efficiently managed plant design process, and it is because of this that the DesSoft suite continues to provide solutions to plant designers worldwide.
Johan Hamman is with DesSoft, Centurion, South Afric

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